Rethinking Your Career (Part 1): Change After a Diagnosis or Illness

My own questions about what I wanted my work life to look like began shortly after the death of my father.My father passed away in 2011 of prostate cancer. He was a month shy of his 60th birthday. Prior to his death we discovered that he and I were both carriers of the BRCA2 genetic mutation, making me predisposed to the disease as well.

After my dad died, my outlook completely changed. I started to question whether I was making the most out of my life.

In the next few years, after having my own children as well, the questions became more pronounced. What work do I want to do? What impact do I want to have? How do I want to live my life?

It was these questions that led me to change my career and to work with people asking themselves the same questions.

I worked so hard to get where I am professionally. Since my diagnosis I’m not sure I feel the same way as I did before about my career? Is that normal?

It is completely natural to question many aspects of our lives when we’ve experienced a life-changing event. For many of us, when one element of life changes, everything else is affected too. It makes sense that one’s outlook on work may change too.

For some people work may be a haven after their illness. If you find your work engaging, if you can manage the stress of the job, if you have colleagues and a boss that support you, then your work may fit well into the changed dynamics of your life.

However, if your work is really stressful, doesn’t align with your values, is demanding of your time in a way that is challenging for you or if you’ve grown out of your role, you may be questioning if it’s the right place to continue putting your energy.

It’s normal to question how work fits into our ever-evolving priorities and life challenges. We give so much of our energy to our work every day. When faced with a diagnosis or illness the question of where to put your energy takes on a whole new importance. For many, it’s time to revisit how well aligned your work is to your life and to ask what is within your power to change.

How do I know if I need a change?

During major life changes, when so many domains of life are influenced, it’s hard to pinpoint which parts need the most tweaking.

I would say if your work used to fill you with energy and interest and now you feel like you’re dragging your butt there nearly every day, it’s time to ask where you can make some changes. If most (let’s face it we can’t love every aspect of our job) of the activities are draining your energies rather than energizing you, it’s time to consider what you want to do about it.

The answer to this question is not always “quit and find a new job”. Start with where you are. What do you have the ability to transform right away that could influence everything else for the better?

Could you work part-time? Work from home? Work on a remote special project? Work with a new team? Could you reframe your perspective so that your outlook is broader?

Before ultimately deciding if you need to leave your job or change careers it’s worth seeing what you could change from within your position first. Once you’ve tried tweaking things from within you can make your decision to stay or go with more confidence.

Do I need to leave my job or find a way to make it better?

It depends. My first instinct is to explore the question of if you can make it better. If you’ve tried and asked for support and it’s still not working, then it’s time to start exploring external options.

Exploring external options can range from finding a similar role in a different company or capacity or it could be a full career change. Knowing what’s possible includes a deep dive on your skills, interests and strengths but also a deep understanding of how much income you need to earn.

Let’s not forget the gravity problem of finances. For most of us it’s not easy to leave a well-paying job with benefits to explore the unknown. If you are considering leaving your job, the first step I suggest is creating a household budget so you know exactly how much income you need to generate. Once you’ve built your household budget and know how much money you need to earn you’ll have more clarity on the level of risk you can take in the change.

What if I don’t want to do the same job anymore but instead want to change careers?

If you’ve decided that it’s that actual work that doesn’t fit with you anymore rather than the company or the industry, it takes an investment of your time and energy to figure out what would make you happy.

Try to take on a curious, learning attitude and view it as a fun project. Seek out as many resources as you can to figure out what would be a better fit. There are so many books on the topic of career change as well as great coaches who can help you.

Create a self- inventory. Get to know your strengths, values, interests and lifestyle preferences so that you can see if a field or profession aligns well with them.

Collaborate with others to generate a list of potential career avenue that may be of interest to you.

Get out and talk to people. You’re likely not going to find answers by spending hours searching online. Find out about careers you’re interested in by speaking with people who are in that profession. Ask them what they love and don’t love about their job, about how people get into the field, about what skill sets employers in that field are seeking.

Read more career stories here!

Lauren Malach is a career coach. As a former executive recruiter, Lauren got really good at answering the strategic and tactical questions– how to interview well, how to craft your resume, how to source potential opportunities. And while that still interests her, what interests her, even more, is how to help clients live better lives. She believes we spend most of our lives at work, and if we can improve our outlook on our work, we may increase our overall life satisfaction. Now her clients are individuals who want to create more fulfillment, engagement or clarity in their career path. She also works with proactive leaders who want to influence their teams with intention.



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