Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
One of the most frustrating things in life is looking for a job. Or being in a job that isn't what you want. It can feel like standing on a pretty shaky foundation. And that’s in the best of times.
Finding a job may be no easy task. If you are living with a chronic condition, the job hunt can be even more complicated and frustrating.
If you’re in the job market, or plan to be soon, here are some steps to consider as you make your next move:
Get to know yourself. What are your interests? Your skills? What kinds of people do you feel comfortable working with? Or would you rather be working someplace off by yourself? Start by sitting down and thinking about what your ideal work situation would be. Focus on the big picture, and don’t worry about specific jobs and careers at this point. Do a self-inventory and see what you come up with. This is your starting place.
Ask yourself: What do people look to me for? Fill in the blank: Friends and family members come to me when they need a good ____. Are you a good problem solver? A listener? An explainer? Is there a skill you have that other people have complimented you on? If you’re not sure what should go in that blank space, ask around. What you hear might provide a few hints about your skills.
Watch people work. As you’re out in the world, take a moment to observe people as they are working. The best way to do this is to get outside of your normal routine. Take note of things you see that you hadn’t thought about before.
Have conversations. When you get a chance, talk to people about what they do and how they got where they are. Listen with an open mind.
Talk to your doctor. Your doctor is not a career counselor but he/she may have some ideas for you based on what other patients in a similar situation are doing for work. You never know what you might learn here. If you haven’t already had this conversation, you might also talk about any potential concerns or limitations that your chronic condition might present.
Check out local resources. Your county or state may offer job-hunting resources, including classes on creating a resume and job-hunting, job placement programs, or even programs for individuals living with chronic conditions. See what’s out there. You never know.
Cast a wide net. Of course, apply for the jobs you know you want first. But also consider jobs that might be a fit for you, even if they aren’t a first choice. If you are currently employed, then you may want to hold off on the second-string jobs for now. But if you need to land someplace soon, it’s advisable to consider jobs that, while not ideal, could provide a reasonable way to earn an income during the short term.
Think short term and long term. No job is forever. If you have to take a job that is not ideal, or if your current job isn’t ideal, think of it as a placeholder. And then consider your next steps in finding something that you are more suited for. This might take some time, patience, and you may have to learn new skills. It’s time now to start planning.
Be realistic. Think not only about how a potential job matches your skills, but also whether or not it is a fit in other ways. Consider physical requirements, as well as potential mental and emotional demands. Consider how likely the organization might be to provide any accommodations you need. And consider the insurance package and other benefits. No organization is perfect. You might need to make some trade-offs here.
Watch your self-talk. Trade in “what I can’t do” for “what I can do.” Lose the negative self-labels.
Designate yourself the final decision-maker. You may find that just about everybody has an idea about what you should do or, more likely, not do. Input and advice from people who care about you can be invaluable. So consider their opinions. But it’s still your decision.
As you kick off your job hunt, here are three important qualities to add to your resume: Patience. Flexibility. Optimism. Now that’s a strong foundation!