New Grads with Chronic Illness Choosing that First Job

If you’re a recent college grad, you’re probably either looking for or are in your first “real” job (aka, full time and permanent).

For most people, life post college doesn’t create major internal debate. You roll the dice and take what comes most easily. In fact, in my work with people who live with chronic illness, I’ve found that, typically, a person takes that first job for one reason: it’s good enough to get started.

Choosing that First Job Carefully

If you’re living with chronic illness, you’ve likely learned that you have to be more careful about your choices. Perhaps you’ve also become keenly aware not to put yourself in situations in which you can’t take care of your health.

Unfortunately, this means that you don’t behave like your college friends – party all night and then ready for a day of classes. I know first hand how tough this is, especially when you’re young and everyone else is healthy with no clue about what it’s like to live with illness.

Strategic Planning

In my work as a career coach for people living with chronic illness, I’ve seen that few realize how important it is to think strategically about planning a career from the outset – even healthy people. But it’s even more important when you have a chronic illness because you have, and will probably continue to have, specific needs that challenge your ability to be successful at work.

Look, I know it’s easy to ignore this when no one around you thinks this way. Certainly not the guy in the apartment next door who took that 80/hour week job because the pay is so good. Or the girl in your sorority who is going to graduate school in International Public Health so she can work in crisis communities around the world.

Of course you want to do this, too. Everyone tells you that you shouldn’t let your health be a limiting factor. They say you’re too young to ignore your dreams and you should pursue your passion.

The Thoughtful Approach

But can’t you do both – take care of your health and pursue you dreams? I suggest you can:

  • Be realistic –Consider what you know about yourself (your interests, competencies, values and health) as you thoughtfully explore and evaluate opportunities. No, there are no guarantees with health or career. But you can make educated guesses to expand the possibilities. No matter what your health challenges are, you’ve managed them well enough to get where you are thus far. Take what you’ve learned.Try this: Create a spread sheet that includes what you believe you need in a work situation to continue to manage your health.
  • Be strategic –Develop a wide net of options that allow you to maximize your flexibility with unpredictable health. No one can be sure where jobs will be opening or which markets will shrink. But you’re more ready to adapt when you obtain training in key competencies that create solid skills in a variety of settings.Try this: Do your research, and then use and expand your network to learn what you need to be successful before committing to any direction.
  • Be resourceful –Play to your strengths and maximize your resources. Most of us have more energy and personal flexibility and fewer commitments when we’re in our early 20’s than at age 45. This is the time to take more risks and stretch yourself as investment in the future.Try this: Create your intention, move with thought, and stay within realistic parameters.

Depending on your age at the time of disease onset, people with chronic illness face different life challenges. It’s useful to understand the intersection of developmental life, career, and illness challenges that we face.

But, planning is only a piece of the puzzle. You also want to develop your capacity for resilience so you can adjust and adapt to what comes your way.

Bottom Line

As you consider what’s ahead, consider your options, design your career plan with care and thought, and work hard to make it happen, even if it feels like sometimes you’re playing against the odds.

About the author…

Rosalind Joffe is a recognized national expert on chronic illness in the workplace. As a leading career coach specializing in working with the chronically ill, she has been quoted in numerous national publications and media. Rosalind holds a Masters in Education, is a certified Mediator, and has completed the Corporate Coach University certificate program. Rosalind’s website (Chronic Illness Career Coach) offers advice and resources for people working with chronic illnesses.  She also publishes a widely read blog, WorkingWithChronicIllness. In addition, find more of Rosalind’s insights at and on Twitter @WorkWithIllness.

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