How to deal with a loss of a career due to chronic injury
September 29, 2013 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Hello, I am worried about my mental health because I am about to give up a career that I love because of a health issue. I work in a very competitive industry and I have, after many years of hard work been given my dream job. My work is exciting, varied and creative. It is also extremely physical. I am at the edge of achieving all my goals. But my condition means I am struggling to do the job. I am only in my late 20's My questions are: How can I deal mentally if I have to quit? I feel to a large extent defined by my work. I feel everything I worked for over the last 10 years is about to be ruined. I'm worried that I wont have anything else in my life that I can truly excel at. For those of you that have had a similar loss how did you cope? (Loss of a career, sport, hobby, etc) Thanks
posted by JIMSMITH2000 to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am so sorry to hear about your loss in this regard. I know how hard it can be.

In a sense, what you are dealing with is similar (but somewhat different) to those who pursue their dream, but never actually attain it. There's the pain of not being able to connect with what gives you passion. In your case, though, you have tasted what it is to succeed. Although it might make it more difficult to have to walk away, perhaps it can be a comforting thing to know that you have what it takes within yourself to attain your goals. In terms of self esteem and self-definition, this has nothing to do with you, but physical constraints outside of yourself.

Those who are not able to attain their dreams have to learn what it is to be defined by something other than work, and it's probably instructive for all of us to ask who this can be done, just in case. We can definitely be close to our work and find meaning form it, but it's only the last few decades or so that we've been able to ask what it means to be self-actualized by our jobs. In most years up until the present century, work was about survival for self and family. And even now, most people aren't so lucky to attain this.

That being said, this kind of thing is painful, and it can be devastating. Perhaps one thing you can look for is a way to be plugged into your passions and goals in a way that isn't so physically demanding. Is there a supporting role for what you do? Can you do consulting work in your field?

Good luck to you.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:08 PM on September 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was diagnosed with a chronic illness in my 20s and as a result had to give up the sport that I had dedicated many years to pursuing at a high level. It wasn't my career but it was how I spent most of my leisure time, most of my social life, and something I had worked very hard at for a very long time.

The first thing that was important for me was breaking down what I lost, that sport and my practice of it, into the components of what it gave me that I valued. So for example, I found that what I was really getting out of it were:
- physical activity
- health benefits
- measurable progress
- daily socializing with likeminded individuals
- achieving "the unachievable"/success as "an underdog"
- in many ways, shorthand for my identity

Systematically I've looked for activities that scratch some of the same itches but are compatible with my new lifestyle and limitations. Honestly I haven't been able to find anything that fits me as perfectly and checks off all those boxes. But I am participating in a variety of new stuff that I like to think at least approximates a lot of the benefits I used to get from the old thing.

The other thing that has been important for me is recognizing ways that my life has been enriched, instead of hindered, by my health issue. To be sure, I'd say it's a net fucking negative. But still there are positive takeaways just as there are negatives. I can't put words in your mouth and I'm sure the silver lining is different for you than for me. Although being sick has robbed me of a lot, I believe it has also made me a more thoughtful and compassionate person. I'm more appreciative of my remaining health and many of the "smaller things" in life because of what I've been through. Getting sick was a jolt to the inertia of my 20s that forced me to rethink some decisions I had made through inaction and put me on a better path.

I hope this was helpful and I'm sorry for what you're going through. It sucks but you will find a way to be OK.
posted by telegraph at 5:15 PM on September 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

You mentioned that your career takes a lot of actual physical work, but does it primarily count as a "skilled" trade? If so, perhaps you could get an assistant to do the heavy lifting and roughing-out, and spare your own body for the details that actually require your level of mastery?

As a fallback that you may initially find somewhat soul-crushing in the short run (though most people actually strive for this) but might work in the long run, how about moving into more of a managerial role? Mastering your trade doesn't automatically make you a good manager, but it gives you a hell of a leg up over the average weenie with an MBA and no clue what their underlings do...
posted by pla at 5:16 PM on September 29, 2013

Frankly, in your situation my ideal self would try and get promoted. Why not?

You don't have to quit [please don't]. Have your coworkers help you along. It sounds as though you are good at your job.

My right knee and I no longer cooperate the way we used to so I understand. If you can afford it you might want to entertain the idea of going back to school and learning a discipline that overlaps with your skill set but is less physical. This is what I am doing.

Good Luck.
posted by vapidave at 5:35 PM on September 29, 2013

There was a young gentleman who addressed this issue on KQED's Forum last month. link
posted by Triumphant Muzak at 6:43 PM on September 29, 2013

I have found great emotional help in How to Be Sick.
posted by janey47 at 7:54 PM on September 29, 2013

The first thing to do is get an accurate assessment as to whether your condition is stopping you from doing your job, or it is making it harder/more painful. Can the condition be fixed or healed?

Once you have that knowledge, you can proceed more knowledgeably. If you must stop doing what you are doing, you will have to take an inventory of what kind of transferable skills you have.

Again using the carpenter analogy, maybe you can shift to working in a cabinet shop or manufactured housing factory, where the controlled environment and machinery eliminate most of the hard work. Your experience ought to allow you to jump in and maybe get hired on as a junior foreman/shop manager kind of thing.
posted by gjc at 8:29 PM on September 29, 2013

Seconding How to Be Sick - she gives up a law career of twenty years she loved, and writes about how she has come to accept that she had twenty years in a career she loved, rather than focusing on what she lost.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:43 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Many workplaces can make accommodations...have you looked into all options for your career? Can you teach what you do, or work with a team or assistants? If you have been doing this a long time, then what is in your head is at least as valuable as what your body can do.
posted by emjaybee at 11:01 PM on September 29, 2013

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