Reimagining Work in a New Season

In consultation with my doctor, we decided it was best if I file for my company’s long-term disability benefits and stop working so I can focus more on my health—rest more, reduce stress, and better cope with side effects of treatments. I’ve been on short-term disability for about 6 weeks, and that time has shown me that it’s the right move to step away from the workforce.

I have felt a bit better removing the work stresses from my life (though the paperwork mountain that comes with filing disability provides stress of its own), but I’ve also felt a little bit lost. I’ve worked in the same field for 25 years, and it feels strange to think I won’t be doing that anymore.

Many people have told me, “You’re not what you do.” And I believe that. But I also have felt “at home” in the work that I do. I have truly felt I was working within my strengths and gifts, and feedback from managers and colleagues confirmed that. In fact, one colleague recently had a sign made for me with the nickname I picked up on one our projects (at right).

I have derived joy in improving the words someone has written so they can better deliver a message to the intended audience. And there’s been great satisfaction in taking a pile of source material and writing a report, fact sheet, or website that conveys useful information in a way that readers can easily understand and act on. That this work has been done in the context of public health means that what I wrote or edited helped people learn, make healthier choices for themselves and their families, better comprehend complex medical jargon, or access services they need. My work contributed to helping people and communities flourish. It felt like Kingdom work.

So, then, why stop doing it? As with many jobs, mine had deadlines, challenges, quick pivots in scope or direction, crises and rushes, meetings and more meetings, extra hours worked to meet client demands, unrealistic requests from project directors, and expectations that I perform to a certain level. All that led to stress. Pre-disease, that stress was sometimes hard to manage, but every job has stress, so I just dealt with it. And for the first 19 months after my stage 4 diagnosis, I continued to deal with it. Over time, the added stress of disease and medication side effects and frequent doctor visits became too much. Being absent often, not feeling well, and being distracted by any number of things related to my condition made it increasingly difficult to do a high-quality job, and the combined level of stress was surely bad for any healing processes we are trying to bring about. I was having trouble sleeping from worry—about what was on my plate for the next day and about my capacity to do it all, on top of the worry of whether treatments were working or what an upcoming scan or blood test would show.

I feel relief to have made the decision to put my job aside in favor of my health and using my energy for self-care and the care of my family. I know it’s best. I also know that my job title is not my whole identity. But writing and editing certainly IS my vocation. It’s something I feel I need to do, maybe what I was made to do. It satisfies my soul. And I feel that putting words together or finessing others’ words contributes in some way to the world—at least my corner of it.

So now, I suppose the challenge is to find ways to put the gifts I have to use in other ways. To write on my own time, when I feel like it, under no pressure. I know… this blog is writing. But I like the sense of helping when I write something for others or edit another’s work. It feeds a different part of my mind and soul than writing for my own pleasure or to get my own thoughts out of my head. Maybe I can volunteer my editing skills to a nonprofit organization or a small business that needs to communicate more clearly and concisely to funders, stakeholders, or customers.

I’ve also been trying to reframe my treatments, scans/tests, follow-up calls, and self-care (including naps) as my new “job”—doing whatever I can to give myself the best shot at long, quality life. Every month and year I can continue on current treatments gives the chance for medical discoveries to turn the tide on this disease. Hey, if they come up with a new treatment that cures my cancer or keeps it at bay with a few, minor side effects, I’ll be more than happy to go back to a paid, full-time job. All the more reason to find outlets for writing and editing in this new season—to keep my skills up, just in case.

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