Are You Selling Yourself Short in the Work Place Because of Your Illness?


The thing about chronic illness is that it doesn’t just rob you of your physical and mental abilities. It robs you of a little piece of you on the inside too, and that’s the part of it that is difficult to explain or put into words for other people. The whole focus of your life changes, things that were priorities get dropped, relationships, goals, things you found important before get thrown into perspective against a constant backdrop of pain and struggle.

The thing that hit me hardest were the things against which I used to measure my worth in the world had to change. To begin with, I didn’t realize this, so I kept judging myself harshly against those old measures and continually feeling the disappointment of never quite living up to my own expectations. My career became a self-torture device to raise myself up, just enough to fall back down again.

As someone who works with people to find their work life happy place, there is a phrase I hear repeated over and over by all sorts of people, from all sort of backgrounds – regardless of their health situation. It’s a repeating mantra of, “I want to do what will make me happy, but I don’t know what that is.” It’s a phrase that hits me in the heart because I remember a point in my life, a turning-point of sorts, when I realized the sad truth that I had completely lost myself.

I didn’t know what had happened to that girl I used to know. The fiery, passionate, creative person who knew she was meant for greatness. I had no idea where that girl was or what happened to her, but I didn’t see her in the mirror any more. I missed her laugh, her ridiculous dancing, her “fuck what anyone else thinks” attitude. I cried for her as much as I cried for my friends passing who had set this whole self-discovery in motion in the first place. I was grieving for my friend and grieving for myself at the same time because I had just lost a friend who, despite all my struggles and all the changes, always saw me for me underneath the illness armor. He loved the girl I was and without him I wondered who was going to lead me back to me. It was then that I realized that no one else could get me there, I had to rediscover myself – not the me I used to be, but a new me that respected the journey I’d been on.

There are a lot of people overwhelmed and unfulfilled in their work and I feel like in our spoonie community this number is far higher. For people like us who have had to just deal with all the stuff that’s been dumped on us, there’s an automatic compromise we make. We tell ourselves that we should just be happy to have any job, we should be grateful. We tell ourselves that dream jobs are for other people. We also sell ourselves short when we think that an employer is doing us a favor by dealing with our less than ordinary lives, that we are a burden when in fact we bring a hell of a lot to the table. Our skills and experience on their own make us worthy and our journey and our struggle has only made us more, not less.

There are some skills you can’t teach, you can only live through and you have lived them. Ask any employer what sets someone apart from all the other applications and all the other interviews, and it is the people with integrity, grit, determination and the ability to overcome their struggles. They are the people who will keep going when the going gets tough, who aren’t afraid to learn, to adapt to changing circumstances. They make the best managers and leaders because they have emotional intelligence, empathy, they can spot the signs that someone is struggling despite the smile because they have put that same smile on for the world too.

If you are a warrior worker or a warrior considering your place in the word of work, I want you to think about what unique experience and value you bring to the world. What is your superpower? What can you do like no one else you know? What has this difficult journey you’ve been on been preparing you for? What has this unique mix of experience and your personality combined to create? There is no one else in the world like you and you have value, don’t sell yourself short.

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