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'It's Time': Letting Go of the Working Life I Led Before MS

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Have you ever had a moment where you realize, it’s time? Time to make a change and let go of the past?

When I was 10 years old, I started my first job delivering newspapers.

I woke up before 5 a.m., traversed through our dark neighborhood in hot, cold, rain and even snow, bringing that morning’s Washington Post to customers’ doorsteps.

It was my first taste of “working” – it certainly wasn’t easy, but I loved it. In fact, I still have a plaque from the Post in my home office that commends my “Outstanding performance during the blizzards of 1987.”

Yes, we even had to deliver those papers during a blizzard!

School? Well, that was a different story.

I was a good student, just not a particularly great one. Often, I found myself bored and uninspired. My grades weren’t bad but I certainly wasn’t the class valedictorian.

I’d rather chat with friends about football, not geometry. And instead of creative writing, there was plenty of creative daydreaming.

But working? That was my comfort zone, it’s where I thrived. From paperboy to various jobs at a dry cleaner, local Chinese restaurant or Blockbuster video, I loved it all – the atmosphere, working with others, even collaborating with some of the owners.

I had such a great relationship with my manager at the Chinese restaurant, they chose me to star in a commercial for the new location they were opening.

The academic world, to me, was just about memorizing and regurgitating facts or dates; but when I was on the job, I felt like I could actually make an instant impact and usually in a very positive way.

What started in the mid-80s continued throughout my adult life.

In college, I had a couple of internships. During spring, summer, fall and winter breaks, when some of my fellow classmates went on trips or were relaxing with friends… I was working.

Sure, I wanted to earn some money and enhance my college
resume, but I also greatly enjoyed it.

Like high school, I wasn’t the best college student. But I did well enough that a young, growing financial company called Capital One hired me and in June of 1998 my professional career officially began.

And what a ride it was.

It included meeting my future wife and working at two prominent Fortune 200 companies, moving to Texas, completing graduate school and even starting a family. I started as a Tax Accountant and ended as a Director of Product Management.

After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I wanted to push through and continue to work, even as I was receiving monthly infusions for my MS.

There’s no plaque for that. Honestly, I think I did what any person in my position would have done.

I felt guilty that I was missing so much time from work. My former manager told me that “Mike Wentink at 75 percent is better than most” and I wanted to prove him right.

I had visions of pioneering the 21st century remote executive, living with a chronic disease but still performing at a very high level.

More than 20 years later, from paperboy to professional, I still loved to work.  The interaction, challenges and achievements.

Ultimately, the damage being done to my health from working was too much. I couldn’t sustain the energy required for an entire day and relapses were becoming common as my health worsened.

So, just over six years ago, I medically retired from the professional workforce.

Although I don’t look back with sadness, there is a certain emptiness, because work was a large part of who I was. My identity.

My wife and I met at my first job, so working always holds a special place in my heart. And, I’ll always cherish how she’d look at me, her eyes beaming with pride after some of my career achievements.

“Daddy is working late tonight” makes a lot more sense than “Your father is tired from his medicine and needs to rest.”

My car, purchased new in 2009 to celebrate my new position as a Product Manager, sits mostly idle at home, with barely 23k miles on it.

And my closet is filled with a work wardrobe, gathering dust.

I guess I should say, was filled with work clothes.

Earlier this year, I realized it was time.

I’ve made peace with having MS. I’m no longer chasing the ghosts of who I was; rather, I want to embrace who I’ve become and can still be.

The clothes had to go.

Taking that step wasn’t easy but you know what? It felt good.

Each new day is another opportunity to re-define who you are and to become a new or better person.

I’m still “working,” just not how I used to be.

Managing a chronic disease like multiple sclerosis is a full-time job. However, with the absence of my professional career, I’ve discovered and developed many other aspects of my life.

I write and podcast about living with MS. It’s not easy, but I love doing it.

I provide my wife support and career advice and the children call me “Teacher Daddy” because I’m always there to help them with homework or study for a test.

Whenever I find enough energy, I love to bring smiles to my family’s tummies with my baking.

I’ll always have my career memories, from paperboy to Product Manager… and now I look forward to forging new paths and experiences.

And the best part is, no slacks or stuffy button-down shirts are required.

Getty Image by monkeybusinessimages

Originally published: March 19, 2018
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