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How My Multiple Sclerosis Helped Me View Work in a New Light

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One ruler.

Hand sanitizer.

One blue toothbrush.

About a dozen finance and management books.

91 cents.

It’s not often you stop to truly take stock of your current job, but that’s what happened in the fall of 2011 when multiple sclerosis unceremoniously ended my career.

There were no retirement parties, goodbye emails or farewell meetings. It’s almost as if I disappeared mysteriously into the night.

Not long after my title shifted from “director” to “long-term disabled,” I received two large boxes in the mail from my former employer. In each was an assortment of odds and ends that decorated and filled my work space.

Day after day, I was surrounded by these items — family pictures, a variety of medications and enough trinkets to open a chachkies store.

Easy to Nod, Hard to Do

An old adage suggests that, while lying on their death beds, no one ever wishes they’d spent more time at the office, so it’s important not to lose sight of what really matters in life: faith, family and friends.

I don’t disagree with this sentiment — but then again, who does?

It’s easy to nod in agreement with these kinds of statements, but then real life comes along with its own routine — bills to pay, children to raise, businesses to start and bosses to please.

Nobody strives to have regrets in their final days, but in the short-term, what’s more tangible? Life’s big questions — or not getting fired?

It’s human nature to fall back into old habits that accompany most careers. A week might pass before you ask yourself, “What did I even accomplish?”

Your days might resemble the Little Dutch Boy, hoping you don’t run out of fingers to plug all the holes.

Or perhaps you get lost in your own evil version of “Groundhog Day.” You’re not fully engaged, but you can still churn out the same tasks, create the same presentations, conduct the same meetings that were done by so many that came before you and will still be performed well after you are no longer there.

The band Kansas has a famous song that goes “Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind … nothing lasts forever but the earth and the sky … it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy.”

Five years ago, when I received those two large boxes that contained all of my work belongings, a version of that song echoed in my head. “Chachkies in the wind, all we are is chachkies in the wind.”

Corporate polo shirt (with the tags still on).

Financial calculator.

A book called “24/7 Innovation.”

A box of Kleenex.

And so the list goes — two pages long, both amusing and educational.

Leave Your Mark

Not everyone gets diagnosed with a chronic disease. And not everyone diagnosed with a chronic disease is forced to leave the workforce early.

Your “Kansas” moment may not come until much later in life when you realize so many of your prime years were devoted to being lost in a quasi-purgatory state of endless and repetitive to-dos, which mostly resulted in kicking the corporate koozie down the hall.


Instead of doing what’s always been done, make it better. Make it yours.

Unfulfilled? Don’t wait for life to force you to make changes. Find your true happiness.

I’m not advocating rash decisions; rather, an honest re-evaluation of where you are versus where you want to be.

I didn’t change the world in my former career, but I’m content knowing I didn’t follow the script to just get by.

Getting diagnosed with MS was one part crushing but another part freeing. Living with a chronic disease is a powerful reminder to make each day — every moment — matter, because I honestly don’t know what tomorrow might bring to my health or quality of life.

So every day I wear a smile and push to leave my mark. To make a difference.

To do it my way.

And now I hope to pass that practice down to my children or inspire others to do the same.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: July 20, 2016
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