Rosalind Joffe is a co-author of Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend! and the founder of cicoach.com, a career-coaching practice that helps people with chronic illnesses develop workplace skills. She helps her clients return to the workforce after an extended absence and assists them in the process of succeeding in their careers.
Joffe emphasizes that workplace success in the face of illness is transforming. “It gives you the power and the confidence to face other challenges, large and small,” she writes in her book.
Because disabilities vary greatly, and “no two people’s stories look the same,” Joffe says there’s no single, generic piece of advice that she can give to her clients and others. Still, she offers five tips that are applicable to anyone with a disability who is considering going back to work.
1. Do a reality check. Joffe says people with disabilities need to be realistic about a career that they will be able to sustain given their disability. This can require some work on your end, and is one of the services Joffe offers as a consultant. She emphasizes that finding a career that you can succeed in, even if it’s not the one you originally planned for, is part of looking at the bigger picture of life.
2. Hone your skills. Joffe is adamant that you should focus on developing the skills necessary for the career you want (and can reasonably pursue). For someone with a disability, it’s a good idea to try to focus on developing strengths — like good technology and communication skills — that will allow you to work virtually. “There are more opportunities than ever to work from home,” she says, “and that’s good news for someone with a disability.”
3. Go back to class. Joffe emphasizes taking specific skill-related classes, or to volunteer in an area related to your future career. Volunteering is a good move for someone who is currently unemployed and needs to build up his or her assets, she says. One of Joffe’s clients decided she didn’t want to return to her previous career and instead wanted to re-invent herself. The client did “smart volunteer work,” upon Joffe’s advice, “that allowed her to build her contacts and networks” while gaining skills at the same time. Within about a year, she was offered a paid position in her new field.
4. Start small. Joffe says some of her clients have been able to find part-time work in the field they’re looking to enter. Working part-time will give you training and income, and also enable you to explore whether you are in the right career for your health, both physically and mentally, she says.
5. Nurture your mental health. In Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease, Joffe admits that she lacked mental resilience when she was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 27, and says it took time to develop this again. “To cultivate your physical resilience, you must have the mental reliance that comes from a place called hope,” she writes. According to Joffe, “hope” is the belief that your life can be fulfilling despite a physical (and often financial) setback like having to quit work due to a disability.
Ultimately, Joffe’s advice is to go back to work if you can, because no doing so can make you feel worse over the long term. The resilience to keep going, despite whatever obstacles may stand in your way, will make you a stronger person and employee.
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