Your job doesn’t need to be your passion

I recently read an article on Huffington Post entitled “Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ is Bad Career Advice.” I was immediately drawn in by the title. I’m so sick of the millennial generation feeling the need for their work to be their passion. I really think this stems from parents and teachers telling millennials “you can be anything you want to be.” Sorry, but that’s just not true. Even if I wanted to be, I’m not going to be a doctor or Olympian. I’ll be honest, my worst grades were in my science classes (with the exception of Geology: rocks for jocks!). We know I trained with Olympic swimmers, but even at my peak I was never going to be Olympic caliber, no matter how much I loved the sport. Life doesn’t work like that.

The article quotes Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France. Her main point is we should find “sustainable careers.” Something that makes use of the skills we have, urges us to develop new skills, and among other things, provides a work-life balance. This is not what we were told growing up, hell that’s not what we’re told now. We’re told to love what you do, make your passion your life’s work. But, I truly believe, a job can just be a job. My father always says “No one wakes up and says ‘I’m going to fun today.’ No they say I’m going to work!”

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Currently my job is my escape from lupus. It’s 8+ hours a day where I’m distracted from the fact that I have this horrible illness. It’s 8 hours a day where my co-workers know me as Kristin, the account executive. Is my job my passion? No. I had that job and because of lupus I couldn’t keep up. But, that doesn’t mean I’m not happy now. I’m good at what I do; I’m valued by my company; I’m able to take a lunch break and be home in time for dinner; I’ve found a balance in my life; I’m able to take care of myself physically while still bringing home a paycheck.

If you can find a job where you can manage lupus while following your passion – great! But, with so many patients not able to work, finding a job that doesn’t worsen your symptoms, offers health insurance, and pays the bills is enough. Make yourself and your health your passion. You’ll be much happier I promise.

 

Ways to be happier at work

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Inc. had a wonderful post, entitled 17 Ways to Be Happier at Work. While this list was written for the normal workers, I think many can be applied and more deeply discussed by those of us working with chronic illnesses. Here are just a few of Inc’s tips that spoke to me:

1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everybody, and I mean everybody, starts out in a different place and is headed on their own journey. You have NO idea where someone else’s journey might lead them, so drawing comparisons is a complete waste of time.

Those of us with a chronic illness are different from the normal worker. We take more sick days, we may move slower, forget more, etc. Do not compare yourself to your colleague who works 12 hour days, or the colleague who travels 3 days a week. As long as you are getting your work done on time and/or on budget you don’t need to compare yourself. I can’t travel like the rest of my colleagues who can jet off to Detroit or Austin on an hour’s notice. But, I can make sure all the back end work at the office is complete and organized. As long as you are doing your job to the best of your abilities do not compare your work style to others.

2. Never obsess over things you cannot control. While it’s often important to know about other things–like the economy, the markets that you sell to, the actions that others might take, your focus should remain on what you actually control, which is 1) your own thoughts and 2) your own actions.

This one is huge for me. I can’t control what a client throws my way, or if an event I’ve planned goes awry in the field. But, I can control how I react when things go wrong. Lupus is aggravated by stress, so it is important not to stress about things I can’t control.

3. Know and keep your personal limits and boundaries. While your job might sometimes seem like the most important thing in your world, you’re killing a part of yourself if you let work situations push you into places that violate your privacy and your integrity.

While Inc. describes this tip in regards to workplace ethics, I think about it in regards to time. I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to keep work at work. If a situation is immediate, most colleagues will call; which means not checking my work email while away from work. I know this is hard in the world of Blackberries/ iPhones, where the lines between work and personal life have become blurred. But, in order to control my stress levels as discussed above, I must keep work and personal separate. Bonus: this means I can give my full attention to my loved ones or my health when I’m not at work.

4. Don’t over commit yourself or your team. It’s great to be enthusiastic and willing to go the “extra mile,” but making promises that you (or your team) can’t reasonably keep is simply a way to create failure and disappointment.

Again, back to managing the stress levels. You want to seem like to go-getter, the over-achiever. I know because I am that person, despite my limitations. But, when you only have so many spoons in a day it is best to avoid over-committing.

9. Make peace with your past lest it create your future. Focusing on past mistakes or wrongs inflicted on you is exactly like driving a car while looking in the rear view mirror. You’ll keep heading in the same direction until you collide with something solid.

I think of this tip in big picture terms. For years I had a dream of becoming a sideline reporter for ESPN. I worked toward that dream covering two BCS National Championships, MLB playoffs, the Little League World Series. But I couldn’t keep up. Lupus wouldn’t let me continue to run ragged, work a month without a day off, or carry a 40 lb. camera while running up and down a football field. Yes, I never made it to ESPN, but I lived my dream. I did the same job, if not more, than the other sideline reporters, and I got to cover some really cool sporting events. I can’t look back on my career change and be bitter that I didn’t make it to the top. I have to make peace with the fact that my new career allows for a lunch break, a chance to sit down, and the ability to turn work off. In the end that’s better for my health and psyche than completely fulfilling my dream.

How to get Social Security Disability

We’ve all had those “lupie” days where we can’t get out of bed no matter how hard we try. We’ve all missed too much work or missed an important deadline because of lupus. I fear the day I can’t work for an extended period of time or lose my health insurance.

This weekend I had the pleasure of listening to disability attorney Winnie Pannell speak to our Lupus Support Group. I’ve met Winnie before and she is a hoot. Saturday’s topic was more serious: how to go about receiving Social Security Disability.

Before you can even think about applying, make sure you have paid into Social Security (or its official name: FICA) for 5 years or 20 quarters out of the past 10 years. If you are self-employed or a contractor, the amount of income you earn can translate into required quarters.

There are two types of Social Security Disability. DIB and SSI.

DIB: Monthly benefits will start after the fifth month of disability and will receive Medicare which will start after 29 months (5 month waiting period, plus 24 months on DIB).

  • you must prove you became disabled before your FICA eligibility runs out.
  • you will not receive more than 12 months of previous benefits. It is important to file as soon as you lose your job or become disabled as your benefits will only be retroactive 12 months before you filing date.
  • COBRA benefits from your former employer last 18 months. If you receive Social Security you are eligible to extend COBRA an extra 11 months to bridge the 29 month gap before Medicare kicks in.

SSI: As Winnie explains in the video, most of the time the Social Security process has drained a person’s assets so that, excluding their house and their car, they have less than the required amount in savings. SSI beneficiaries will receive Medicaid.

The application is pretty complicated but you can complete it online. You can’t just say “I’m sick and can’t work” you have to prove it. Thus the importance of keeping detailed records:

  • Ask for copies of all doctors notes, including the date and time of your visit as well as what was discussed.
  • Take your own notes to the doctor, listing your symptoms, pain rates and dates. Not only does this help your Social Security case but also gives your doctor an easy reference of your symptoms to better assist in your care.
  • Dates you missed work and any notices from work regarding your absence or tardiness.
  • Photographs of physical manifestations of lupus. Rashes, hair loss, jaundice, swelling, etc. You may not feel like having your picture taken, but it is critical to show how bad it can get compared to healthy pictures of you.
  • A journal of your symptoms or your feelings each day. Miss a dinner with friends because you were in bed? Write it down. Can’t cook and order in? Write it down.
  • Letters from loved ones detailing how you used to be. Did you used to be an athlete and now you can’t walk the dog? Have your spouse or loved one describe that. Often it’s more powerful coming from someone else.
  • Document the date, time, and name of everyone you speak with regarding your Social Security case.
  • Get a certified mail receipt for everything you send the Social Security office.
  • Make copies of everything you send the Social Security office.

It is important to note, 74% of all Social Security claims are denied and 84% of appeals are denied as well. Don’t give up. After the appeal is denied, you have 60 days to request a hearing. It is only at this point in the process you are required to have a lawyer. During the hearing you must answer five questions:

  1. Are you working? If yes, then your case is dismissed.
  2. Do you have a severe impairment that will last more than a year or result in death? Yes, there is no cure for lupus.
  3. Is the condition “listed” in the CFR or of equal severity? The listing for lupus means you must have involvement of two or more organs, one of which is moderate to severe involvement, and you must have two of the following: severe fatigue, fever, malaise or involuntary weight loss. Or, you must show repeated symptoms of lupus with at least two of the following: limits in daily living activities, limits in maintaining social functioning, or limits in completing tasks in a timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, persistence and pace.
  4. Does the condition prevent former employment? Can you go back to any job you held in the last 15 years? If yes, then your case is dismissed.
  5. Does the condition prevent other gainful employment? Must answer no to get Social Security.

For question 4 and 5, most experts will say you are not employable if you miss 2 or more days of work per month. It is important to prove in the hearing that you cannot work due to increased absence, the unpredictability of lupus, the lupus fog, and depression from lupus or mood swings from medicinal side effects. All of this goes back to the importance of medical records.

Getting Social Security Disability does not mean you’ll be a “freeloader” forever. Frankly I don’t think you’ll be freeloading at all, you pay into the system, it is there if you need it. But, the majority of people want to work. There is a trial work period which is 9 non-consecutive months to test the waters. If you earn more than $1,040 per month (minus medical expenses) then you are deemed employable again and are no longer disabled.

In most cases, if you have not medically improved, but are able to return to some form of work, Medicare benefits will continue for at least 93 months. These 93 months will start the month after the last month of your trial work period. While your Social Security cash benefits will cease, you will still be covered under Medicare insurance.

If you can work, there are plenty of things your employer can do to make work easier. Now this all depends on how you breach the subject with your employer, but larger companies are often more apt to work with you than smaller ones.

  • Placing a filter over bright lights
  • Utilizing voice activation software to type
  • Working from home
  • Rest periods throughout the day

Of course, every employer differs and some may be more empathetic and compassionate than others. It is best to look up your employers’ policy as well as having a doctors note when making any requests.

If you would like to apply for Social Security you can now do so online: www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability.

If you’re in Georgia and would like more help from Winnie and her office you can find more info at lupuslaw.info.

My Favorite Yoga Videos

Yoga is one of my favorite workouts, especially when I’m stressed. Last week I had two super stressful conference calls at work. Instead of slamming my phone down, I went into a closed conference room (no windows) and did about 10 minutes of yoga. Yes I did yoga at work in the middle of the day. I left that little room feeling calm and satisfied that I had gotten some exercise in since I’d be working late hours.

Yoga is great for my lupus symptoms. It dramatically improves my range of motion, eases stress on my joints and calms me. Less stress = fewer flares.

Sometimes I make up my own yoga flows: sun salutations with some side triangle and warrior poses thrown in. Other times I’m looking for a quick fix, especially as I’m working later and later into the evenings.

Fit Sugar has great 10 minute workouts on their site. I pinned the Yoga Flow and the Yoga with weights (which can obviously be done without weights). 10 minutes! Everyone can do that.

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Kristin McGee is my favorite “celebrity” yoga instructor. I discovered her on the Body By Bethenny DVD and she set my expectation for yoga videos. Kristin-McGee-S3-DVD-ReviewI just purchased her newest DVD. It has three 25 minute yoga/pilates workouts. Even after working late, I can squeeze in 25 minutes. If I have more time or want to keep going I can easily combine the workouts.

Most professional yoga instructors warn not to push a patient 100% into yoga flow. For those of you who aren’t feeling well, even five minutes of child’s pose can help. I suggest starting slow, with shorter videos and simple flows before tackling full length DVDs or classes.

What’s your favorite Yoga video?

 

Why I’m sharing my story

I never wrote that I was featured in the summer issue of Lupus Now Magazine. The cover girl was Shannon Boxx of the US Women’s Soccer Team and the article was “Work with it” all about having a successful career while managing lupus. (When I interviewed for the article I was still a sports reporter, still working long hours with few days off and still carrying a heavy camera).

On the Auburn sideline

This weekend I received an email from a woman who lived in my former city of employement. She had just been diagnosed and had received a subscription to Lupus Now from her husband as a way to get more information. I’ve edited to protect her identity but her words were so sweet I had to share some of it:

“I was so surprised to see a local person in this national Magazine, that I felt compelled to just say “hello”, and let you know how comforting it is to see someone local dealing with this disease while maintaining such a busy and rigorous job and lifestyle. Thanks for allowing the magazine to feature you. I realize that such a small detail as “being close to home”,would make a difference, but it did. I am not really into sports, and to be quite honest, have never watched the sports edition on any channel. But I can assure you that you have acquired a new fan, and I will be making a point to tune in to watch your broadcasts if for no other reason than to support a fellow “Loopy “person 🙂 “

Even though I’m not on TV and didn’t gain a viewer, her words meant so much to me. Knowing that I gave one person the slightest inkling of hope just by letter her know that she’s not alone.

1.5 million Americans have this horrible disease. A disease with no cure, few treatments and very little understanding. This is why it’s important to share my story. To shed some light on lupus, to share what helps my symptoms, to vent, to listen, and to make other people feel a little more comfortable sharing their own stories.

So to my new “fan”: thank you for your email. You are why I’m involved in the Georgia chapter of the Lupus Foundation, why I’ve done interviews for Lupus Now Magazine and why I blog.

Planes, trains and automobiles

In both the sports reporter and marketing worlds I’ve done my fair share of business travel. Some trips have been better than others (don’t even get me started on the time the tv station sent me to a bowl game expecting me to sleep on the floor). But, there’s a way to travel for business avoiding a flare, but still getting your job done. Here are some of my best tips:

1) Pack like a pro

Type A personality here. I not only make a list of what I need to bring but pack efficiently. You don’t need a fancy Louis Vuitton suitcase to pack correctly. I know everyone has their own way but this web app made my life better! Not only does a little organization make my trips less stressful but also taught me that my roller suitcase is a lifesaver.

2) On the room service menu – seasonal vegetables.

Sometimes you’re in a hotel with nothing around but fast food. Instead try room service. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Most hotel restaurants and room service menus list some kind of vegetable as a side and most of the time  those “side” items are full plates or bowls of fresh grilled/steamed veggies, for the same cost as a Big Mac. Just because you’re on the road doesn’t mean you have to give up eating healthy.

Soup and Veggies for under $10 via room service

3) Bring your own pillow

Or whatever else helps you sleep. I love a big hotel bed, but I know many others don’t. So pack your own blanket, or pillow, or whatever you can to replicate your best sleep.

4) Take a half day

Most of my trips involve looooonnnggg days. Like 15+ hours of being on my feet. Last week I was on the golf course at 6:30am, worked until I had to leave for the airport at 8pm for a 10pm flight and didn’t get home until 2am. The next day = half day. Work it out with your boss if you can but even if you can’t, it may be worth it to take some unpaid time. In the long run a few hours of extra sleep is better than missing a few days later when the lupus flares up.

A lovely but long day

What tips do you have for business travel with a chronic illness?