Be the Boss Over Cancer

Don't be surprised if you find yourself singing the famous refrain from the Rolling Stones' hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" at your desk at some point after your cancer diagnosis. Having cancer has a way of putting a different spin on things. But before you walk out the door in search of something new, it's helpful to remind yourself of what you like about your current job. Then delve into what's missing and what gives you a feeling of satisfaction. Answering the following questions will help you get a better sense of that you are looking for.

What's right about your job?
Figuring out what's been good about your work situation can make it easier to identify the one or two things you've really been missing. Perhaps your company's support and flexibility during your treatment has made you see them through new eyes. Maybe your job has given you the chance to exercise the skills that you enjoy using the most.  It may be that your life style is just what you want it to be. Or maybe you get satisfaction from learning something new and your job gives you that opportunity.  Ask yourself the same questions about past jobs.

Write down whatever it is that gives you satisfaction and is important to you.

What's missing?
Once you've identified what's worked for you in your work, consider what's missing. Just because you are good at something, doesn't necessarily mean you want to do it anymore. Perhaps surviving cancer has made you want to do something that you think is more meaningful.  Maybe your work-life balance is out of whack. Or you might be stuck in the same old rut.

The most important thing is for you to raise your awareness of what you don't have or haven't had in your job. When you know what that is, it is much easier to make decisions and to do something about it.

Now create a second list of things you haven't liked about your job. So now your list reflects your preferences and the things you'd like to avoid.

Can you get it where you are?
Before you start looking for another job, try to figure out if you can get the things that are missing in your current job. Let's say you haven't learned anything new in several years. Is there an aspect of your company or industry that is growing that you'd like to learn more about? Are there specific skills that other people within your organization have that you think you'd enjoy using or learning? What about improving a weak skill, like public speaking, training, financial management or marketing?

If you really like what you do but feel like you need a change, why not get involved in a special project that focuses on improving your employer's business? Identify an area within your company that needs help, think through the details of how you can improve it, and put together a brief proposal to present to your boss.

Or how about getting more involved in your industry's key association? This is also a great way to meet new people in your industry who tend to be decision makers, especially if you've been out of the loop for a while during your illness.

Can you get it elsewhere?
If you've taken a hard look at your current job and company and realize that you just can't create a situation or do work that satisfies you, then it makes sense to start looking for opportunities in other companies or industries. Even companies that are laying off employees are still interested in hiring talented people.

Now is the time to start networking with as many people as possible. You may not find a new opportunity as quickly as you'd like, but you are planting seeds. Keep your list of what is important to you close by to remind yourself of what you need and want from work. Use your lists to create questions you'll ask in networking meetings or interviews.  Identifying what's missing in your work can get you started in the right direction for job satisfaction - and a new refrain to sing when you're back at work.

Tell us: What are the two top things that are right about your job?  How about the two biggest things that are missing?  What is your work theme song today?



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  • Terry T.

    Terry T. on Nov 11, 2007

    Oncology nurse practitioner as of 9/7/07 when the cancer hospital I worked at decided to no longer hold my position (while I was being treated there for cancer). What "was" right? I loved my patients and bringing them 'warmth' and comfort when I could. I loved being on teams that worked to help patients and families. Missing? Management support- no consideration of patient convenience or needs. And, enough providers to give patients more time one on one. Theme song- "You drive me crazy..."

  • User avatar

    Anonymous on Jan 30, 2008

    Hi Julie,

    I could use some support. I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer back in July 07. As a result I had to have a mastectomy, I have been having chemo since August. I was out of work from July till October. When I was rated for the year, my rating was dropped and I was told "You don't get a pass for being sick", I wasn't looking for a pass I was looking to be rated for the time I was at work but it appears I was rated on full year contribution although I was out of work for over 12 weeks in 2007. I am finding it hard to get inspired to feel good about coming back as I was replaced in my job while I was out and now I seem to be floating without a sense of direction. I am very afraid because I need to take time off again this year that my rating will be dropped again in 2008. If anyone has gone through this problem and can provide some advice to me how to get back on track and feel inspired to recommit to my career, I would appreciate those recommendations.

  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Feb 3, 2008

    Career Coach Comment:

    Dear Anonymous,

    It is absolutely legitimate to feel cheated and disheartened about your experience at work. The experience you had with your performance rating is what is referred to by experts as "recency". This is when an employee is evaluated on the most recent negative or positive situation that stands out in the manager's mind, rather then the entire performance review period. It doesn't help that your manager seems to be sadly lacking compassion about your cancer.

    From your posting, it sounds as if you are back at your company in a different job? Is this correct? Does this now mean that you have a different manager? It would be helpful for me to know this if you write back.

    As for the core of your question, "How can you get back on track and feel inspired again in your career?" There are a few things you can do. First, find something new that you can learn or get excited about either in your current job or elsewhere in the company. Get involved in a special project, join a task committee, reinvent something in your department, take a class or workshop outside work or find a less experienced employee whom you can coach or mentor. Start small and focus on doing the best job you can.

    Also, everyone uses different methods for getting and staying motivated. Some ideas are to sign up for a motivational website that sends daily quotes, go to your hairdresser and change your hairstyle or color, volunteer your time in a cause that you believe in, listen to inspirational tapes or audio books, develop a mantra that you can repeat to yourself when you're feeling stuck or make a list of your five favorite things to do and start doing them!

    Even though you feel fearful and directionless now, there will absolutely be a time when you won't feel these things any more. Keep reminding yourself about this and try some of the things I suggested earlier to help you develop more positive energy. Good luck!


  • Karri I.

    Karri I. on Jun 3, 2009

    i had a job that i loved being an emt and a dispatcher. in 2006 i was diagnoised with the first of 4 cancers. the final on being diagnoised in 2008 when they took out my kidney. i was off work 6 months because i had a botched procedure at a local hospital and wound up with post tramatic stress disorder. i lost the job i had at work no one allows me to do anything because of the morphine i am taking on a regular basis. i have to beg to fing things to keep me even a little busy. they all thing i am gonna die anyday and that is not the case at all. i need to go somewhere i can feel that i am a contributing member of the group but just mention cancer and everyone falls apart

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