Career change is rarely easy. Television and films may subconsciously lead us to believe it is as easy as dreaming about what you want and going out there to get it. Our culture may encourage us to link “career” so closely to identity and self-worth that a sudden change can feel demoralizing and paralyzing. And if a cancer diagnosis has caused the need to choose a new path for employment, it’s not uncommon to feel fear, depression, powerlessness and grief over the loss of the future you had imagined for yourself.
Patients and survivors have shared with us how winding that journey can be, and how unique it is to each individual. As if it isn’t hard enough already, sometimes a career change can be your choice; other times it is a choice that is made for you. But having to change directions is not your fault. And even if it doesn’t immediately feel this way, recognizing that you require a change and identifying your specific needs so you can take the necessary steps toward a job that better supports you is strong, brave and can ultimately feel empowering.
The Job Network offers some guidance in its article on navigating a sudden career change. Some highlights include:
Changing courses in a career isn’t unusual. The job market today is drastically different than it was even 10 years ago, and people change jobs for a variety of personal and professional reasons.
Start by envisioning the new career you want. Take some time to listen to yourself without judgment. Some questions to get you started include: What stopped working for you at your previous or current job, and what alternatives might work better? Are you looking for a less-stressful position? Do you want to do something more meaningful? Would part-time opportunities work better, so that you can more easily make it to your treatment appointments? If your physical stamina has changed, do you need a job that enables you to stay off your feet? If you’ve previously done administrative work but neuropathy in your hands has made typing difficult, keep in mind that you still have plenty of other valuable skills to contribute to an employer. Also consider the short-term and long-term perspective. In the short term, perhaps you just need some kind of income and you’ll figure the rest out as you go. Maybe you can’t even picture a long-term goal yet, and that’s okay! You may even need to take some time off from work.
This could be the time to go back to school. The idea of returning to school — finding the money, finding the time — can be daunting. But, if you have identified some knowledge gaps or new skills you want to learn, start small and get creative. Browse online courses offered through sites such as Coursera, Udacity and Edx, and don’t hesitate to lean into a good YouTube binge-watch or Google-search to either directly increase your knowledge or simply help you identify what you may want to do.
Work on networking, both online and off. Networking can come in many different forms, it’s not limited only to stuffy corporate events or job-fair situations. Be open-minded about people in your current professional and personal networks whom you can reach out to. Friends and family may be able to help you brainstorm ideas for work, and sometimes those closest to us can identify useful traits and aspects of our personality that we can’t. Similarly, reaching out to a wider network may open other opportunities, such as a onetime gig or part-time role. If you live in a large city, Task Rabbit is a site that can connect you with some short-term opportunities if you just want to stay active and make some quick money. And pursuing temp work through an agency can be an additional route to networking.
Above all, be kind to yourself during the process! You can’t predict how the journey will go or the time it will take. But with some careful planning and self-compassion, pursuing a career change can move you closer to what works better for you.
Cancer and Careers is here to help you navigate your career journey. Our website offers articles on interviewing and your legal rights as well as services such as our free Resume Review Service and our Ask a Career Coach board.
Our free publications serve as resources on a number of topics. In particular, the Job Search Toolkit can be an excellent guide as you begin to ask yourself these questions to plan your approach. With sections focusing on returning to the workforce after a cancer diagnosis and looking for work, you can get access to specific information regarding whichever path you’re seeking.
Finally, our Collective Diary can be a great source of community support and open discussion to remind you that you are not alone.