By Perminus Wainaina
What do you do when circumstances force you to change your career?
When choosing a career, there are various factors to consider. Once you’ve settled on the career, you then focus on working toward succeeding in your career. You go to school to learn more about the profession, and after you graduate, you join the job market and work towards growing your career.
That is Sharon’s story, at least that’s how it started.
Sharon is an Executive Assistant with more than ten years’ experience. For more than half her career, she’s worked for a leading financial institution.
Last year, Sharon took an off day to go to the hospital. She had been unwell for a week, but due to the responsibilities at work, she could not leave any sooner.
When she did go to the hospital, she had multiple tests run. She was told to expect the results after a week.
After a few days, the hospital called and asked to schedule an appointment. Sharon was a bit hesitant at first, she did not want to miss another day of work. The hospital insisted, so she booked an appointment the next day.
“Sitting there,” says Sharon, “I didn’t know what to expect. The hospital had been so adamant, I began worrying.”
Sharon narrates the conversation with the doctor. She, however, doesn’t remember much from when the doctor told her she had stage 2 colon cancer.
The doctor went on, explaining how she needed to start treatment immediately as the cancer was spreading to the wall of her colon. Sharon could not concentrate, she cannot remember much of the conversation.
‘Why me? Cancer! I can’t have cancer!’ she says that’s all that went through her mind.
“The doctors explained they would like to start chemotherapy soon. When they mentioned about the side effects, I knew I couldn’t go back to work until I was done with the treatment.”
The next day, Sharon went to the HR and explained her situation. The HR asked her to stay on for a week, as they looked for a temporary replacement.
“I didn’t get much done that week. Every morning, I would sit at my desk, open my computer, and look up everything about cancer.”
After the week was over, the company had gotten a temporary replacement, and Sharon took medical leave.
“After a while, I started chemo. With everything I had researched, I was worried I wouldn’t pull through. Luckily, I found a support group and met people who had fought off cancer, which gave me hope.”
After two months of chemotherapy, Sharon says the side effects had taken a toll on her.
“Every time I went in for my chemo, I would notice a new face. The new patients had the same worry I had when I was first diagnosed.”
This was when Sharon started evaluating her professional career.
“I loved my job. But at this time, I had started feeling something else, I was looking forward to going back to work. At the same time, I felt if I did, I would miss out on a big opportunity. Then, I did not know what the opportunity was.”
After months of intensive treatment, Sharon received good news from the doctors; the cancer was in partial remission.
“This meant most of the symptoms were not being seen. I was feeling a little better. I knew I was getting better. While I was glad to hear the news, I was not particularly excited to go back to work –at least not while I felt I might be interested in something else.”
Since Sharon was feeling better, she approached the head of the support group. She wanted to share her story of how she was beating cancer, especially with the new patients. The head of the support group agreed.
“I felt so comfortable encouraging the new patients, I didn’t want to go back to work. Yes, I did love my job, but this was something else, I felt I was giving hope to people who were on the verge of losing it.”
Sharon had found something that brought her satisfaction. You could see how enthusiastic she was, talking about her days in the hospital. She told me she no longer dreaded going for her treatment, she looked forward to it, because she knew she could inspire someone with her journey.
It was this conflict between her job as an executive assistant, and her role inspiring and motivating others, that led her to seek career coaching services. She wanted to know how she could still keep her job, but be able to help other cancer patients.
Sharon was in complete remission and could now go to work. Occasionally, she still had to visit the hospital for follow-ups and on Saturdays, she would meet with the support group.
“At first, this balance worked. However, after a while, my Saturdays would be spent at the office till 4 pm. I started missing out on the support group meetings. After weeks of not attending the support group, I decided it was time to quit. I wanted to get a job that would free my Saturdays.”
“Before quitting, I decided to call the career coach, and after the session, I noticed I might be rushing in my decision making.
My job no longer brought me joy. I worked for the sake of it. The career coach asked what would bring me satisfaction, and I told him it would be working at the hospital, helping other cancer patients. He then helped me work out the best way to transition.
First, I started by going back to school. I did a course in counseling and got certified as a professional counselor.
This is when I finally decided to quit my job. I had saved up, which helped me because I started by volunteering at the hospital for three months. After this, the hospital absorbed me as a full-time counselor.
Now, I work with cancer patients and I love every day of my job.”
What can we learn from Sharon?
1. Inspiration can strike at any point – In most cases, we want to receive inspiration on our terms. However, in life, you can receive inspiration at any time, through any situation. Instead of always seeing the negative in every circumstance, start looking for opportunities from the situations and hardships you face.
2. You can change your career at any stage – Sharon was an excellent and successful executive assistant. Throughout her career, she has received several offer letters from competing firms. However, while at the top of her field, she decided to make a change, which worked out for the best.
3. Always have a transition process – You may feel like you want to wake up one day, quit your job, and follow your dreams. However, you have to be wise in your transition. First look at what certifications you need, then gain the qualifications and experience, finally, you can make the transition.
At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that both our professional and personal lives will face some sort of hardship. How you react when faced by a challenge will determine the outcome and your success. The next time you’re faced with a challenge, take a step back, look at the opportunities and the best way to tackle the situation.
Perminus Wainaina is the C.E.O and Managing Partner at Corporate Staffing Services, a leading HR & Recruitment consultancy firm based in Westlands. Through personalized career coaching he assists mid-level and senior professionals get solutions to complex and challenging career issues that they are facing. Click here for more on career coaching.