What Should I Be When I Grow Up?
Remember playing The Game of Life as a young person? I liked reading all the different occupations from which you could choose. Want to be a florist? Here’s your card. Prefer to be surprised? Draw from this stack of cards, and… you got teacher! Here’s your salary, here are your housing options, and here’s your car. Done.
If choosing a career was as simple as drawing a card from a pile, we’d all have it made. But when it’s time to decide what you want to do with your life, there are tons of things to consider.
When you’re dealing with an ongoing mental health issue, like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a very important idea to consider is how your job affects your mental health. For example, depression and bipolar disorder, if left untreated, will affect an employee’s mood, their motivation, their attendance, their ability to get along with other team members, and the quality of work they produce. Anxiety, if left untreated, can completely shut a person down in their tracks, causing them to second-guess every decision that needs to be made, so that no work gets done.
It’s hard enough to manage and treat severe mental health issues as it is — it’s really a full-time job of its own. Throw a new career on top and it’s even more challenging.
In an effort to show your new boss that you’re committed to the company and they didn’t make a mistake hiring you, you go above and beyond at the office. You might work through lunch and not eat in order to finish up a report, or skip yoga class and stay at the office late to finish up a presentation for the meeting the next day.
You drive through a cheap fast food place for dinner because it’s too late to cook. You have zero energy for your morning run the next day because you ate junk, so you skip the run. Your sleep cycle gets messed up because of the later and later nights at the office. You start over-promising and over-booking yourself. Stressed, drained, and running only on coffee and vending machine snacks, you may accidentally forget to take your anti-depressant medicine one day. Or that therapy appointment you had on the calendar ends up being the one remaining hour left in the week during which you would have time to finish a project that HAS to be finished by FRIDAY! So you cancel it.
You start noticing that your personal boundaries are loosening, your mental health and medical needs are being neglected, and personal enrichment activities, such as exercise, yoga, and even therapy services, are becoming deprioritized. If you’re not taking care of you, that new job or career that you’ve landed is also going to suffer. But more importantly, you will suffer, and the mental health issue you’ve been trying to manage will start becoming unmanageable.
It’s a good idea to be realistic with expectations about what you can and can’t handle when choosing a career path. Not to say that “you can’t handle” something... you can handle anything. But do you want to handle it? Or should you have to? If you have a learning disorder with numbers, for example, I’m guessing Certified Professional Accountant isn’t at the top of your list of potential job titles. Nor should it be!
The point is, we are in the power position when it comes to choosing careers. By caring for our mental health as well as our financial health, we create a beautiful balance that allows us to remain clear-headed and goal-oriented in our personal and professional worlds.
If you have a mental health issue that is keeping you from reaching your career goals, professional counseling can help you. It won’t be as simple as drawing a card from a stack and driving off in a little green, blue, red, or yellow plastic car, but it’ll be a lot more applicable than playing a board game.