So I think we may be entering a phase with this blog where my concerns with the future seem to be coming to the foreground. One of my concerns builds around the idea of a work/life balance.
This term, which has become a media buzzword in the past few years, refers of course to the idea that in a relatively wealthy and developed country like America, we shouldn't have to sell our soul to our employer. Instead, we should have both the opportunity to earn enough to afford the lifestyle we want AND the time to enjoy that lifestyle. However, this is sometimes an ideal and not a reality.
Like most of my peers, I'll be beginning my career with one of the "Big 4" accounting firms though I'm not naming names due to the sometimes sensitive nature of financial issues. In this world, work can be intense especially leading up to and during 'busy season'. The 50-60+ hour weeks during busy season are enough to have me worried already...in college, I could only carry 12 credits at a time (15 if I took a once-a-week night class). Granted, I also worked significant parttime hours, so in all I was carrying the weight of a fulltime job, but it wasn't as much as 'normal' people could carry. During my internship (with the company I'll be working for next month), I had one client that was 1 1/2 drive each way, resulting in 11 hour days, and I would literally get home, collapse, and get up the next morning...I couldn't eat dinner, I didn't have enough energy. Obviously, that is not a lifestyle I can carry on for more than a couple weeks. I'm often subject to "Fibro brain fog" - a mental fuzziness often associated with Fibromyalgia and other conditions that is sometimes worse in the morning or specific times of day, as well as during flares. Running on fumes is almost guaranteed to bring it on. As my body runs down with little sleep and excessive stress, I'll become increasingly sucesptible to infections or viruses, and set myself up for a nasty flare.
Obviously, there is a chance I'll be able to come through busy season unscathed. In this blog about hope, I don't mean to sound pessimistic. However, I can't afford to be foolish, and approach things with a "hope for the best" plan. Instead, I need to analyze and outline what my realistic problems are, so I can make a tangible plan on how to minimize the risks and cope with whatever problems do arise to get over them quickly. I'm a pragmatic optimist:)
So I'm working on a plan. Sadly that doesn't totally stop me from worrying (I've had anxiety since I was a kid...like 1st or 2nd grade). Until I actually begin my job, find out who my clients are and how they operate, and actually get into the swing of things, I can't accurately project just how tough things could get. I've also decided I want to make a concerted effort to take advantage of as many social opportunities as possible. My firm, like most comparable companies, hold a lot of social events as a way to foster a community among the employees, which is one of the things I love about them. Happy hours, seasonal parties, and group volunteer events are chances to spend time with coworkers outside the office setting, and I'm looking forward to them. I also really want to try to connect with some coworkers as real friends, the kind I can call to do things outside of the firm setting. But, this ambition adds stress to my already maxed-out life. Getting rest and downtime is just part of coping with chronic illness, and my entire life since diagnosis has been a balancing act between social activities and this necessary rest to handle academic and work responsibilities.
My firm is aware of my illnesses. As a major international company, they've developed systems for dealing with many common sticky situations, including disability rights, and that works to my advantage. Since they have this established system, and that the nature of the job will reveal my disabilities quickly (as I need time off for doctor appointments, perhaps physical accomodations, and struggle with the times of day), I revealed my conditions quickly. In fact, I had discussed my issues with them before my internship since I needed a couple accomodations during that time, and still received the fulltime job offer (isn't that like a fairytale?!).
-> Just a side note...there's another hopeful note for chronic illness sufferers with employment woes. I know many of you simply cannot work, at least not outside of the home, due to your illnesses. For those of you more like myself, who can work but perhaps need understanding, accomodations, and flexibility...it's out there! More and more companies are growing a conscience and common sense, and working with good employees who need accomodations instead of scrapping them! And, big business isn't always the big bad wolf. Business and morals are no longer mutually exclusive. Certainly, there are still MANY big hurdles, and we're a loooong way from an ideal world. But we are getting a tiny bit closer, and more so every day!
Still, I will face the decision about when and how to tell my direct coworkers when I get to my client assignment (and for each team, since auditors deal with multiple clients). The other day I found myself explaining my handicapped tag to someone who will be starting with me next month, and I don't think I was very successful either. It was a reminder that each coworker I try to explain myself to may have a different reaction, and not all accepting ones. The plan I'm working on will also need to include both a part for how to explain my illnesses to people and a preparation to cope emotionally with whatever reactions I receive.
Now, ready for the next level of concern? Those are just my thoughts about my first 6 months or so when I begin my first fulltime, "career" job. As I look down the road for a few years, I get to the point where I want to have kids. Chronic illness sufferers tend to have one of two situations with pregnancy. Some experience what is essentially a full remission, where their conditions are virtually inactive. Others experience basically a 9-month flare. There is really no way to predict which (if either) someone will have, and you can't even rely on having the same experience over subsequent pregnancies. But I do know that mine will be high risk pregnancies right off the bat (if you read the paragraph in my previous blog about finding a gynecologist, you understand why), and even if I don't expect the worst I can reasonably think I will need to take precautions during that time. My firm offers good maternity benefits, but I will still need to plan things out. But that's ok, not that big of a problem really, because I'll do whatever I have to. I'm more worried about what to do after a baby is born. Ideally, I'd like to return to work after my first baby until I have a second a couple of years later, and then perhaps go to a parttime schedule or stay home altogether. My mom was home when I was little (for different reasons), and I want to be there when my children come home from school, have extra curriculars, and need their mom to be involved at school. I also have to think about my medical restrictions, and it is a BIG question mark if I even could handle working while raising a family. As I said before, my life is about choices on how to be able to do my priorities, and as ambitious as I am, having a family and keeping up with them is a top one for me. But, my concerns have to do with returning to the work force. In this world, mom's don't drop out of the work force to raise families, at least not for more than a year or two. The whole situation of whether to work parttime or not at all, how to keep my position and reputation, and returning to the fulltime scene if and when it works for me gives me a headache. But, I think I'll cut myself off here before I go further into that. In writing this up, I'm realizing I don't yet know how to really explain my thoughts on this one, so I'll wait until I can.