Tom’s Situation: I have carpal tunnel syndrome, which is why I’m not working. It is incredibly disabling in that huge swaths of careers are simply not doable. Many of these careers would otherwise be a great fit. The problem is that computer usage/desk work is limited, which cuts you off from huge swaths of employment.
Tom’s Question: How can I find a job when my carpal tunnel limits my computer usage/desk work? What do I do when huge swaths of employment are no longer available to me?
Sara’s Answer: Tom came to us because he had been unemployed for a while. He had developed carpal tunnel syndrome several years earlier and was no longer able to work as a lawyer. He was frustrated with the lack of new job options available to him. As a self-described introvert who loved working with computers, he was crushed to think his only future involved sales or real estate – both tough gigs for a natural introvert – or something less mentally engaging than practicing law.
When I spoke to Tom, it was clear that the time spent unemployed had taken its toll on his emotional state. He was open to help, but was having trouble seeing past his own limitations.
We quickly established that some of his thinking was playing a role in his career paralysis. He was particularly stuck on a thought that he would no longer be able to use his brain in the same way, now that he wasn’t able to work with computers – something he had previously loved to do.
Here are four steps we took to help Tom get back on track:
1. Sit with the pain
We worked through acknowledging that this physical ailment created huge shift in his identity. Working as a lawyer was a guaranteed way to have some prestige, provide for his family, and be seen in the world in a specific way. Losing that part of his identity was a profound loss. It’s okay to grieve that loss in the same way you would a loved one.
2. Forgive yourself
Tom was also beating himself up for not figuring out his next steps sooner. He lamented that if he had only started something several years ago, he would be there by now. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s not. But, it’s just not fair to blame your past self for things you know now, but couldn’t have possibly known back then. We all know about hindsight and 20/20 vision. We also know there’s no way to get hindsight in the present moment. Tom punishing himself for not knowing was also keeping him from taking any action to move forward. Beating yourself up for past mistakes will never help move you forward. It just doesn’t work that way. Forgive yourself for not knowing things you couldn’t have known and focus your energy on welcoming your new clean slate.
3. Start somewhere
Tom had been participating in our e-course, and one step that resonated with him was looking into professional or trade associations in the field you’re interested in and contacting those people. He was specifically interested in becoming a health inspector and had gone so far as to look up the local society of people to call. But something was stopping him from making the call. He was worried they would judge him for being 50 in a field (of what he assumed would be a group of) 20-30 year olds. We discussed if it was possible they wouldn’t be thinking about that. Maybe they would be impressed or sympathetic to him leaving a law career? Maybe they would understand he wanted to spend more time outside and less time chained to a desk? Maybe they would admire his initiative? Allowing for the possibility of these things allowed Tom some mental space to consider a reality other than the one he had previously convinced himself was true.
4. Use another metric
Having a law degree meant Tom was excellent at talking himself out of every scenario that might be new, different, and probably very uncomfortable. This makes perfect sense because it’s our brain’s job to suss out potentially dangerous situations in order to keep us alive. By these standards a miserable, but well-worn, scenario will always be preferable to one with lots of unknowns. The problem here is that there’s nothing inherently dangerous about calling a society of health inspectors. Awkward? Maybe. Uncomfortable? Sure. But dangerous? No.
So Tom’s brilliant mind was actually working against him. The mind is a powerful tool when it comes to decision-making, but it’s not the only tool. Sometimes it’s good to bring in a second opinion.
Enter the body. Together we identified the physical sensations that arose in his body when he was considering being a real estate agent, and then those that arose when he considered health inspection. The feelings could not have been more different. One made him feel paralyzed and like there was a black cloud hanging over him. The other made him feel freer and more relieved. So we went with the second one. Because why would you do something that makes you feel paralyzed when you can do something that makes you feel free?
There’s no question Tom’s situation is different than most people simply looking for a job change. He is facing logistical challenges that might not exist for others. His case also illustrates there’s always a way forward even when there are legitimate roadblocks that make things seem insurmountable. It’s hard to imagine having to rebuild our work lives from the ground up, but it’s possible. Tom’s bravery to engage in ways that make him uncomfortable, but move him forward, is truly admirable.
Have you ever had to start over? What challenges have you faced and what did you do to overcome them?
“Sara is terrific, and I’m really enjoying working with her. She’s empathetic, realistic, and knows when to push back with some thought-provoking twist. I feel like she’s really hearing me and helping me. She’s a wonderful member of your team!” – Just Get Me Pointed in the Right Direction Client