When Linda was diagnosed with MS in 1997, her first thoughts were about her family and how her everyday life was about to change significantly.

Thankfully, she received some excellent advice from her doctor, “Don’t Panic!” he said. “Slow down. Don’t make any decisions too quickly. Allow yourself the time to review your situation and explore the various resources available to help.”

If you have been diagnosed with MS, some of your initial thoughts might be around how your work life may be impacted. But just like Linda’s Doctor advised: don’t panic! Many people continue to work with MS, and while some changes may need to be made, managing your career with MS is really not that much different than managing your career without MS.

In our book, FOCUS: Creating Career & Brand Clarity, we talk about the fact that lifetime employment has been replaced with “Lifetime Employability”:

”We define ‘lifetime employability’ as the capability to move self-sufficiently within the job market and to continually be employed for a lifetime. In other words, creating sustainable employability is now up to each individual.
Creating sustainable employability is a lot about strategy. Good career management isn’t just about doing a good job at work, or just writing a good résumé. It isn’t even just about liking your job. It’s about managing your employability – keeping an eye on the ‘bigger picture’ to ensure your skills and expertise are marketable and in demand not just now, but in the future as well. It’s about managing your work life and experiences; making informed decisions; and reinventing yourself on your terms, not someone else’s.”

So while the process of managing your career may be the same, there are definitely some unique considerations when dealing with MS. The good news though, is there are new technologies, better symptom management regimes, disease-modifying drug therapies, and community and web-based resources to help you remain employable.

Let’s take a look at the strategy of managing your employability with MS:

STEP 1: Assess Yourself: Your Symptoms, Your Job & Your Skills
STEP 2: Explore Career Options: Job Accommodation or Career Change?
STEP 3: Identify Resources: Exercises, Templates, Web-Tools
STEP 4: Create a Framework: Decision-making

Step 1 Assessment. With any project you undertake, having a clear picture of the situation is vital. Now is the time to take a good look at your symptoms and assess the impact those symptoms have on your work.

As you consider your work and the tasks associated with it, be sure to distinguish between those tasks that are essential and those that are non-essential. What are your symptoms, and how do your symptoms impact those tasks? Are there any medications that could alleviate your symptoms?

MS is a complex and unpredictable disease. You may have symptoms today that do not appear again for several years. Symptoms may flare up, only to subside within weeks. We strongly encourage you to partner with your healthcare professionals before discussing a job change or even a job accommodation with your employer.

The second part of assessment is to inventory your present skills, abilities, and passions. There are various exercises that can help, but one of the simplest exercises is to create a list of skills that you have developed in all the jobs or volunteer roles you have had. Next sort those skills into one of four categories.

High Skill / High Interest
High Skill / Low Interest
Low Skill / High Interest
Low Skill / Low Interest

What you have just done is identified the skills you should probably pursue (High Skill / High Interest); the skills you should avoid (Low Skill / Low Interest); the skills you may want to develop (Low Skill / High Interest); and the skills where you have ‘burnout!’ (High Skill / Low Interest)

Step 2 Consider Options. If you decide that you are able to continue working with MS, you have four basic options.

  • Current profession – Current industry
  • Current profession – Different industry
  • Different profession – Current industry
  • Different profession – Different industry

Staying with your current profession or area of expertise and in the same industry, you may not need to make any changes to your work. It will be important however to keep your eye on the marketplace, being sure to track changes and trends in your professional area of expertise as well as the industry. This is critical whether you have MS or not.

You may also want to explore accommodations with your employer. Could you work from home? Or adjust your hours? Move your desk, or trade some tasks with another co-worker? Accommodations are often easier than you think. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm different options regarding possible accommodations.

Staying with your current profession, but moving to a different industry is another option, and again it is something individuals should consider with or without MS.

First of all, many industries simply feel different. The tasks for someone working in HR may be the same if they are in manufacturing or if they’re in retail, but the environments certainly are not the same. It feels different to work in manufacturing than it does in retail.

The nature of the industry may also impact the tasks of the job. For example, one industry may be more dispersed, involving more travel where another may be more centralized in an office environment.

Staying in your current Industry but changing the profession is a fairly common exchange. Many people who have been working for the same company for many years may do this without even realizing it. Promotions often move us from one profession to another; for example, consider the sales rep who is promoted to manager. Same industry, but two separate areas of expertise (professions).

The final option, changing both your profession and industry, is the one that will require the greatest amount of research and planning. When you change the profession as well as the industry it will be important to have a good understanding of market trends along with a thorough understanding of the skills that are in-demand for that profession within that industry.

STEP 3: Identify Resources: Exercises, Templates, Web-Tools. Once you have considered options, you will need to connect to the resources you have available. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is Power,” and that couldn’t be truer with career management. No doubt, you are already familiar with the web-based resources from organizations specifically focused on MS. They would be a great place to begin as there are lots of amazing resources and information available at your finger tips:

 Can Do Multiple Sclerosis – (http://www.mscando.org)
 National MS Society – (http://www.nationalmssociety.org)

Two other useful sites are more focused on employment in general. They are:

 Occupational Outlook Handbook (http://www.bls.gov/ooh)
 O*net Online (www.onetonline.org)

Both of the latter two websites are government websites with a wealth of great information on various occupations. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good tool to use to learn about different occupations, their tasks, work environments, salaries and an overall outlook.

The O*net Online has a variety of different exercises that allow you to find different occupations based on skills, interest, values, etc. They also will indicate occupations that are in demand and have a ‘bright outlook.’

STEP 4: Create a Framework: Decision making. The final step is to create a framework for decision making. How will you decide? While the occupational tools we listed above are very useful, they can still be a little overwhelming. How will you know which option is best for you?

In our book, FOCUS: Creating Career & Brand Clarity, we introduce a concept we call your “Flourish Factor.”

“When you identify the perfect career option, it’s about finding a role and an environment in which you can be successful and “flourish” -- loving what you do, being appreciated, and ultimately being your “best self” at work. To drill it down to the more tactical level, it’s not about how you craft the perfect résumé, it’s about having a clear focus, understanding the strategy of marketing yourself, and developing an on-target message (brand).”

By identifying your absolute top skills, abilities, traits, likes, dislikes, and recognizing your environmental flourish factors you are able to create a “Flourish Factor Profile” of where you would “flourish.” That profile can then be used to evaluate various career opportunities. For each career opportunity, as you explore the demands of that occupation and compare it to your flourish factor profile, you will be able to make a more informed decision. The closer the new occupation matches your flourish factor profile, the greater the chance of satisfaction and success.
In conclusion, when you assess yourself (your symptoms, your job and your skills), explore the options and connect to resources you can create a solid framework for making informed and rational decisions. It really is all about managing your employability and your MS!

Click here to get even more great tips on this topic by viewing our archived webinar on Navigating Career Change: Working with MS is Possible!