Second Sunday Series — Editor’s Note: This is the last of 12 columns on job search and career building during recovery from addiction, appearing over 12 months — one each on the second Sunday of the month, from September through August. Earlier columns on this subject included an overview of the topic, strategies for restarting one’s career, tips for managing the holidays, ideas for handling difficult conversations, goal-setting for 2020, coping with low-level work, staying positive during job search, managing COVID-19 issues, creating recovery-related resumes, using strengths from recovery in the workplace, and job searching with a criminal history. — Amy Lindgren
How people choose their career paths is an endlessly interesting topic for me. As you might guess, the answers vary a lot. Some individuals bring very detailed attention to the problem, sifting market data and searching their own personalities for clues about the best fit. Others hold down the other end of the range by jumping willy-nilly into whatever presents itself at the moment.
What’s fascinating is how often the results for these two extremes seem to match — as a very unscientific estimate, my experience would say that equal numbers of the willy-nillies and detail-attentives will enjoy their careers and equal numbers will find they need to start over at some point.
If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s not that planning doesn’t matter. Rather, I take hope from the idea that if the plans do go awry, there’s always another way to solve the problem. In truth, career happiness seems to be as much about the workplace and the work-life balance as it is about the work itself.
For people in recovery, this is an important message. Careers have often been a source of shame for those struggling with addiction. So much unfulfilled potential! So many bridges burned! These messages echo, spoken and imagined, from family, colleagues and bosses until the idea of starting one more job evokes a cringe.
I think this might be one reason for the high number of recovering individuals working in the field of recovery itself. To be part of the solution for others is hugely rewarding in itself; to know that those around you will also understand your story is a welcome relief.
As I close off this series of 12 columns about job search during recovery, I’d be remiss not to mention this well-traveled career path. Here are some of my thoughts and observations related to work in the field of recovery:
1. You will need training if you counsel others. That may seem obvious, but after untold hours in group and individual sessions, you could easily believe you have the process down pat. You probably do, but you still need the training to learn how to separate yourself from the stories you’re going to hear, and to keep your own recovery on course. If someone is willing to hire you without training, even as a volunteer, slow down and think about the risks you might be taking.
2. The field is bigger than you think. Your personal experience may have introduced you to rehab facilities, licensed chemical dependency counselors, sober houses and other visible aspects of the recovery industry. But did you know the field employs people in accounting, information technology, publishing, lobbying, facilities management, food preparation, research, teaching … basically, that there are hundreds of ways to contribute your skills? With some research, you may discover a career path in the field that meshes with the skills and interests you’ve already developed.
3. Not working in recovery is fine too. I sometimes sense that individuals starting their recovery path feel almost obligated to commit their professional selves to the process that made such a difference in their lives. This makes sense and may indeed be the spark for a wonderful new career. But it’s okay to go a different direction altogether, like a fish returning to the big ocean again.
4. Wherever you work, your recovery comes first. Building a career in the field can never be a substitute for working on your own recovery. It’s perfectly possible to have the “right” job but for the wrong employer, or under the wrong conditions. If you follow this career path, it’s important not to second-guess yourself when something feels off. If the job isn’t right for your recovery, it’s not the right job, regardless of what it is you’re doing.
That’s a good note on which to end this series. I’m very grateful to everyone who has written to me with ideas and experiences and stories. Next month I’ll start a new 12-part series to appear on the second Sunday of each month. In addition to recovery, past topics for the series have included older workers, millennials and careers in the trades.
So who’s the star of the upcoming second Sunday series? You! As a response to the confusing and upended year we’re having, I’ll be devoting a column each month to reader questions. Please send me your concerns and queries on job search, career planning and workplace issues and I’ll try to shine a light on possible solutions.
In the meantime, I’ll be here again next week, as usual. Stay safe and optimistic.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.