Creating a Long-Term Career Plan with Bipolar Disorder
Have you ever been asked to describe where you see yourself in five years during a job interview? Some people find this kind of question tricky to answer (if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that a lot can change in one year, let alone five) while others have an entire career blueprint they’ve been building off of since their first career fair. Whether you’re a fresh graduate uncertain of your next steps, transitioning careers later in life, or have been pursuing your calling ever since you were old enough to answer when someone asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, creating a long-term career plan with bipolar disorder comes with a unique set of challenges — and rewards.
Long-Term Career Planning with Bipolar is Worth the Effort
I’ve written about setting career goals with bipolar disorder before, and I believe that it’s critically important for mental wellness as well as professional development: if you don’t set goals, even small ones, you have nothing to strive towards. It’s easy for depression and mania to slip between the unoccupied cracks in the mind when you feel a lack of purpose or direction, which can lead to painful or dangerous consequences. All of us need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and something to keep us grounded and steady throughout the day, and that’s doubly true when you live and work with bipolar.
Having said that, long-term career planning with bipolar is hard. (Some days it’s an effort just to remember the laundry, let alone set major career goals.) So many of us with this disease face job insecurity and financial instability, and it’s easy to feel like you’ll never be able to build the career and the life that you want when you have a checkered work history thanks to what can feel like endless rounds of ups and downs.
But here’s the real secret to creating a successful long-term career plan with bipolar: cut yourself some slack. While that may sound counter-intuitive, giving yourself grace and working around your illness rather than against it is the best way to avoid the discouragement and despair that come with burnout. It also helps you set realistic goals that are easier to achieve. (Pro tip: set these goals while you are well and not in the middle of a manic episode.) You can’t expect to have all of the answers at once or to show up with all of the skills you need to launch a career right away. Even if your plans change or you don’t meet all of the goals you set in the beginning, a career plan gives you a map to follow as you work to figure things out. And the best part about this map is that it can change and grow with you. You’re in control of it, and you can always choose to take a different twist or turn.
Creating a Career with Bipolar Disorder
I’m a creative person, so when I start to get overwhelmed thinking about creating a viable long-term career plan with bipolar, I try to think of it as a chance to make something. This puts me back in control and gives me a greater sense of agency. But you don’t have to be an « artistic type » to adopt a similar mindset. If you really think about it, a career is something that you build and create over time rather than something that happens to you — and all good creative works take time. (As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.) While it may not feel like it at first, building a career is a creative process. And creative processes are messy and complex and require a lot of time and attention. They also offer incredibly rewarding results.
To clarify, I do not mean to suggest that a simple « mindset shift » is a magic bullet. By no means does adopting a creative mindset around long-term career planning negate the very real challenges that come with bipolar disorder, nor the systemic barriers to professional opportunities that many of us must contend with in the workplace. What it does do is offer a gentle reminder that bipolar disorder doesn’t get the final say. Bipolar can rob you of many things – health, peace of mind, stability, relationships – but it does not have to take your agency away. Human beings are creative creatures by nature (yes, even you), and remembering this simple fact can work wonders as you navigate the world — and the workplace — with this disease.
Drop a line in the comments if you have thoughts or experiences to share around creating a long-term career plan with bipolar disorder.