In the past I have always been a very driven person. With each passing year, it seems like success has become more and more difficult to achieve. Now that I am switching careers it is time I consider redefining success with schizophrenia.
I am only a few weeks away from being retired from the US Army after over 14 years as an active duty officer. This is a medical retirement due to my schizoaffective disorder. The US Army doesn’t like psychotic disorders or antipsychotic medications. I am not bitter by any means though. I understand that my condition is not compatible with the mission. The Army is not kicking me out with nothing but being retiring me early. I am being taken care of.
Before my condition wrapped around my brain I was one of the best. I proved capable of tackling the most difficult missions. My record and reputation earned me great assignments and schooling opportunities.
I was successful in my career.
But things started to change. My disease progressed. The Dragon grew from nagging thoughts at the corner of my mind to the monster it is now, grappled into every aspect of me.
The Army is right about me. I’ll be healthier when we can put down roots without having to move every couple of years. I’ll be more comfortable without my coworkers constantly moving in and out and supervisors doing the same.
Now I am in a conundrum though. I’ve always placed a lot of value in what I do. I strove to be the best and took great personal satisfaction in my successes. What am I supposed to do now? As I look for new jobs, I can’t help but look at most descriptions on their advertisements and think that I cannot succeed in them. I’m too schizophrenic to succeed.
The jobs I am best qualified for look either too stressful or too difficult for my condition. I am left with two options: 1) I can begin a new career like I have no disease seeking a challenging position with appropriate compensation; or 2) Recognize that I have a serious condition and search for a job that pays the bills and is moderately interesting. The first option feels like the old me, hard-charging and pursuing success. The second feels like I am giving up and throwing in my cards and leaving my two graduate degrees and experience on the table.
The first option is what I have been doing my entire professional life. It worked great until my affliction grew on me. First I suffered in secret, still charging on. As my disease progressed I started to use all my energies up at work and I would come home exhausted and, at best, distant. My productivity fell off a cliff eventually. Even now, treated, I recognize that I can never be the old me.
The second option feels like a failure. It feels like quitting. I am dooming my family to a life of mediocrity. I am letting down the me that put in so much hard work to secure a comfortable future. My impressive resume is best used by being flipped over and used as scratch paper.
Why do these two options feel so drastically different? They are separated by my definition of success. Success as defined by me and as defined by culture. I can change one and I can change how I look at the other.
It is time I change how I look at my future professional life by personally redefining success with schizophrenia.
At this point I went to Barnes and Noble to look for books on success that seemed like they applied to me. As I was switching from book to book I realized that I was doing myself a disservice. I was being influenced by confirmation bias. I was looking for a book that already conformed to what I believed. Sure, there would be some benefit to finding the exact book and gleaning a few nuggets of wisdom from it. But my version of success would have to come from me.
I thought maybe I could find a more immediate answer by perusing the periodicals. Immediately I went to Success Magazine. This one was essentially all about money, an area this publisher deemed essential to success. Many magazines on the shelves present their own version of success, be it Kiplinger’s, Shutterbug or Architectural Digest.
So, I’m left up to my own devices to determine what success will look like, the goals that feed those and the steps and tools that I will need to make those happen. While guides exist that will help me develop these, I think that my personal buy-in will be greater if I develop it myself.
After much thought, simply put, my success statement will be:
Raise my children in an emotionally sound home to prepare them for adult life and remain an emotionally present husband to my wife.
At first the above statement was a list of statements. I continued to prune until I ended with the singular, simple, statement. It surprised me that career and financial aspects fell off from my statement. Absolutely, as I develop the goals and tools to achieve this success, they will become involved as a key component. They are a means to an end, not the end themselves. It is interesting the catalyst for redefining success with schizophrenia was a career change but career isn’t part of the statement.
A job or career will be an essential tool though. But if the job itself isn’t part of my success statement then it doesn’t matter what kind of job or career I am in if I am providing the emotionally sound home for my kids and remaining emotionally present for my wife.
Before now my life was dominated by my military career being part of my success statement (although I never formally wrote one). I achieved that for 14 years. Instead of feeling like that is ripped-away I can look back with pride and say, “I did that.”
I have changed and the Army, in its decision to retire me, has helped me. The instability in job and home that is inherent to a military career is incompatible with me. The stresses that came with the nature of the job and the inability to put down roots do not work with my new version of success. Continuing my career would make it impossible for me to remain stable enough to provide an emotionally sound home or prepare my children to become adults or to be present for my wife.
There were two goals that I couldn’t incorporate into my success statement that I want to mention before I close: Help to reduce stigma of mental illnesses and provide support for sufferers around me; live an example of environmental sustainability to provide stability, safety and sustenance for future generations.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be working to develop a set of goals that work toward my success statement (and the additional two areas of importance) and to determine the tools I will need to make these goals happen.
What does your version of success look like? Did the development of schizophrenia change your version of success? Let me know in the comments.