June 8, 2011
When crisis hits home, should your job take a backseat?
By now, you've probably seen the video of U2 performing "Beautiful Day" at Qwest Field last Saturday. From a video monitor above the stage, Space Shuttle Endeavor Commander Mark Kelly sends his love to wife Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords via pre-recorded message from the International Space Station.
Kelly and the Endeavor crew returned to Earth several days before U2's Seattle show. Still, I've been thinking all week about Kelly's decision to follow through with the 16-day mission while his wife continued to recover from a being shot in the head.
Most of us aren't high-profile astronauts. But a fair amount of us do have the good fortune to enjoy the work we do and do place a high premium on our career. If you count yourself among the happily employed, what do you do when offered a plum project, mission, or promotion while being faced with an intense family crisis?
With his wife making incredible strides in her recovery, Kelly opted to stick to the plan and see through the previously scheduled space mission. I know others who've made similar decisions, only without the spacesuit. One freelance friend received a prestigious writing fellowship at an educational institution shortly after a parent living halfway across the country was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The program required he work at the school most weekdays, which he worried would cut into his trips to visit his declining mother. After several discussions with the school about his schedule and much soul-searching, he accepted the job.
For my friend, accepting the job was the right decision. He was still able to visit his mother frequently, only his trips were shorter than they would have been had he remained 100 percent freelance. What's more, the job gave him a welcome respite from the constant tumult and grief caused by his mother's illness.
I've interviewed enough parents and adult children to know that when a health crisis strikes a family member, many who can downshift at work will, either formally, by cutting back their hours or taking family leave, or informally, by doing the bare minimum needed to keep from getting fired. But what about when a family health crisis arises just when you've been offered the career opportunity of a lifetime? What do you do then? Do you do as Commander Kelly and my friend did and place prominence on your career? Or do you put everything on hold to spend as much time as possible with family members in need?
If you've been in this situation, how did you handle it? What did you decide -- job, family, or compromise? Do you stand by your decision now or do you have regrets?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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