Going Through a Tough Personal Crisis? Learn How to Overcome and Navigate Your Career at the Same Time

Career Contessa

I’m thrilled to have my first article published on Career Contessa and to be a #ContessaMovement Ambassador. If you are unfamiliar with their mission, they are a site devoted to “honest conversations by real women about work and life — to help you achieve fulfillment and balance in both.” Career Contessa is my go-to for inspiring career profiles and where I turn when I need help navigating the next steps in my career. Want to be inspired, too? Sign-up for their weekly newsletter to get great career advice delivered to your inbox!

Read on to learn how I managed my career while dealing with a personal crisis.


When everything seems to be going well in our lives, it’s hard to imagine anything derailing our well-formulated plans. But, like it or not, there are going to be bumps along life’s road. They will come in the form of tragedy, missed opportunities, and personal setbacks. Knowing how to handle them, learn from the experience, and move on is vital. Grantland Rice famously said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This is one of my favorite quotes, and after suffering a health setback in 2013, it is truer to me now than ever.

At the age of 26, out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. You could say my diagnosis was a shocker. During a routine annual exam, my doctor decided to perform a neck check and there it was: a lump on the right side of my thyroid. The discovery was jarring enough, and the timing could not have been worse. I was in-between jobs and my mind was flooded with a million questions: How will I continue my job search while facing surgery? Should I mention this malady in an interview? What if I get an offer?

Days went by as I digested the news and my worst fears—what would have been a good thing just days earlier—came true: I started getting calls for interviews. I reluctantly accepted them, but found my mind wandering when I should have been concentrating on the words coming out of my mouth. As I progressed with doctors’ appointments, consultations with surgeons, and surgical pre-testing, I decided to put my job search on hold and focus on my health.

My story is not unique. According to Cancer and Careers, approximately 80 percent of cancer survivors return to work after treatment. I guess you could say I was fortunate because I was between jobs, but it got me thinking about handling even basic personal crises while you have a job and how those situations can affect your career.

Here are some tips to remember should you find yourself in a similar situation:


Throwing yourself into work may seem like the logical thing to do when you are dealing with a personal problem. Be it your health or an issue at home, remember to do your best at work, but don’t take on more than you need to.

If you have a lot on your plate emotionally, avoid adding another project, client, or more responsibility. I found this to be relevant even in my situation. Once I made the decision to focus solely on my health, I felt like I accomplished much more, and did a better job on my only task, than when I was trying to juggle job searching, writing cover letters, and seeing doctors.


You don’t have to suffer in silence, and you should let those you work with know what’s going on with you, especially if it may have an adverse impact on your work. Talk to your boss if you have a medical emergency, a death in the family, or some other situation that will require your immediate attention. I’m a firm believer in the old adage that “honesty is the best policy,” especially if you work in a collaborative environment and your absence could affect the team.


Once your boss and co-workers are aware of your situation, they might be willing to help you make deadlines or pitch in when you are out. Please do take them up on it should they make the offer—or simply ask for the help if you need it.

This also applies to other non-work relationships, including your friendships. I found it necessary to ask for assistance from friends and family when I was overwhelmed with appointments and confused about my next step. For me, this advice was applicable in the sense that I was able to have my friends help me vet doctors and work out all the “what-if” scenarios that ran through my head.

In some ways, I think the delegation process also made those around me feel included and more understanding of what I was going through.


Some weeks it’s harder than others to find that needed “me-time” with work, home, and personal responsibilities. But when you’re dealing with tragedy or trauma, that time to yourself is more important than ever.

Whether it’s drinks and dinner with friends, getting a massage, or just curling up with a book, down-time can improve your emotional outlook. I used the time during my illness to focus on myself—and really do things that I enjoyed. That meant walks on the beach with close friends, crépes from my favorite créperie for dinner, and short day trips. It took my mind off of everything and allowed me to return refreshed and with a clearer perspective.

A month after my surgery, I received a job offer. When I went to the interview, I was on my game because I knew there was nothing standing in my way and I was excited to get back into a routine. Once I accepted the position, I immediately told my new boss that I had undergone a thyroidectomy a mere month prior, and that I would have follow-up appointments with my surgeon that I would need time for. She was understanding and reassured me that they would work with me.

Looking back on it, I’m glad that I took six months off and focused on my health. It allowed me to land a job that suited my skills and left me ready to tackle the position both physically and emotionally.

This post is by me and was originally posted on Career Contessa.
Photography by Stephanie Yang



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