Last week I re-joined LinkedIn. Completing the profile section I was reminded of what I did a few years ago, before I left LinkedIn. And this time I did it again, only more of it.
Whether you are on LinkedIn, or not, you and I, we have something in common.
We are statistics and we can hit a crisis.
Most statistics I identify with. Others I can shrug off easily. But when I hit a major crisis I was not ready for the new statistics I became part of.
There are times in our lives, when things change, suddenly or slowly - unemployment, illness, relationship breakdowns, burnout, midlife crisis etcetcetc.
A crisis affects how we feel about ourselves, the person we think we are and what others make of us.
Whatever your own crisis or life-challenging event, similar dilemmas and questions will arise:
- Who am I?
- How will others look at me?
- What can I do about it?
I have re-joined LinkedIn with a new "Experience" that made me leave LinkedIn in the first place.
The day I found a lump in my right breast life started to change very quickly.
I became another statistic: A woman with cancer, a patient, unemployed and according to my local authority, disabled.
These were statistics I was not prepared for and did not want to belong to.
I was very rapidly losing layers of my identity and started to become financially and physically dependant on others. I felt I was losing my independence and with that my value.
Nothing of what I had achieved or knew mattered. The perception of others towards me changed. I was left with a gaping hole of meaning. Who am I?
Sudden life-changing moments can throw us in at the deep end, with no-one to catch us or to teach us.
You will have your own experience with difficult change, the sense of isolation and loss of voice.
Many people don't want to hear us, don't want to or can't understand us.
At some point I turned to my LinkedIn profile.
I added a new "Experience": Sabbatical, cancer treatment.
It was an immensely meaningful step. While I became frailer and frailer - financially, socially, relationally, physically and mentally, I needed to claim my position and my status, personally and professionally - openly, without shame.
Yes, cancer was a new experience, which would test me, teach me, shape me, make me feel weak and make me feel strong. Yes, and it may kill me.
Did any of my LinkedIn connections notice the change? I don't know. I did not hear anything.
A year later I started to be well enough and financially weak enough to start thinking seriously about how to earn a living.
I decided in favour of setting up a private practice. Returning to the NHS, where I had worked previously (like other psychotherapists, counsellors or psychologists on a self-employed contractor basis with no benefits entitlements) was not an option.
No, I need to be self-employed, with all the financial risks that entails. Because I need to be in charge of my own schedule and life.
I decided to close down my LinkedIn account.
I was not interested in LinkedIn or any other professional networking. I did not see the benefit and my energy was still limited. My world needed to remain small.
As I grew in new confidence, self worth and energy I started to find my old voice and a new voice, too. I started writing - about a lot of things, especially about making peace.
But I also need an audience, and so I needed to start networking again, first via Twitter, then eventually via Facebook and now again via LinkedIn - all from scratch, slowly, step by step - minding my identity and integrity.
Back on LinkedIn I asked myself again: Who am I?
Who am I - professionally and personally? For me there is little difference, they are inseparable.
I decided to go back to the beginning, back to 1989 when I finished my first degree. I felt like claiming my history and closing a circle. When it came to 2012 I decided to enter under "Experience":
Breast Cancer treatment: Patient and first-hand experience of the emotional impact of cancer. This experience, like anyone affected by a life-changing illness knows, is ongoing.
I no longer need the word "sabbatical".
Then it was an attempt to still fit into the 'acceptable' language and career development path set up by others. I bought into it and I am glad I did. Because 'sabbatical' gave me meaning and identity, when I was at my weakest.
Sabbatical was an important place holder, without which I would have felt like I had disappeared.
Now, I am in a different place, thankfully. For how long? Who knows. And there might come a time, sooner or later, when the term sabbatical feels more appropriate and necessary than it feels now.
Now I call the "Experience" exactly what it was, nothing more and nothing less, and with unapologetic and proud ownership.
I wonder what would happen ...
What if we all included periods of illness or other crises in our LinkedIn or other professional profiles, CVs etc?
Probably a lot of discrimination, I hear you say.
Not everyone wants to or needs to do what I did. We all have choices, whatever happens, whether you are in employment or not. We might not have all the choices we would like to have. But exercising our choices is important when our world gets turned upside down.
We need to try and keep playing an active part, and even if this means we choose silence and privacy.
As long as our choice is not fuelled by fear, then our sense of identity and self worth stands a better chance of seeing us through, whatever life may throw at us.