Your Work: The Often-Overlooked Path to Healing

By Guest Blogger   |  21Comments|

When we’re not well, we first think about healing by way of modern medicine. For some, that works. Others turn to alternative therapies: nutrition, meditation, or yoga. For some, another path is required, one often overlooked and easily discounted.

For me, my healing path has not been paved by green juice and acupuncture needles (though both have helped). My healing path has been paved by my work. Following the wrong path made me sicker, but once I started in the right direction I began to heal.

Where it all began
My life hit rock bottom halfway through an undergraduate engineering degree. I was miserable in every way possible. I didn’t like my life, and I certainly didn’t like engineering. However, I had no idea what else to study or what to do, so I persisted with sheer determination and brute force, hoping to get through college as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, an engineering degree leads to an engineering job, which I promptly began after college.

I jumped into my job and was pretty good at it. I enjoyed most of the people I worked with. I was good at my work. I had a flexible schedule and even practiced yoga during lunch. I wasn’t feeling quite as miserable as I did in college, but I can’t say I was full of joy, either.

Despite my early career success, my health was deteriorating. I had mysterious stomach pains that landed me in the ER far too many times. I got seasonal allergies, something I had never had before. I was riddled with intense physical pain for which doctors had no explanation.

With no answers in sight, I began to look inward. Deep down I saw that I needed to question my work.

When I imagined how I would feel if I retired from this company, all I noticed was deep regret and intense sadness. It was clear that I needed to make a change.

I began searching for my right work.

Healing begins
Simply directing my attention toward finding a new line of work initiated some healing. Though small and subtle, things were shifting.

When I finally left my corporate job to start my own business, my allergies began to clear. My stomach aches were gone. My body pain was reduced.

Today, my body and my health tell me whether I’m on track in my business. With each new client I take on or class I offer, my body reminds me if I’m moving in the right direction or the wrong one.

When I have a stomach ache threaten to return or when I find myself sneezing in the spring, I check in and see where I have taken a wrong turn on my path.

My health tells me if I’m working too much, worrying too much, or trying too hard in my business. I’m grateful for its wisdom, as it has become my divining rod for wellness and success.

How to know if your work is compromising your health
If you have an inkling that your work may be your divining rod for healing but aren’t sure what change needs to happen, start by asking yourself these questions:

Do I enjoy my work?
Do I look forward to work when I wake up in the morning?
Do I enjoy my work environment?
Do I enjoy the people I work with?
Does my work support the life I want?
Does my work align with my personal values?
Am I able to express myself, creatively and authentically, through my work?

If you’re truly honest with yourself, what do you notice? Are you on track, or do you need a change?

How to make a change
If you’re ready for a change but aren’t sure what steps to take, here is your roadmap. For some, an entire career overhaul may be in order. For others, small tweaks will set you on the right course.

1. Acknowledge you need a change.
If you believe that your work is a part of your journey to wellness, start by recognizing that in order to heal, you must make a change. Simply acknowledging this will begin to point you in the right direction.

2. Determine what isn’t working.
Consider the questions above to begin to figure out what isn’t working.

You may find that your work environment is toxic or that your boss is a jerk. Maybe you love your work, and you’re the boss, but you find yourself working until 3 a.m. every day, leaving your exhausted and creatively drained. Each person’s problem areas will be different. Investigate yours. What exactly about your work isn’t working for you?

3. Make shift, one at a time.
I didn’t jump from my corporate career into self-employment overnight. I started by changing jobs and changing bosses. Things got a little better. Next, I cut down on my work hours, and things improved a little more. Slowly I saw that I couldn’t change enough things about my job to make it work for my healing. I needed to make a bigger leap. By then, I was ready for it as I saw that it was essential to my healing.

You won’t always know exactly what your healing path will look like, so start by making one small shift at a time. Your health and your body will tell you if you’ve made the right move as well as what move to make next.

4. Keep at it.
Small shift by small shift, you will navigate your healing through your work. If you’re like me, this will be a life-long journey of shifting, healing, and repeating. You, too, can restore your health by finding and following your right work.

Your turn
My healing journey is paved by my work. I know many others whose healing was paved by their work as well. Is yours? Please share your stories below. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned on your journey.

Jenny Shih is a coach and consultant for creative entrepreneurs. She helps new entrepreneurs get started online and helps experienced entrepreneurs systemize and streamline their businesses so they don’t have to work so hard. If you’re changing the world, Jenny’s here to help.

Photo credit: Emily Balsley

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21 responses to Your Work: The Often-Overlooked Path to Healing
  1. A friend of mine worked for dancer Rudolph Nureyev- Rodolph’s favorite saying was ‘work cures all’

  2. This is such a perfect timing for this article – thank you so much. Since years I am struggling with health problems. Although I could already change a lot by going vegan and changing my whole nutrition, there is still a missing link to my full healing. And I was also thinking that it could have a lot to do with my several jobs which did not make me happy at all.
    So now, at this very moment I am sitting in the office of my corporate job and I am thinking that I will have to, I must, I want and I eventually will change my career path.
    It is still a question of courage for me, but with experiences you are describing, Jenny, I am even more certain, that my health problems will completey vanish.
    Thank you for that & many greetings from Germany, Greensoul

  3. I can’t stand my job!!! I don’t have an idea what to do or where to even start. Two weeks ago I wrote down everything that my dream job should be… That’s about it… I will change it one day, soon.
    Thank you xx

  4. Jenny – this post resonates with me…
    I let my work get to crisis point before I did anything about it. Nothing like anaphylactic shock and a course of horrible steroids to give you a reality check! I realised that after fourteen years of work hard/play hard in London I had to focus on putting my health first (and not the big fat salary)!
    Out went ‘working for the man’ in advertising & design. In came working for myself, a healing journey & a passing on of that knowledge to other people. The minute I handed my notice in my PCOS symptoms & general aches and pains significantly reduced. There is a link with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and stifled creativity. I make sure I’m creative in my work and the hopefully the pleasure derived from it shines through.
    Thanks x

  5. Hi Jenny,

    I have gone through “looking for the right path” for last 15 years. I am very good at accounting and finance and got paid very well but hate it. I often wonder why as human beings, we are so COMPLICATED! 10 years ago, I started a pottery studio and gallery (I am a professional potter as well), I loved the business but didn’t generate enough money. After 4 years, I closed it out. I went back to work on an accounting job but got very ill. After 5 years, I left the job last year and started the money coaching practice. I love coaching people on their money issues but I have been trying too hard on marketing, and then I got sick again. Finally (actually 3 days ago), I realized that the right path for me is to spend half of my time on pottery (pottery is my soul) and half of my time on money coaching. Your article just came out in the right timing for me! Thank you!

  6. Jenny, you rock! This is an amazing blog post. It’s something that truly resonated with me. I’ve learned to be in tuned with my body signals whether it be work/personal life. Like you I had mysterious stomach issues, allergies and even migraines. When I severed ties professionally and personally, thankfully the symptoms disappeared. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  7. Loved this blog. I am now a holistic fitness health coach so this goes right in line with in how I look a someone’s health. They may see me about their weight, but their weight may not be the top piority at all it may be a job they can’t stand. When stress levels are high losing weight is very difficult so addressing that becomes the focus. I try really hard to get to what really motivates people.
    The energy that come from doing what you love can be very healing.
    I am so happy I get to do what I love e everyday. I can’t say that I make. Lot of $$ “yet” but I don’t care
    because I’m so gratefull to do what I love everyday.

  8. @Lissanthea – For some, that’s true!

    @Greensoul – I’m so happy to hear that this found you at the right moment. I believe that everyone’s path to healing is different. My career has been a big part of mine. The fact that you’re entertaining the idea, considering making a change, and looking forward to something better for yourself is a move in the right direction.

  9. @Tami – That’s a very common problem! I used to hate my job, too, and I didn’t know what else I wanted to do. There are many great books and coaches out there that can help you. For me, the first book that got me on the path to finding what I loved was Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. I highly recommend checking it out.

    @Kate – What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. It’s always fun to meet others who have found that their work was part of their healing journey.

  10. @Yu-Fen – Thank you for sharing your story. Often we think that we are supposed to find THE career. Often, it’s that we actually need to find the right blend of things in our life to enjoy ourselves. Here’s another book recommendation for folks like you who want to see how to blend their many passions into their life: Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose. It talks about how many people need to engage their different talents in order to feel fulfilled.

  11. @Andrea – Thanks for sharing what your experience has been. People, work, and all sorts of things can cause health hiccups. Although sometimes it feels harsh, cutting ties with people who don’t serve us can often heal us on many levels.

    @Jackie – I appreciate your perspective here and the approach you have to using stress to help your clients with weight loss. They are intertwined, aren’t they? And work certainly can be a huge stress inducer!

  12. I left my ‘career’ job after the stress migraines started – I had somewhat left the science field once already, but got pulled back in (ignored my gut and went back – wrong decision!)…that was the breaking point – my doctor kept suggesting that it was my job – sure enough, the day I left, was the day the migraines went away….and I never looked back…

    small changes, and working a less stressful temp day job helped me get back on track and to be able to focus on my biz

  13. Yes! And now I feel affirmed. I left my job as a paralegal in June and now I’m a budding fitness instructor! I love what I do and I’m shocked I get paid for it. I had always had a passion for fitness and never thought to actually make a career out of it. Before, I was stressed out, not enough time for my four kids, dreaded talking to clients… now I can’t wait to prepare for my next Spinning class, see my kids a whole lot more and found mental and spiritual healing.

  14. It is amazing how this came at the exact time I needed to read these words. It is so true, every word of it is so very true!

  15. @Amy – I love that you got such a clear signal from your body on what was right for you!!

    @ChangeLoveGrow – Sounds like you hit the trifecta! Work you love, personal healing, and time with your family. That’s how I think it’s supposed to be for us. Thanks for being a shining example.

    @Lisa – Yay!

  16. Jenny, what a great article. I totally agree. Sounds like in your engineering role you were what Gay Hendricks calls in his book, “The Big Leap”, your zone of excellence and now you are in your zone of genus! Good for you.

    I too am making a shift since my breast cancer diagnosis and know that my passion is helping people make their life easier, better and less frustrating which is why I started my website to help with the overwhelm of info out there after you are diagnosed with breast cancer.

    It is still in the beginning stages and I am worried that I will talk myself out of continuing (like who would want to listen to me) but then I read your article and it helps encourage me that this is what I’m meant to do (and probably why I got this disease to begin with …so I can use it to help others, which is my passion I just didn’t know in what capacity. The universe works in very strange ways, not the way we want but hopefully I can find the meaning.) So THANK YOU for writing and thank you Kris for having you as a guest blogger. :)

  17. @Sandy – I’m glad this article found you at the right time in your journey. I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis, but I’m happy to hear that you’re finding a new path for yourself. I have found that for myself and for my clients, we start out in one direction and then we twist and turn into new places. Right now, you feel pulled to help others make their lives easier. Maybe it will twist and turn into something new in a year or two’s time. You never know. You know your path for right now, so follow it. When the path turns in a new direction, keep following. You will find the exact right place for you in this vast universe.

    Thank you for sharing your story here!

  18. Mo said on May 14, 2013

    My story starts much the same way. I also have an engineering degree, and towards the end of school I had a gut feeling that this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but decided to work in the field for a few years before making my decision. Unfortunately, the only engineering “work” I could find where I live is a paid Master’s degree. I’m good at what I do, but I absolutely hate it, and my body has now declared war on my health. Now, I know I need to get out… it’s just a matter of figuring out how. It won’t be easy, but this post gives me hope that it can be done, so thank you :)

  19. Korea is believed to be the second country that acupuncture spread to outside of China. Within Korea there is a legend that acupuncture was developed by the legendary emperor Dangun though it is more likely to have been brought into Korea from a Chinese colonial prefecture.

  20. thanks valla