This past year has a well-deserved bad rap. I’m not sure if it’d be accurate to label the past pandemic year as the worst season in history. However, tough pills got a little harder to swallow this year. Unrest, uncertainty, and a general lack of control elevated the normal challenges we all face. Sickness. Death. Relationship struggles. Loneliness. Financial Hardships. You name the issue, and it was felt a little bit more this year. COVID-19 seemed to turn up the heat on how we process loss of relationships – whether through death, divorce, or distance.

Don’t Lose Your Job When the Going Gets Rough

It’s somewhat of a joke when we say to keep our personal and professional lives separate – especially now that so many of our professional lives have set up a desk in our personal home. However, there are things we can do that can keep both our personal and professional lives from feeling like a dumpster fire.

1. Draw Lines Around How and What You Will Share.

Honest communication with your coworkers is okay to give in layers. It’s important to be honest so that people can support you, but use discernment in how you explain your personal struggles with your coworkers. There’s no telling how your coworkers may respond to what you’re going through, and you may wind up simply feeling vulnerable instead of helped and encouraged. The key with the overlap of professional and personal is to let your coworker understand why your emails may be sporadic or seem terse. If you are close with a few of them, that changes your level of information sharing. However, by and large, your coworkers and boss need to know high level details, what they can expect of you, and how they can support you professionally in this season. Nothing more – unless you feel like giving more. You may need to even put your information on paper so that you stay on script.

2. Document Everything.

While journaling is a helpful processing tool for many, this a helpful task for clearance holders. Whether you have a challenging relationship that is impacting your life or you’re dealing with grief or mental health struggles, it’s helpful to note as much as possible with dates, emails, and receipts. If your behavior is called into question, you will have evidence that points to a personal life struggle, as opposed to a personal life that makes you unfit to serve in national security. If you are struggling with any mental health issues, the NCSC has made it clear that it’s okay – and good – to seek help. When personal struggles are high, this is the time to find a way to document as much as possible so that if your employer pushes back on you, you have the data to back up your actions and reasonings. Often, pressure to perform comes from a place of ignorance and a lack of clear boundaries for your current season.

3. Remember That Life is Full of Seasons.

Sometimes personal struggles seem like they will ultimately sink us professionally, making the sky feel like it’s falling all the more. The reality is that it’s a seasonal cloud over you and your career. A resume in pause mode is not the end of the world. The people in your home and your personal outlook in life are more important than advancing your career. It’s better to take the time from work so that you have the space to go through all the grief steps. This may look like a season of stepping away, reduced tasking so you have regular mental breaks, or managing your weeks so that you have a periodic day or two off to rest or schedule appointments. But rest assured. This is a season. You will have time to take on projects in the future and move forward in your career.

4. Keep Your Irons in the Fire

While life is full of seasons, and it’s normal to step away from work, it doesn’t mean that your career can’t or won’t move forward. If ever there was a time to keep your online profile up-to-date so that you can stay passively in the loop, it’s now. Sometimes, it can feel like a setback if you disengage completely. It can lead to feeling inferior to the current talent pool. When you poke your head out of the ground, everyone will look more energetic than they really are. You don’t have to expend too much energy to keep network connections current. It’s a small world, and sometimes looking back, a season of struggle won’t feel as long after you emerge from the midst of it.

Don’t White Knuckle Through Your Pain

Whether you’re processing grief or health struggles, know that it’s best to get the help that’s needed or make workplace adjustments as you endure the season that you’re living. Don’t just white knuckle it and act like nothing is wrong. Your coworkers will notice a difference in your communication style – stress has a way of doing that to us. So, identify what you want to communicate and use the resources in your company and community to begin to heal. Today won’t feel like forever, and tomorrow you may find the right time to refocus on your career.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.