Rosalind Joffe has lived with unpredictable and debilitating symptoms for over 35 years. When she founded ciCoach more than 15 years ago, she built on her own experience facing the on-going challenges of working while living with chronic illnesses.
Difficult health led her to make ‘switchback career turns’ so that she could continue to work to the best of her abilities. Rosalind struggled to redefine herself and reinvent what she could do. It was a lonely and difficult journey that would have been easier if she had help.
Rosalind is dedicated to sharing what she has learned along the way. She is passionate about giving others the support and guidance they need to create the success that they desire so they can thrive, not just survive in their lives.
Do you work-at-home?
Yes – I’ve worked at home, self-employed, for many years.
How many children do you have?
Two daughters, ages 22 and 25.
How many hours do you work a week?
It depends on the week and the year. In the first five years, both daughters were still at home and I worked on average a 35-hour workweek. When my second child left for college, I was working on average 55 hours a week. That continued through last year when I cut back to 35 hours week – and in the summer that drops to 25-30 hours a week – with a total of six weeks vacation time.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to write, “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend”
I’ve lived with chronic illnesses for 30 years. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 29 and just married. We had two children and I was able to continue to work outside the home full-time until I developed ulcerative colitis (UC) and I became very sick and went on disability for two years. In that time, I became determined to find some kind of work, paid or not, that I could do. But my training and skills were not conducive to part-time employment. I recognized that if I was going to keep working with a sick body, it had to be work I loved doing and gave me flexibility.
When I started my own business I had no idea what I was doing. I was fortunate that surgery “cured” the UC and new drugs slowed the MS progress. As I grew my business toward career coaching specializing in people with chronic illness, I realized that I had a message to share that went beyond coaching.
I wanted people and women, in particular, to realize that they had options even while living with chronic illness. I wanted to encourage women to keep working if they want to and to give them my insights as to how this can be possible. A book seemed like the best way to get the message out there and I was fortunate to meet my co-author, Joan Friedlander, through our mutual virtual assistant. She also lived with illness and was ready to be part of it. So we wrote it and then the publisher approached us and the rest is “history” as they say.
What obstacles do people with chronic health conditions face in the workplace and in their career?
Chronic health conditions by their nature are unpredictable and that can wreak havoc on schedules and planning. Symptoms wax and wane, doctor’s appointments are invariably during your workday and new medicines can have difficult side effects.
When you work for and with others, you need to be accountable and not let them down and you have to be responsible for communicating your condition if it’s preventing you from doing your job.
Many people find that this is so wearing in addition to the difficulties of illness – which is why many become underemployed or leave the workforce altogether. There is no doubt that working for yourself and working at home offers the best of all worlds if you can find something that you can do, will earn you a reasonable living and you’re highly self-motivated.
How do you manage your chronic conditions, personal life, and business activities?
That’s a big question. Although I’m “healthier” and stronger in the past ten years that I was for the previous 20, I still have constant medical issues that crop up and live with ongoing pain and fatigue. I remember taking naps at my desk when I was a college professor teaching media courses (one of my former careers!). Now I crawl into my bed when I need that nap. Because I’m a career coach, my work with clients is set by my schedule. I can also control my writing and research time so it’s easy to work around my health and personal needs.
But there are events that I must attend and my health doesn’t cooperate, such as when we were filming the NewWay RA interviews in New York City. The day before the shoot, a “chronic” eye problem (dry eye syndrome) developed into a major infection that swelled my face. Lucky for eye makeup. There was also the time that I had traveled many hours for a speaking engagement and as I was preparing to go on stage, I had bladder problems (an MS symptom). Luckily, I always travel prepared with extra clothing! In general, though, I’ve learned not to take on work that will be physically demanding (speaking and traveling) unless I feel it’s absolutely necessary to my business. And, then I limit the frequency.
I’m fortunate that I’ve been married for 30 years to a loving husband who supports and respects my work efforts while recognizing my limits. By and large, my family and friends have always respected my health challenges and my needs and give me space to set limits when I need to. Working for myself has given me tremendous flexibility over this. It’s hard enough to feel that you’re disappointing a boss or co-workers by not taking on new challenges. But when you feel that you’re making that decision based on bad health, it’s even harder. You don’t feel you have the choice!
Your latest project involves being featured on The New RA Talk Show; tell us a little bit about that.
New Way RA is the first and only talk show created exclusively for people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and I would recommend watching it to anyone living with RA or knows someone who has RA because it provides practical tips that are easy to incorporate into your life. Making the show was a terrific experience, probably the most fun I’ve had doing anything in my work. The agency we worked with did everything they could to make it easy for us, the “talent”. And I felt really honored to be among such accomplished people, particularly people who really care about these issues, including Deborah Norville. Best of all, when we were shooting our segments, each of us was encouraged to say what we actually thought, without a script. That gave the show such richness.
What has been your biggest career struggle?
To create a business model that would bring in sufficient revenue to allow me to work with anyone who wants chronic illness career coaching, so the fee would not be an issue.
What career advice would you give to a person with a chronic illness?
Develop strong skills that can be used in a variety of settings in a variety of ways. And, don’t struggle alone. Get help, from someone, to think strategically and long term for yourself so you can continue to work in whatever way possible.
Thank you, Rosalind, for sharing your story!
What great information for women to keep on hand. This past fall, I had to deal with some minor health issues and being able to work-at-home and have a flexible schedule proved to be invaluable.