Stephanie Gil­man is through with be­ing un­ful­filled.

ELLE (Canada) - - Body -

ire­mem­ber feel­ing ner­vous and giddy about my first day back at work af­ter fin­ish­ing can­cer treat­ment. I had been on dis­abil­ity leave for al­most a year, stuck in my own lit­tle bub­ble of ill­ness, and fi­nally hit that mile­stone where it was time for me to reen­ter the “real world.” The na­ture of my job had changed dur­ing my time away, which meant new man­age­ment, new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and a new of­fice lo­ca­tion. Like a kid pre­par­ing for her first day of school, I felt anx­ious about what to wear, who I’d be sit­ting next to and whether peo­ple would judge my not-quite-there-yet pixie cut. But mostly I was ex­cited to get back to living my life and re­lease the pause but­ton that had been in­ad­ver­tently pushed on my ca­reer.

Un­for­tu­nately, that zeal and op­ti­mism was ex­tremely short-lived.

In my fresh post-can­cer ex­is­tence, I was con­cerned about any ex­ter­nal fac­tors that might raise my stress lev­els and as­sumed that those in my work en­vi­ron­ment would be sen­si­tive to my sit­u­a­tion.

I was wrong.

My new manager was so tense that, within a day of my com­ing back, she told me she wanted to jump out the win­dow. The girl whose po­si­tion I was tak­ing over com­plained about how ter­ri­ble it was and sar­cas­ti­cally wished me “Good luck with this job!” It seemed that ev­ery­one around me was mis­er­able and wanted to bring me down with them. I wanted to shout “At least you don’t have can­cer!” but I re­mained quiet, com­pleted my tasks and then headed home, where I im­me­di­ately passed out on the couch from the sheer ex­haus­tion of it all. I was still re­bound­ing from 25 ra­di­a­tion treat­ments and four months of chemo­ther­apy; the added strain of re­turn­ing to work made me feel like I’d aged about a mil­lion years.

As the weeks went on, I could feel my stress build­ing; my chest felt tight and my ap­petite be­gan to dwin­dle. I started to worry about what my job might be do­ing to my health. I had zero in­ter­est in what I was do­ing, and I felt that my tal­ents were be­ing wasted and my skills taken for granted. Each night I’d go home in tears, cry­ing to my hus­band that I didn’t want to waste my days be­ing un­happy when I had this new-found pres­sure to live h

each day to the fullest. I kept think­ing “I sur­vived can­cer for this?”

Af­ter a cou­ple of months of “stick­ing it out” and at­tempt­ing to im­prove my sit­u­a­tion, I de­cided I was no longer will­ing to be com­pla­cent about my un­sat­is­fy­ing job. Life sud­denly felt short, and I didn’t want to sit back and watch it float right past me. I grabbed a few things from my desk, walked out of the build­ing and never went back.

At first I was fu­ri­ous with can­cer for tak­ing away my abil­ity to feel con­tent as long as I was re­ceiv­ing a pay­cheque and for mak­ing me think I de­served more out of life. But then I rec­og­nized the in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity that lay be­fore me: to be able to start over, re­group and search for some­thing that could po­ten­tially bring joy and pur­pose into my life rather than grief and te­dium. The pos­si­bil­i­ties sud­denly seemed end­less—which was daunt­ing yet thrilling.

Through a lot of re­flec­tion and soul-search­ing, I re­al­ized that I won’t be happy un­less I have a job where I feel like I’m do­ing some­thing mean­ing­ful. I want to feel that if this whole can­cer thing goes south, my life and work will have had some sort of last­ing im­pact.

With that lofty goal came a cer­tain amount of pres­sure but also a sense of clar­ity. I started look­ing into non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions that help peo­ple deal with can­cer, and I have been mak­ing my way through a se­ries of con­tracts, putting my new­found pas­sion for help­ing oth­ers to good use. I also gain im­mense sat­is­fac­tion from my writ­ing—ev­ery time I re­ceive an email from some­one telling me I have helped him or her through a dark time, it brings mean­ing to my seem­ingly ran­dom and un­for­tu­nate luck. Can­cer pushed me down a dif­fer­ent road from the one I had been trav­el­ling, and, though I wish I had stum­bled upon it an­other way, I’m grate­ful I ended up here.

Since leav­ing my job and com­mit­ting to be­ing hap­pier in my work life, I’ve be­come a sort of ur­ban leg­end among peo­ple who know me or hear about me: the girl who threw cau­tion to the wind and quit her job in pur­suit of some­thing bet­ter. Friends come to me for ad­vice, ask­ing how they can fol­low in my foot­steps. But I’m no guru. I know ev­ery­one’s sit­u­a­tion is unique, and I can’t claim to have dis­cov­ered all the an­swers. I can, how­ever, tell you that we all de­serve to be happy in our jobs and in how we spend our days. I’m still search­ing for that elu­sive dream job, but I know I’m fi­nally on the right path rather than just aim­lessly trudg­ing along. The next chap­ter is just ahead of me, and I’m ex­cited to see what it holds.

Some­thing tells me it’s go­ing to be a great story.

At first I was fu­ri­ous with can­cer for tak­ing away my abil­ity to feel con­tent as long as I was re­ceiv­ing a pay­cheque and for mak­ing me think I de­served more out of life.

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