Narcolepsy - Vocations and Occupations

“What do you do?” If I were granted control of conversational dialogue, I would remove this question from the vernacular. No longer would the first question asked during introductions center around occupation.

A person’s worth is not defined by what they do, but instead by who they are. Living with narcolepsy means that in order to maximize my performance, I need purpose. Unfulfilling and tedious work is a recipe for sleepiness and discontentment.

Due to abysmal sleep quality, I have to balance it with increased sleep quality. More hours of sleep mean fewer hours for personal activities and employment.

What is the purpose of employment?

“I don't live to work; I work to live.” —Noel Gallagher

For me, the purpose of employment is to support my family. Work can add meaning to my life, but it does not define me. My occupations support the vocations I have in life. When I wake up in the morning, work doesn’t motivate me out of bed. My kids, my volunteer efforts, my workouts, my artwork - that is what makes life worth living. Those are the reasons I work.

Learning from past experiences

There was a time in my life when I overemphasized work in my life. It did not serve me well. Not as a father, a friend, a family member, or person with narcolepsy. There was external pressure to define my importance through it but the majority was internal. I chose to look in the mirror and see what I did, not who I was.

Finding a healthy balance in life

I realized that change was essential. Stepping away from the imploded heap of my ego after the end of that position was a wake-up call. I didn’t give up on being a success, I just redefined what a success looked like.

In order to have a healthy balance in life, I need to find a way to support my vocations. That dynamic is going to look different for different people. In order to live a successful life I had to realize what I needed to do:

Occupations that support vocations

Success meant a balance of earning, living, and giving. It meant having a blend of an occupation(s) that supported my vocations. Creating art, enjoying family, making money to survive, lifting weights, raising awareness, and advocating legislation — those were critical to my success.

Volunteering and legacy

The volunteer work I do is as important as any work I can do. The investment in family and friends is more important than any work I can do. Ultimately my greatest gifts to the world are my kids and the legacy of influence I leave.  

When I was first diagnosed, it was easy to focus on what narcolepsy was taking from me. Now I view my condition as the source of my strength and the reason for my success. That lesson has been affirmed a few times over. I choose to have a life and not be myopic with career pursuits.

“Don't confuse having a career with having a life.” —Hillary Rodham Clinton

Giving, serving, and living

At the end of the day, work can provide resources. For a select few, occupations are vocations. I’m not recommending staying in unfulfilling employment. I’m suggesting that fulfillment is found in living life.

The act of giving and serving leaves me feeling strong and committed to my community. Parenting and building relationships have given me a life of purpose and focus. When my life is full of serving, giving, building, and living then my narcolepsy nemesis is losing. The World’s Strongest Person having narcolepsy with cataplexy approved this message.

What does success look like to you? How do you think about work? Share with our community in the comments below.

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