Why I Love (Okay–Need) My Job

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I meant to start this blog on another note.

I have a mountain of notes on topics I wanted to kick off with. Like how military vets returning from Iraq are having trouble finding jobs. Or an interesting study from Harvard about why diversity efforts at big companies don’t necessarily work. Or about mentorships that do. Or about how I hate my Aeron chair, with apologies to its recently dead designer.

I’ll get to those reports. But life took another turn, and it has fundamentally affected how I do my job and possibly even the course of my career. Jobs and careers are the subject of this blog. So at the risk of way TMI, I’m going to launch this space by talking about how illness can knock your job and career for a loop.

Seeing as I’m making my debut here in a metaphorical hospital gown (backside open), let me at least attempt some dignity in this introduction. I’m Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, a staff writer at Time, where I focus for the most part on workplace, business and society trends. I wanted to write this blog to bring you news, ideas and thoughts on The Office–not the sitcom, whose Brit version I snootily prefer to Steve Carrell’s–but the one you’re sitting in now.

I wanted to talk about your boss, your inbox, your plans for corner-office domination, your snack drawer (come on, you have one), your daycare center calling to tell you your toddler’s nose is still running and can you come pick her up now please.

I wanted to report on labor issues and retirement plans and how you can find a better job. I wanted to tell you about management trends and worker psychology and all the hoopla about balancing work and family, as if anyone has figured that out.

And I will. But first:


TMI ALERT: Skip this part if a) blood makes you queasy; b) you really don’t want to know that much about me; c) you’d rather watch Katie Couric’s colonoscopy on YouTube; d) all of the above.

So I have this chronic illness called ulcerative colitis. It first started when I entered the workforce at 21 (now that I think about it). Most of the time it’s an afterthought, the reason I take fistfuls of drugs and avoid lactose. Occasionally it’s a real nuisance, when some sort of stress triggers my colon to inflame and bleed like a geyser.

That most recent trigger was probably multifold. My first book, Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death, came out in August. I’d been trying to flog it in my off time while holding down my real job as a writer at TIME, where, you might have heard, there has been some major ongoing change. I was also trying to coexist, with my freelance musician husband, in a household that is ruled by an exceedingly talkative two-year-old.

I tried my usual course of treatment, of which I’ll spare you the details. But in early October, I keeled over in pain and was ordered to the ER. Two hospitals, six roommates, eight doctors, countless needles, not nearly enough painkillers, and 16 days of absolutely terrible food later–let’s not forget the staph infection (bonus!)–I am now home and flare-up free. The massive dosage of IV steroids did not work but have left me looking and acting like Jabba the Hutt’s not-cute sister. An immunosuppressant has convinced my body not to reject my colon, so for now surgery remains a dark daydream.

The meds and weakened immune system render me homebound for now. It’s my rare luck that I have the kind of job that can be performed from a home office equipped with a computer, phone, fax and high-speed Internet line. It’s my incredible fortune that I have the kind of bosses who’ll let me work this way for a time.

But I’m missing out. I’m missing the morning meetings in which the editors talk about the upcoming issue. I’m missing the weekly story meetings in which writers meet with section editors to pitch and discuss ideas. I’m missing reporting in the field, hobnobbing with colleagues, conferences around town, lunches with sources.

My illness made me change how I handle my job, at least temporarily. But I know I’m lucky. Over these weeks I’ve talked to many who aren’t (see my next post)…