I had goals. I had HUGE goals! I was going to crush it in real estate and start my own team. I even had the name of the team and my logo all picked out.
Then chronic illness happened. They say everything happens for a reason, but I disagree. Sometimes things just suck. They knock you down, turn you inside out, and drastically change your life for the worst. Have I gained perspective, knowledge, wisdom and other shit from all my health problems? Yes. But it sure as hell doesn’t make up for a full, healthy, relatively pain-free life. I want to feel normal. I want to do things other people my age do without having to carefully balance on a tightrope doing health equations in my head every single day, but that isn’t the life I have. It’s not the life I’ll ever have unless medical science gets its shit together. I’m not holding my breath.
If you’re an entrepreneur who has recently been saddled with a diagnosis that you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your life, I thought I’d share my strategies with you.
1. First and foremost, BE SELFISH. You need to put yourself first whenever possible. I feel almost lucky that I have always been a little selfish, but I really had to hone it in when I got sick. For women, in particular, we’re used to saying “yes” everytime someone asks something of us. Be it our partner, our boss, our coworker, the PTA, our friends, family, children, etc. You need to learn to say NO. You must put your health first. If that means you’re no longer available to network, don’t let people tell you that you MUST go to every happy hour a title company throws. If your spouse is a grown-ass human being, don’t keep doing all the housework yourself. If they need to learn how to cook, or do their own laundry, or sweep a floor, it’s about damn time anyway. Tweens and teens can start pulling their own weight as well. Putting some of that physical work on other people is very helpful. After all, if I go down, the whole ship goes down. If a relatively healthy person runs herself ragged and gets sick, a few days of rest generally return her to health. My last flare was pretty bad and it took a month to stabilize. During a flare, laundry doesn’t get done, nor do income-producing activities. I must choose wisely every day.
2. REEVALUATE YOUR GOALS. This one took me a while. I had dreamt about running my own team, because I’m the kind of woman who people call bossy, but I know that I just have leadership skills. It was a letdown to realize that it probably wasn’t in my best interest, the hypothetical team members who would be relying on my guidance and commitment to their success for their income, or in my clients’ best interests for me to be on my own or running things. I’m lucky that I started on a team with an incredible mentor and was then recruited to the team where I still work today. I am still a kick-ass agent, but if I happen to go down and require time off, my teammates will happily pick up where I left off with my clients and see that their needs are met at the highest level. Sure, I’ll have to split my income with them, but I don’t have to make the choice to either run myself totally into the ground to do a 5-star job or abandon them in the middle of the process of selling or finding a home, and lose my paycheck entirely. This ties into…
3. FIND A SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR YOUR WORK. As an entrepreneur, I’m sure you’re used to doing everything on your own. That’s OK if your disability is something that’s pretty predictable. You should be able to figure out what you’re able to take on at any given time and what you’re not, and what you can realistically accomplish as long as nothing catastrophic occurs. Autoimmune illnesses are different. I can be feeling great and functioning for all intents and purposes like an adult with a bad back problem one day, and then go into a flare that basically feels like the worst flu you’ve ever had the very next. I’ve gotten fairly good at predicting flares, but they can still knock me for a serious loop. For me, as a realtor, being a senior agent of a Top 50 Team in the USA as ranked by the Wall Street Journal is the best support system possible. They work with me on the balance I need of working from home or working in the office. Obviously, I work with clients in their home and in the field, but when I’m prospecting and doing paperwork, I can get more accomplished in my home office where I experience less physical pain sometimes. I miss being in the office with my team, but I have support and the compromise works for everyone.
4. EAT RIGHT AND EXERCISE. When the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve and 2016 became 2017, I was 236 lbs. I was ANGRY with my body. When you have a chronic illness, you feel like your body has betrayed you. Sometimes, when someone asks me why I do or don’t do something, I simply say, “Oh, because my body is an asshole.” I still think that’s true, even though my body and I have come to something of an understanding this year. If I feed it right about 90 percent of the time, avoiding foods that are inflammatory (to find out what foods are inflammatory, just write down a list of everything that’s fucking delicious, like gluten and sugar) exercise regularly for 30-60 minutes a day, get enough rest, and don’t stress out too much, my body takes it easy on me and lets me live a “new normal” life. I’ve been treating it well enough that I now weigh 169 lbs at this moment. Weight loss, however, is a side effect of the health and fitness program I started at the beginning of the year. The main objective was to FEEL BETTER and keep flares at bay. I can’t freaking believe how much better I feel when I eat right. It does kind of suck that I can’t enjoy the donuts the home warranty rep brings into the office in the morning, followed by the pizza the lender brings for our team lunch meeting, followed by happy hour at the bar in my office. Again, it’s about saying “NO.” I honestly feel like my life finally changed for the better once I got started with fitness, which is why I became an online health and fitness coach. I’m extremely passionate about helping anyone, especially people with chronic illness, change their bodies and their lives. Doctors throw pills at us and tell us to lose weight, but I’ve never had one suggest a nutritionist or a way to determine which foods specifically inflame my body. That’s life-changing stuff.
5. Discover who your true friends are. That’s a hell of a lesson to learn in your mid 30s. Your true friends are the ones who understand why you have to cancel hanging out yet again. They’re the ones who continue to invite you, even when you bail early if you show up at all. They’re the ones who are happy enough stopping by to chat when you’re in your pajamas, on your couch, in your messy house, because you can’t get up to clean, and they’d never want you to exert yourself by cleaning up on their behalf. They know that usually, your work takes priority when you only have the energy for work or play. Treat these friends like the rare, precious gems they are. Take their phone calls whenever possible. Be there for them emotionally if you can’t be there physically. Having strong friendships is actually big factor in longevity and in avoiding depression and other illnesses. Don’t let them go.
There’s no one size fits all guide to being an entrepreneur with a chronic illness, but this is what’s helped me. In these crazy times of escalating health care costs and the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act, it’s crucially important to arm ourselves with skills and strategies to manage our illnesses with nutrition and doing the right activities as much as humanly possible so we can continue working, making money, and contributing to our society and our families. As always, if you have questions or comments, I’m just a click of a mouse away.