It’s no exaggeration to say that trigeminal neuralgia changed my life overnight and, in some ways, I’m still finding my footing. But one of the first parts of my life that needed an overhaul was my business.
A new reality
I’m no stranger to business pivots. Every year since I chose self-employment in 2013, I’ve refined my work. The more I grew into my business, the more I recognized how to inject more of my passion and strengths into how I want to make an impact. Each year I felt more at-home with the changes I made, proud that I was shedding what I didn’t want while stepping closer to realizing my vision and goals.
But when my health status changed, I was forced to confront my new reality.
- Because talking is a key trigger for my pain attacks, a coaching business model that largely depends on speaking to clients — at length — is not healthy or feasible.
- Because of my pain and medication, I need more in-built flexibility to my days to make room for the ebb-and-flow of my lessened energy.
- Because there is an immediate need to keep myself as strong, fit and healthy as I possibly can, my health and wellness had to displace my business as my first priority.
My “new normal” was asking — nay, screaming — for me to re-examine my lifestyle, accept and acknowledge my limitations, and re-adjust my priorities. And strangely, this wasn’t as hard as it seems. Chronic illness had pierced through to my vulnerability in a way nothing else had, and it was from this place that I looked at my life and intuited how to start making changes so that my work was serving me (and not the other way around).
The biggest changes I enacted within months of my diagnosis were:
- Pared down my services from three offerings to one;
- Changed the scope of my weekly newsletter by speaking more personally and pointedly about challenges and encouragement;
- Felt safe and comfortable enough to experiment with the previous point by making my newsletter and its archives available only to subscribers;
- Adjusted my schedule so that I dedicated only a set number of hours per week to calls; and
- Refocused my target audience to women like myself, ambitious ones who live with health limitations.
At least for a time, I knew that these decisions would limit my income. I was doing things that mass conventional online business wisdom rejected. That wasn’t a decision I made lightly, but it wasn’t one I felt tormented by. I valued my health so much more. And today, I don’t regret it one bit.
Finding authenticity and opportunity
Those changes launched my work in a new — dare I say more authentic — direction. Within six months of my diagnosis:
- I was getting more heartfelt feedback from my newsletters. Readers recognized the new personal slant to my writing and it was speaking to them in a way it hadn’t before.
- I was invited to speak on podcasts and at live events. I could only commit to one, but the fact that my work was getting recognition gave my confidence a much-needed boost.
- I started a contributing writing gig with Idealist Careers, where more and more, I’ve been able to dig into my own questions and interests from the angle of helping a readership interested in having an impactful, balanced career.
And now, two years into my chronic illness journey, I’m working on more changes, the biggest of which is having a business model that’s roughly 80% freelance writing and 20% creative coaching.
This is about you
Despite this horrible disease, I know I’m in as fortunate a position that I could possibly hope for under the circumstances. I can still work, albeit it at a slower pace. It’s my self-employment that gives me the flexibility I need to take care of myself. I also have access to health insurance, which helps with expensive healthcare costs.
There are a host of conditions within and out of my control that allow me to put my health first. The same is true for you too. Just do your best. It will take some compromise and trial-and-error to figure out your “new normal,” but you will.
Until you do, whatever your specific circumstances, there is always something you can do — even if it seems so insignificant — to lessen your burden. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in whatever way, shape or form it’s available to you.
And when it comes to career, livelihood and money — incredibly personal and complex issues — no one can tell you what to do. If you’re at a place where you need to re-evaluate how you work, I have written a piece about finding a job that works for you when you live with chronic illness.
As you figure out what you need, that may mean going freelance, starting a business, designing a more flexible arrangement with your current employer or something else entirely. However you decide to move forward, don’t feel ashamed for putting your needs first — that’s where your ever-changing best is born.
Note: This piece was first published on my blog on September 4th, 2019.