When it comes to dealing with chronic illness and our career, we don't have to choose between our health and our business / career -- picking one or the other -- but we do have to make conscious, daily choices (in the name of tradeoffs) that not everybody needs to worry about.
Because when you're diagnosed with chronic illness or an autoimmune disease, or even at the first sight of any such symptoms, your schedule quickly fills up. (And your time and energy, too.) Between phone calls with primary care providers and insurance companies... to actual doctor appointments and tests... to follow ups and treatment plans... this sector of your life now needs a lot of your attention.
And any time leftover? That often goes to naps on the couch or staying in bed a bit longer... because you're often feeling exhausted, in pain, or simply uncomfortable. Before I was diagnosed with a form of vasculitis, I spent all night wide awake (insomnia), all day half-asleep at my desk (subsequent exhaustion), and any "free" time was spent at a doctor's office or watching my favorite episode of Friends for the 14th time (survival).
In other words, managing autoimmune disease and chronic illness can quickly feel like a full-time job all by itself. (One that you never, ever applied for.) Even so, many people still need to work on top of that -- and maybe even want to chase a dream, write a book, or start a business at some point, too. The question becomes... How? What happens? Is this possible manage chronic illness and career goals?
To share why this is a topic I care about -- and why I'm intent on making sure we don't have to choose between our health and our career / work / dreams -- here's are a few pieces of my story that might resonate.
This crossroads is what led me to ask whether or not I had to choose. I didn’t want to think that I could EITHER optimize my body for healing OR grow a new business. There had to be an “and” in there somewhere, right?
I know these are pieces of my story and it may or may not look anything like your story. But wherever you are -- whether trying to chase a dream and optimize your body for healing like I am right now OR trying to manage your symptoms, get through a day of work or school, and flat-out not feel even worse like I was 13 years ago -- there are a few things that might help when dealing with chronic illness and a career.
CHOOSING BETWEEN HEALTH AND WORK... 3 KEYS TO DEALING WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS AND YOUR CAREER
1. Make conscious trade-offs.
I thought I had a choice to make when in reality I had a trade off to make. Which is something we do all the time already.
We trade off time for money or money for time.
We trade off a night in to hit the town.
We trade off an hour of sleep to get up and walk before work.
Once I started looking at tradeoffs within my health, a topic first taught to me by my coach Shauna VanBogart, things started to click. I could be BOTH a self-care-crazed autoimmune disease warrior, fighting daily for her chance at natural healing and remission in a stress-driven world, AND an entrepreneur working to leave a legacy bigger than myself. So long as I was willing to acknowledge and accept the trade offs.
If I'm not willing to trade off my work… or my health management practices... then what AM I willing to trade off? Additional time I spend working? The amount of energy it takes to work? Sure… but how?
By trading off perfection.
I used to spend 50% (or more) of my time making my work 15% (or less) better. In other words, if I let go of the need for perfection BEFORE launching, sharing my work, sending an email, writing a blog post, posting on social media… then I could cut my work time in half. At least. And with that extra time? I can take care of myself. I can go on long walks. I can make phone calls to doctor offices. I can sleep and rest.
Other conscious trade offs we might need to make?
Hiring out or delegating work whenever possible. Especially the work we don't like, struggle to do, or takes up a ton of our time / energy.
Traditional weekends. We don't always know when we're going to wake up feeling inspired and when we're going to wake up in a flare. Trust yourself to know when to push -- and when to rest. If you feel inspired on a weekend, go with it. If you need to rest on a weekday, trust yourself. I know this is much easier to follow if you're working for yourself, but consider a conversation with your employer about flexible work hours. Communication goes a long way when navigating health and work. We can break the stereotypes, stigma, and shame that surrounds illness.
The hustle. When we push our bodies too far, those with chronic illness usually know right away. We flare up, we wake up exhausted the next day, we're in pain, or physical symptoms pop up. It's important for us to listen to our bodies and stop before we've gone too far. In the moment, you might think you can push through. But, will your body (& life & work) be better for that TOMORROW?
2. Say goodbye to perfection.
At lot of people talking about letting go of perfection.
I've certainly heard that “done is better than perfect” or “surrender to perfection” or simply “let it go”. But, it was hard to let it go until I knew WHY I was letting it go. At the end of the day, perfection itself is simply there to keep me safe. To limit chances of rejection. Or failure. And that’s really great, cause those things can be painful. But, once I decided that what I was getting for the perfection (that protection) wasn’t as helpful to me as what I losing (the chance to work on both health and work)… it became the easy trade off.
Like with anything conscious choice, it’s one I have to make over and over again. But it’s worth it. Because both my health and my work are more important than the illusion of safety perfection seems to bring with it.
3. Add in a whole bunch of grace.
As I mentioned, I'm currently experimenting with the question… Can I get off medicine? Under the help and guidance of my doctor, I am actively decreasing my dosage. Something that I haven’t tried in about 9 years. Something I’m dreamt of since I was diagnosed.
While my work is in a season of GROWTH -- big, beautiful, insanely exciting growth -- my health is in a season of healing. A period of life where PATIENCE and RELAXATION are essential.
I know that we don't have to choose between our health and our career. I know that work dreams and health dreams can coexist. I’ve experienced it. But the thing we sometimes forget is... We’ve got an extra ball in the air. We have another factor to consider. There’s another variable for us to take into account.
Stress plays a role in autoimmune disease and chronic illness... just like rest and joy. Which means work plays a role, expectations play a role, pressure and desire and hustle play a role. While we can still get where we want to go in our work, we need respect our health along the way.
It might take longer.
It might be slower.
We might need to have uncomfortable conversations with coworkers and bosses.
To explain why we need to take time off -- or to request a flexible schedule.
Instead of letting our boss or clients question or make assumptions about what we're doing taking time off each month for a Remicade infusion... share.
I know shame and judgment are attached to illness WAY too often, but it shouldn't be. These were the cards we were dealt and the experience we get to have. The challenges we get to overcome.
I know it’s hard to optimize your body for healing in a world that prioritizes doing and checked tasks over being and sitting still. It’s hard to optimize your body for healing in a world that doesn’t stop talking, where information is always at our fingertips, and comparison has never been easier to find. One way to navigate these waters just a bit more easily is to remember tradeoffs exist ALWAYS. Be willing to surrender perfection and give yourself a whole lot of grace along the way.