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The Problem With Separating 'Business' and 'Personal' as a Chronically Ill Entrepreneur

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Over the past year I’ve heard “it’s not personal, it’s business” from almost every mentor-esq figure I’ve had. My question is when exactly does personal meet professional? For me, living with a chronic illness and trying to run a business, everything feels personal. If you wouldn’t have had a flare, you would have gotten that order out in time. If you didn’t have three doctor appointments and labs this week, you would have had more energy to answer emails or schedule social media posts. Your illness affects everything about your life, including your business.

Taking the leap of faith to start a business from the ground up is work. Long, backbreaking hard work. Hundreds of thousands of hours, blood, sweat and tears go into building a business. Not to mention almost every cent you have. There are no department heads or office managers; as a small business owner you do everything yourself. You labor over every detail, you lose sleep studying Facebook ads creation and search engine optimization tips. Your business becomes you and you become your business.

When a customer complains, when there’s a shipping disaster or a charge dispute, your mind tells you it is not personal, it’s just business. But it still stings a little bit. I mean, you’re human, of course it does. Like any other business owner, when you go down the ship goes down too, but for me, as a chronic illness patient, everything is a little more hectic and seemingly always personal. For example, as a patient, when you go down, your downtime can be lengthy and your customer’s patience thin.

There’s always this constant mental battle between sharing your health woes to explain your less than professional professionalism and not wanting to be pitied or accused of “using your illness” as an excuse. Truthfully I know it’s not supposed to be personal, it’s not supposed to be about me, but the thing is, for me to deny my struggles as a patient and how they affect my business is another form of invisibility. I don’t want to make excuses, I don’t even want people to maybe not want a refund because of delayed sickness shipping; but I do wish I had a bit more understanding from everyone.

On one hand society tells me not to be a burden, and I must pay for my lifetime treatment medicines so I have to provide for myself like any other citizen, but I am not permitted to use my illness as an excuse when it within itself is the very reason I cannot work a traditional job in the first place. The hypocrisy of it all is astonishing.

It’s like this: I have an illness I didn’t ask for that has changed my life in good ways and bad. Part of the bad change? It almost killed me, twice. Part of the good change? It inspired me to start a subscription care package box, Spoonie Essentials, which has given me part of my life back. I am in business for myself. I am helping people like myself who need a little extra love while ensuring my illness doesn’t limit my earning power and ability to provide for myself completely.

But the truth is my illness does limit me sometimes. I get going for a few weeks, seriously killing the “adulting” entrepreneur thing, and then, wham: a flare hits and my business stops, customer service leaves a lot to be desired and I feel like a massive failure. This cycle continues over and over again. Because chronic illness is chronic.

I just love when people suggest I shouldn’t have gone into business if I knew I couldn’t handle it, if I knew I’d always be sick. But what really is my alternative? Become destitute? Continue having setbacks and never mention my illness and be seen as unprofessional? Or just quit and be seen as lazy?

For me, business is personal. I hope every chronically ill entrepreneur out there knows it is OK to get tired. It is OK to share you were sick, or you needed to rest. It is even OK to take a break from your business or close it. Do not let the world allow you to believe you aren’t professional because you’re transparent with your customer base. Do not feel bad because you needed a nap or a day off. I am so over beating myself up and feeling like I shouldn’t be personal with my customers. I’m tired of literally owning a business that intends to lift up chronic illness warriors while putting myself down.

At some point the emails, the social media comments or questions pile up and I question why I even believed I could do this in the first place. I begin to doubt myself, to think I must have been silly to think I could fight an illness and run a business. It’s like trying to update your iPhone with 12 percent battery, not enough charge to complete the task. Then trying again at 10 percent. Again at 5 percent and then wondering why it’s not working.

The moral of the story? When you’re at 5 percent, do what you can do at 5 percent. When you’re at 10 percent, do what you can do at 10 percent, and so on. Remember why you began your business. Trying the best you can in life is all you can ever do. Make your own rules. And remember there’s a bunch of us chronically ill entrepreneurs out here just like you who’ve got your back and are rooting for your success. Until next time, my chronically ill entrepreneur colleagues.

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Thinkstock photo via shironosov.

Originally published: October 19, 2017
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