By Julie Howell
Consider this: does having a long-term illness have any advantages?
I’ve been living with multiple sclerosis since age 19. Until recently, I worked for other people, evangelising about the many benefits of web accessibility. Following redundancy in 2010, I found myself at another of life’s crossroads. Should I find another job, or take the road less travelled and start my own business? I plumped for the latter and I haven’t looked back.
Recently, I was asked to address a networking meeting attended by local entrepreneurs. Never having had the desire to scale a mountain or swim with sharks, some ‘thinking outside of the box’ was required.
What is ‘good’ about have a chronic condition and are there any reasons why having a long-term illness might make a person a good entrepreneur? I came up with seven of them.
1: Illness sets parameters.
One of the hardest things about working for yourself is learning to focus on your goals without a boss standing over you. Living with a long-term illness is all about focus – focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t. Having periods of ‘down time’ when I cannot work places a premium on the time when I can work and ‘good time’ is never wasted.
2: We’ve learned to forgive ourselves.
It surprises me how difficult some people find it to forgive themselves for their mistakes. Business is all about learning from mistakes and moving on, so if you struggle to forgive yourself for making a mistake, the chances are you will also struggle in business. When you live with a chronic condition, a major feature of which is crippling fatigue, you learn pretty fast that time and energy spent feeling guilty about it is time and energy wasted.
3: The 4-hour week is no longer just a dream.
‘Work smarter, not harder’ is the entrepreneurs’ mantra and they dream of achieving the elusive ‘four-hour working week’. I joke a little here – many of us with chronic conditions can only manage four hours of work a week… and you’d be amazed how much you can pack in when that’s all the time you have (Parkinson’s Law)! I call this ‘living the dream’.
4: We never waste time.
People procrastinate. I’m sure you’ve worked with someone who can’t make a decision. Making decisions is something I find very easy. They may not always be the right decisions but in business, that’s not what’s important. If you get something wrong, dust yourself down and try again. Time is a precious commodity – don’t waste it through indecision.
5: We work hours others won’t.
I work when I’m at my most lucid and alert, which tends to be in the afternoon and evening. Being happy to work evenings means I can pick up work others find less convenient.
6: We deflect hurtful remarks.
People let things other people say get to them far too often. Everyone with a chronic condition has had to deal with stupid remarks. Learning to deflect crass comments without being negatively affected by them is important, as time spent ruminating would be better spent doing just about anything else.
7: We say ‘no’ without guilt.
Guilt is exhausting. Learning to accept our limitations and say ‘no’, so we can say ‘yes’ more often to the important things, is just good business sense. If every entrepreneur did the same I reckon they would be more successful for it.
I bet there are more reasons why people with chronic conditions can make great entrepreneurs. Isn’t it time to celebrate what we’re good at and remind ourselves of our numerous strengths, even – or maybe especially – in the face of adversity? The entrepreneurs I spoke to seemed inspired: job done.
NOTE: Julie Howell is Managing Director of Giraffe Sense Mentoring.