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Managing Chronic Illness And Your Business: Tips From Successful Entrepreneurs

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Being an entrepreneur is tough but toss in a chronic illness/pain, a family crisis, health issues, or everyday kid schedules and it gets much tougher. All of these situations put limits on your time and energy and that in turn impacts your business. In this article you'll hear from 3 entrepreneurs who live with a chronic illness and they share their tips on how to continue to run a successful business with limited time and energy.


**This was also a podcast episode (episode #209. Use the player below if you'd prefer to listen to this message.


The Reality Of Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain, Chronic Conditions For Entrepreneurs

Did you know that 51% (as of 2018 according to the CDC) live with a chronic illness and 27% have multiple chronic conditions. While not all of these people are entrepreneurs, many are because being able to control your schedule is a huge perk of entrepreneurship and often needed if you live with a chronic condition that impacts your energy.

With the surge of people starting their own business, especially after COVID hit, there are more online entrepreneurs that are also navigating health issues and trying to figure out how to make it work. They are reading the same books and listening to the same podcasts as others who are starting their own business but they have the added stress of adapting this information to fit their needs.

In response to this, I'm ensuring that I adapt my teaching and do the best I can to share specific examples and ideas for how you can find what works for you, no matter what you're navigating in your life and business.

Chronic Illness Often Leads To Shame/Guilt For Entrepreneurs

During research for this article I came across an incredible article from the Craft Industry Alliance written by Roberta G. Wax titled "Don't Let Chronic Illness Dampen Your Entrepreneurial Dreams: Tips For Managing Your Health and Your Business".

Some of the tips mentioned are:

  • Getting creative with your workspace - one person made a "sewing bed" so she could continue to sew but also rest her body while reclining

  • Talk about your condition - while you don't have to share everything, letting your audience/clients know about your condition will help them understand why you're doing things they way you are

  • Let go of perfection - accepting that you can't do it all or even most of the list you have in your mind is key. Know your limits and what you need to stay healthy

  • Set goals - it was encouraged to not let your diagnosis get in the way of what you want. It may take longer or look different but you can get there

I loved the tips but it was the comments on this blog article that had me stopped in my tracks. The response to this article was that of appreciation and validity. The people who bravely shared in the comments said they finally felt seen and understood.

Quotes pulled from the comments (names not shared):

  • "embarrassed by how limiting my energy is"

  • "people who don't experience it can't understand it, I appreciate reading about how others manage their creative lives while juggling to manage their symptoms"

  • "so many suffer in silence"

  • "I cried as I read this article and learning that many of the emotions that I am feeling are part of this path that I have in front of me now"

This opened my eyes to how much information that myself and other coaches have shared that may not resonate with you because it doesn't fit your needs if you're running a business AND navigating health issues.

While I've tried to always say "find what works for you" I will do better going forward. I'll give specific examples of how you might find what works for you in this situation of navigating chronic illness or pain. I would also extend this to stress, family issues, or other ways that your time and energy are limited. While health issues certainly present different roadblocks, all of these seasons of life will impact your business.

Learning From Others Who Navigate Chronic Illness & Pain As Entrepreneurs

In episode 208 on my podcast I shared a health-related story of mine and how it impacted my business but I didn't want that to be the only story shared. I reached out to several people in my small corner of the internet who I know have navigated chronic illness. I've seen them all build businesses that work for them, have to take time off, have to say 'no' to more things than they'd like to.

These incredible entrepreneurs (and many others who weren't able to share in this episode) have committed to building a business that works for them. It's been an honor and pleasure to sit alongside them and watch it happen. Everything hasn't been perfect for them and some are my students and I've witnessed them struggle to put certain things into action in their business. But they all have one thing in common:

They persisted.

Not one of these ladies has given up even when it's been hard for them. They paused, they recognized their limits, they tested different methods to see what worked for them and what didn't. They tracked things to figure out what works best for them and how they can access these tools and strategies as they continue in business.

I'm proud to share their stories and tips with you now:

Christa's Entrepreneurship Story:

Christa lives with Mixed-Connected Tissue Disease, which for her specifically includes Rheumatoid Arthritis and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Christa is an aqua yoga teacher and these conditions impact her life but also her business. As someone who teaches primarily in water and outdoors, Lupus becomes an issue since the sun can impact her symptoms. In addition she is limited in her availability to teach since her symptoms are always worse in the evenings.

Christa's Tips For Navigating Health Issues In Entrepreneurship

  1. Adjust schedule & offerings based on typical symptoms

  2. Set realistic expectations of how much you can do in a day & identify the top 3

  3. Find what works for you and don't worry about what the "experts" say

  4. Maintain flexibility with your daily schedule

"I try and focus on the over-arching goal rather than get bogged down on 'do I meet my daily goal' because as long as I keep moving towards the long-term goal I really am making progress." - Christa Fairbrother

Anonymous Entrepreneurship Story:

Another entrepreneur who would rather remain anonymous shared her story and tips. She navigated several years of symptoms that weren't explained and finally received the diagnosis of Hashimoto's Disease and began to test treatments until she found what worked for her. While she is symptom-free today, there's always a chance that the symptoms can come back anytime so this is always something she's aware of, especially when planning for her business.

She shared how navigating this health issue not only impacted her ability to perform tasks in her business, but also her mindset.

"This really impacted me as an entrepreneur because I was no longer able to schedule things and as a planner, I really struggled with that. I also felt so much guilt about how I was not living up to my very, very high expectations of myself."

Her Tips For Navigating Health Issues In Entrepreneurship

  1. Shift from focusing on what you can't control to what you can control

  2. Give yourself grace every day

  3. Find the win in every day

"When I started to focus on finding a win for every day, it felt so much different in my day-to-day, I felt so much more positive, empowered and like I was actually making progress even if it was tiny."

Pia's Entrepreneurship Story:

Pia lives with a rare disease, Acute Intermittent Porphyria, which causes fatigue, stomach pain, migraines and numbness in arms and legs. These flare-ups happen randomly and typically build up and worsen and during the last 2 years she has dealt with symptoms on a monthly basis. As a yoga teacher this has impacted her business in many ways and even led her to questioning if running her own business was a good decision.

"Waking up and needing to cancel classes doesn't feel good. I felt like I couldn't be relied upon." - Pia Burman

Pia's Tips For Navigating Health Issues In Entrepreneurship

  1. Practice self compassion every day to accept your current season

  2. Schedule more blank/free time in your day

  3. Aim for "good enough" instead of "perfect"

  4. Surround yourself with positive people

As a Swedish yoga teacher, Pia has taken this a step further in her business and actually helps others who are navigating similar situations in their bodies as well. While she isn't exclusively helping people with the same condition as her, she has taken the tools that she's learned from navigating her own health issues and now shares these tools with others who want to find balance in their life.

"While I didn't become an entrepreneur because of my disease, I'm now quite grateful that I have my own business and that I can set my own schedule around these flare-ups. Even though I questioned if I could keep going I realized that I wanted to help people that are like me." - Pia Burman

Takeaway Message/Action

Throughout each of these stories there's one commonality that is clear and that's to give yourself grace with whatever it is you're dealing with and adjust to what will work best for you in this season.

Whether you're navigating a health issue, family crisis or something else, life will always throw us curveballs and when that happens we need to use our tools to roll with it and do the best we can. Each of these entrepreneur's has shared specific tools that helped them and that's your next step. Get inspired by their tools and make your own list of things you can do to better support your needs.

Be sure to keep this episode saved so you can come back to it anytime you need it. Remember that we all navigate tough things in our life and business so you're not alone. Find your support, use your tools and resources and be kind to yourself.

Until next time give yourself permission to pause and find what works for you in this season and grace along the way. I'll talk to you soon.

Resources Mentioned:

Ep. 209: Chronic Illness & Business: Tips From Entrepreneur's Who Manage Both

"Anything that restricts your time and energy also affects how you show up in business so it's important to know your limits and what works best for you."

- Amanda McKinney


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Image of book: Why Not You? An Accidental Entrepreneur's Guide To Success

I help women who stumbled into entrepreneurship, get out of the weeds and create a sustainable, organized business they are proud of and provides the flexibility they desire.


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