Jan 21, 2022
7 mins read
I was raised up in a family that feared and denied sickness; they favored quick fixes and pills (I mean... who wouldn't?) They pitied the chronically ill, especially those with mental and emotional health diagnoses. "That family has real problems,": a sotto voce aside after a family friend's son was hospitalized for self harm. I remember thinking: Our family has real problems too - we just don't talk about them!
So yeah, on that note. I've got real problems, turns out. It took me a while to even admit this to myself. I'll talk a little about two of my problems today.
First, I live with Renal Tubular Acidosis Type II, a persistent kidney condition that results in (among other things) - a lot of pain. I was born with this disorder; my body responds to treatment but sometimes I have bad spells and need medical intervention. Sometimes the medical intervention is mild; sometimes, catastrophic.
The other - well I don't know if I'd consider it an illness but it definitely affects me a great deal - is my anxiety. I'd describe my symptoms as mild to moderate, with acute severe episodes a couple times a month.
Anxiety is a tricky business, maybe even trickier than kidney disease, because those of us afflicted with it usually struggle with shame. We feel like we're doing something wrong - we're eating the wrong things or not eating the right things or we're not chill enough or we don't excercise enough or we don't sleep right or we don't take the right meds or we're taking too many meds or whatever. It took me many years living with anxiety to finally start talking about it, and then to finally start being a little self-compassionate. These days I pretty much accept that Hey, this is something I live with. I'm not saying I've given up and can't get better. I'm saying it's a tenacious problem I haven't mastered yet. I'd love for things to improve, but I'm not sure how or if they can.
I love to work. I took my first job at age thirteen; my employer had to acquire a special permit so I could legally be there. I earned $4.25 an hour (no joke) and I was so proud of my contributions to society! I can't recollect what inspired me to start so young but I seem to remember I was plucked up by this woman, my first boss - a neighbor and community pillar. She was - well, bossy: a Lutheran matron respected and loved in our little burg (she still is!) - one of the most energetic powerhouses I've known! I served as waitstaff and sandwich-maker in her little diner and this woman whipped me into shape. I've had more socially-prestigious jobs since - but sometimes I think that first job taught me my best lessons about the work life.
Of course I would go on to several nine to five jobs, including hardware store clerk, wildlife rescue, fruit stand hawker, lab technician, web designer, cafeteria employee, and chemical engineer. You know, all these jobs had their good points and bad points. I never lost my desire to work, although I soon became disenfranchised with aspects of the working life! (You know what I mean!)
But for some time now - since 2017 - I've been earning a living as my own boss, a designer and mentor. Earning my crust with my wits, my skills, my craft - and may I add, my own damn schedule!
I didn't realize I was building a business around chronic illness, because I was mostly building a business around family life (we unschooled our kids, which meant I needed to be home to supervise and care for them). And now that family life has shifted - and our sons are men and no longer need such strenuous care! - I realize that a family-friendly entrepreneurship has developed into an illness-friendly one.
As an artpreneur is I can be ill and still work. I'm able to schedule around medical appointments, to plan breaks, to accommodate low spells and then - when I'm feeling well - to work-work-work like the dickens (and stay up as late as I need to and sleep in if I need to)! I don't get paid "sick time" by an employer but I can make my own by planning: using a cash forecast and mathematically-determined profit margins (and yes - I sought business education, on scholarship, to learn how to do this)! I don't get paid vacation time but I can creatively create passive income that sustains me. I can make a financial plan for my future that means I'll be taken care of.
I have an understanding boss who always has my best interests at heart. (For real!)
I get to pick who I work with and what projects I take. This feels amazing. Something about having a lot of freedom, and getting to say No to dickheads, makes my anxiety a heck of a lot more manageable. (Sometimes I think I talk about freedom too much. What's up with that?)
Obviously there are troubles now and then. Sometimes I overbook myself. Sometimes I sign up for something I end up dreading (but this is rare)! Yesterday - just due to misunderstanding my calendar - I was late to a meeting - thirteen minutes late. This felt terrible because of course, I know how annoying or stressful that can be for the party on the other end! I apologized. I didn't make excuses for myself. I sat in my discomfort, and centered the needs of my client. And yeah, it threw me off my game a bit. But I recovered by the end of the day - and I like to believe I made good to my client.
I'm a human being. I slip up. I make mistakes. And I will admit that making mistakes as my own boss, feels a bit worse than making mistakes at a nine to five. Because I'm kind of one hundred percent to blame! And whereas when I didn't do my best at a nine to five I could usually give myself a break, sometimes I'm very hard on myself for messing up in my business. I can be relentless in my self-criticism. Entrepreneurship, which requires so much excellence, can leave little breathing room for our flaws. It's not that mistakes are more unforgivable as business owners: it's that we've strategized every aspect of our entrepreneurship, and so we can sometimes overstrategize when hey, sometimes shit just doesn't work out right!
I've said for years now that if my business stops being fun, I'll drop it. Instead - mostly because of my relentless self-education on business-building practices, which I'm rather obsessive about - it gets more fun every year. At this point it looks very unlikely I'd do a nine to five, unless that nine to five had such a fantastic mission and team, that it was worth my attention.
Am I well enough to have "a real job"? I honestly believe that to do that, I'd have to go on medication. And even if I could tolerate the side effects (that's a big If, for me), I've come to realize my working hours are the best hours I have to give. Of the only life I have. I've become increasingly possessive of these hours.
And besides, what I'm doing is working. I'm getting paid. I'm paying it forward in my communities. I'm getting to do what I want to do. It's glorious, to be honest!
So yeah, it's a privilege to be self-employed, but then it's a privilege to be able to work at all, and it's a privilege to have an income at all and have what health I do. I don't take these things for granted.
And I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. A career change is a big thing, and those kinds of steps should be taken seriously. If you're dying to be an entrepreneur... I'm not telling you do do it, but Maybe. I say: throw yourself in with all your heart! But make sure to cover your ass. (And do your homework!) If you're out there and you're stuck in some slog, I guess the thing I'd want you to know is that entrepreneurship is a big scary adventure that rather quickly gets less scary, and gets a lot more fun.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting my decidedly non-traditional, kinda messed-up-little-dude, Creatively prolific and joy-based, lifestyle.
It means an awful lot!