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Chronic Illness and self employment. A Day At The Beach?

Posted Nov 09 2009 10:49am

work at beach

Here’s a question I get frequently but you wouldn’t have heard 20 or even 10 years ago:  Is self employment the best option for people living with chronic illness?

It seems that most employed people dream of working for themselves.  It certainly sounds  freeing and creative, doesn’t it? No one makes a more compelling case for self employment than Pam Slim in her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, and in her wonderful book with the same title.  If you want to read a clever and insightful post on the topic, GL Hoffman writes in the recent Career Collective posts, “The Life of an Entrepreneur: Is it for You?”

But what about if you live with impairments and waxing/waning chronic illness? You know that you have to think about these issues a little differently.  But how.

Well, as they say, “the devil is in the details”.  Here are some of my thoughts.

Self employment generally means  you’re solo.  For many, that’s a real plus.  A coaching client with Lupus  discovered the challenge in working solo when selling Tupperware.   She expected this kind of low key sales would give her  the flexibility she didn’t have when she was in computer sales.  But she  still had to show up at the Tupperware parties she’d scheduled and her salary depended  on her ability to be alert, friendly, outgoing and able to sell — even when she had no energy and in pain.

Furthermore, a lack of a guaranteed paycheck can be a source of anxiety for anyone, especially if you have others to support.  But it can be even worse if you  already face an unpredictable life due to your health. A client with Fibromyalgia  went to work for himself thinking that his wife’s income would give him the cushion he needed  to cut back  his work when necessary.   But  not having a reliable paycheck made him severely anxious.  He couldn’t take a vacation or sick time, worrying tha he’d lose business and be unable to pay his bills.  Working for himself, he pushed himself harder than when he was employed.

I’m self employed in my home office and it works for me.  I’ve always been extreme on the self motivation scale, I’m a born “creator”,   I love developing my talents and new ideas and I work my best when I can do it on my own schedule.

But while I’ve benefited from being able to adjust my schedule to my health, I’ve had to learn to live with an uneven and reduced salary.  I sorely miss the social interaction of an office and feel the loss of being part of a team who shares ideas and goals. I don’t miss my difficult bosses but I do miss the supportive ones who mentored me and helped me to grow.

For more about  self employment when chronic illness is part of your life , read Joan Friedlander’s  chapter,  You’re Fired  — by Your Body or Your Boss in our book, Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend!

What have you found –  from working on your own?  Or staying employed?

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