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Working for yourself isn’t always a choice

Posted Feb 13 2009 4:55pm

Randy Duermyer writes, How Working At Home Found Me.  This is a useful  blog about working at home  - check it out.   People email me asking about starting their own home businesses as I did. They’re say they’re tired of showing up when they’re so sick.  What does it take, they want to know.

This wasn’t a clearly thought out decision.  It evolved.

Fifteen years ago, I left my job as an Assistant Professor of Communications at Boston University. I was very sick with ulcerative colitis — to sick to do a decent job and it showed.

Two years later on disability, I was desperate to get back to paid work. Everyone thought I was nuts given how sick I was.  And I couldn’t explain why it mattered so much. I’d already made two careers changes because of bad health. I knew it would take years until I made the salary I’d made - if ever.  I was too sick to take a full time job out of the house.

But I couldn’t see not working for having a paying job for the remainder of my life and I wasn’t sure it was going to get any easier for me.

I’d always wanted to be a lawyer but law school required being able to consistently show up for classes — and it cost too much money. So with 48 hours of training, I became a certified mediator.

I volunteered to get experience. And after I had surgery to “cure” the colitis, I got  a part time job running an urban high school mediation program. But I was still too sick (now it was the MS) for a school schedule. I had to leave again.  I was disappointed but I had an idea.

I figured the only thing left was to start my own business since I couldn’t work on someone else’s schedule. I’d met other mediators who worked for themselves. With a partner with a geriatric social work background, we created a business in elder mediation.

Elder mediation wasn’t a hot field — no one even knew what we were talking about.  But I figured I had nothing to lose. It cost next to nothing to launch — and soon we were making enough to pay expenses.

In the beginning, I thought I’d work 15 hours a week.  But I soon realized nothing could happen in that amount of time.  And working at home, I could do a lot during off business hours - evenings and weekends - which gave me more flexibility.

I had everything to learn.  I talked to people who had built their own home businesses, read books, joined professional associations and found mentors. I learned to network,  market and run a business. We had several great elder mediation cases but, after a year, it was clear, we’d need to offer other services to make a living.

One opportunity led to another. Soon I was talking to leaders of companies, not just about the conflict in their companies, but about their challenges.  This was 1995 - and executive coaching was just catching on.

Over the next 6 years, I built a thriving business as an executive coach. I learned how to market on the internet. I created a newsletter. And after 2001, when the economy started to slide down, my business slowed with it.

I saw another opportunity. Working with my own coach, I realized that I had an expertise that people needed. I knew a lot - more than most — about working while living with chronic illness.

I changed the company name, created a new website, started writing and getting all over the web. And I got clients.

This business works for me because:

  • I love what I do.
  • I had financial support  (my husband’s salary) in the years while I was business building.
  • I like working on my own (even though I miss seeing people and being part of a team) and am motivated and disciplined.
  • I like being able to make decisions for myself and living with the results without answering to others.

Does running your own business, by yourself, for yourself, make sense to you?  There’s also a chapter in our book, Women Work and Autoimmune Disease, Keep Working Girlfriend! about starting your own business (You’re Fired By Your Body or Your Boss)

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