Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Serenity Enemy: Illness

Look up "illness" and "self-employed" on Google, and most of what you'll find is the conundrum of how to afford health insurance in the U.S. if you aren't part of a large company. What it doesn't tell you is how to deal with your work when you come down with a bad cold, or when you get pheumonia or bronchitis or any of the other cold-weather illnesses that abound right now.

Unluckily for me, I seem to be a guinea pig. Last week I picked up some horrible virus that left me unable to sleep, stay awake or form a coherent sentence. Writing the posts on this blog took hours. And finishing my work? Last week, it took some Herculean will to get it all done.

I was proud of myself that I had, and then I went to the doctor.

"Don't talk," said my physician. "And don't work. Do you need a note?"

"No thanks," I croaked. "I'm self-employed."

But see, that's the crux. Sometimes I like to say, "I'm self-employed, and my boss is a slave driver."

But what to do when the reality of your health butts up against the reality of your work life. If you're even moderately successful in your work, you come up with a schedule that keeps you steadily busy. Illness is never factored into that. And unlike staff employees, you can't get sick and call in, assuming someone else will pick up the slack.

And so the nattering brain starts:

You're weak.
If you don't finish that assignment, that client will never hire you again.
But what if you finish it, and it's terrible because you can't focus?
Why did I ever leave my cushy full-time gig?

Aside from whatever naturally comes up for you when you get sick (self-pity, depression, etc., seem pretty common among my self- and outside-employed friends alike when illness strikes), you have to cope with what to do about maintaining the momentum of your business.

Here's where you really have to put your 1 percent into action. In other words, ask yourself:

* What can you control here?
* What actions are your responsibility?
* What are your limits?

This last question is the most important one. For me when I'm sick, I go into deep denial about my limits. Heck, someone with a realistic sense of limits might not become self-employed in the first place. If I had thought about the intense learning curve involved in self-employment when I began, I might not have pursured it. I simply thought, "I like to learn. And I can do it. Let's go!"

So one of the new mantras I have for myself right now, as I convalesce, is "I accept that I have limits."

So I finished the work I could get done, was honest with my clients about the work I hadn't finished, told them how long I'd be out of comission and asked for direction. I've always found that clients want to collaborate. So I swallow my pride, and I invite them in. In some cases, my rigid determination to meet a certain deadline softened when the client told me the deadline wasn't so firm after all. In other cases, I was invited to complete the work when I was well.

And, most important, the world did not collapse on me. I continue to have relationships with my clients. And those emails from clients that I didn't respond to immediately because I was too tired and ill and fuzzy-headed to do so? I got to them. And the clients weren't enraged at the delay.

Now I'm going to sleep. You'll probably see me again next week, after I'm better.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Hope you feel better soon!