Managing a business is mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically demanding, but it’s even more demanding when you’re already dealing with a chronic illness or health condition. In addition to managing your everyday responsibilities as CEO, you’ll be making and attending appointments, suffering through chronic pain, and making accommodations for your physical limitations.
With that in mind, is it even possible to keep your business alive while it’s happening?
Strategies for Chronic Illness Management
If you’ve already started a business and a chronic illness has set in, you should start by employing the following strategies to improve your chances of success:
- Find ongoing support. You can’t be an effective leader if you’re constantly in pain, or if you’re mentally or physically unhealthy. No matter what your core managerial responsibilities would have you do, you have to make time for pain management and support groups. Sometimes, that will mean canceling a meeting or taking a day off unexpectedly. Support groups will help you discover new strategies you can use to manage your pain on a daily basis. They’ll also give you opportunities to share your experiences, and relieve stress in a comfortable group setting. Don’t underestimate the importance here.
- Proactively communicate with your team. If you know you’re dealing with a serious illness, don’t try to bear the burden alone—or silently. Your team deserves to know why you’re taking extra days off, and why you might be unreachable for hours at a time. It may be hard to talk about, and you don’t need to disclose all the personal details, but you should proactively warn your employees that you may need to lean on them more often for some of your regular responsibilities.
- Take frequent breaks. Taking breaks regularly is important even when you aren’t dealing with a chronic illness. You owe it to yourself to take breaks throughout the day, taking an hour for lunch, and walking away from your desk at least once every few hours. If you can squeeze in some physical exercise or some pain management exercises, even better. You should also take at least one vacation a year, preferably taking off at least one regular work day every month and giving yourself every weekend you can to recover before the upcoming work week.
- Know your limitations. To gain power over your chronic illness, you need to better understand your chronic illness. Research the illness to the best of your ability, understanding how it manifests and how it could improve or worsen over time, and pay attention to how it affects you personally. You need to recognize when certain work actions or responsibilities make your illness worse, and if there are certain responsibilities you have to forgo in order to preserve your health. Don’t push yourself further than necessary or you’ll end up failing as a leader and suffering from your illness even further.
- Delegate when you can. Your employees are there for a reason. When you can, lean on them to help you with some of your responsibilities. Get comfortable with delegating work to your underlings, and consider outsourcing some of your work to independent contractors and agencies to fill in the gaps.
Making a Transition
Part of knowing your limitations is understanding when your illness is too much to manage on top of your entrepreneurial responsibilities. If the time comes, you’ll need to make preparations for someone to step into your previous role:
- Choose the right candidate. Not just anyone can fill your shoes. Take your time reviewing the performances and attitudes of your top employees, and narrow your selection field down to the most appropriate candidate.
- Document everything you can. Set aside time to document your approach to this leadership role as best you can, detailing your daily responsibilities as well as instructions for how to run the company effectively.
- Announce the transition to vested parties. Let your candidate, your board, your partners, and any other vested parties know as soon as possible that you’re preparing for a transition in leadership. This will help make the transition smooth, and will avoid any miscommunication.
- Transition gradually. If possible, transition to the new leader gradually, serving as a part-time advisor until your candidate is capable of handling things themselves.
Ultimately, only you can decide if it’s possible to manage your business while struggling with a chronic illness. Many entrepreneurs have done so successfully in the past. With the proper strategies, it’s entirely possible to continue your career, but you can’t keep going if your doubled efforts result in inferior work in both areas of your life. Think carefully about your decision, and make measurements of your performance and progress to determine how to proceed objectively.