If nothing else, living with a chronic condition has taught me to be more creative with my resources and how to extend myself and my reach further beyond where I ever would have attempted to go before. Four years ago when I started my own photography company, I never dreamt of or intended to veer from the traditional structure of the companies that I had worked with or been exposed to previously. Of course my vision was huge, and I expected a successful, better than average outcome, but that expectation was simply because I had such a heart to treat my customers and employees with respect and courtesy and from my experience I had learned that the value of this is so high and also seems so hard to find these days. I was pretty certain that this alone would set our company apart from the rest.
What I didn’t know then is that almost immediately after I got our business name and began marketing my company, I would become ill to the point of not being able to handle my commitments to the business. After running into wall after wall and realizing I could no longer do things the old way, I quickly began to come up with creative ways to continue to market and get the word out that did not require as much energy as my previous methods. Living in such a media based society; It didn’t take long to recognize that there are so many tools out there to help get the word out that I could take advantage of. I actually received such an encouraging response from contacting potential clients through email, that I immediately had several very large projects lined up that I know I may never have even aimed for, had I not been backed into this corner with limited energy and felt that my arms were tied behind my back.
One of the biggest developments that determined the entire structure of our business came as a direct result to a therapy session that I had. I began seeing a therapist for the first time in my life because I felt that it may help me to stay balanced in the midst of all the unbalance and chaos that this illness brought with it, and to help me to cope with the defeated feelings that were becoming so prevalent. Fatigue, sleep deprivation, and pain, partner with emotional exhaustion and a struggle to keep a positive perspective (any of you that have ever had a newborn baby in your home or an inconsistent day/night shift schedule at a job can most likely remember those moments of clouded thinking and sleep walking through life).
This is just a little aside, by the way, but if you are dealing with something similar in your own life I would very much encourage taking the time to try on a few therapists if you are able to do so. I had plenty of fears and reservation prior to making my first appointment (another blog for another day), but the benefits from having someone to talk to, vent to, and help correct negative thinking patterns were very significant in validating my feelings and helping me feel renewed when I had reached wit’s end. I am thankful to have so much personal support in my life, but having an outside voice that I wasn’t afraid to burden and who hadn’t heard my redundant whining day in and day out, made me feel at liberty to open up beyond what I would normally have done, and the fabulous thing is that I didn’t feel a bit guilty about doing so! As a matter of fact, quite the opposite! I felt justified in my feelings and emotions, and when I really talked through and heard myself say out loud what I was dealing with and how I was handling it all, I usually left feeling pretty proud of myself for still standing and fighting forward. Therapy (as our medical bills and medications) is of course costly and can be difficult to make a financial priority, not to mention for someone living with chronic illness, the sessions can also be physically exhausting, but if you remember that you are in control of how often you participate or when you feel it can be worked in, it can be quite comparable to a spa day for your stifled and unique emotional state.
Back to the business structure and that impactful session with my therapist…
In the inevitable and continuous fight in my mind over knowing when to let go and when to hold onto to various aspects of my life that were being threatened by my physical limitations, my company had become an enigma to me. I am an entrepreneur, and a creative personality, and all of my goals have always lined up with that, as well as all of my plans for my future. Don’t get me wrong… there are plenty of other areas of my life and personality where I have had to re-arrange and recognize that for at least this season I was going to have to grieve the loss and move into a new me (for instance I loved to run, be outdoors and participate in sports. And though I can find alternative activities to these, the detrimental effects of my persisting to engage in the high impact exercise that I loved would cause me to sacrifice in other areas that were of higher priority). The predicament with my business was that I was quickly realizing that even if I was successful in figuring out a way to continue to market and grow the business, the actual labor and follow up commitments that were born of that were beyond what I was capable of handling.
The business was becoming such a bitter-sweet symbol in my life that from day to day I would change my stance on whether it was doing more harm than good. It very much represented something that I loved and was passionate about. The very minute that my thoughts and energy would go towards my work I would be flooded with ideas and plans, and to be very honest as soon as I picked up the phone or reached out to clientele, I was also flooded with such a positive response that it felt like it was definitely meant to be. On the other side of that coin, however, were the piles of clients that needed communication that were being put off at times for weeks due to my being slammed and forced back to bed. Calls piling up, meetings and consultations that needed to take place, employee issues that needed to be dealt with, projects that needed to be scheduled…they would just sit in this huge grotesque pile on the edge of my mind and taunt me while I was needing to rest and allow my body to mend and recover from a flair up of symptoms. The thought of being undependable to my team and to my clients was enough to confirm to me that regardless of my love for this that I needed to close the doors on this particular area until a more fitting season in my life arrived.
When I brought this up to my therapist we really evaluated this conflict from every angle that we could think of. I was able to clearly identify what I could or couldn’t do regarding the business. The conversation helped me realize that this is one major item out of the small handful of things left standing in my life that helps me to feel alive and feel connected, next only to my relationship with my children, husband, and few close friends. For me, letting this go… in a sense… was letting the illness win.
And just to re-iterate one more time, I sincerely believe that while learning when to let go, and allowing yourself to grieve those losses is a significant part of living well with chronic illness, there are definitely some aspects of your life that you should fight for tooth and nail… just to know for certain (or as close to “certain that you can get) that you have truly given it your all and come at it from every angle that you can think of before moving on. We have to define those things for ourselves.
For me personally, in my life, this one was worth fighting for… at least for a little longer.
In all of this madness and evaluating and re-evaluating my problem, I did learn that there were definitely some things that I had to let go of in order to win. I could no longer be a one man band. The philosophy that I had to have my perfectionist hand dipped into everything in order for it to succeed had to go out the door (and it was an egotistical and deceptive myth to begin with). I had to define what it was that directly needed my involvement, and what I could delegate to someone else. I had to release my fears and let some well equipped and dedicated people on my team begin to represent the company.
A new business model began to develop. Oddly enough as it began to come together, my husband and I began to notice the strengths and advantages to this model versus the one that other companies in our industry were based on. One person can NEVER do it all! What in the world had we been thinking before? How can a photographer be an amazing and creative artist, marketing genius, successful sales person, bookkeeper, customer service representative? Or how can any of these roles be done in the best possible way by just one individual? I am definitely convinced and know it is possible that we all have little touches of gifted areas that can overlap, and that one person may in fact have talent and abilities in all of those listed above… but… can one person really be everything to everybody when it comes to running a successful business?
This seems that it should have been a revelation that took place well before any complications in my life forced us to see it…but in this case… it took limitations in our lives to stunt and end our pre-existing formulas and notions and then to push us towards re-structuring our company in a way that has built a more solid foundation than we ever would have built otherwise. Would we have arrived at this conclusion eventually? Maybe. But the obstacles that we were dealing with forced us to act quickly and I am convinced this spared us from the repeated failure that we would have required to learn this lesson.
Without going into specific detail, the company is now setup with each person working in their most evident gifting. It is a very compartmentalized design. If you are an artist that needs quiet and room to be creative and that does not particularly enjoy working with people, we will never force you to stand at a marketing event and represent us or make outbound phone calls to clients. If you have the gift of selling ice to an Eskimo… we won’t have you hiding in the back setting up equipment or studying the technicalities of proper lighting and exposure in photography. Though of course cross-training and educating yourself as much as you can on the various areas involved in a company is necessary and beneficial, the strengths of placing people where their gifts lie creates the desirable outcome of happy, thriving, employees, and happy, connected, customers.
Ok. So… I would not wish chronic illness on anyone. And I would drop-kick it out of my life at the first opportunity that I had. Nor would I wish any complication or obstacle in anyone’s life for that matter. But what I have recognized is that trials and difficulties can act as complete barriers in some areas, but yet in others, they can challenge us to utilize strengths and creative reserves that were lying dormant within ourselves and just waiting to be put into play. And that is something that I appreciate.