Originally Appeared on BlogHer.
All the business and career advice in the book is great. But, what happens when you’re on the path to where you want to go when life intrudes in a major way? Do you stay on the path? Can you do it all? Do you have to give up the dream? I had to walk this very path last year myself and I learned a lot about myself and business in the process.
Like many entrepreneurs I started the year last year with big plans. I made some big commitments to match. Joining my first-ever high-level mastermind group was my way of jumping in with both feet. I was ready to take my business (which at that time was 2 1/2 years old full time) to the next level. I was raring to go, I had an awesome coach, and the most amazing support from a group of twenty other women. I was pedal to the metal, plans to go from zero to sixty miles per hour right away.
Then just three months after I started the program my mom got seriously ill. As an only child living two hours away from my parents I was just distraught. What we all thought would be a minor setback, one of those medical challenges that just create a bump in the road actually turned out to be cancer. While no one in the medical system said the words Stage 4, it was (why doctors think dancing around a topic is good practice, I have no idea). At least one form of cancer was confirmed and another one was very likely involved, also of an advanced nature.
Credit Image: rosmary on Flickr
So I plowed ahead driving full speed in my business while also driving home at least weekly to be with family. It was very conflicting. I wanted to spend more time at home and yet because she was so ill she didn’t really want “company”. I did my best to stay focused and move ahead with positive intentions. I was moderately successful at best.
After several months of chemo literally killing her from the inside out, in mid-May she had a stroke and essentially never recovered to any great degree. While she was able to communicate with us she never left the hospital or an extended care facility. The oncologist (who in my book remains a royal a-hole) fled the scene writing it off as one of those things we just can’t predict or control. Her general practitioner guided us with immense love and caring through this agonizing and rocky road.
Now I take the business off the accelerating on-ramp and efforts go from 60 to zero in a heartbeat. Primary breadwinner or not, there are moments along life’s path where nothing else matters. This was one of those times.
So for a little over two weeks I spent almost all my time with my dad visiting my mom daily for as long as we could handle it. Driving to cemeteries, funeral homes, and other places attempting to arrange the inevitable. It was like planning a surprise event for someone who wasn’t going to attend. There really are no words for these weeks of my life last year. I drove back to my own home every few days to keep what I could simmering (mainly laundry, a few minutes of quiet, hard workouts to numb the pain, and a few emails/calls here or there to let current and prospective clients know I wasn’t going anywhere but would be inaccessible for a short period of time). On June 4th she died at the age of 68.
To say I returned to business as usual after shortly thereafter would be a total lie. Sure I got back to business but looking back it was a series of hit and miss distracted moments and efforts for at least a few months. Frankly the only reason I am still in business and able to experience strong growth is because of the support of my coach and mastermind group that I put into place at the start of the year. These women literally held my hand and shepherded me on a personal and professional level when I couldn’t even find my way out of a paper bag.
So what did I learn about how to manage your professional life while your personal life is in turmoil? Here’s what I know for sure:
By all means do not under any circumstance try to manage illness, death or other calamities by yourself. Screw superwoman. She doesn’t exist. Get support on all levels – practical, emotional, spiritual, and otherwise. You may be going through hell personally or walking beside a loved one who is…either way you need to take the best care of yourself possible while ensuring the practicalities get handled. While I do not have children (only cats), this is especially important if you have little ones who are counting on you and need their own support.
Give Yourself Permission
Cut yourself a break. Now is not the time to necessarily shine the brightest in your professional life. That is OK. Sure you may still need to show up for professional obligations especially if the crisis extends over a long period of time, but be choosey and give yourself permission to do your best. Even if your best is not your A-game best.
At the worst of this crisis I was making decisions in fewer than12 hour increments. A dear friend who was on the phone with me constantly as I agonized over everything while sitting in hospice advised me – only make decisions affecting the next 12 hours. Where are you spending your day? Where are you sleeping tonight? Beyond that, don’t decide. It was an immense relief and allowed me to make choices much easier. While ultimately I was not present when she died, I know I did the best I could do.
Feel what you’re feeling. Again, get support. There are moments along this string of weeks where all I did was sob hysterically. There are other moment of pure numbness. There are also moments I deeply regret the choices I made simply because others were not comfortable with me expressing my feelings. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Forgive yourself for being human.
Ease Into It
You don’t go through a crisis and then flip off a switch and resume life as normal. In this country we think three days is an acceptable grieving period. Ludicrous. When you return to your regularly scheduled activities know that it will take you longer, you will not instantly be on your A-game, and you will require space to navigate your world as it has been altered by whatever you went through.
Over a year after having this experience I can still say that you never really get over such an experience. Yet life does still march on. Cliche I know but it is about re-creating a life “after” (illness, loss, etc.). I am grateful for the success I continue to experience as my business grows and even more appreciative of the wonderful people I surround myself with that have walked with me, loved me, and pushed me to be my best through this time.
What have you learned as you’ve navigated personal crises while building your business or pursuing your career? What worked? What didn’t work? Any regrets on how you handled it? Would love to hear your stories on this universal topic.