Fallen sick? Here's what (not) to do.
July 13, 2022, Dina-Marie Weineck
Sick and running a business is a tough one. Good-meaning doctors, insurances, friends, colleagues, and mothers will tell you to just rest up and pick up the slack on the other end. There is profound truth to that.
Often, however, these well-meant wishes fail to understand that a service based or early-stage business does not make money with the business owner out sick. You might even be the only employee of your company – you being sick means the entire company is out sick. Now what?
Bit of background: I am writing this article as someone who has been perpetually sick for the past year. It all started with 3.5 months of mono last summer. It wasn’t until I began to build a partnership with my body that I became better. Before, it was a lot of judgmental push and pull. Albeit my body and I get along much better now, and to this day, I have good phases and phases when I get very sick every month. I am in one of those phases right now. The following is what I’ve learned over the last year. Let’s first address the immediate sickness. Second, I’ll speak to running business in a manner that is sustainable for your body in the long-term.
To the business owner, being sick means two things: relentless prioritization and loving self-compassion.
What is the ONE thing you’ve got to preserve your energy for today, on a sick day, in a sick week? The one thing might be sending invoices to keep being able to pay your health insurance. The one thing might be to cancel all meetings. The one thing might be one client meeting at night. You decide.
Meanwhile, I’ll tell you what it’s not: anything that is long-term business development. That means your new website, social media reel, cleaning out your inbox, or writing blog posts. (This is why you’ve not received regular emails from me the past few weeks: I was out sick for nearly two weeks and my priority was sleeping to be able to tend to my paying clients.)
Relentless prioritization does not only apply to physically being sick. When you are going through something emotionally, and are a leader or business owner, relentless prioritization is heaven-sent: When grieving, you might not have the energy to run the entire business. Schedule time to grief, mourn, cry, to talk to a therapist, doing whatever you need to actively process what needs processing. Doing so, gives you space and the capacity to handle your business.
Notice, for neither of these situations I am saying to ignore the problem. To the contrary. You are making yourself a priority so that you can keep serving in your business. Which brings me to the second thing needed when sick:
Give yourself what you need. Listen to your body and give her exactly that.
Sleep? Schedule more sleep.
Chicken-soup? Order in that chicken breast.
Hot tea? Put on the kettle.
A friend? Call one.
Affirm to your body that you’re in this together and won’t abandon your body.
I mean this literally. Speak to your body, listen, and provide her with what she needs. Your body is sending you signals all the time. And being sick is a very loud signal, one that will keep getting louder until you hear it. So, once you’re sick, the best medicine, more often than not, is actually to really communicate with your body. When I’m sick, it sounds something like this:
“Hey body, it seems like you need a lot more care right now than I’ve been giving you. I am sorry I’ve not listened. I’m here now. What can I do to support you?”
Obviously, see a doctor to get yourself checked out. And as you do so, strip your business down to one priority and self-compassion. You might be the priority and all calls get cancelled. The key here is to be honest with yourself and refrain from telling yourself, “but I must do this now.” That’s to the immediate.
If you get sick a lot as a business owner (or, let’s face it, just a human), we are no longer speaking about the immediate, we’re talking about sustainability and avoiding burnout in the long-term:
Our bodies get sick when we overwork them and push ourselves beyond the limits. Whatever we don’t address and tend to within our bodies in the moment, festers. Louise Hay, author of many books that speak to healing your body with self-love, the expert on this.
Think of your body getting sick as an amber (emergency) alert on steroids. When your body shuts down (and I really do mean that as being true at any level of severity), she’s been sending you messages that you’ve been ignoring. Time to listen: What does your body need? If she’s not getting what she needs, how’s she supposed to be a vessel for good business to come out of you?!
At this point, this question becomes a business strategy question:
Invest the time to figure out how you can support your body in the best way possible. Not the other way around: Stop asking what your body needs to do for you. Ask her how you can be partners and let go of any conventions and ‘shoulds’ out there.
You may need to restructure your business entirely, your business hours, your client calls, your activities. What really does make money? Lean into that. What yields the greatest impact NOW? Focus in on that. Perhaps, pushing through x client meetings a day isn’t sustainable for you. You might need to adjust your sleeping hours. There might be business partners that are toxic that you need to change your relationship with. What does your body need? If you are able to, see if you could switch to a health insurance plan that covers those preventative needs.
Sometimes, we start businesses to do things on our terms only to end up running our business in a self-deprecating way, pleasing others’ terms. This is not sustainable. Serving yourself first, however, is what yields the best results in business. And sometimes, it takes a sick body to remind us of that. Celebrate your body, thank her for the reminder, and LEAN IN!
I will also say that I am not perfect at this. I still get sick a lot. This past year, I’ve learnt a lot and I am learning to partner with my body. Sometimes, I push myself too hard, and must re-balance and re-assess. I’ve found that curiosity helps a ton in this process. I am also committed to not judging myself for being sick or having pushed myself too hard. These are some of my strategies that I’ve implemented myself and have worked. Use this article as permission to slow down and engage with your body.