​“But everything looks like it’s going so well on Instagram!”

“Oh, I’ve seen your workshops advertised, you’re such a success, are you better?”

And my personal favourite; “But you don’t look sick!” usually accompanied with, “You should try coconut oil/oh I think I have that, I’m tired all the time/my sisterscousinsdogsfriend cured herself with kale enemas *insert other random treatment I’ve probably tried here*…”

So, what does success really look like for a spoonie in business?

Firstly, I should have a disclaimer about the word ‘success’. It’s not a label you can really give yourself, is it? It’s usually something other people start using when they’re talking about you and you then need to add it to the thousand-strong list of things you now need to live up to.

But ‘success’ doesn’t equal ‘cured’. And why should it?

Secondly, I don’t think women in business with a chronic illness have the monopoly on the pressure women feel to be ‘successful’. The expectation to live up to some societal expectation of success seems to be an issue with so many of the businesswomen I work with. They’re either striving for some kind of externally decided ‘level’ of… something before they feel they’re successful or the rest of the world has decided they’re successful and they feel like a fraud.

But I can’t speak on behalf of women in business who don’t have an illness because that ship has long sailed, so I’ll tell you how I celebrate the small stuff, try not to get carried away with how other people see me, and don’t throw in the business life towel because I feel like a total imposter.

Design a life that floats my business boat

This means I don’t do the pre-hire ‘coffee chat’, I pick and choose my networking events carefully (and my business bestie drives!), I run workshops with days of rest on either side, and I even bundle all my 1:1 copy coaching clients on one day per fortnight so I don’t have to put on makeup and I can work from bed other days.

Yep, I carefully construct every single working environment and my calendar to suit myself. Selfish, isn’t it?

Do you know what? It works.

I don’t know about you, but starting a business made me really start to value my own boundaries. In fact, it’s pretty reasonable to say I didn’t have boundaries before I started this business. But there’s something about being totally responsible for your own income – there’s no paid sick leave when you’re in business – that means you need to reevaluate how you handle yourself.

And my boundaries? Well, they sucked. Tightening up my own self-care scheduling rules means I can give my best to the moment I’ve decided to be in – whether that means I am dedicated to a day of writing, toddling off to do a few hours of meeting new people, or spending the day teaching women how to write better using the brilliant technology of Zoom (all whilst wearing my ugg boots!)

Ignoring FOMO

Over-extension, pushing myself, a hypercritical inner voice, and the drive to overachieve are what helped get me into this #tiredgirl mess in the first place. It’s time to realise they don’t suit me anymore. Fundamentally, I may be a perfectionist overachiever, but it doesn’t mean I can’t fight the need to be part of everything, say “yes” to all the opportunities, and run myself ragged trying to be all things to all people. In fact, if I kept it up, I would have been no things to any people, including my beautiful children.

So, FOMO – you have to F right off.

I have no time to feel like I’m missing out on things because I’m too focused on being part of the things that actually matter – delivering beautiful work to clients, using my voice for good, being a messy but dedicated mother and wife. That’s it.

If FOMO has you good – stop looking. There’s a “snooze for 30 days” option on Facebook for a reason. Use it.

Celebrate the small stuff

If you’re living the spoonie life too, by now you might have figured life isn’t necessarily looking like you’d once expected it would. Take the moment to grieve that. I’m never going to be a musical theatre star. In fact, sometimes the concept of even going to the theatre to watch is too much. But what has your illness delivered you instead? There’s beauty in the broken, should you choose to look for it.

My 26 year long disability has delivered me some incredible opportunities for growth; not in the least the capacity for insane empathy with very little sympathy (which comes in handy when writing in someone else’s voice) along with finding the inner power to stick up for myself, write about what I believe in, and leave behind all the judgement I think I had about ‘people like me’ before I turned into ‘someone like me’. I’m not saying be thankful, I’m saying mine for the gold. There has to be some in there. Tiny things can bring great joy and we all need to find a little more of that.

And when the big stuff happens – the awards, the accolades, the viral blog post or the big client – celebrate them too. Hard. An extra nap perhaps or an Uber Eats smoothie delivered.

I don’t speak for all spoonie women, but for me, chronic illness and success, my version of success, aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I often wonder if the second one is positively impacted by the coping mechanisms I’ve learned from the first.

And if I can keep away from FOMO, not get carried away by other people’s ideas of what my success should look like, and keep on celebrating the small stuff, then I’m winning.

This article was originally published in The TIREDGIRL Society Magazine. It was an online publication specifically for women with chronic illness, August 2018. Reprinted with kind permission from Abby James.

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