Last week was World Mental Health Day, and I posted a long comment on social media about my life right now.
It’s been over 6 years since I was first diagnosed with OCD, depression, and binge eating disorder, but I haven’t been “cured.” Mental illness presents an ongoing struggle that impacts every aspect of my life. Sometimes I worry I spend too much time working on my mental health instead of “getting on with my life,” which is the implicit (and sometimes explicit) message I get from those around me.
Recently, I’ve also been playing medical specialist roulette, because it appears I have some type of non-specific sleeping disorder and maybe a chronic physical illness that may be complicating my other problems.
When I shut down my coaching business a few months ago, I told you the reasons I was leaving the industry, and those are still accurate. But I didn’t tell you that I had also relapsed into severe depression and was dealing with chronic pain.
I was fortunate to be able to afford to take a few months off before shifting gears back into my old science writing and editing work. When I returned, however, I noticed that many of my “business friends” weren’t as chatty as they were when I was a potential JV partner or affiliate. Some never even responded to the personal emails I sent out explaining why I was leaving.
Unsurprisingly, the same thing happened when I left academia. Suddenly, I was no longer a valuable connection to write a grant proposal or paper with. The people who didn’t explicitly criticize my new direction simply went quiet.
It’s now a slightly less heartbreaking experience, but I build new emotional walls each time it happens.
How many of us are dealing with problems like this?
If you’re like me, online entrepreneurship was an attractive alternative to traditional paths when your energy is at its lowest and your brain is at its most chaotic. A lot of time has passed now, and I feel like I’m finally going through the stages of grief for my old life. There is part of me that still thinks I’ll “snap out of it” and get back to academia or even a full-time job.
But the bigger part of me knows that I chose entrepreneurship not because of convenience, but because of conviction.
Now that I know what I’m looking for, I see entrepreneurs all around me. Business owners, freelancers, bloggers, side-giggers, and more are coming out of the shadows to announce that they have used their learned and natural skillsets to pursue flexible, fulfilling work.
If you ever watch HGTV, you know the joke that no one on House Hunters has a real job. Well, if you pay attention, it’s more truth than meme, except most of those people are simply some version of self-employed.
And while I know from firsthand experience that chronic mental and physical illness can slow you down (significantly), this career path can absorb a lot of shock to its system.
I’ve consulted and coached people on topics from career to marketing to operations to strategy. I’ve ghostwritten books, obtained bylines in USA Today, and worked with non-native English speakers to publish their original research in journals like JGR. I’ve gotten clients from Twitter and Meetup groups (but not the Chamber of Commerce).
And when I decide to pivot, people care, but not really.
They’re dealing with their own stuff. Sure, Matt and I get our share of inappropriate comments from people we know about how nice it is of Matt to deal with my issues, but most people are just curious.
And even if they are being judgmental, why should we care?
I tend to make big life changes every ~4 years, which I think has to due a lot with my military upbringing, which brought a fresh start every few years. And while my therapist thinks it might be a good habit to break, I don’t mind the process of reinvention, and, at this point, I don’t think most clients that I work with care either. I’ve even played with the idea of returning to my old, scientific field in a business capacity, and while I expect I’d receive some side-eye, I don’t think I’ve burned many bridges by evolving.
If you’re looking for an excuse to pivot, stop. Make your work work for you.