“Paging Evelyn,” I heard over the loudspeaker. “Paging Evelyn: your life is calling.” I don’t mean I literally received this message over a loudspeaker. It was more like one of those messages the universe likes to send us now and then when we’re busy making other plans. I was attending a 2-day Mastermind group retreat in southern California with ten other women entrepreneurs – all of whom, like me, were chomping at the bit to bust loose in their prospective businesses.
I had planned to use my time in the “spotlight” as we coaches like to call it, coming up with definitive ways to increase sales in the remaining months of the year, and putting together a killer plan to make the new year a breakout. That’s when “life” called.
For the past 15 years I’ve been dealing with a chronic and incurable health condition that I’ve thought of as both a curse and a blessing. I’d be lying if I said that living with unrelenting, debilitating pain is a walk in the park, and the fact that it took nearly two years, and the removal of a major organ (the WRONG organ, by the way) before I was diagnosed still raises my blood pressure several points when I think about it. But I really do try my best to walk the talk when it comes to how I choose to deal with what life places squarely in my lap.
So I thought I was okay with the concessions I had to make one by one, year after year, as the disease progressed and efforts to manage the pain and other symptoms provided only limited relief. I gave up rigorous hiking and climbing and went to walking instead. I gave up routine traveling and settled for short, intermittent trips to places I knew had decent hospitals instead of the exotic and out-of-the-way locales I preferred. I got used to living on a very restricted diet and dealing with increased pain when I ate more than a gerbel-sized amount of food.
The one place I hadn’t made concessions, however, was in my role as an entrepreneur. True, becoming ill forced me to reasses the job I was in at the time and helped me to clarify that what I really wanted was to create and grow a business of my own, but I didn’t see that as a concession – it was more an insight into what I was meant to be doing with my life, and in that respect, it was a gift and a blessing.
I learned how to navigate my illness in the space of my work so that I could be the most productive on the days I felt the strongest, and allow myself some down time when I was going through a particularly bad patch. What I didn’t want to acknowledge, however, was that those “bad patches” were becoming more frequent, and that way down deep inside I was afraid I wasn’t putting in the 110% needed to be successful – both financially and in terms of the value I provided to my clients.
When life called the morning before I was scheduled to present my business plans to the group, it came in the voice of my gastroenterologist telling me that the latest imaging test had shown atrophy in the tail of my pancreas, and with the other symptoms I was having, we needed to talk about a transplant – sooner, rather than later.
Flash forward to the next afternoon and there I was standing at the head of the conference table passing out copies of my plan and realizing as I did so that I was standing in quicksand; that this plan wasn’t going to work. At least not now. This wasn’t going to be the breakout year when I exceeded my wildest expectations. This was going to be the year when I put together a plan that enabled my business to continue with less of me physically present while I focused on getting healthier; while I focused on healing.
In that moment, I expected to feel devastated; to feel frightened, and depressed. I felt all those things and more, but what I hadn’t expected to feel was gratitude. Gratitude for having these wonderful, compassionate, savvy women in my life who were offering up their love and support, and helping me to craft a business plan that would keep my business growing, not just limping along. The rest would have to wait. And that was okay, because that was, well – life!
Whether solo entrepreneurs or executives in companies we don’t own, women with a great deal of responsibility that’s dependent upon our showing up every day often put our health and well-being on the back burner. We limp along. We hang on by our manicured fingernails and busy ourselves making other plans when suddenly life has the audacity to show up. For some it may be a health crisis; for others it may be a financial or marital crisis. Whatever haute couture it chooses to wear the day it arrives, we have the ability to accessorize it differently. It requires total honesty, respect and compassion, but it doesn’t require that we do it alone. In my case, I’m blessed that my mastermind group pals share these qualities and more, and that I don’t have to navigate my revised business world alone.