Dealing with Chronic Health Challenges as an Entrepreneur

When I was in my 20s, my career as an athlete was completely disrupted when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic autoimmune condition involving widespread pain, fatigue, and mood issues. I will spare you the details and only share that it was not a smooth recovery by any means, but in the decades that have passed, I can say positively that I am truly thankful for the gift this disorder has given me.

I didn’t realize it for a long time, but it was my fibromyalgia that put me on the personal and career path that has made me who I am today. It led me first to my highly successful career in fitness training and life coaching, where I saw especially amazing results in clients with chronic health conditions or disabilities—I was able to listen to them, understand them, and help them in ways that I could not have done if I had not dealt with the same issues. Later on, when I transitioned into being a health and wellness coach, I was able to apply the same skills to help my clients turn their pain into power and positivity, the same way I did. In that way fibromyalgia turned out to be the key to my career success!

So here is my advice to you, the same things I have been telling my clients all these years:

Find the gift in your challenges. Even if your situation is very different from mine, I promise you that it will always be possible to get something positive out of it. The question you need to ask yourself is: What purpose can these challenges serve? If you look inside them, you will find emotional and leadership skills, such as patience, resilience, and compassion, that will be invaluable for starting or maintaining a business.

At the same time, it is vital to put space between your health challenges and your work life. If you don’t—and I learned this the hard way, many times over many years—you run the risk of unpredictable disruptions to your entrepreneurship journey. I’m sorry to say that there is no “one size fits all” approach as the experience of health problems can be so different from person to person. What works for someone with chronic back pain may not work as well for someone with terrible migraines. But what I can tell you is that above all, you need to make sure you are taking good care of yourself and have a solid support system.

Here are my top tips:

  • Don’t neglect your mental health. Be proactive with tackling the emotional impact of your health challenges so that you can give your business the attention it needs and prevent burnout, loss of motivation, depression, and so on.
  • Be consistent in keeping a healthy lifestyle, including your eating habits, hygiene, daily exercise, releasing bad habits, and managing your stress and depression in healthy ways like working out and mindfulness meditations.
  • Surround yourself with people who will lift you up when things get tough. A good support system is one that tackles every aspect of support you need. You might have a good friend who is always willing to let you vent, provide a shoulder to cry on, someone you know you can confide in without ever feeling ashamed or embarrassed. You might also have someone—perhaps a fellow entrepreneur, or someone who has dealt with similar health issues—who is able to offer practical advice for keeping your business running through hard times, or just provide some encouraging words. It also helps to have people that will check in on you and make sure you are not neglecting your mental or physical health. Do not shoulder the burden yourself—you must give yourself permission to get whatever support you need.

As Rumi wrote, “The wound is where the light enters you.” For me, fibromyalgia turned out to be the key to my entrepreneurship journey. It was only when I learned how to deal with my disorder in healthy ways that I began to thrive in my business.

It has never been easy to share my health story, but I feel that my experience is valuable and I have grown a lot from my struggles. Dealing with fibromyalgia, and all the emotional hurdles along with it, made me a more compassionate person. A more patient person. A better listener. Someone who is truly capable of suffering setbacks while keeping a positive attitude, and who is well-equipped to deal with unpredictable and chaotic personal situations. Whatever your own health challenges may be, there is a gift inside them, waiting for you.

Fari Gonzaque

Transformational life coach and spiritual mentor