This February will mark 20 years since acquiring my catastrophic closed head injury. What that means is, though I had little damage on the outside of my head (no fractures to my skull), my poor developing brain was jostled around so much that it caused lesions and bruising from the inside. I was in a coma for 11 days, and at the time I was only 15.
So, fast forward to 2014. I am living on my own, putting my challenges in perspective and doing my best to get by on a day-to-day basis. I had been without a dependable, living-wage-paying job for over two years. Thankfully I was able to access the only grant in Canada (at the time) that assisted people in starting up their own business. The grant was paid out in a program similar to EI and was meant to sustain me as I got my business up and running.
This was a blessing - an awesome opportunity that came along at exactly the right time. It has now been just over a year since starting my little "companionship and helping-hands" service, and the process has had many awesome and not-so-awesome experiences as a part of the journey - chock-full of emotion, thanks to that 20yr-old injury. What exactly does that entail? Read on...
After having the awesome opportunity to access the small business grant, I was enrolled in an awesome start-up support program through the Small Business Centre in London. There was panic and stress and frustration as I worked my way through the training, then the set-up; but, for the most part, it was a God-send having the security blanket of support (both financially and emotionally). I met some awesome fellow-entrepreneurs along the way who have since stayed in touch and we encourage one another on the journey.
The next and probably THE MOST awesome part of my job is meeting and working with my clients. They make my day on a daily basis and remind me why I'm glad to be doing what I do. 80% of my clients are seniors and for some reason I just always feel at ease around them. I have also tripled the size of my interior foliage thanks to my new-found friends who treat me like family. Having clients' families embrace me as their own has been my absolute favourite part of what I do.
Thirdly, I'd have to say that dictating my own schedule has been another very important and awesome perk that comes with my job. Making my own hours allows me to put in the extra time where I may need to (due to cognitive fatigue), and go easy on myself due to other needs. Being my own boss gives me the chance to manage my own priorities, which is not a luxury afforded to those working for someone else.
Just like the song says, "Along with the sunshine there's got to be a little rain sometimes". As great as it's been to have the freedom of setting my hours and managing my own resources energetically, there are many things sacrificed in the process.
Structure and clear expectations are things that are encouraged for people with a brain injury. However, outside of my setting my own hours, the only consistent expectation a "solopreneur" has is the promise of inconsistency. The inconsistent, always-changing nature of my work has to be one of the most draining parts of my job. A cancellation often works in my favour, allowing me an extra hour to eat or the opportunity to at least not rush. But week-to-week changes in scheduling or a sudden loss of income can cause an overwhelming increase in anxiety.
Secondly, working from home can be both a blessing and a curse. Who doesn't love the idea of writing blogs in your pj's, snuggled up on the couch? Or the freedom of "getting to it when you get to it" rather than an over-the-shoulder, micro-managing boss? And yet, when your bookkeeper is scheduled for your tax return input meeting next week and you haven't finished logging your kilometers and utility bills from last year, you can bet you wish you'd had someone to keep you on track a little better. Distraction happens easily to an injured brain.
And lastly, I'd say that dealing with personality conflicts becomes more challenging when you are your own business. As an introvert, I would much rather keep to myself most days. However, part of being your own boss also means wearing several hats, my least favourite being the "marketing yourself" hat. I would much rather build relationships slowly and one-at-a-time, keeping my social circle small and accessible. As a business owner and service provider, though, I need to be "putting myself out there" on a regular basis - which is honestly one of the most anxiety-inducing activities I can think of.
So, there you have it, folks! The good, the bad, and the ugly of running a business with a brain injury. It's a neat option for those willing to put up with the stresses. Of course, any job is going to have some degree of stress. In my mind, if there's going to be stress in life anyway, it's merely a matter of deciding which stresses we are willing to work with (and around), and which we would rather do without.
Amanda Stark is sole proprietor of The Friendly Visitor in London, On. She is a graduate of Emmanuel Bible College and is a self-proclaimed community cheerleader, involved with many local organizations and initiatives.
Follow Amanda @starkamanda & @LdnTFV