An unfortunate reality in life is that family members and friends become ill. It comes in too many forms to mention...it may involve an accident and recovery, something terminal, a sudden disability, or the slow decline of aging. Whatever it ends up looking like, many of us get involved in unexpected scenarios in our adult life—even as young adults—where we are called to serve in a caregiving capacity for loved ones.
By definition or personal experience, caregiving may involve any multitude of scenarios; whether it’s checking up on an aging parent, taking someone to a doctor’s appointment, or playing an assisting role to someone else who is a primary caregiver. Sometimes it’s as simple as spending time with a friend who needs the company.
Good news first. As a solopreneur, you’re often times fluid in your ways—and thus may be in a more unique position to help than someone who reports to an employer in a full-time job. Perhaps part of the reason you chose the solopreneur life was to be more available to family members or friends in need. Regardless, you’re the one they turn to because you can find the flexibility in your schedule to help (or so it may appear from the outside, right?)...and some of you may be the last line of defense as the only ones who can help.
Now for the bad news. You’re already very busy managing the various facets of your business, and being cast into the role of caregiver can be very daunting and overwhelming. It involves a carefully managed balancing act, and can make you feel like you’re running through a maze of uncertainty. You might feel like your business and your life is on the verge of imploding, and that there’s no hope...but that won’t be the case with some careful steps and planning.
Here’s five ways to help manage your business if you’re a caregiver:
1. Plan ahead — way ahead.
At the beginning of every calendar year, especially when you’re preparing for tax season (way in advance, right?), it’s good to figure out what your goals and objectives are for the upcoming year. Visualize the year ahead and where you see it taking you. You can set a trajectory toward business mini-goals on a quarterly basis...but balance them realistically with your caregiving situation.
In terms of caregiving per se, I’ve adopted the approach “expect the best, but plan for the worst.” If you see trouble ahead with your loved one, especially if it involves an aging parent, get an idea of what your options are in advance so you can make informed decisions when something comes up. Bad decisions are more likely to be made when you’re in a panic and didn’t lay out any strategy in advance.
2. Know your options if things get worse.
If the onus falls on you as the caregiver to fill a supporting role when things get bad, exercise due diligence by performing preliminary legwork on what your options are. Cover the necessary details involving things such as wills, finances, and power of attorney. Dot your "i's" and cross your "t's"...address the details and the unknowns of your particular scenario.
Ask questions—including the uncomfortable ones. Talk to your family doctor, or the physician involved, and don’t be afraid to explain your situation. In terms of aging parents, senior centers typically carry a host of services, and in the case of larger facilities they may have a social worker who can be of help.
3. Take care of yourself and build a backstop of support.
It’s always easy to lose sight of the person carrying the burden—you. Be sure to focus on what you need, and be aware of your limitations. Don’t be hard on yourself. Seek the assistance of family and trusted friends who can step in and be of assistance if something unanticipated arises where you’re not available or out of town.
Seek advice from others who are in a similar situation to what you’re going through—I recommend caregiver support groups. They’re an excellent way to find folks in similar situations, give you access to resources, and present helpful ideas you will have never considered. Don’t reinvent the wheel. These are folks who have been through the trials of your situation, and you should be able to find a group that’s a good match with the help of some research, your family physician, a social worker, or a therapist.
You can be part of your own backstop by taking care of yourself. Try to maintain a regular exercise program, and eat well...and a helpful hint that's straight out of my wheelhouse: go get a massage! Splurge on the 1.5 hour treatment! You'd be amazed what a little self-pampering can do to help your sanity, and it's not overboard. Stepped-up lives call for stepped-up self-care.
4. Be mobile with your work.
As a solopreneur, chances are that you have a talent that is very useful—multi-tasking! It may involve practice, but figure out if there’s a way to bring your work with you if you spend time with a sick loved one for a stretch of time during the week. Bring your laptop computer with you and knock off some work while you visit, and you can also bring it to the hospital. In many cases, you may find that your work (which you have control over) serves as an excellent distraction to harsh realities that are happening around you (that you may not have control over).
5. Know when to say “No.”
As soloprenuers, we’re inclined to want to say yes to networking and other opportunities, sometimes in the hope that our participation will bring business opportunities knocking. Choose wisely in what you do with your valuable time...and if you feel yourself getting squeezed, realize that it’s okay to say “No thank you, perhaps another time.” Moreover, I would add that you shouldn’t feel obligated to explain yourself when you say no...that’s your business, and depends on the level of comfort you have in how much information you want to divulge.
In conclusion, these are just a few tips in managing this special scenario. Beyond this, I advise you to analyze your specific situation and seek the help of trained professionals. Just remember that synchronizing your life as a solopreneur and caregiver takes practice...but keep your chin up! There’s never any step-by-step manual to tell you what to do, or how to do it...so remember to give yourself a break and the benefit of the doubt.
There will be surprises, goofs, setbacks, and false starts. Be open to new ideas, and when time permits scout out possible options. I can assure you that the practice of managing all this will help you to better manage the times when things are running smoothly in your life, and help turn you into a trusted resource to assist others going through similar situations. With some advanced planning and seeking out helpful resources, you will see over the maze of confusion and take charge of your business and caregiving role. You're a hero. Best of luck.