Building a business despite living with a health condition

To be diagnosed with a chronic illness is life-changing in every way, and often one of the greatest concerns facing those in this situation is how to manage work. When it’s either not an option to give up work or you wouldn’t want to, is it possible to design your working life around the new challenges you face, taking in to consideration what your body and mind can cope with? Creative business coach Jo Becker shares her personal story with us of how she has done just that, as well as those of two women who inspired her to keep going…

Photo: Lauren Mancke/Unsplash

Photo: Lauren Mancke/Unsplash

One of the lesser known benefits of running your own business is that - with creative thinking and the requisite hard work - it can support the management of health issues. The example of others online who generously shared their stories and experiences encouraged me to create a coaching business and ‘portfolio career’, that I hope will be both fulfilling and sustainable as I lose my mobility over the coming years.

I never thought about running my own business until my late twenties. In fact, I used to love working in the corporate world! I would get a buzz out of walking down a central London street, picking up a coffee and taking in the view from my 12th floor office. Lunches at a nearby cafe or in St James’s Park, and regular drinks after work; it was everything I wanted at a certain point in my life. Until it wasn’t.

Perhaps I outgrew the ‘busy-busy-London life’; maybe my perspective shifted as I went through a period of depression following some pretty traumatic years; or it might have been a result of being diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy*. Whatever the cause, by the time I was 30 I felt like I needed to consider how I wanted my life and work to look over the next thirty years.

Jo Becker

Taking stock this way isn’t unusual, but it felt particularly pertinent for me, as my recent diagnosis meant that I knew certain things about my future: within a few years I would become dependent on a walking stick and orthosis, followed by a walking frame, a wheelchair, and eventually carers. As a single and fiercely independent woman, I believed that it was up to me to make the next three decades count. While I couldn’t change my health or prognosis, I was determined to find a way to work with it.

Two things helped with this; firstly, I had recently left the corporate world and set up a business with a friend. Although ultimately it wasn’t the right business for me, and I’d sell my shares to make a fresh start, my eyes had been opened to what I could achieve. I loved the autonomy of working for myself, and understood what it was like to go against the 'norms' (steady office-based job, progressing through the ranks over time) that I had expected to follow.

Secondly, Instagram and the online business world were a massive source of unexpected inspiration. Social media provides a window into other worlds (for better or worse!), and I could see that there were some amazing creative entrepreneurs running thriving businesses online, while living with chronic illnesses. In particular, I admired the attitudes of Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington, who had both built businesses that served themselves, as well as others.

Sara Tasker- a well-known Instagram coach and author - began her Instagram account while on maternity leave. Her beautiful imagery and natural honesty created a community, while her self-proclaimed ‘geekiness’ about the technical side of social media enabled her to grow her account so successfully that she was able to help others through coaching and online courses. This enabled Sara to leave her NHS job, and work from home.

Most importantly, it has allowed her to work from her bed when she needs to, using just her phone. Sara has Dysautonomia, a condition which affects her nervous system and can flare up at anytime. For years she tried to push through, ignoring her symptoms or managing them as best she could while holding down a traditional 9-5 job; being her own boss has allowed Sara to find more of a balance, and take better care of her health.

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Meanwhile Jen Carrington, a coach for creative business owners, very consciously set up her business following two mental health breakdowns, as she knew that she’d be happier working for herself. She had also been diagnosed with Chiari Malformation at the age of 16, and as this has become increasingly symptomatic in recent years, she’s more grateful than ever for her business. Jen has created a career in which she feels fulfilled and is able to pace herself carefully, allowing her to manage this rare neurological condition as best she can. She has taught me that a slow and steady approach to growing a business, will lead to something sustainable and rewarding.

Like myself, Sara and Jen have had to learn to live life more slowly. This can be frustrating at times, but you learn focus on enjoying the things that you can do. This has included pursuing work that we love, in a way that suits us and our individual health conditions. Of course creating a business that allows for this takes time and energy upfront and a determination not only to stay in our lanes, but to create them, trying not to worry too much about what others might be doing. It is all part of working with what you have, or as Jen has been known to say: “Playing the hell out of the cards you’ve been dealt”.

creating a career despite deteriorating health

Personally, that has included sharing some of my experiences as a newly-disabled and progressively ill woman, who is stubbornly determined to always try. I’ve learned - and I teach - that we get to choose; not necessarily what happens to us, but how we try to deal with it. We can choose to try to live, to travel, to build a business, to do work that we love. Modifications to plans and experiences are often required, and success is not guaranteed, but a huge amount of fulfilment comes from knowing that we’ve done our best, despite external forces working against us. Travelling solo around countries such as India with a walking stick, a backpack, and seriously weakened legs taught me that!

Taking control of my work in order to support a health condition I cannot control, helps me to feel more empowered, and I’m grateful that social media shows me, and helps me to share, that it’s okay to do things our own way. In fact, technology and the modern online landscape arguably enables more people to pursue 'work that works for them’, as it breaks downs physical barriers and levels the playing field to an extent. There’s no escaping the fact that it is also a competitive and busy landscape, and determination is key to achieving success. But by focusing on how we want our lives to look in the future, and the things we want most, it becomes easier to persevere.

*In case you're not familiar with it, Muscular Dystrophy is a group of muscle wasting diseases. I have a super-rare strain of it, called GNE Myopathy. It is progressive and untreatable. Symptoms began in my late twenties: I began falling over as my calf muscles weakened, and and now most of my leg muscles are significantly affected, and my hands are beginning to weaken. In time I am expected to lose the use of my legs and arms. It’s not okay, but also it is okay; it’s my reality, so I just have to make the most of it.

Our Seek Inspire Create in Hastings

At the end of June, we hosted the 2nd in our series of Seek Inspire Create days. For our summer event, we decided to head to the coast, to one of my favourite seaside towns - Hastings. I’ve you’ve missed what these events are all about, it is basically a chance for us to bring the magazine to life - visiting in person some of types of beautiful independent stores we feature in the magazine as well as meeting and learning from inspirational creative women and getting the chance to make something beautiful with our hands. The days follows the structure of Seek, Inspire, Create - this is a little run through of the day, with beautiful images by SarahLou Francis.

SEEK

The first part of the day took in three of my favourite independent shops in the town. We featured all of these shops in our Instagrammer’s Guide to Hastings post, and I always pop in when I visit the town. What makes the visit extra special when part of our event is that we get to hear direct from the owners all about the story behind their business and have the chance to ask questions, before browsing and shopping with exclusive discount. I’m pretty sure our whole group treated themselves to some goodies, it was hard to resist that’s for sure!

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Butlers Emporium
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Butlers Emporium
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Butlers Emporium
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Butlers Emporium
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Butlers Emporium

We kicked off the day at Butler’s Emporium, a shop I have visited for many years now. Sadly owner Rose was away on a buying trip to Morocco when we were there this time, but her colleague Julia shared a little bit of insight into how they go about sourcing their eclectic mix of products from around the world as well as from British independent makers. The shop used to be a traditional hardware store, and Rose has kept lots of the original fittings to display her wares, so the bones of the space itself are just as interesting as what she has filled it with! It’s unlikely you will leave this shop without a little treat for yourself or a gift for someone.

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Warp and Weft
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Warp and Weft
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Warp and Weft
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Warp and Weft
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Warp and Weft
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Warp and Weft

After a quick coffee stop, we headed to Warp and Weft, just a few doors down from Butler’s Emporium. This store is incredibly unique and one of the most interesting shops I’ve ever been in. Owner Leida was a wonderful host, giving us a tour of both floors of the shop as well as their workshop area. Leida and her team design and make all the garments in their classic collection of clothing for men and women, which can all be tailored to fit perfectly. While they’ve been doing what they do for years, it feels even more relevant these days, as we all become more akin with the idea of buying clothes to last. Again, the shop is housed in a beautiful old building which is steeped in history and oozing character. Make sure you don’t stroll past it’s narrow store front on your next visit to the town.

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Reste
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Reste
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Reste
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Reste
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - Reste

The last stop on the SEEK section of the day was Reste - a treasure trove of rattan, plants, ceramics, magazines (including 91!), stationery, beauty products and much more. Owner Jacqui is so lovely and told us about how different her previous business was - running a party-ware shop! Now, her focus is very much on sustainability and helping people create a home that is filled with natural materials, greenery and eco-friendly products. I’m pretty sure I could spend a good hour in here (at least!) poring over all the beautiful items, trying to decide what to treat myself to! On this visit, one of the gorgeous rattan mirrors made it’s way back to 91 HQ!

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - The Crown pub for lunch
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - The Crown pub for lunch
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - The Crown pub for lunch
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - The Crown pub for lunch
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - talk with nutritionalist Daniela Exley
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - talk with ceramicist Pip WIlcox

INSPIRE

After a morning of shopping, we were all ready for a sit down and some food, so we headed around the corner to our table in the friendly Crown Pub. Goodie bags awaited our guests as did a delicious light lunch menu. After filling our tummies, we bundled into the cosy snug at the other side of the pub, where we were met by two inspirational women, ready to share their wisdom with us. First up was Daniela Exley, a naturopathic nutritionalist, who runs Beets, Pulse and Thyme. Daniela really does know her stuff when it comes to all things healthy eating and we all learnt so much about easy changes we can implement in our diets. Everyone in the group scrambled to snap up one of her ‘28 Day Mind and Body Reset’ books at the end of the session! Following Daniela, was Pip Wilcox, a ceramicist who has made Hastings her adopted home. Her move to the town was part of her story which she shared with us whole-heartedly, focussing on the how and why involved in making a big change in your life. Pip’s words resonated with all of us in the room, and afterwards we all admitted to getting a little bit emotional! Thank you to both ladies for being so incredibly generous with your knowledge and advice.

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - candle making with Lagom at Cake Room
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - candle making with Lagom at Cake Room
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - candle making with Lagom at Cake Room
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - candle making with Lagom at Cake Room
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - candle making with Lagom at Cake Room
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Hastings - candle making with Lagom at Cake Room

CREATE

Feeling inspired, we chat all things creative as we take a stroll along the seafront to our final venue. Stepping into Cake Room we are immediately hit by the most amazing aromas and met by the creator of these delicious scents - Thabi - owner of Lagom candles. (You may have spotted her in our current issue too!) Thabi has prepared mini candle making stations for us all, and we spend the first part of the session learning all about essential oils and the different types of wax used for making candles. (Paraffin wax is a bad choice - avoid at all costs folks!) We all then had a chance to make our own soy candle which Thabi later posted to us to enjoy at home. The day was, of course, rounded off with tea and cake - a delicious vegan gingerbread and cola cake no less!

Like with our previous event in Lewes (you can read about that one here) it really was my ideal day out - shopping in beautiful stores, chatting with like-minded folk, being inspired by other creative women AND getting to make something wonderful to take home! I know that some people have perhaps been put off by the ticket price, but for everything that the day offers I really think it is great value. Sometimes we need to invest in ourselves - give ourselves time away from the every day and spend time with others who ‘get’ you.

The plan is to hopefully do one more of these events this year, so I really hope to see some more of you at that one. If there is anything you’d love to see us do at future events, please do leave a comment here, or via social media or email. These events are for our readers and we want them to be everything you’d love from a day built just for you.

Thanks to everyone that was involved in our day in Hastings - it was simply fabulous!

All photography: SarahLou Francis

Our Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

Nearly three weeks ago we hosted our first ever ‘reader event’. I came up with the concept for a day event last summer, and decided 2019 was when we would launch them. (I was fully aware of how much planning goes it to running events!) It’s always nerve-wracking launching something new. Good old self-doubt tends to creep in, and initially I found myself fretting over whether the tickets would sell. Was my idea of a dream day out going to appeal to anyone else?!

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

Thankfully, it turned out it was, and tickets were sold out about a month before the event. Phew! For me, curating a day out for 91 readers was done in the same way I curate the content for the magazine. The idea was to bring the magazine to life and literally base it around things that I love - independent business, beautiful shops and spaces, inspiring people, great food and creativity.

The structure of the day is led by the hashtag I came up with a couple of years ago #seekinspirecreate (also the name of our popular e-zine), with the day being split into three parts - Seek, Inspire and Create. I’m so thrilled that our very first event which happened in Lewes, East Sussex in February went so well! We had a lovely mix of creative women come along (although men are very welcome too!), some who lived quite locally, but some who had travelled the whole way from Manchester to join us! Here is a little insight into the day, with some lovely images taken by SarahLou Francis.

SEEK

For the first part of the day, I wanted to take everyone to a few of my favourite independent shops in the town. Whenever I visit anywhere new, I am always seeking out beautiful stores to browse, and Lewes is certainly packed with lots of them! We of course couldn’t get round all of them, so I selected three very different, but equally dreamy shops.

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

First up was Marchand Son, the most unique paint shop you are ever likely to come across. Owner Simon previously ran a shop in London called 'Colour Makes Me Happy’, but moved himself and his business to Lewes around 6 months ago, bringing his quirky style to the town. Simon chatted to our group about the many myths surrounding paint, explained how he taught himself to make paint and shared the stories behind his brilliant paint names. He is a true creative who has built something entirely unique and it was wonderful to learn more about his business. He even mixed us little pots of ‘91 Magazine pink’ paint for our goodie bags!

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create Event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

Next, we walked around the corner and onto the high street to visit Freight HHG. This beautiful store is run by Adele and her mother, and is a mix of homeware, clothing and lifestyle items. What makes this shop different is that the two women design or commission most of the items they sell. Adele chatted to us about how they avoid the usual trade fairs and prefer to seek out talented makers to craft their wares, with everything being made within the UK. Designs and materials are carefully considered to make products that last. It was lovely to hear the story behind how they have created their unique brand and everyone had the chance to ask lots of questions as well as to shop with our exclusive discount!

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

Our final stop for the Seek part of the day was From Victoria in The Needlemakers. This gorgeous shop is an absolute treasure trove of homeware, gifts and plants. I could spend hours poring over the pretty things in every corner of this space run by the lovely Victoria. Surrounded by unusual hanging plants, cacti and tropical beauties, Victoria gave lots of sound houseplant advice to the group during our plant Q&A. Then we all eagerly browsed the goodies with many of us leaving with little brown paper bags filled with treats to ourselves!

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

INSPIRE

We were extremely lucky with the weather with the event falling during that really warm spell we had at the end of February. As we walked to the lunch venue where the INSPIRE part of the day would take place, we were shedding our jackets and talking of how spring-like it felt. The group were giving me slightly strange looks as I led them along the road to an industrial estate, I’m sure all wondering exactly where we would be eating! But, stepping through an unassuming door and passing by a noisy workshop area, all was revealed as we entered kitchen makers Inglis Hall’s beautiful showroom. The space is a working kitchen, so was perfect for out caterers Caccia and Tails to come and prepare the delicious lunch while we all mingled and chatted.

The table looked beautiful, decorated with plants from From Victoria and gorgeous flowers by Bulb Floristry. Jam-packed goodie bags awaited our guests on their seats too. The food was truly delicious, with meat, vegetarian and vegan versions of mac ‘n’ cheese along with an amazing salad and focaccia bread.

After eating and chatting, we then had two excellent talks to listen to. Firstly, Dorte and Georgie of Curly Carrot talked us through using Pinterest for business. So much useful information was shared and I have a renewed love of Pinterest ever since! Next, Jade Golding, a creative business coach (and owner of two other businesses!) talked about how to inspire your customers online. She explained the difficulties faced with selling product online and then provided useful ideas on how to overcome these and create an inspiring online shopping experience.

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes
91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

CREATE

With tummies filled, brains inspired and goodie bags in hand, we set off to our final destination for the CREATE part of the day. Inside the fragrant AS Apothecary store, we were warmly greeted by owner Amanda who quickly made us feel at home in her beautiful space. Her small-batch natural skincare products line the walls, styled to perfection with plants and other natural objects. Amanda chatted to us in depth about natural skincare and how she creates her range from flowers and herbs that they grow and harvest in Sussex, Scotland and Greece. She has a wealth of knowledge on the subject and I’m pretty sure most of us were converted by the end of the chat. (Many of us were purchasing her products before we left!) We then got the chance to mix our very own beauty balm, which we worked together to make under Amanda’s careful supervision. We all got to take away a little pot of what we made, and I have not stopped using it since that day!

91 Magazine Seek Inspire Create event in Lewes

The day was rounded off the only way it could be; with a cup of tea and some delicious (and beautiful!) cakes supplied by Flint Owl Bakery! yum!

As I said during my introduction at the start of the day, I basically wanted to create my ‘ideal day out’ and as the event drew to a close, I was happy to confirm that it had delivered exactly that! It was so lovely to be able to share it with a wonderful group of like-minded women and it reminded me how good it is to step out of your usual day-to-day and just enjoy some time doing things you love, meeting new people and discovering new things.

We are already starting to plan the next of these events. It will follow the same format but in a different town with different businesses and people. I honestly can’t wait! if you’d like to hear about when tickets go on sale for it, make sure you sign up to our mailing list for updates.

A HUGE thank you to everyone involved in our day down in Lewes. It was truly magical!

All photography: SarahLou Francis