Adapting to Limitations: Should Work Be Easy When You Live with a Chronic Illness?

June 15, 2016

by Joan Friedlander

No matter your age or your life’s circumstances, the question about how to earn a good living doing work you enjoy is an important one. After all, we live in a world where health and well-being depend on it. Some people work for money, some for the joy of the work itself, and others because they’re called to a mission that won’t let go. As you contemplate success on this material plane, why not include capacity and EASE? Because whatever job you are doing, you should be able to do it – or at least the important tasks – even on your worst day (from your toilet, hospital bed, on heavy medication, etc.)

Work to Your Strengths, Reduce Resistance

When I was in my 20’s I held a few office jobs in basic administrative support functions. Computers were just coming into the workplace, and I discovered an innate ability to learn software programs, like Lotus 123 (anyone remember that?) in very little time. Unfortunately, I rejected that which came fairly easily to me because the common wisdom said that to succeed and “get ahead,” one must get into management. Being “only” an administrative assistant was not a worthwhile career objective, especially not for a college graduate from U.C. Berkeley! Starting at 26 years old, I made it my mission to “make more of myself.” In no way am I saying that I regret any of the career directions I took, only that it’s too bad I rejected my own skills, deeming them boring and insignificant.


When I was getting ready to start my coaching business, I was still learning to navigate life with the ups and downs of Crohn’s flares, and was a single mother who needed a reliable, steady income and a job with benefits. I was also looking for a job that wouldn’t tap me after hours like so many corporate jobs do these days. And I found it…as an administrative assistant! The man I was to report to was passionate about Microsoft Excel and required that the team’s assistant come equipped with Excel skills. Fortunately, that same ability to easily learn new software came in handy. I took a crash course in Excel and passed whatever Excel test they gave me and was hired. My new team (I supported 5 people) thought I was their miracle! It was a good arrangement for me, too. I was making plenty of money in a fairly relaxed work environment, doing the same work I’d rejected 15 years prior.


Is Your Work as Easy as Breathing?

For the past two years, I’ve had another opportunity to resurrect and increase the depth of my skills through a partnership with another business owner, in my role as the creative and administrative partner. Through this experience, I learned something else that seems to be significant in this “ease and capacity” equation. It doesn’t matter if I am working on a PowerPoint presentation, editing a video or managing the infrastructure for our online teaching platform, it is not only fun but it is often EASY. Even the learning curve has been fun, and only rarely frustrating. It’s the ease that got my attention though. Doing these things is like breathing for me. I enjoy myself, and I move through some of these tasks so quickly that if I were outside looking in, even I would be in awe!

I don’t work hard, I don’t even work smart. I’m just working inside my wheelhouse. No resistance! This was the realization led me to wonder about the intersection between productivity, health and capacity.

  • What if you could spend most of your working time doing work that is as “natural as breathing” for you?
  • How would that impact your personal productivity, and your long-term ability to earn a good living doing work you enjoy, that also supports your health?

As you contemplate your own situation, I offer you just a few questions to consider:

  • What feels more like play than work?
  • What do you most enjoy doing the first one to two hours of your day? At the end of the day?
  • How would you describe your ideal workday, work situation?
  • What do other people seem to rely on you for? Do you enjoy it, or not? (Knowing what you don’t enjoy is also important in the ease equation.)
  • Has anyone told you “you can’t do that!” It’s not ___________? (This will help you understand external influences that might be turning you against yourself.)

I leave you to contemplate one of my own questions: what if you could spend most of your working time doing work that is as “natural” as breathing? What might that look like, feel like?



Joan Friedlander is the author of “Business from Bed” and co-author of “Women, Work, and Autoimmune Disease.” Joan is an expert in working and living with chronic or serious illness. Through her books and coaching, she helps career-oriented individuals realign their business activities in the wake of a serious health setback. For more tips from Joan, visit





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