Women in Focus is a recently launched website and initiative by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. It is a place for women to be inspired, informed and connected with other women in business in Australia and around the world. Angela Vithoulkas, CEO of VIVO Cafe Group, will be the Guru on the Business Beat section and will be providing weekly articles on all things small business.
I don’t tolerate my own health weaknesses very well. Yet my major business decisions, plans and moves came from either my own health crisis or those close to me. Although I also acknowledge that I have a very short memory of these milestones and always believe it won’t happen to me….
I’m sure I’ve mentioned once or twice before that I have been in business with my brother all our business lives. We have grown up together literally in the hospitality world. We know what its like to have a health crisis in business and the effect it can have on those around you. And when the one thing that you have always relied on lets you down - YOU, it’s an eye opener.
Many years ago when we started our very first café, my brother had a devastating accident. We had been open only a few weeks when he was involved in a car accident that left him unable to work for several months and tragically saw the loss of an aunt and two of our cousins. I was in shock and confused, I even thought about closing the business down. It was so hard for me and of course for him, but in very different ways. I was left with a new business that wasn’t doing well, unable to concentrate and then faced a mutiny from staff who demanded a massive pay rise to stay. When the sharks smell blood in the water they circle in for the strike. I was twenty one at the time.
I worked myself so hard for almost a year, seven days non stop. I never saw my friends, never went out. I concentrated only on getting the business up and running and coping without my partner. When my brother came back full time I was already over worked and stressed to the max. My body had almost forgotten to sleep properly, my diet was crappy and I lived on sugar. It was almost another year before I would admit that I was physically unable to keep going. They make em tough where I come from!
We sold that business, fortunately we did very well. But I had to take a year off to recover. I’m sure my business plan left out the part (assuming I had written one of course) “allow for one year of recovery when faced with heath issues”.
Pushing your health limit
Women tend to push themselves harder I think. At least the women in my family do. My mother worked seven days a week in her businesses, I watched her growing up. She worked hard, never took time off unless she sold a business and never used the excuse “I’m sick”. That’s the example I had so that’s how I work. But she is paying the price for it now. That said she is 70 years old and can still work a ten hour day, although she is coming face to face with age kicking and screaming the whole way. I have always pushed myself hard, worked through ill health and pain. Is that something I’m proud of? Sometimes yes, mostly no.
A few years ago I learnt my biggest business lesson when I fell down a flight of stairs and fractured my neck. It didn’t stop me from working. It did make my life miserable and everyone else’s too. Being a martyr only looks good in stories of saints, no one who really cares about you wants to see you behave that way. It’s also not good for business when you have to deal face to face with people.
Pay attention to you
Instead of taking the time I needed to get better, I pushed through days of excruciating pain and humiliation. My mother had to come to my house everyday to help me get dressed and brush my hair, then come to work as well since I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself. Does it sound nuts? It was. But it was a new business and I had memories of what had happened last time with my brother and I just didn’t want him to go through that. This went on for four months before I was able to be independent again. On the surface anyway, that’s how it looked.
I’m not proud of this time in my life, I think I short changed my business, my family and myself. I know I’m tough; I’m blessed with what I call good bounce back genes. We don’t take long to get over things; we just get on with it. This isn’t the best choice, and women often put their needs - emotional & physical, last. But if we take a moment to ponder the advice they give you on an airplane before you take off “put your own mask on before anyone else’s, so that you CAN actually help them” we may just make a decision that works for us and therefore everyone else.