Invest in your skills.

Anyone with a debilitating condition will probably confirm that their main concern after their health (and its limitations) is their ability to financially support themselves or their dependents. A core disabling illness reduces one’s options to find work and earn an income. The illness diminishes our physical ability to perform everyday tasks, let alone one’s previous profession. Everything is just more difficult and time-consuming when you’re disabled by an illness or injury. Think back to a time in your life when you were sick or temporarily handicapped with pain, injury or illness, and you’ll remember the mental or physical difficulty to remain motivated or productive. The injury/pain/illness affected everything you did. Hopefully, you can then understand the absolute psychological battle of the permanently disabled to keep going nevertheless. So, what is one to do?

Historically, I’ve liked to have a back-up for anything vital to my wellbeing. Financial security is one such need. However, my “backups” have mostly centered around skills. This means I don’t count on one skill (source of income) as a given. If there’s one thing that ALS cemented into my head is that life will bitch-slap you down to size; because, why not? It just takes a small accident, a period of bad luck, a fateful choice, to begin a cascade of events that will strip you of the ability to do what you do. What then?

I used to be a physical therapist and teacher. When I wasn’t at my clinic working on clients, I’d be teaching bodywork technique courses or lecturing at schools and seminars. I figured that if I lost the ability to do one, I could always do the other. But in 2005 ALS comes along and starts to systematically take away my hands, then my speech and finally my ability to walk. Now what? I can’t do bodywork because I can’t use my arms, and I can’t lecture because my speech is unintelligible.

After a period of frustration and adjustment, I can no longer sit on my backside and spend the rest of my days watching life ebb away. No sir. As long as I still have a mind and breath, I have to continue to move. I choose to move towards different skills. Letting the past go is tough. We have to let that persona die. That side of us that we treasure, after so many trials, tribulations and refinements, has to fade into a sweet memory.

Eventually (kicking and screaming), we accept the cold, hard reality that we’ll never be ‘that’ again. We move on, yet, one has to come up with an imaginative way to work for ourselves if employment is out of the question. Self-employment has the great advantage of also keeping us motivated because we generally choose something we have an interest in. Whether it’s selling a product, providing a service, or investing, there’s always something we can do that’s both interesting and profitable. We gain skills over our lifetime that we can combine with our interests to plan a profitable endeavour.

For example, I combined my previous business, naturopathic and Web Design training to start Herbosophy. My previous experience in self-employment helped me know how to run a business. Knowing how to run a business gives me experience in evaluating other businesses. Knowing how to evaluate other companies allows me the advantage of knowing how to invest in their stocks. If I know how to identify undervalued stocks in the stock market, it raises the statistical probability that those investments will give me a profit in the future. So far, this has been the case.

Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Although Herbosophy is my primary source of income, I have to assume something may happen in the future that may take it away. So, I spend most of my spare time learning and practicing other skills, like writing and the financial markets. This way, I’ll get to make a bit of extra money on the side and, if my primary source of income disappears, I’ll have the experience to write, publish and invest full-time. If that day comes and those skills become my primary income, I’ll then learn and develop another skill. If something happens to my investments, then I’ll have another stream to focus on. See the logic?

If you lost your hands, legs, sight, speech or incurred some other injury affecting your ability to continue in your profession, what would you do? What alternative or back-up do you have in place? Someone to support you indefinitely doesn’t count. They could leave, get sick themselves or even (God forbid) die. What then? If you say, “I’d have to find some way to make money,” my response would be, why aren’t you doing that now? Why aren’t you using your experience and imagination to have a backup income source? Not only would you help your partner/parent financially but you’d also be doing something you enjoy, making extra cash and cultivating peace of mind.

Consider how much time you waste on inane activities that have no real value except temporary boredom alleviation. Now imagine you devoted a fraction of that time to learning, consolidating, developing or using a profitable skill?

If you spend some time evaluating your strengths and weaknesses, you can plan on capitalising the former and reducing the latter. All it takes is a bit of imagination and the willingness to feel the very real possibility of future loss. You will get sick, you will definitely die, but in the meantime, 1001 things may happen to take away your financial security.

They say money doesn’t buy happiness. But I tell you, I’d rather be miserable and have money for supporting myself, than miserable without money and unable to support myself. Anyone who’s experienced both states will agree: money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure helps with comfort. When you’re suffering through a crisis, a little comfort goes a long way towards happiness.

Your future happiness won’t be determined by money or comfort alone. The confidence from your skills, the joy from your outcomes and fulfilment of your labour will be a psychological salve unrivalled. We receive more joy from what we can do than any other form of entertainment. Who we become is dependent on what we do. What we do defines who we are, always.

What will you do to improve your future? Let me know in the comments.

Also published on Medium.

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