After having the opportunity to share my story of growing in a creative professional career while battling a new-found chronic muscle disease (LGMD2i) and speaking with others dealing with similar adversities to share their approach, I came into 2020 feeling relatively in control of the controllable.
I’d been taking my own advice – and the advice from others – and was feeling pretty good about where things were going. My rare, currently untreatable chronic disease was on the cusp of some potential breakthroughs, with potential cures nearing clinical trials.
I also joined a young, hungry media company with the opportunity to do exactly what I’d been working towards: building something new with a great team and doing what I love. As daunting as I knew that task would be, I never felt better about balancing my unique health challenges, working hard and working smart.
The year that turned
But this was coming into 2020. Just about everyone has a story about how those first few months set a considerably different tone compared to how the rest of the year would go. Just about everyone was wrong. In some ways, I did feel 2020 was a year I’d do my best to get through, as the following years were poised with promise to treat my challenging disease, even if minimally.
I was enjoying that ride and the routines of my day-to-day. In mid-March, when the pandemic really kicked into high gear it was as confusing a time for me as it was for any, but in a different way that maybe only people with chronic conditions understood, there was an added level of fear and confusion as a “high risk” person.
We were told to be extra careful with the organs and body parts that were already taking a hard hit due to our conditions. On the other hand, those of us who did the type of work where we could work from home occasionally began working from home every single day, indefinitely.
While no one was particularly thrilled to be locked down, the stresses of having a condition that caused mobility problems and added extra layers of stress to “normal” things like coffee meetings across town, birthday dinners, etc. went away because the ability to do those things went away for just about everyone.
When plans change
One Friday morning after a particularly productive week at work, I was called onto a video meeting and told I no longer had my job. This happened to an inexcusable number of professionals across all industries during the pandemic, so while it shouldn’t have felt like it was out of nowhere, it did.
I was thankful for the opportunity to stay safe and the trust to still go above and beyond, and I owed it to my employer to show that every day. I worked as hard as I could, I strived to be the best teammate possible, and did everything I could to show that I could lead a team and process, but it didn’t matter.
The person I tried to be for the team did not matter as much as the number on a spreadsheet. I was about to become unemployed, during a pandemic, as a high-risk, chronically ill person. I had no idea what was waiting for me on the other end. It felt like everything I’d worked to accomplish had been undone in one 15-minute Google Meet.
The job search that followed was just as challenging as I anticipated. There were countless rejections, conversations that just suddenly stop, requests for unpaid creative work, and many other moments that were just as deflating. For many professionals suddenly on the outside looking in, this “new normal” has become their daily full-time grind, and it takes its toll.
When you can’t find a new team, make one
So, one day I decided to shift my focus to things I can do that bring out the best version of myself. To be someone that no one at any company could stop. Just because my job ended didn’t mean I couldn’t do what I was loving doing: build something new with a great team of people. So, as typical as it is for an unemployed guy during a global pandemic, I started a podcast.
I give my wife full credit for this idea. I recognize how rare it is for a wife to encourage her unemployed husband to step away from the daily grind of job searching to start a podcast. I moved quickly to launch GOOD NATURE, a podcast where I interview creatives, entertainers, musicians, professionals and more that are all dealing with disability, chronic illnesses, and similar challenges – all while doing plenty of “good” in their careers, communities, and beyond.
A new-found positivity
Selfishly, I knew this could be very healthy for me individually while at the same time sharing something positive with society. I also had a good feeling that even the people I’d be interviewing, even if their careers were thriving throughout this chaos, could also benefit from having the sorts of conversations we were having.
Since I’d spoken with a few of these talented people previously right here on GamePlan A – and had the opportunity to work with a few of them directly – I was thankful to have a great network to start with.
Through reaching out to the all-stars I already knew and some bold – but respectful – outreach, I was able to roll out this podcast with guests like Wesley Hamilton from Netflix’s Queer Eye who was actively working on disability advocacy at the time of our conversation, actress Nicole Evans who acted on one of my favorite sitcoms NBC’s Superstore, Eric Tobin, VP of Hopeless Records, Brooklyn Nets radio commentator Chris Carrino, and Lauren Ruotolo who was a big part of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine rollout.
ð¨ POD ALERTð¨ launched a new show called GOODð³NATURE where I interview Good PPL doing Good Things despite their challenging circumstances. Ep 1 welcomes @iamweshamilton . Please â¶ï¸ and subscribe.
ð SPOTIFY https://t.co/1i5htIRj3I pic.twitter.com/KLR5ESqZyn
â tony hartman (@tony_hartman) October 29, 2020
The power of conversation
All of these stories have helped me reshape some of my approach to navigating the current challenges and reinforce the way I’ve navigated others. Both, as it turns out, are very valuable.
Everything from seemingly living in a bubble, to questioning where I should go from here career-wise, I am relieved and encouraged with each episode, knowing that I’m not alone in these challenges. I’m even happier that sharing them seems to be helping people of all abilities and backgrounds in some small way.
In some ways, I’ve been able to create something that is growing and help people deal with unique challenges during these unique times. They know that they aren’t alone. I know I needed that. I’ve never been a believer in “misery loves company”, so it’s just as encouraging to share optimism with much of the chronic condition community about a post-bubble, post-covid world.
How working from home is supporting a more inclusive future
While I’ve been running this project from home, another, incredibly positive truth became apparent: With so much of the workplace moving to remote or more flexible options, with major media companies like Spotify proclaiming working from home as a permanent option, the workplace is becoming more inclusive and welcoming to those with disability and chronic conditions. I’ve grown to realize that the whole experience will undoubtedly change how I can engage in my future career, without having to necessarily face the physical challenges I’ve encountered so many times before.
One of the most common themes in these conversations has been, throughout the pandemic, the normal day-to-day challenges of chronic illness, the balance of taking care of yourself and pushing your limits. For many of my guests, you can’t have one without the other.
And the greater flexibility will help us all to address this balance.
My guests have helped to remind me of the bumps along the way and that the days where I need to completely unplug, stay off my feet and rest aren’t a reason to be disappointed in myself. Taking time to reset is a necessary step in rebuilding and reinventing ourselves.
The springboard effect
For me personally, building this project from scratch and watching it grow has been rewarding and justifying. I didn’t let my job being taken away from me take away my ability to do something special with a great group of people.
It’s helped me grow and adjust right alongside a society that has (hopefully) also been forced to grow and adjust. In my day-to-day life, and in my quest to find my next professional venture, I’ve never been more ready for the next opportunity.
The people in my life and the next team that welcomes me will get the best version of me possible, and I can’t wait.
Tony has recently published his latest episode, where he talks with fellow podcaster Jordan Adika to discuss the mental side of physical ailments, toxic positivity and much more. Check it out here.