As increasing numbers of Americans face the schedule-crushing tasks of caring for aging family members, the workplace is an often-overlooked casualty. Juggling work and personal responsibilities often results in having to drop everything, as well as asking others to cover and spending extended time away from work. This not only taxes the caregiver but also coworkers and employers alike.
According to AARP, nearly half the workforce expects to serve as caregivers for aging loved ones in the next five years. Nearly 70 percent of caregivers report making work accommodations due to caregiving. Struggling to balance the dual roles, all too many caregivers turn down meaningful promotions and opportunities. Throwing up their hands in exasperation, nearly 40 percent of caregivers leave the workforce to care for a loved one.
While those numbers are indeed bleak, the picture worsens. This study looks only at those who care for the aging population. The wide variety of caregiving scenarios remains difficult to accurately classify. Family members caring for siblings, spouses or children with special needs often fall through the cracks in such studies. In my case, I’ve served as a caregiver for my wife with severe disabilities for more than 30 years.
Despite these challenges, family caregivers have extraordinary opportunities to explore entrepreneurship. Ideas can quickly become realities that offer income streams. Quickly assimilating vast amounts of information, we regularly perform tasks way beyond the scope of our training and skill-sets. From complex medical tasks to conflict resolution, our days would strain the patience and abilities of most employees, and we do it all without pay.
What if these 43 million unpaid high-functioning multi-tasking caregivers got a collective epiphany to open a home business? It might just launch the greatest economic boom in U.S. history!
While we may not participate in the workforce in the way we’d like, our skill sets, honed by the crucible of caregiving, remain an employer’s dream. Why not employ ourselves? The 21st century provides an unparalleled opportunity for home-based business. Blogs, podcasts, books, YouTube channels or selling widgets all remain a keyboard or smart phone away.
From web design to payroll management, caregivers can use today’s tools to address the age-old challenge of caring for a family member. When I left the workforce and launched my own business, I felt awkward. I looked for the clock to punch and felt guilty when I once took a two-hour lunch. Jokingly, my wife asked if I would feel better if we put a cubicle in the living room.
Upon recognizing self-imposed limitations, I set to work dismantling the way I worked. Once I solidified my core message and inventoried my skill sets, things took off. None of it is easy but helping my wife through a three-decade medical nightmare involving 80 surgeries and multiple amputations isn’t easy, either. Of the over $10 million in medical bills my wife has amassed, they’re all paid. Of the seven different insurance companies she’s had, I’ve never had a gap in coverage — nor have I lost an appeal.
What’s that worth to an employer? What’s that worth to my family and me?
I answered that question by writing several books and launching my own radio show for family caregivers. In 2017, I became the first syndicated radio program for family caregivers.
If I can do it, so can others. It starts with honestly assessing what we bring to the table. Entrepreneurs organize and operate businesses with greater than normal financial risks. Caregivers regularly assume immense financial risk and daily organize the business of life for vulnerable loved ones. Since caregivers naturally (but mistakenly) default to excessive self-criticism, let’s focus on the one thing all caregivers bring to the table: a perfect attendance record caring for our loved ones. Virtually everyone agrees that so much of success is showing up, and that puts caregivers ahead of the curve.
As caregivers, we daily face fears that quell some of the stoutest entrepreneurial hearts, yet we soldier on. Ponder the significant value of that kind of perseverance to any business. Recognizing our worth is the first step towards successful entrepreneurship through a product or service of our choice. Harnessing that value to a bit of courage and elbow grease, allows caregivers to turn our obstacles into our own ladders of success.
Peter Rosenberger (@hope4caregiver) hosts the national radio program Hope for the Caregiver heard on 185 stations. For more than thirty years, he’s cared for his wife who lives with severe disabilities. He is the author of 7 Caregiver Landmines and How You Can Avoid Them.