The Business of Overwhelm – Debbie DeChambeau

Episode 16 business of overwhelmThank you so much for joining us today.  I’m going to share a personal story with you and the lessons learned from my recent journey. I share this because I have always believed in planning, in being proactive and having a back-up plan. But sometimes life gets in the way and the overwhelm from everything can create a sinking ship. I’m not looking for any sympathy from todays episode, just sharing to hopefully help you think a little differently about the realities of being a business owner.

For those of you that have started a business, you know that being a business owner is hard work, particularly if you are a solo. For many, it means 18 hour days, financial stress, emotional highs and lows all for the ability to follow a dream, to be the boss and determine your own destiny.  It can also be very lonely. Your friends and family don’t always understand what you are doing and why you need to put in so many hours.  They don’t always understand the worries you have of closing the sale, how you’ll pay yourself or if the customer is unhappy with something how you are going to make it right and still make money.

People go into business for different reasons and people want different things out of having a business. It’s a personal choice and while I do a lot of consulting in this area I see so many people struggle to make it work. Today I’m going to share some personal experiences and the lessons learned to hopefully help you the business owner.

It’s Lonely At The Top

I frequently say ‘ it’s lonely at the top’ and it’s something that I’ve heard many people say as well as I’ve experienced it myself.  When I started my first business, my husband at the time thought that meant I’d be home more, have more time for him and more time to do things around the house so he could do less. Unfortunately, he didn’t understand I needed to be out meeting people during the day and doing the work at night. He didn’t understand it took money to get things rolling, he thought I should should be contributing financially to the household sooner than I did.  When I need to work weekends now, my friends don’t understand why I can’t join them for a fun girls night out. One of my friends recently asked me why I travel so much, not understanding that it is all business! (ok, a few trips are to see family).

What becomes a bigger challenge for businessowners is when life gets in the way. One of my clients recently had a fire in his studio, then his landlord sent a letter non renewing his lease, a few months later he lost his dad, then his wife was diagnosed with cancer and his biggest clients went out of business. All of this took place over the course of 12 months. He hadn’t planned for any of this. He’s definitely feeling overwhelmed because it is a lot to process at one time. Having one of these issues is enough to deal with but to be hit with one after another becomes too much.

Then there is the caregiving issue. For men, this isn’t usually as relevant because often they have a woman in their life to handle these issues. Please note that I said usually and I might be stereotyping a little. But as a general rule, women are the caregivers. When a woman starts a business it is often done around the family. If the kids need afternoon carpool, mom stops working to make it happen. If the aging parents need care, it’s usually the daughter that responds.

The Sandwich Generation

What happens when a lot of people need the business owner at one time? It’s called the sandwich generation – a time when someone is raising children and caring for parents or seniors at the same time. Children alone can gobble up all of your time, but add parents to the mix and it doesn’t take much for everything to fall apart.

While I’m not in the sandwich generation at this point, I’ve been there. Shortly after starting my business in 2001, I was raising 4 children (two of my own and two of my sisters) and my father would go into the hospital every month for a week at a time. There were other children, but I was the one that seemed to get called all the time. My sister was in Boston and my brother worked during the day, so I was the go to person.  (oh wait, keep in mind I had just started a business) There were many mornings where I would be at the hospital which was over an hour away at 7:00 am so I could talk to the doctors and coordinate his health care. And each time he’d become a difficult patient in the middle of the night, the hospital would call me saying they needed someone to keep an eye on him. Guess who got called in for duty because everyone else was too busy or too far away or didn’t answer the phone.

I’m sharing this personal experience because life has gotten in the way of my business over the past four months and I’ve been in complete overwhelm. I’ve managed to survive but just barely. I’m in a scary place as a business owner and while I believe I will pull through and be ok it’s been extremely difficult. In addition, I’m also single with no partner to lean on and no biological siblings around. My money is put away for retirement, so when I’m not working, it has a significant impact.

I don’t usually write or talk to too many people about the negative details of my personal life because I try to keep things positive. But this time, I think this is therapy and hopefully will help other business owners avoid similar situations.

The Last Four Months.

On July 1st I moved my mom in with me.  It involved my traveling to Colorado, packing her belongings which took three solid days and driving everything back to MD in a rented truck with her car in tow.  Fortunately I had a wonderful girlfriend ride along and keep me company but we were on a mission and had a deadline. Once I returned, there was unloading the truck and getting her unpacked and all set up so she would feel comfortable in her new surroundings.  After all, it can’t be easy moving out of your own home into one with your daughter.  I can only imagine what people go through emotionally when that happens.

Three days after returning from Colorado, my uncle, who has lived with me for the past 7 years, fell and broke his hip, which required surgery and a hip replacement. That same week I had planned to launch this podcast which for the first episode was a total learning experience.  Recording is one thing, getting everything online correctly is another day or two of learning!

Between moving my mom and managing my uncles care, I really didn’t work for two weeks.

When I unloaded my moms things, we put everything in the basement because that is where she was going to live.  It’s a separate space, so that she could have her independence, which would keep us apart and should have been ideal. Two weeks in, she decided that she wanted to be upstairs because it was brighter. This meant completely rearranging my house to accommodate her. Rearranging meant packing up my office, moving my closets, emptying all my drawers to get ready for the movers then I had to put everything back. August 1st was moving day so I had two weeks to get things done.

While this was going on I was working with a dear friend trying to build the foundation for a new product line. We planned meetings 2-3 times a week developing content and strategies to launch in September. Needless to say I would show up at the meetings feeling the overwhelm of everything and not doing any of the work I wanted to accomplish and almost starting from scratch at each meeting.

August 1st was also the due date for several deliverables for a certification I was working on with my marketing network.  One included completing an ebook and the other was mapping out a ten month program for a group of marketing consultants.

On August 1st, something terrible happened with my mother shortly after the movers came. While I don’t want to go into any of the details, trust me when I say it wasn’t good.  I believe she is ok but for me it has become an emotional setback. Even as I write this, I tear up over what happened.

Month 2

What I’ve described so far is one month. If I was lucky I worked 10 hours during the month. Barely returning emails, not returning phone calls and not being proactive about finding work to generate revenue.

August was an emotional nightmare. The issue with my mom was weighing very heavily on mental capacity. A lot of old emotions resurfaced that I had to process. Add into this my sisters 50th surprise birthday. While she is not a biological sister, she is someone very very special to me. She knew something was happening around her birthday but didn’t know what and wanted to make sure I was coming. I had to lie to her that I wasn’t coming and that created a lot of negative energy which made it even more difficult for me to focus on work.

My uncle was in rehab at this point so I didn’t have to worry too much about him except taking care of his Financials and coordinating a few doctors visits. While this wasn’t too much with everything else it felt completely overwhelming.

I managed to spend a few days with my sister which was a wonderful break but with everything at home it was hard to relax. And 3 days away was in no way enough to recover.

Another project that was on my plate during this time was my high school reunion. Back in March I signed a contract with a hotel and I made an assumption we would have at least 200 people attend (out of a class of 650) and by early August we barely had 75 registrations. This added a ton of additional stress because what we didn’t sell in tickets was coming out of my pocket since I signed the contract and no one was volunteering to cough up extra cash. I spent several days reaching out to people, looking for those I hadn’t found online in hopes of getting more registrations, but my time was limited and I needed to focus on my business, not on the reunion. I did have a committee in place, but I wasn’t seeing much movement.

Month 3

For two weeks in August, I was able to get back to work, spend some time on the reunion and spend some time healing. Then the rehab center said my uncle was ready to be released, September 1st. Panic set in. I wasn’t in a position to care for him and he wasn’t strong enough to do things for himself. Since he doesn’t have any money, they couldn’t send him anyplace else, so he was back at my house.

First day home he fell, hurt his back and mouth. This required several doctors appointments and because he was weak, everything took a long time.  At the same time, home health care was coordinating visits. From PT to OT to nursing and speech therapy, my phone was blowing up scheduling appointments. Between fixing his meals, watching him go up and down the stairs, cleaning up after him, I immediately became the caregiver and it wasn’t a job I wanted.

On the work front, we were launching a new team in Philadelphia which meant some travel. Planning how to be gone overnight and making sure my uncle would be ok was overwhelming. While traveling in PA I would have conference calls with the reunion committee putting together the menu and other details for the event that was now 4 weeks away.

My uncles care almost did me in. I wasn’t prepared to do so much for him. And unfortunately he has no money to pay someone. September was a total blur.  Between the final preparations for the reunion, getting the new team launched in Philadelphia, starting the online program and keeping the podcasts published, I didn’t leave my house much. My days with meetings usually start at 7:30 and I was working until 11 almost every night just trying to hold on.

Month 4

It’s been almost 8 weeks since he’s been home and he’s much stronger but still not leaving the house. His strength also means he isn’t as complacent and demands more. He expects things from me and I don’t have the heart to say I don’t want to take care of him. Sometimes I can laugh at it, sometimes it makes me cry.  Managing the INR and the anemia is mostly what I’m doing now with the doctor but that also involves coordinating with the home health team. Since he’s stronger, he can cook and bathe himself, which has made things much easier.

I’m finding more time to work, and in the beginning of October, I was able to get my house back in order from the chaos that was caused when my mom moved in. My reunion is now behind me and I’m happy to say it was a huge success. I left for 3 days to go to a conference to get my master marketing certification and I’m happy to say I wasn’t worried too much while I was away.

We are almost at the end of October and I am definitely seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  Getting back to work is my priority and generating revenue is essential.  My four months of barely working has really hurt the pocketbook, and the added reunion expenses didn’t help at all. I’m trying to look at it as a bad business decision because sometimes we make them, and we just have to suck it up, learn from them and move forward!

Lessons Learned

So other than venting, there are definitely some valuable lessons learned from the crazy insane four months I’ve lived.

  • First – as a business owner, you have to have help.  Whether it’s a part time person, a partner or a virtual assistant, you must have someone to do the work and you need to set that up before it is too late.  Who will answer the phone when you can’t drag yourself to talk to another person.  Who will reply to emails when you are driving or flying across the country or so overwhelmed you can’t think straight.  Who will keep things running while you are pre-occupied so you don’t go bankrupt?  If you can get these things in place now you will actually be doing yourself a favor and will see more success in your company, even if you don’t have the caregiver issues I’ve described above.
  • Second – set your business up so that you have an ongoing revenue stream even when you can’t work. If you are paid based on the hours you work, you need to have a way to generate revenue when you aren’t working. There is no insurance coverage to pay me for what has happened over the past 4 months. If you became disabled and had disability insurance, you might be able to collect an income, but not for the situation I’ve described. Fortunately, my business provides reoccurring revenue that covers the basics. But not speaking, training and doing other projects that pay based on performance definitely impacted the budget!
  • Third – Ask for help. This is a really hard one for me but one I am definitely going to work on moving forward. I am such an independent person and such a caregiver that asking for help is not is not in my repertoire. The reality is that I can’t save everyone.  My mother should have hired a mover; my uncle needs to be in an assisted living facility; unfortunately neither of these two have the finances to take care of these things so they needed someone to help them. But I needed to look at it from an outsiders perspective and tried to find them help rather than trying to do it all myself. They don’t understand what I needed to do with my business and they constantly interrupt me and tell me what they need. Unfortunately I have difficulty saying no and when I see others who need help, I just jump in and get things done. Also learn to say NO.
  • Lastly – get an office outside of your home. Sometimes it’s better not to be around so you can get a break. Seeing people who need you all the time sets up different expectations. My uncle thinks that I can take him to get his hair cut whenever he wants. That I should go to the grocery store everytime he needs something rather than the once I week trip. My mother didn’t see anything wrong with having the tv blaring on Fox News all day long and was offended when I asked her to turn it down. The fact that I run a business from home doesn’t matter to them because they couldn’t see what I was doing. They just think I sit in my office on my computer all day which to them isn’t really work!


I’ve had people say to me that I have a halo over my head for everything I do for others.  I don’t look at it that way but I am very appreciative for their words of encouragement. The reality is, I am a business owner and business owners need to make money. Without revenue, there is no business and in the US the IRS could easily look at what I’m doing as a hobby!

Life can get in the way but as business owners we need to be thinking about these things and try to plan for them.  It’s better to be proactive then reactive.  If you run a business and have a staff, you have some of these areas covered but if you are a solo as many people I know are, this is important to consider.

Thank you for listening to this episode and listening to my crazy insane life.  I know that I am not the only caregiver going through this. There is something about being in our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and these issues arise for so many people. Most of us think that nothing is ever going to happen to us, that these things only happen to other people. As business owners, we can’t afford to think this way because the reality is that things can and do happen and we need to be proactive so that we don’t lose our companies.

If this story resonates with you, I’d love to hear from you.  Send me an email at or connect with me on social media. We can work through this together and survive. But remember, our goal as business owners is to be thriving, not just surviving.

Here’s to your success….and remember, you are amazing!