Interview With Entrepreneur and Lupus Warrior Sara Gorman
As a newly diagnosed lupus patient in my early 20s, I used to hide my prescription bottles because I was so embarrassed by clunky drugstore pillboxes. I already felt like I was 80 years old. Did my accessories really have to match? Then I stumbled across these elegant Pillfolds online. I was surprised to discover that Pillfold.com’s creator, Sara Gorman, was also a lupus patient. Below, entrepreneur, author, and lupus warrior, Sara Gorman shares her wisdom on starting a business and on living well despite lupus.
Why did you decide to leave your job and start your own business?
Sara Gorman: "I had a great job in television production when I was first diagnosed with lupus. But it required long hours and a demanding, stressful schedule. It wasn’t compatible with my new life with lupus. [After I made the difficult decision to step down], my health improved, my symptoms subsided, and I was able to reduce my medication. I realized I had a story to share. I wanted others to feel hopeful and empowered to live well, despite lupus. So I left [traditional work for good], with the goal of publishing my book, maintaining good health, improving my chances for longevity, and even possibly starting a family. The Pillbag business was truly an afterthought. It grew as a result of my book tour and speaking engagements. I traveled worldwide, and no matter the country, everyone with a chronic illness despised the ugly, plastic drugstore pillbox as much as I did. I saw an opportunity to fill a need, and the Pillbag manufacturing business was born."
How has living with lupus changed your mindset about work?
Sara Gorman: "My identity had once been wrapped up in my ability to accomplish – how successful I was and how productive I was at work and at home. But once it became clear lupus was hampering those abilities, I had to untangle who I was from what I could do. I had to find new ways to contribute to the world, and I had to redefine what success meant for me. Thankfully, with the support of family and friends, I realized that my experiences with lupus had value. In living with a chronic illness, I’ve tried to cultivate all I’ve learned into business endeavors to improve the lives of others living with similar conditions."
What did you discover about yourself through starting a business?
Sara Gorman: "I realized I’m still capable of learning new things! I also learned that our company’s mission, promoting medication adherence and breaking the stigma attached to pill taking, is an extension of that personal need I had years ago as a twenty-something struggling with lupus. I hated my daily pill regimen. It made me feel weak and vulnerable. I hated to take my pills out in public, so sometimes I skipped doses. But what a shame! Those medications keep me alive! My hope is that as we continue to expand, we can change the way society views pill taking for chronic illness. If our Pillbags increase the chances that even one patient will take their medications as directed today, and feel better about doing it, we’re moving in the right direction."
What are some of the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur?
Sara Gorman: "The decision to not sacrifice my health for the sake of my business. There are instances daily where I have to choose to put my health first. There have been many opportunities to quickly grow the business, but I’m more comfortable growing it at a rate that can accommodate my health needs. It makes me a better business owner, a more successful wife and mother, and ensures I can continue doing what I love as long as possible."
What is the best part of owning your own business?
Sara Gorman: "I truly appreciate the flexibility that comes with being self-employed. With a chronic illness, there are days when I’m not as productive as others. I like being able to run projects and make decisions in a way that best suits my changing health needs. The trick is to not be too tough on myself!"
What advice would you give to people with chronic illnesses who want to start their own businesses?
Sara Gorman: "I say just do it! It’s been so rewarding to throw myself into endeavors that have grown out of my own personal experience. If you have an idea – be it for a book, product, or service – map out the why, how, when, and where. Make sure you account for the extra time or flexibility you’ll need to make sure your health isn’t sacrificed so you can see it through to the end!"
How often does someone offer you unsolicited advice on your health?