Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kristin Light, owner of K•Light Digital Charisma, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
My particular little corner of the equity and inclusion landscape addresses invisible disabilities of the mind (specifically mental illness and neurodiversity) and the associated stigma and misinformation that continues to plague those of us afflicted. I share my story and educate business communities to help address the inadvertent gap in workplace accommodation afforded to these individuals, especially when compared to the accommodations made towards physical illness or mobility.
Tell us about yourself
I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder around 15 years ago. The symptoms started years earlier, but as these things were kept much more behind the curtain in those days, I didn't know what was happening to me. I believed the criticisms, every single one. "Difficult." "Bitchy." "Unsupportive." "Elitist." "Selfish." "Insubordinate." In hindsight, I now recognize the early signs of mental turmoil, but at the time, they were viewed as character flaws. I did everything in my power to keep my suffering under wraps. By my late 30s, I was a secretly suicidal showgirl co-owner of both two successful event venues and a long-running swing dance studio while performing regularly in a fringed flapper dress at fancy events. My life looked like something out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel… but like the great Gatsby himself, I was really struggling. Somewhere along the line, I made the decision to end my life on my 40th birthday. Luckily, my plan was thwarted by an astute psychiatrist and eight weeks spent under direct supervision in an inpatient psych hospital. My wrists still bear the physical scars of my many attempts. Only my closest friends/family knew what had happened; most just heard the "burned out at work, took a break" story to explain my 5-month absence. In the Fall of 2019, my business partner and I were exploring options for employee health insurance and were gifted tickets to a speaking competition by our broker. At that event, I saw brave soul after a brave soul get up on that stage and share their stories — stories of trauma, of discrimination, of triumph over adversity. And just like that reality snowball of puberty, another ball of frost smacked me right in the noggin. I knew then and there that I had to do the same as these folks and that my journey and my struggles had to have another purpose, and that I needed to speak out to pave a safer road for those who come after me. And I've not shut up since!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Honestly, finding ways to do this work and still keep a safe roof over my head is an ongoing challenge. I lost both of my event/dance businesses with the pandemic but have managed to sustain a side hustle in digital communications/branding. Being able to use my knowledge and experience from the corporate world to open discussions on mental wellness and accessibility has been more rewarding than I ever thought possible. Thanks to my corporate and entrepreneurial success, doors are opened to me as a speaker that may not otherwise have been. I could list off marketing campaign metrics or annual revenue growth as my "biggest accomplishments," but truth be told, my proudest moments come in the form of simple messages from strangers. When even one single person feels seen, understood, and, most importantly, encouraged by anything I've said or written, then it's all worth it.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Self-preservation. Holding space for the struggles of others takes energy beyond that of a normal workday. As much as my accountant would like, I cannot speak or write about the struggles and stigma every single day. Doing a simple podcast interview or giving a 30-minute corporate presentation is generally followed by 2-3 days of unavoidable recovery time. But I keep doing it because if even one life is saved or improved along the way, then the work is still needed.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Take out your phone and make a new note or a contact entry with the local support resources for your area. Do it now when you're feeling ok. Do NOT wait until you are in crisis to Google a support link. Personally, I'm a regular user of the anonymous text support from 741741 (just text HOME to that number to reach a trained responder). I reach out to that line when I'm feeling a panic attack coming on or when my self-harm urges are kicking in. The people on the other end are wonderful. It's a free and anonymous resource.
- Find a community. Owning a business can be incredibly isolating and lonely, and you will often feel like no one understands what you are going through each day. I guarantee you, SOMEONE out there understands. Check Facebook, LinkedIn, Meetup, and anywhere that people gather online. There are discussion groups for every industry, every career type, and every niche. Can't find your exact one? Start with a general group (eg. service entrepreneurs or Etsy sellers) and consider starting a side group yourself once you find others with similar struggles. Even having a place to occasionally post "AHHHHHHH AMIRIGHT!?" to a resounding chorus of "Same." will be incredibly cathartic on your more difficult days.
- Schedule breaks in your calendar. I know, I know, easier said than done. I convinced myself NOT to do this for years as I felt I needed to "ride the wave" and be productive whenever possible. But waiting for a crash or a sick day to rest is NOT the same as recharging. Take breaks (even 20min to look at a different wall or take a quick walk) when you feel good, not when you NEED the break. People are much like iPads; it takes a lot longer to recharge from a dead battery than to simply top up a working one.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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