Photo by Jamie Brown on Unsplash

Note: This story was originally published as a podcast episode on The Music-Preneur Mindset Podcast. It has been edited for this post.

As a mindset coach for music industry professionals it’s my job to teach people how to be more productive while avoiding burnout and overwhelm. It was years before I decided to open up about why I chose to teach others about finding a better work/life balance and how I know it’s possible.

This July will mark 7 years since I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme Disease, an auto-immune disease that also affects the nervous system, as well as muscles and joints.

I share this story not to discuss the ins and outs of living with Lyme Disease (there is a lot of conflicting medical research out there and I am not advocating for any specific treatment over another), but to hopefully nudge you to look at any roadblock in your path as a tool in your arsenal to build a new path on your own terms.

On my 29th birthday, two weeks after my first camping trip, I was out with friends and one of them commented on three large bullseye-like spots on my legs. I was so tired and felt so out of it that I shrugged it off and ignored their concerns.

My father had passed only a few months prior and very little mattered to me those days, least of all my own health.

Luckily, they ignored my dismissal, contacted my mom and she forced me to go the ER later that day. I was immediately put on 6 weeks of medication after my spots were photographed for being the “perfect examples” of what bullseyes carrying the disease look like.

When I tell people I have Lyme Disease I get a lot of sympathetic looks and words of comfort. I usually respond with, “Oh, it’s totally fine, I brought this on myself.”

I say it with a chuckle and people are often concerned and perplexed by my response.

I want to be clear – I don’t believe people are punished with illnesses or that people deserve to get sick or that if someone is sick they must have “brought it on themselves” or “asked for it.”

However, I do believe that if there’s a lesson we’re meant to learn the Universe will make sure we learn it, one way or another.

For me, the Universe did all it could to teach me to slow down. And it wasn’t subtle. My 20s were littered with loud, in-your-face signals.

Within three years I suffered two bouts of Mononucleosis (“Mono”). The first was in college and the second time I continued going to work each day unfazed, ignoring the fevers, aches and pains and occasional vomiting.

Hey, deadlines are deadlines, right?

It was a culture of burnout I learned to accept from a very early age.

I graduated college a year early to work 15+ hours at a job I hated and multiple former bosses and professors warned me not to take the job and instead take time off after graduation. Dating, vacations with friends, you name it – it all went on the back burner as an afterthought.

Time with friends and family was a luxury I couldn’t yet afford; I was building my career in the music industry and dues had to be paid.

I watched my workaholic father suffer terribly from cancer, showing up to work between chemotherapy appointments, and answering emails on his Blackberry from the hospital bed, passing before he had a chance to retire, and still I never picked my head up from work to live more of the life around me.

That is, until, I was invited to go camping.

A friend of mine implored me to stop working and live a little. They thought it would be good for me after dealing with such a tragic loss.

They were right. Camping was a blast. And I needed that trip in more ways than we could have known at the time.

I had become semi-paranoid. I wasn’t thrilled with my previous attempts at starting a business and I assumed those around me were trying to trick me into failing again by telling me to take time off from work.

It felt like some kind of test and every time I ignored their ploys to treat myself better and kept busy I somehow passed.

It’s rather normal in the music business to have that paranoia-meets-distrust around slowing down, as I see it in my clients on an almost daily basis.

The industry’s definition of “hustle” makes us believe if we aren’t suffering we don’t want it badly enough.

I convinced myself that because I was so busy and sacrificed so much, success had to be right around the corner. That’s how that works, right?

I was in a rat race with competition that wasn’t there and I was rushing to a finish line that I wasn’t even sure existed.

I had no passion, no clarity, and no purpose to the work I was doing. I was simply doing.

After being diagnosed, even though I felt relieved to know everything I was feeling was because I was sick, I still struggled to accept I had to take it easy.

But unlike Mono, Lyme Disease is not something you can ignore.

There were days where I couldn’t sit upright in bed, no matter how much I wanted to. Working in retail at the time, it was almost impossible to go up and down the flights of stairs at the store without needing to stop and take a break.

I had become so sensory sensitive I could only look at a computer screen for two hours at a time.

On top of mourning my father, I had put ridiculous pressure on myself to build this business I always told him I was going to build (in spite of his wishes) and this disease was an inconvenience I refused to accept.

Eventually, I gave in and realized that if I had limited energy I wasn’t going to waste it fighting against something I couldn’t control.

I started harnessing my energy differently. I started to give myself more permission to rest. I realized that 2013 was not going to be my breakout year.

I had one focus – show up on time for work at my retail job.

I spent time with friends when I was up for it. I took days off and did nothing. I came home and vegged out after work. I went to happy hours. I realized I was turning my brain off from planning for the next thing and being present more and more each day.

About six months later I was ready to get back to my old life, and get back into the music scene, but I knew I couldn’t go back exactly to the way things were.

I couldn’t run around going to 2-3 shows a night to see clients perform. I couldn’t burn the midnight oil on client work if I had a morning shift the next day. I also couldn’t charge next-to-nothing prices when I knew I had a limited amount of hours to make money.

I also knew I didn’t know anything other than being a workaholic, so I needed to learn how to work smarter.

I started reading The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington and focused on changing my mindset around being “busy” and learned it does not always equal being productive.

Everything I was learning was 150% counter to what I had picked up from working in the music industry. I was extremely reluctant to trust it. I felt the only way I could have enough time to build my next business up was to work 24/7 on it.

It was time for reinforcements.

I hired a friend of mine who was a coach for entrepreneurs. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, warning her that my situation was not going to be like any of her other clients – I worked in the music industry and different rules applied here.

I was also dealing with a chronic illness and I wasn’t going to be able to do everything she may need me to do, but I’d keep an open mind.

Yeah… I was that client.

Luckily she and her wife, who I also hired, helped me see that I was making a ton of excuses and living behind a lot of fear.

I was determined to try it their way, even if I wasn’t ready to believe or trust in it 100%.

Out of our work together came the realization that my journey from burnout queen to someone with a full-time consulting business in six months (after working less hours) was exactly the work I was meant to do with others in the industry.

When I first became a mindset coach people would say, “I didn’t realize that existed in the music industry.” I would then nod and say, “It didn’t, I made it up.”

I didn’t create the term “mindset coach,” and now many more exist in this space, but my illness went from being a roadblock to a tool that enabled me to find my passion helping others find a way to navigate this burnout culture without actually burning out.

Being sick is no joke, but I 100% find a way to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

With everything in my life that has happened to tell me to slow down, it took three little ticks to make me shut up and listen.

Of course it can be painful at times, but I choose to focus on everything this new normal has given me.

My passion comes from realizing how much of a hold my former beliefs around “hustle” had on me and what it took to snap me out of it.

For those of you ready to hear this, TAKE A BREAK! Go live life. You have the time.

A lot of what you’re doing right now is spinning your wheels and with a little clarity and a little bit of structure around your goals you can make better use of your time.

I want to thank you for taking the precious time you do have to read my story. You have choices and those choices determine what you do next.

Choose to laugh.

It doesn’t mean you can’t be sad or acknowledge when things don’t go as planned. But this is the new plan – so what are you going to do about it?

There is a lesson in everything and you get to choose what that lesson is going to teach you. I much rather laugh about what a stubborn mule I’ve been and how I can now tell the Universe, “Ok, thanks, I finally got it!”

Will today be the day you choose to get it?


  • Suzanne Paulinski

    mindset coach

    The Rock/Star Advocate®

    Suzanne is a mindset coach for music professionals & founder of The Rock/Star Advocate®, helping them reach their goals with custom goal-setting and time management solutions that enable them to gain clarity on their next steps while maintaining a healthy work/life balance. She published her first book, The Rock/Star Life Planner, now in its 2020 edition on Amazon, as a tool for creatives to find focus in their daily lives and is host of The Music-Preneur Mindset Podcast.