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3 Ways to Combat Common Struggles Faced by Creative Entrepreneurs: Insights from a Chronically-ill Girl

I’m here to give a voice to all the “creatives” who struggle with chronic illnesses and are still fighting for every dream they have.


My name is Elise Smith and I am the owner of WinniE’s Bakery. We are a bake to order, wholesale and catering bakery, located in Columbia MD. I established WinniE’s Bakery in 2012, after years of fostering a passion and discipline for baking. I know what you’re thinking, if your name is Elise, then why “WinniE’s Bakery”? And, the simple answer is, Winnie was my maternal grandmother. She was an impeccable baker and a phenomenal woman. She had her own baking and floral business for 40+ years. I spent a great of my childhood by her side in the kitchen, learning absolutely everything I possibly could. I even used to study her face when she did certain things, such as, folding ganache into a custard or smacking her hands together to flour dust a work surface, creating a flour cloud; all just to make me smile. I hung on her every word. Sadly, after a long time by her side being her “right hand girl” as I called myself, she passed when I was 15. That sent a ripple of devastation through my entire family and into the every aspect of my life. I had lost my passion for one of the things that made me most fulfilled. But, after some time and an undeniable longing to be back in the kitchen, one night after hours of studying for a final; I faced my fear and baked. I made Espresso Brownies that night, and I knew there was no turning back after that.

Now that you’re familiar with my inspiration for WinniE’s Bakery, I’d like to share something I have faced every day as a business owner, since diving head first into the world of “creative entrepreneurship”, “self-employment” and “being your own boss” world. I have several debilitating chronic illnesses, but most recently I acquired one that truly turned my world upside down. I have tumor-induced secondary Myasthenia Gravis or “MG”. Here is a definition of the condition,
Myasthenia Gravis (pronounced My-as-theen-ee-a Grav-us) comes from the Greek and Latin words meaning “grave muscular weakness.” The most common form of MG is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that is characterized by fluctuating weakness of the voluntary muscle groups

I had something called a thymoma (see definition below) that caused my MG. Even though I had it removed and receive Intravenous Immunoglobulin “IVIG” treatment every 3 weeks, I still deal with numbness, debilitating muscle fatigue and weakness. This is all exacerbated by my the laborious nature of my job. What would take one baker with the same level of experience as myself 2hrs to complete, could take me up to 6hrs. This is difficult and at times discouraging reality, especially since I can clearly recall a time when things moved with effortless flow and momentum around my bakery kitchen. But, I haven’t and will not let chronic illness stop me from reaching every goal I set for myself. I was diagnosed in late fall of 2014, received months preparatory IVIG treatment, then had my thymectomy in June 2015. Since, I have been in IVIG treatment ever since. I’m here to give a voice to all the “creatives” who struggle with chronic illnesses and are still fighting for every dream they have.

Here are (3) self-care/motivational tips that have helped both myself and my business thrive. These tips are useful for those fighting chronic illness or just the everyday battles.

1. Find your TRIBE(S)!
By “find your tribe(s)” I mean, find those who will lift you up. Find the people who will not shy away from moments of strife. Those who will give you unconditional support and love. Honest and useful critiques, that only push you to a greater level of excellence in your craft. And, it’s ok if you have separate tribes for separate aspects of your life, as long as you have the trust, a healthy relationship will follow. My tribe is my family and closest friends, which include some fellow “Rising Tiders”. I am fortunate enough that I have found people with whom I feel comfortable blending. I trust these people not only with my business but, with my life. I know I can share both my pitfalls and soaring moments of success. My tribe is there to hear the latest update on my condition, how I am so behind on taking inventory or to celebrate that I booked yet another wedding for the season. I was fortunate to find my tribe! Because of them, I can rise to any occasion knowing they have my back, whatever may come.

2. Find the small things that nourish your spirit
Finding things that bring you peace and restore balance in yourself can, in turn, create an environment of balance in the rest of your life. Whether it’s some form of exercise, meditation, a spontaneous dance party, cooking, reading, or just going for coffee; pay attention to that, foster it. If there is one thing I have learned as a business owner and someone with a chronic illness, it’s to seek the good, nurture it and hold on to it. Two things that bring me peace, outside of the kitchen, are long baths and morning coffee. Every Wednesday and Sunday I take a bath (lukewarm, heat is not good for MG muscles). I light candles, set-up “Frasier” on my laptop and spend 30 minutes to just sit with myself and self-assess. It’s a very simple but, restorative. Also, on mornings that I don’t have a pressing order for the bakery, I make coffee, sit in bed and listen to music. It’s easy, accessible and calming. And yes, I know this all sounds very Pinterest of me but, it works. And what brings me balance may not do the same for you and that’s ok. But, take the time to find what does nourish your spirit! Things will never be “perfect” but, if you nourish your spirit, balance will follow and good things will come.

3. Get comfortable with accepting help
Things in life naturally work better when we work together, collaborating and helping one another. Somehow along the way to becoming creative entrepreneurs, the term “self-made” got thrown into the mix. Thus, implying the self=sole and made=success which fosters a fierce independence within us. Unfortunately, along the way to “success” a lot of us get overwhelmed and lost in trying to do it all ourselves. I too am guilty of this mentality. To top it off, I’m a Type-A personality regarding my work. There is nothing wrong with being firm in having an independent ambition, as long as you are willing to accept help when the need arises. There is no shame or failure in being self-aware and secure enough to say, “I need help”. That moment of realization for me was when I was first coming back to work after my thymectomy. It had always been me doing everything (baking, branding, inventory, emails/calls, social media, photography, etc) but, I couldn’t anymore. So, I took the first step to getting outside help. I started a partnership with Meghan Stramara of Meghan Elizabeth Photography and Christine Baumgarten of Sliver Orchard Creative. Slowly, but surely, I got comfortable. After months of working together and building our friendship, my business underwent an entire rebranding; with Christine at the helm. The (3) of us planned, curated and executed a day-long branding shoot for WinniE’s Bakery. Thanks to Meghan’s impeccable photos. By getting comfortable with accepting help from these fantastic women and fellow “Rising Tider’s”, my business has soared and I gained two new members to my tribe.

Thymoma: a rare type of tumor that is the most common tumor type located in the area in the center of the chest between the lungs (the anterior mediastinum). Thymomas originate from epithelial cells in the thymus, a gland located behind the breast bone in the mediastinum, which is responsible for the development of many immunologic functions in early life.

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