Podcast Interview with Julie Hamilton, Fibromyalgia Coach and Owner of Coaching PI

November 12, 2023 Steve Denny
Podcast Interview with Julie Hamilton, Fibromyalgia Coach and Owner of Coaching PI
Show Notes Transcript

We engage in conversations with successful business owners to learn the little things that made the journey of building their companies special. Then we discuss how they plan to hand off their business to the next generation of leadership.

This episode is with special guest Julie Hamilton, Owner of Coaching PI.

Julie Hamilton has over 20 years of Human Resource Management experience and has been a Certified Fibromyalgia Coach for over 7 years.  She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2009.

As a Human Resources Director, she knew the resources to use such as Family Medical Leave Act and workplace accommodations to help her with the tasks she was struggling with.  She didn’t need to worry about her job when she needed to take time off for flare days or medical appointments. She went from missing two to four days per month to missing two days or less a year.

Then after relocating to Ohio, her chronic illness made it impossible for her to work.  That is when she studied to become a Certified Fibromyalgia Coach and learned to manage her fibromyalgia.  She has gone from being in bed 90% of her life to walking three miles a day and even participated in her first 10k.  She now helps professionals who have fibromyalgia maintain their career and regain their active social life.

Her goal is to help companies create an inclusive environment for the chronically ill and assist them in implementing policies to benefit both the employee and the company.  She understands what it takes to make it work and can educate the company and the employee on how this collaboration can work.

Her company is Coaching PI.  For the past 7 years she's been helping clients 1:1 but through that coaching she learned that companies do not know how to work with their chronically ill employees.  The following is basically what she likes to talk about when she's discussing this with companies.

You know how important it is to have quality employees and how crucial retention is to your organization.  But are you wondering how to make your chronically ill employee more productive?

This scenario may have happened before your eyes – that star employee used to be very productive but recently was diagnosed with a medical issue.  Maybe they have turned into that mediocre employee – or worse, a bad employee.  If you want to learn how you can turn that employee back into a more productive employee, this discussion is for you.

You can contact Julie at:
Email -
Website -
Phone - 402-520-0255
Link to book -


Welcome to the You Don't Know What You Don't Know podcast, by Innovative Business Advisors, successful business owners who have started, grown and led businesses share their journey and direction for the benefit of those traveling the same path. All



right, so let me tell you guys a little bit about this wonderful woman who's joined us tonight. Julie Hamilton is a human resource professional with over 20 years of experience. In 2009, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Now, as a Human Resource Director, she knew all the resources to use and all the tools that were available to her, calling on the Family Medical Leave Act, various workplace accommodations, and other resources in order to be able to do the task of her job as she was struggling with his disease. So she really didn't need to worry about her job when she had to take time off for flare days or medical appointments. But what happened in a relatively short period of time is she went from rarely taking time off, all of a sudden, she was taking two to four days a month off to deal with this. And then after relocating to Ohio, her chronic illness made it impossible to work. So she began to study to become a Certified Fibromyalgia Coach, and she really learned how to manage her own disease. So she really has gone from being in bed 90% of her life, to now where she walks three miles a day, and is a runner, and has even participated in her first 10k. And now professionally, she helps other professionals who have fibromyalgia maintain a career and regain their active social life. Her goal is to help companies create an inclusive environment for the chronically ill and assist them in implementing policies to benefit the employee and the employer. She understands what it takes to make it work and can educate both the company and the employee on how this collaboration can work for both of them. Julie, we're honored to have you this evening and thank you very much for giving us your time so that you can help employers in our community and our networks really understand what can happen when chronic illness affects people at work. So thank you for being with us.



Well, I'm excited to be here and share my passion that I have for this chronic illness message that I share with both individuals and companies. So, I'm excited.



So tell us a little bit your, about your story. How, how did you come to be diagnosed with this? What, what did you begin to experience and tell us how this began to change your life? Well,



I had neck surgery in December of 08, which repaired that pain, but then I started experiencing all over body pain. And I had a really great general physician, family physician. And within three months, he was able to diagnose me. Now I know a lot of people can go years without getting diagnosed. But I was one of the lucky few where my doctor was really aware of it and diagnosed me. So I was diagnosed early with it. And then I found out that my mom had it so it can be hereditary. So that's one piece I was lucky enough to have of all of the things that can cause it, going on in my life at the time, you know, high stress job, in a marriage that was not really healthy, the sandwich generation, I had trauma, I had surgery, accident, hereditary, you name it, that was me. Right there. So—Wow, lots



of, lots of factors converged on you at once, huh? Yeah,



it was a stressful time in my life and, but I overcame that and I started to learn how to manage it. And I flourished between that and taking some medications for it. So, I began to flourish on my own.



How did you begin to, I'm really curious about two, two things, two pivot points. A lot of people, and we've had a lot of people in our family that have struggled with chronic illness. You know, a lot of people kind of resign themselves to it. And it's, it's kind of sad to see that and they just kind of blindly follow whatever, whatever the doctor tells them to do and don't really take matters into their own hand. But I just heard you say you began to study it, right? And you really began to understand what was happening. What, what led you to go out and, and really, you know, become a student of this disease that affected you?



In the beginning, it was just very, very basic. Kind of like, what is it? You know, what are some of the symptoms, those kinds of things. And I kind of just gimped along for a few years. And then in 2015, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and it went into what we call a flare for four years. So I was in bed, 90 to 95% of the time. I was in so much pain. I couldn't stand taking a shower, clothing touching me, sitting up to eat, I just didn't have the energy. And so that's really when it, it hit me, I got to learn about this. What is it that changed from Nebraska to Ohio. And, you know, one thing I found out is the light bulbs we had in our house, 46 of them, I replaced all of them. Wow. You know, and it was the weather in Ohio. You know, they have less than 100 days of sun a year. It's the heightened humidity, the storm pattern sitting there. I mean, it was just all of these things. And so I really started doing Google searches and reading everything I could. And then I ran across the International Fibromyalgia Coaching Institute, and I became a certified coach, because I wanted to share with others who are going through the chronic illness that I have. Excuse me. I wanted to share what I have learned with them so they didn't have to do all the work that I had to do. And so, I really started getting my name out there and working with individuals one on one, and I've worked globally with them. And it's not that we have to meet face to face. We can do it over the phone, or we can do it over the computer. So it was easy that way. But it was just doing a lot of research, figuring out what is it that changed in my life from this point to this point. And figuring out what those changes and how that affected me. And then I started delving down into energy and, and diet and sleep, just down, down, down down. And that's what I take my clients through now is all of that gamut.



How common is this?



You know, it's probably more common than you think. I think right now there's probably about 7 million individuals in the US that have it. Wow. But they say six out of 10 individuals have a chronic illness, and four out of 10 have two or more. So, let's take your workplace setting. If I would ask you do you have any anybody with a chronic illness that's an employee there? No, no, we don't have any. Well, that's because you're not aware of it or they're too scared to tell you. Okay. So I'm pretty sure you have a few people that have at least one if not more. And like we were talking about, I think that more and more people are going to be diagnosed with all the stress and everything that happened during the pandemic. And then long COVID, all the effects from that. So I think just as we live here in the US more stress, more pressure. And especially with women, we think we can do it all, you know, we got to have that really good high paying job, we got to be the great mom, we got to be the great wife, have the clean house, our kids have to be involved. And we put all that pressure on ourselves and we put everybody first but we don't take care of ourself first. And we’ve got to change that thought process as well.



And yet you still outlive us men. I know.



But like for my disease, fibromyalgia is more prevalent in women than men. But of course, there's other diseases for chronic illnesses. And a chronic illness is anything that lasts long term. It's not something you get over in six months. It's long term, and you repeatedly seek medical attention. So, it could be heart disease, diabetes, cancer, you know, stroke, lupus, thyroid issues, just a whole gamut of stuff.



Yeah, we, we've had a couple of couple of members of our organization that experience that. We had one key member of our company was in a coma with COVID for 45 days. So, a very long recovery coming out of, coming out of that. And, you know, thank God he, he did fully recover. So it's been, been a real blessing. And then as I shared with you earlier, we've got, you know, another member of our organization that is suffering with long COVID. And I think the, this, the sad thing about COVID is it's so new, that they don't really have any of the medical answers yet. So there's a lot of experimentation. Yes. And this this this long, COVID is a real thing.



Yep, absolutely. Absolutely. And a new challenge for him. Yep. And one thing we as a society need to remember, not all chronic illnesses or disabilities are visible. Okay. So, I have something, but you can't tell it if you just look at me. If I use a cane or a walker or a wheelchair, yeah, you do. But there's so many more illnesses and diseases that you don't use those other things. So--



Yeah, that's, it is, it is true. And it's the, I worry a bit about the younger generation too, because I've been reading some of the statistics of the amount of kids in college and so forth, that are on, you know, various types of medication being treated for emotional illnesses and emotional, emotional disabilities. Truly. Yeah. Yeah.



Mental Health. Yes. Striking. Yeah.



It's striking. So, you know, you, you endeavored to learn all you could about the disease, right? And I imagine that helped break you out of this four year flare at some



point you-- Yeah, that, and that, and we relocated-- okay-- to Arizona. Because I found out for me personally, and it's different for everyone, okay, that I don't do well, with the weather patterns and the high humidity. So here in Phoenix, I thrive. Because it's warm, we have sunshine almost daily, you know, very little. And we have low humidity. Excuse me. So I'm able to get out there. You know, outside I'm hiking, I'm walking, I’m running, I’m biking. I'm doing all those things that I could not do when I lived in Ohio. I just like to be active. And that's one of the reasons that I tried to figure out what I could do for myself to feel better is because at the time I was diagnosed, I had young kids at home. I can't remember if they were maybe in grade school, you know, and so I had a lot of years that I had to keep up with them. I was a single mom for a while. And, you know, you just want to be with them and teach them and support them the whole way and I had to do something to change my lifestyle or my health so I could be there for them.



Yeah, yeah, they're great motivators in that regard. Yeah. But you would, you went beyond learning about it, you actually went and began the process of becoming a certified coach. So, you know, again, I think you were, you were that rare individual that doesn't just follow the doctor's orders, you went out and learned everything you could about it. And then, again, another switch kind of flipped and you became a coach. Tell, tell us a little bit about, you know, what led you to to that decision and then you know that, I know you've got to invest a lot of time and effort to go get those certifications. So that was another major commitment and life change. Yeah.



For me, I was in the HR field, and I was always, I developed mentor programs and I've always had the joy of working with people to make them have, be better at what they're doing or have that, to have a better life. So I've always had that mentorship and I kind of see coaching as that. So I wanted to take these people in. I know that's kind of derogatory, but individuals with challenges with chronic illnesses and help them make their life better so they could have a life full of joy. And I think that's important because when we wake up in the morning, it's our mindset can help determine the kind of day we're gonna have. You know, if I wake up and I'm negative I'm gonna have a crappy day, and I'm gonna feel bad and things are just gonna go downhill all day. But if I wake up with a positive mindset, I can make myself feel better and I can determine I'm going to have a good day. And I think that's just starting with that aspect and doing, changing our mindset and going from there can also help our health. And then I just took it a step further and taught people what I had learned and how I learned to manage my health, what they could do to manage their health.



So-- Yeah, wonderful. Yeah, that's, that's quite a change. But instead of going back to being a human resource professional, you decided to go full time into coaching.



I did, I did. To be honest, I just knew I couldn't work the hours in the high stress than an HR position has. Yeah. And I would tell you, I loved my job. I absolutely loved it. I am one of those HR geeks and I just thrive on all that stuff everyone else hates. Cool. But I knew that I couldn't work those long hours and demands and all the stress anymore because Fibro had taken the toll on my body and all of that. And so I decided to switch my, my passion into helping others so it's still kind of that mentorship coaching area.



Do you find you get at least as much satisfaction from your coaching job as you did from your HR professional life?



I do. And the reason is, because with my, with my clients, you know, they're struggling at work to have their bosses understand what they're going through, or they don't know anything about Family Medical Leave Act, or what accommodations or disabilities. And that's really where I can take that HR hat and I can take that mentorship coaching hat, put those together and help my clients navigate the system with their, with their job. But then-- Yeah. And through that, I have found that companies don't know what to do. They don't know how to work with us. And so I kind of took my HR hat and my clients, what I'm hearing from them, and put that together and came up with this idea of how, how to help companies learn how to work with someone with a chronic illness.



So that's fascinating. I want to come to that in just a second. Okay. So part of that was, you went from basically working for someone else, being an employee in an organization to now creating your own company, becoming your own boss, if you will. Yeah. Had you ever, had you ever had your own company before or been around folks that that had their own companies? Were you exposed to that much?



I hadn't actually owned something but I had like a part time job, direct sales, you know how, how you can sell Tupperware, or baskets, or jewelry or all those side companies. So I had, over the years I've done a couple of those kinds of things to bring more income. Especially when I was a single mom, I needed some additional income. So I did a few of those. So it's kind of like, just organizing your time is really it and, and being, knowing what you want to get done for the day, making sure you did not get distracted by all those things like the laundry or that cleaning or anything else that happens when you're working from your home so-- Yeah, 



working from home is a blessing and a curse, isn’t it? Yes it is. Absolutely. When you first began your journey of working for yourself, what, what surprised you the most? What were you, what did you not anticipate either good or bad?



You know, in my line of business, the first thing, I just thought, well, once people find out I'm a Fibromyalgia Coach and, and I have fibromyalgia, of course they want to work with me. They're gonna



beat the way to your door, right?



Oh, yeah, they're all coming. Come on, come on, you know. And what I found is a lot of people want a magic pill to make them feel better. They don't want to do the hard work to make themselves feel better. And it is hard work. And you may have setbacks before you go all the way forward, you know, baby steps and two steps forward one step back. Those kind of things. It’s not easy to change your life. No, it's not. No, it's not.



Yeah. So, from, am I hearing you say that from the surprise, there was a, you discovered you had to do a little sales and marketing and get out your own bugle and blow your own horn a little bit?



Yeah, and I've never been very good at that. Never been very good about talking about my strengths, or what I do well, or selling myself. Because I've always been HR. HR benefits, you know, and I sold the company, I can sell a benefit, I can, I can do all that, but not myself. So yeah, that was my biggest struggle, I think.



Okay. What, what's the thing you're most proud of, and you're running your own business now for several years.



Just seeing all the people that I've helped, you know, that's my reward to know that I have helped those individuals. And every once in a while, I'll get an email from somebody that says, or a text even, you know, thank you, you've taught me how, all these coping skills for moving forward. And really, that's the most rewarding thing for me.



That's awesome. Yeah, fantastic. So, let me transition a little bit. Talk to me about we, we, we of course, as you know, have this book series called You Don't Know What You Don't Know. And the, we used to, my partner and I used to say the phrase so often in our business that we said, hey, we're gonna make that the title of our book, because we were always talking to business owners about that kind of stuff. I am, I've got to be relatively certain that a lot of business owners don't have any idea how to deal with chronic illness at work. And I was sharing with you before we got started how one of my clients today told me about, they were just going through this experience beginning today for the first time. And that was the whole topic of the conversation. So, share with us a little bit, what do you, what do you find with with business owners, what are some of the, what are some of the biggest surprises for them and what do you teach them that they don't know but really need to know, in order to effectively, you know, work this through with their employees.



I, I take things for granted that if you're in HR, you know the laws and you know your policies and you know how to administer them correctly. That's not always the case. Particularly in small business. Yes, particular, or employees don't know where to go to ask for leave or job accommodations. So, I think there's a little miscommunication or, or not miscommunication but lack of communication there, for one. I think that really knowing your own policies and how to administer them according to the law is so important. And also, confidentiality. I think that's huge in companies. And I'm gonna date myself here, because I've talked about the water cooler, but it's, but coffee machine, I don't, I don't care gathering--  Break room-- Break room. Yeah, whatever you want to call it. And you know, you, a manager might be set, two managers and five subordinate workers all in the break room, and the managers are talking loudly about how Julie has this chronic illness and she's missing a lot of work and, and, you know, what do I do with her and all that. Well, it's nobody's business, and especially a manager to manager shouldn't know, at all, it's only the people that are on a need to know basis, like the manager and HR, basically. And the, the subordinates or co workers don't need to know, other managers don't need to know, because I, maybe I don't want anybody to know. Maybe I'm such a private person I don't share any of that. You know, that's important. So I think just training in general, everyone in your company is important. And just communicate how to do things. And deadlines. I mean, there's, as you can see, I just keep coming up with all of these things. But there's just so many things that go along with it and you know, that can throw something out so easily, so.



Yeah, and those, many of those things you talk about, we, you know, I've been around longer than you have in that regard. But we used to think of those things as the fundamentals so, you know, I'm shocked in the world today that training, for example, you know, go to any fast food restaurant with, with one or two exceptions, and I always call out Chick Fil A as the, as the easiest exception to make, man, it just seems like training has gone the way of the buggy whip. You know, they just don't, companies just don't seem to do it anymore. No. And you see that everywhere you go, and every, every business that you interact with. And I think we do people a disservice by not providing that level of training. When I was first starting, you know, they, they put me through a full mentorship. I had to, you know, I basically, started in the restaurant business and my first 90 days, you know, were basically starting as a, as a, you know, a busser, working my way up to dishwasher and then you know, I had to do all the back office and all that, all the front office before I could go in and run my own, run my own location, right. Right. And nobody does that anymore. No,



no, they don't. And I think training is so important but I think we also find ourselves that we're trying to do more with less. And so that's the piece that kind of gets overlooked.



And I think we've been a little bit, and I'll get off my high horse after this, but I think we've been a little deceived by, you know, right person, right seat. And I heard someone late in my career say, No, the way to really think about it is you're designing a job so that the average person working at the average pace can fulfill the requirements of that job, right? You're, quit looking for the exceptional in every particular position. Yep. Your, your, your role is to find, create the work to fit the person rather than trying to find some superhuman person that can do more with less, as you said, yeah.



Yeah, because I think you will always have that position open. Right. Because that person could be one in 100 or one in a million that could do that exact thing the way you want it. Yeah, yeah. So



it's, it's interesting. The, the, what's the biggest thing outside of confidentiality? Do, do employers embrace what you bring to them in that regard? Do they, are, are they surprised and give, give us a general sense of what you experience when you're working with the employer side of it. And then I want to talk about, you know, the employee that's going through this, what's, what's their experience? I



think that there's still some pushback, they don't see the need in it. But what I try to stress to them is if you learn how to work with someone with a chronic illness, it can affect your bottom line. And they're like, Well, yeah, because they're gone all the time and we have open positions. I said, but if you learn how to work with them, you know, you're not going to have all those open positions, your turnover is going to reduce, your absenteeism is going to reduce, your medical costs are going to reduce, you know, so all of that affects your bottom line. And if you think about how, what recruiting costs, and you know, depending on the position it can be, to replace one person, depending on the level, it's almost 1.5 of their salary. And you know, if you could save that by 10 people. And



the time, you know. Yeah.



And the time it takes, yeah. Exactly. So I think that's important to realize, you know, you may have had a stellar employee that is now struggling because they've just been diagnosed with long COVID or a chronic illness or something and so they decrease. But if you learn to work with them and understand what they're going through and adjust things that accommodate things for them, they can maybe be that stellar employee again.



Do you find employers are pretty receptive to that when you basically explain it to them in those terms?



They, they still have a little pushback on that. I guess, you know, they they're just not understanding it yet but I think if, once they get into the thick of it and really get it rolling, then they'll appreciate it. Does that make sense? It



does, it does. And I think part of that is, you know, we all got to kind of stretch into the learning zone when we're faced with something we just don't know much about. Because it's so new. Yeah, and we push, we push back on what we don't know about. That was, as I think about the employees, I mean, I can only imagine for the employee themselves, they're not only dealing with this chronic illness, but it's compounded by, you know, probably guilt and, and, and worry about what's going to happen with work and their livelihood and all that. So completely different perspective on the other side of the table, I'm imagining. Share with us, share with us what you find.



I find that I really stress to ask if the company and the employee meet the guidelines for Family Medical Leave. I really stress that if an employee needs that to go on it. And I, I kind of have made a checklist for them to make sure that the form’s filled out right and they meet the deadlines. Because when they're in a flare, which is unpredictable, when it occurs or how long, you know, what they should be doing is being at home and, and taking care of themselves. Instead of worrying about their job. Am I going to lose my job and you know, the stress of all that. They should just be thankful they're able to stay home. The other thing is with job accommodations, they don't know what to ask for. You know, they don't know what they can ask for, what is too much, or, you know, what if it's rejected. And I had one company that their HR department said, No, we want you to go to the doctor every 30 days and get it recertified. And I said, No, that's not the law. And so I had to go back and say, No, that's not the law and explain that to him. You know, so I've helped with that. And then I've also helped individuals with disability, when they're out, you know, just, I come in kind of like a doctor with the notes and how we've met and what we've worked on to feel better to help them get that disability when they're off work for a while.



Yeah, it's awesome. Sounds like, it sounds like you're able to make a big difference on both sides of the table. Yeah. And get them to work together.



Yeah. I think that's been a really good tool for both for both sides and both areas. Because I think that when someone with a chronic illness goes to work, we should make sure, or feel that we're, can do our job, and we're part of the culture and I want the companies to create that culture of inclusivity. You know, where, where everyone is a part of it, and not just shunned because you missed 10 days or, you know, just mesh these two worlds together. So, but yeah.



It's fascinating. Do you, do you ever read many business biographies?



Yes, I do.



Have you ever read Henry Ford's biography?



No. I'm going to have to now.



Yeah, now you gotta go read it. Because he, I think he has a chapter but certainly a very extensive session section on, he was, you know, he was the first in many regards, right? First big company and all that kind of stuff. But one of the things he was the first at was accommodations for people that had disabilities and illness. And he has a, he writes in his biography, he writes his philosophy in that regard. And it's, I often say, I wish, I wish they would make it required reading in business school. Oh, yeah.



That would be awesome. That'd be amazing.



Yeah. Yeah. In any event it's, it's really fun to watch you light up as you're talking about what you do. So I can see this brings you an awful lot of satisfaction and joy. Yeah,



it really is a true passion of mine. And, and, and to be honest, for a long time, I never talked about my illness. I was, didn't want people to judge me and I thought you know, that's not a way to live and the stress of people finding out, you should be more open and I think that's what's really also helped me in changing my mindset every morning when I got up.



That's incredible. That's, that's a big thing. That is the big thing. Absolutely, absolutely. Listen, you, you're now the authority on this. You've written a book on it. Yes, I have. So tell us a little bit about your book? Where can, where can people find it? And then I'd like you to tell us how can people get in touch with you if they'd like to learn more, and then potentially talk with you about engaging your services for them personally or for their business?



Okay. So, my book is called Chronic Illness at Work, How Managers Can Support Employees with Chronic Illness, and it's available on Amazon. So you can go there and order it. And it's just kind of, kind of explains to employers things that they should go through and checklists, and also has some case studies in there so they can really do some real time learning is kinda without actually, me actually being there, but some learning through that kind of stuff. So I think that's really good for them. But they can contact me through my website, which is Or they can send me an email at jhamilton@coaching



Wonderful. Well, Julie, it's been a delight to meet you and to have this discussion with you today. I know it'll be beneficial for business owners. You're going to be there when they need you the most and when they face these things. And we know the odds are not in their favor. Eventually, it's going to catch up with them. And they're going to say, if they've got employees, they're going to experience this at one point or another. So, we're delighted to be able to point them to an outstanding resource in that regard. And we just want to say God bless you in the work you do. Thanks for coming to join us today.



Well, thank you for having me. It's been a great time. I've had a lot of fun sharing it, my information.



Well you certainly light up as you're, as you're going through this, and it's it's always fun to talk with people that are so inspired by their work and I'm sure you will be helping an awful lot of people, so thank you.



Thank you.



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