Dr. Gregory House, as you might by now know, is one of my favorite fictional characters. He is a misanthropic, social misfit who is borderline genius yet an idiot. One of his more memorable lines goes something like this – “Almost dying doesn’t change anything. Dying changes everything.”
House’s quip, while powerful on screen, doesn’t hold water, at least in my life. I do think almost dying changes everything.
Four years ago, just before midnight, I walked into the UCSF emergency room and ended up nearly dying. Call it a miracle of modern medicine or just plain, old, dumb luck — but here I am.
So today is one of those red letter days in my life that makes me reflect and think about what could have been and what is. The question that I am often asked is – have I changed? Have I learned anything?
As I look back on the past four years, it is clear to me that I am the same guy. I still notice the little things - the patina on a pair of boots, the lines on a bag, the way green chilies are sprinkled on lentils. I still obsess over ideas and the act of turning them into words for hours before I actually do. What is changed is not what I do, but how I do it.
Take my life for example: after smoking for over 25 years, I despise the smell of smoke. Single-malts have been banished from my life. Much as I love lamb chops, I would much rather eat veggies. Today, it is not about writing as many blog posts, but writing what feels right and spending time on it. As I said, how I live life has changed.
Here are some of the thingsI did to “do” life better.
- Set very simple goals for myself.
- Use binary choices to make better decisions.
- Simplification through elimination.
- Trust the people I love and work with.
The biggest lesson of these past four years is not really a lesson – more of an observation. When my life hiccuped, like it has for so many others who go through similar events, I was wondering if it would ever be same. I wasn’t too thrilled with how things had turned out. I was forced to deal with life’s unpredictability and unfortunately there isn’t a manual for dealing with that.
You just have to get up every morning and deal with it. Sometimes it is depressing and sometimes it fun. But most of the time it is just a state of existence.
One of the two promises I made to myself when I came back from the hospital – I was going to stop trying to control everything. As life’s unpredictability showed me – the best you can do is control the inputs (or your own efforts). We cannot control the outcome. The other big promise I made to myself – stop evaluating life by the moment and instead live in the moment.
Those two simple promises made a big impact on how I lived and worked. For instance, if I want coffee, I want to have what seems to be the best expresso for my taste buds – I don’t care what the reviews say. Everything I own has to have joy attached to it. When it comes to work, I stopped obsessing about how many page views I got – instead it is about writing something meaningful and valuable. It was Katie who pointed out that what I have learned is re-evaluating what makes me happy. It could also be part of growing up.
As days became weeks, months and now years, I have realized that we all make the fatal mistake of judging every instance – winning or losing. What matters is evaluating your life over a period of time, rather than scoring random events. I would argue that the past four years have added up to what could be the best years of my life – for now.
For instance, I don’t feel breathless when walking down the street. I don’t get cross with other people. Our little blog has evolved into a media company that is unique in its vision, ideals and business model. I got to host GigaOM RoadMap – a conference that has been in my head for as long as I have been writing about technology. I learned how to use my iPhone to take photos that were stuck in my head and turned to Instagram for sharing them.
I have tried many new things – some have been hard, some full of wonder, but none of them boring. So next time someone says, what doesn’t kill you, makes you better – you better believe it. Because it places a premium on what you have – time.
Thanks for listening on my re-birthday.