Blog Post

What I Learned This Year

Exactly one year ago today I was overcome by what seemed like a case of bad heartburn, but what the medical professionals at UCSF would later diagnose as a heart attack. Within just a few minutes, my life changed irrevocably…and in hindsight, for the better.

I hate talking about my personal life on this blog (I have another one just for my personal musings), but I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned from this year-long journey back to normalcy. At times, it felt like I was climbing a mountain using my fingernails — a feeling I’m sure many of you, faced with your own personal travails and some of the biggest economic challenges we’ve ever known, can relate to.

Lesson #1: Set simple goals

When I came back from the hospital on Jan. 17th, I made a silent pledge to myself: I am going to do whatever it takes to make it to the first anniversary of my heart attack.
I am not a big advocate, however, of simply surviving. Rather I want to feel a sense of winning, on a daily basis. In order to do this, short-term goals had to supplant those focused on the long term. The result has been two good weblog posts a week, two great conversations a day, and more smiling, day and night.

Lesson#2: Binary choices help make better decisions

When faced with a binary choice — live or die — I made the following upgrades:

  1. After a 40-Dunhills-a-day-habit for nearly 20 years, I stopped smoking.
  2. No more cigars, either. 
  3. No drinking. 
  4. No red meat. 
  5. Caffeine, sugar, salt and all unhealthy foods are now banished from my diet.
  6. I go to the gym every single day.

Making such drastic changes wasn’t easy, but they offered me the best chance of staying alive — and 50 pounds and 12 months later, have clearly worked.

Help my favorite charity, UCSF

How to prevent a heart attack? Prevention Tips Page.Take a moment to check it out and see if you need to visit the doctor. Prevention, is much better than the cure.

Given the fact that UCSF folks saved me from near disaster last year, they are my favorite charity. I am trying to help them raise some cash for their various heart-disease related efforts. If you would like to help, then send them a check — however small (or big) — you can afford.

  1. Make checks out to “UCSF Foundation”
  2. Please write in the notes area of check “OM/Cardiovascular Research Initiative”
  3. Mail Checks To: UCSF Foundation, UCSF Box 0248, San Francisco, CA 94143-0248.

Lesson #3: Simplification through elimination

A culture that emphasizes success, like the one here in Silicon Valley, can make setting parameters especially hard. Lucky for me, my cardiologist, Dr. Eddie Rame, came right out and told me that unless I stopped working more than 10 hours a day I would be back in the hospital.

In doing so, he set parameters for my daily work schedule, leaving it up to me to be figure out how I would be most productive. Those parameters helped me make tough choices -– like cutting back on excessive public appearances, travel, frivolous RSS feeds and unnecessary company pitch meetings.

One year later, nearly 75 percent of my conversations are with people I love to converse with and nearly every topic on which I write (or focus) is something that I care deeply about.

Lesson#4: In your team you should trust

One of the biggest fallacies of modern life is that one person, alone, can achieve great things. If that were indeed the case, then A-Rod would have won a World Series title. Life and startups are no different than sports teams.

Before I got sick, it was hard for me not to interfere in every single decision that was made here at GigaOM. Of course, in my absence the staff soldiered on, and were able to not only keep the company running but growing.

When I returned, I had to choose to let go — which I did, albeit reluctantly. The results were astonishing. As a company we grew over 150 percent, acquired two excellent weblogs, hosted three sold-out conferences, named Paul Walborsky as our CEO, Carolyn Pritchard as our managing editor and raised enough capital to thrive during the economic downturn.

As I’ve written before, when you empower people, they, in turn, empower you. Remember that –- especially when things get really, really tough.

Before I go, I will leave you with these words from Indian philosopher Mahatma Gandhi:

“Live as if you would die tomorrow, learn as if you would live forever.”

Happy holidays, and thanks for helping me make it to today!

99 Responses to “What I Learned This Year”

  1. Dear Om, thank you for sharing.

    Eckart Tolle comments that stress is a personal decision – and that when we stress our bodies out to the max, the only way our body has of crying ‘help’ is to fail in some way.

    So you actually have to drive yourself to be ill, to get well again!

    Hope you survive 2009!


  2. Thanks for sharing this, Om, and glad you are here to write this. It’s both personally inspiring as well as a nice collection of ponderings to kick off the new year… with a general theme of simplifying, paring down, prioritizing. Happy 2009.

  3. Om,

    wishing you a happy and peaceful 2009. thank you for all the wonderful stories and discussions of 2008 – quoting pinter (RIP), “apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?” and you help chip away at the unknown bit by bit all year and i am thankful to you and your staff for a wonderful product you put out day after day.

    looking forward to more in ’09


  4. Crawfordbrand

    Thanks for this.
    And for the ongoing example.
    Just as important as what you’ve given up, let go, is what you’ve added – the servant-leader approach and, of course, Monk.

  5. So many clueless people. Dr’s are in business. I’m not going to waste anyones time so I’ll just state the facts, what I’ve learned. Jogging is incredible bad for your feet. Learning deep breathing , yoga, tai-chi are keys to health. Watch blood sugar, never spike it. Smoking will kill you. DUH! Unconditional giving is important to life. We have known these things from the beginning, “Live everyday like it is your last” sounds good. Heard it a million times. We live in the most hypocritical society, no one heeds the wisdom. “Live as if you would die tomorrow, learn as if you would live forever.” Knowledge is the greatest thing. Heartburn/heartattack, very rarely is this true. Most times heartburn is HEARTBURN. What are you eating. We take DRS advice like they were Gd. Both my parents died and my father was never the same after 3x bypass. My mother died of cancer that was missed. I found she had lyphoma by searching the internet using her blood test 5 weeks before the DR got the results. She died in 3 months. I got no help from anyone. My nieces and nephews didn’t even bother to send an email telling me sorry your mother (grandma) died. Still haven’t heard from them. The hospice people were dishonest and ending up billing medicare almost $10,000 for 7-15min visits. Doctors either scare you into $50,000+ worth of treatment or they don’t tell you the truth. They are scared of lawsuits. A majority of cases are MISDIAGNOSES. The only one you can count on in life is yourself.

  6. I woke up this a.m. to a beautiful morning and said I’d head out after a cup of coffee for a run or walk. That was 3 hours and 45 minutes ago. I’m still sitting here. Have enjoyed two cups of coffee and a nice breakfast. But this is the last blog post or Tweet I’ll read. It’s a sign to get off my ample backside and head outside! Thanks Om and all who have commented here.

  7. I’m so glad to see you rocking the world a year later my friend. You’re happy, healthier and doing great. That’s something we always wish for our friends. The only thing lacking in 2008 was that Sheryl and I didn’t get to see you, but we’ll fix that in 2009.

  8. Om, your wake-up call has produced great wisdom. Thank you for sharing.

    My prayer is the the many people like you were 12 mos. ago, and me, 13 yrs ago, will learn from what you experienced. I can live in hope,eh?

    Blessings on your future!
    @GaryFPatton in Toronto

  9. Kevin C. Tofel

    Om, so many of us are better off with your writings, thoughts and contributions. And I’m saying that from the perspective of a reader, not as a member of the GigaOM family. I’ve been a reader FAR longer than a meager contributor here. While vacationing this weekend, I’ve started to think about my own lifestyle so your insights are here are perfectly timed. There’s always from for improvement and focus, which are two of my goals for the coming year.

  10. @Aronski

    I am glad to be of help and if you need to talk, please drop me a line. I know first few months can be quite challenging and whatever happens, you have to keep an eye on the bigger goal. It isn’t what you give up, it is more about what you have. Remember that and it will work out fine.

    Please don’t hesitate to email if you ever want to chat about what is going on with you. Have a good holiday and please take your time coming back to work. No need to rush!

  11. Om; Thank you. I had a bypass 3 weeks ago at age 45 and am looking at life differently. Your post gives me your concise personal experience which now adds to the information I have been gathering in mine. Thank you for sharing what is important to you; perhaps I will echo your words in one year as well.

  12. Om, you and your network produce nothing but the highest quality content. You’re all always thoughtful, calm and you never pick fights. There’s no drama here and it starts at the top. This was always the Om MO but now clearly with your scare, you are really taking it all to new heights and this posts reflects your attitude. Looking forward to more from you and your crew in 09. Maybe I will come to one of your events this year! – Best always, Steve

  13. This is great news, Om. I’m glad to hear your lifestyle is healthy these days. Likewise, without any reason than “because,” I tossed every item in my fridge and cupboards earlier this year that contained artificial ingredients, especially (high fructose) corn syrup; and am guaranteed every meal I concoct in my apartment is made from 100% organic ingredients.

  14. As a physician watching net potatoes consumed with their sedentary lifestyle it’s fantastic to hear someone of your stature come out with a message of balance. Congratulations. While you don’t need to hear it from me, this is a remarkable sign of character.

  15. don thorson

    Thanks Om. Perspective is everything. I think it was Einstein who said “point of view is worth 20 IQ points”. Thanks for the simple reminder, clear inspiration and solid example. You should consider doing a health book “How To Survive in Silicon Valley”. I’m serious, I think it would provide a good service to the non-20 something geeks who are still driving hard and taking corners fast.

    I’m going for a jog. (first one in 8 weeks. :)


  16. Om,

    You’re looking great. I remember when Paul called a year ago today. Helene and I were in Valencia, on our honeymoon. Never was I more concerned about a friend. We’re both proud of the way you have lived for the past year.

    See you again soon,

    Andy & Helene