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. It’s good to hear that you are more health conscience these days. Everyone in this country needs to start taking better care of their nutrition and health. Good luck to you Om!!

  2. “Happy 1st Birthday”! I wanted to let you know that this is a VERY inspiring post. A few simple sentences, lots of wisdom. Here’s wishing you the very best in Year 2009.

  3. @all

    I have said it before and I say it now — thank you for being part of this recovery and helping me focus on the right things. There are too many people to identify by name but this has been a collective effort and a necessary evolution.

  4. Om,

    It is very nice of you to share your personal story with a larger audience. It is also great to see that you have made the choice that is right for you. Wish you all the best and again thank you for sharing a little part of your personal life with us. Most people do not realize the abundance of wealth they walk around with. Good health is all that one needs to be successful, happy and alive.

    Cheers!

  5. Dear Om,

    This is my first visit to your site (gigaom.com) and thank you very much for sharing ur learnings during this year.

    I am not that big to share my learnings this year, but definetly i will be learning good things in 2009 so that i can share with you.

    regards,

    Prasad Sistla

  6. Om,

    Great post. In the last several years I’ve been privileged to work with you and see you turn what you thought was a setback into an incredibly clarifying and empowering event. You now inspire us not only with your words (as you have done for years), but also with your actions. Thank you.

    Great post and even greater year, but the greatest is still to come.

    Jon

  7. Om, as a fellow member of the “you can knock me down but you can’t keep me there” you know how impressed I am with your changes. It does get easier believe me and feels great as it should. The mental adjustment is the hardest part and the most life-changing. Take care my friend.

    @Aronski, I too had a bypass at the early age of 45. That was 8 years ago and I’m going strong. If you’d like to get in touch please email me. jk AT gigaom DOT com. Meanwhile you may find the chronicle of my bypass “event” of interest:

    http://jkontherun.blogs.com/jkontherun/2004/07/from_the_heart.html

    The bypass after-effects do fade with time. Take care.

  8. Om,

    I enjoy hearing about your successes, and I pray that more will come. Congratulations with your new healthy outlook on life, especially quitting smoking. I know firsthand that is not an easy feat. It took me many tries and fails before I succeeded. (I’ve been smoke-free 3.5 years now.) Again, congratulations.

    Dene’ from Shawnee, Oklahoma

  9. @Stephanie,

    I actually do eat mostly veggie stuff but sometimes when I have to go, I would go eat fish. I appreciate your concerns though and agree with you.

    Also, when I say no meat, I mean even chicken and turkey.

  10. @All

    Thanks for your nice notes and comments. As part of my new life, I take a day off from computers and yesterday just happened to be that day.

    Again, as I said before, a lot of the recovery has happened, thanks to all the push you guys gave me. I deeply appreciated it then, and I do so now.

    Best