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!

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