Blog Post

What doesn’t kill you….

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.

75 Responses to “What doesn’t kill you….”

  1. There is a difference between reading your blog/network and all the rest of media tech…here i feel there is something human, in every article, in every opinion, and that’s make the difference.

    Life is so unpredictable that nobody has the ability to know that in deep, but seems that you reached a good point in that, i wish you all the best for your future. Stefano, an italian reader

  2. Very inspiring words. I opted out of the “regular” jobs with steady income and consequently forfeited a lot of material things. This enabled me to do what was important, which was raise my two sons. As my father was dying from cancer, he had reflected on his life and told me to always remember take care of what is precious to me. I took this to heart – one thing that I was able to give to my boys was my time. I love that you said “Because it places a premium on what you have – time.”

  3. Go Om. Live rather than evaluate / Have your senses primed to notice life’s joys / Work to change what’s wrong / Accept what you cannot change / such is a life well lived.

  4. Vijaya Sagar V

    That’s beautiful a celebration-of-life post, Om. Have wonderful moments all along your life ahead :)

    You probably have heard that Christopher Hitchens (editor @ Vanity Fair, The Atlantic and a regular at others) wasn’t so lucky as you and passed away on 15/Dec. Just within a few weeks, both you and Hitchens have quoted the same words of Nietzsche (“Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker”) but in extremely contrasting styles. Here’s his piece on those words of Nietzsche.

    His photo in that article is in stark contrast to the one on his ‘contributing editor’ profile:

  5. Dean Liensdorf

    On, Thanks for sharing. Made me stop & think. It was almost 3 years ago when I to had a life changing trip to the er. That made me take stock of how I was living & the changes I’ve undertaken since have been for the better. Glad to hear all is going well with you. Have a safe & happy 2012 & I look forward to mire of your writings.

  6. Jesus Christ said:
    For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Mark 8:36-37 You escaped death this time, but in the end you will not escape death. What will happen to your soul? You might also read Luke 12:16-31

  7. Robert Bogar

    I know exactly how that feels… in February of 1992 – leap day – UCSF saved my life too… now I have an additional “birthday” as well – and mine is coming up too. I like to say, when people hear the tale – “It doesn’t change much, but it changes everything…”

  8. One of my favorite quotes that is always relevant by adding 5 years to your current age:

    “Better to be 40 wishing you were 35; than 45 wishing you were 40”.

    Congrats on making the last few years “highlight reel” worthy; and here’s to the next chapter. Live each day and make it count.

  9. Andy Abramson

    I’m glad you’re still here. I recall vividly where and when Paul called to give me the news. I asked Helene immediately for medical input as that was more important than all the rest. Paul and everyone rallied for you. Others did too. All for one reason, we knew you would be worrying about the business. As you friend, you came first. We’re all grateful to your doctors, because a world without you, would never be the same.

  10. Stephen McDonough

    Om, great reminder at this time of year. With all of the Web 2.0, instant gratification-oriented culture, it’s a great reminder to “live in the moment” while it’s there.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  11. Randy Spangler

    Great post. I am glad you have been able to realize your latent desires (I started to call them dreams, but a “dream” is not a true description of something that you really want to do.) At age 50+, I am trying to change my own direction without having a death-defying experience as a catalyst. Isn’t that what true learning is about?

    BTW, I still miss your GigaOM podcasts.

  12. Blake Johnson

    Great post. I find that the older you get the harder it is to change. I’m glad you were able to take a step back and reevaluate even in such a traditionally 24/7 industry. Sometimes winning is doing less.

  13. Caroline Kawashima

    Om, thanks for sharing such a poignant and vulnerable reflection. It made me think, question and reflect upon my own personal struggles as well. Your comment about being in a “state of existence” is so true – others may laud strength and the ability to survive as brilliance but it really isn’t so heroic as much as being present and acknowledging acceptance. May your coming year continue to be filled with grace.

  14. Neal Grillot

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Malik. It seems I have been in a sprint for 29 years of being in the technology industry. The wisdom in this blog is very meaningful to me.

  15. awaldstein

    Thanks for sharing.

    You’ve spurred the need to share here as well.

    I’m fortunate to have no traumatic event to change my life’s direction, other then knowing it was just time.

    As a native, third generation New Yorker, I moved back home to the city 3 years ago after 25 years in SF and LA in tech and entertainment.

    Traded my Audio S-4 for a subway pass, decided to work only for myself, consult to young entrepreneurs on building communities and marketplaces, and building a project around my passion, artisanal and natural wines.

    Best decision I’ve ever made. Ever day is not easy but it’s my own.