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.


Sally Grube

Thank you for sharing your insights – they are beautiful. 16 years ago, when I gave birth to my youngest child, I had a similar experience, as she was not supposed to live very long, and was supposed to have a horrible quality of life. Through stubborn determination on both of our parts, and learning how to manage all of her health conditions, therapies, surgeries, etc., she is now a vibrant 16 year old junior in high school. She loves every little thing in life – when it rains, she celebrates it. She taught me to value each and every day – just in case.

Abhijeet Mukherjee

Nice post, Om. Those are some wonderful changes you made I’d say. Seth Godin also recently wrote about how only worrying about the inputs and not worrying about the output makes sense. Looks like what Krishna said in Gita about “karm kar, fal ki chintaa..” was true after all. :)



Thank you for sharing this lovely piece of wisdom. Sometimes for the hard -charging amongst us, it does take trauma to remind us of what is truly enduring and important. With all the greats in the tech industry who’ve passed on in 2011, I am grateful that there those like you who continue to tell our indystey’s stories.

Jonathan Ehrlich

First comment on Gigaom: glad you are still with us :). Congrats on the success – in life and more.

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I also do not agree with Dr. House’s memorable line. I believe that facing death forces most people to reevaluate what is important. Good for you for doing such and making it better.


Happy rebirthday. I’m glad that the changes you’re making include ones to maintain good health. I’m a writer, not a techie, but I’m very interested in the ways new technology can help me do my work better. Since I signed up for GigaOm a few months ago, checking out the headlines has become part of my morning routine. Many thanks for helping me stay up to date.


Wonderful post. Sometimes the tech blogosphere lacks the human element as the subject matter is inherently a bit dry. Happy New Year!


Fantastic article, it is not too often to read something where the author is recounting a personal experience with a message and you don’t feel like there is an ulterior motive or pretension. What you wrote resonates with the ways in which I too wish to improve myself and the way I interact with the world, even without experiencing a near-death moment. So, thank you for sharing this, and it’s great to still have you here

Kent M. Ford

A professor from the Journalism School once responded to the lament that we don’t have time to design our publications better. “Do less, better,” he said. Sums up one of your thoughts well.

Angela Dunn

Bravo! Love reading your writing and learning from you. Thank you.


It’s too bad that it takes such an occurrence to get us to slow down and smell the roses. Most of us are so involved with our jobs that we don’t take the time to enjoy our families.

About House: He has become more of an ass, and I am not sure if that is supposed to be an affirmation of drug addiction, but he certainly has not improved his interpersonal relationships while off drugs … or IS he?

Om Malik

I think Dr. House is in his last season. It has to come to an end otherwise it will continue degrading and then be cancelled. Better to go out while they are still on top.

Rachna Singh

really enjoy reading most of your posts! apart from analyzing in fact/data-focussed manner, you bring in a human psychology angle too many a times which is refreshing… kind of like a thinking mind (that can look at diff. angles and reflect), not just a reporting one!

Guest from Ukraine

Hello, it’s just oriental vision of live. Come in Russia or Ukraine, or further to the the east…we all here are living in the moment and not good in planing, control and reaching our goals… Because our cultures is enjoying process, but not result… so we often do our businesses not very good, but we are not under stresses or depress.. Look for the happy medium(we say – gold medium)…without extremes..
Happy New Year !
Ukrainian Girl :)


Lovely lovely post. :)

‘In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us. ‘Dag Hammarskjold

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