4 Days in a Heart Hospital
4 Days in a Heart Hospital
And my new 10 rules for life that resulted.
*Note: if discussions that touch on spirituality in any shape bother or offend you, this might.
** Notes 2 and 3: If you’re looking for something about sales, or strategy, or people management, you’ll be disappointed. Ditto if you want some humorous story about one or all of my kids.
Credit: The Llano River, Texas.
I spent 4 days in March in a heart hospital. Nine different cardiologists or electrophysiologists reviewed my case. One couldn’t wait to get a pacemaker in me (but he wasn’t associated with the hospital).
Not exactly what I had planned for my family’s spring break. Fortunately, friends took our kids and showed them a great time. They all four told us they had the best week of their lives. While their father was awaiting his fate.
Here’s the short version of the story:
The morning we (this involves kids, so there you go) were to begin our spring break and head to a little dude ranch in Texas, my heart rate was noticeably slow. For those of you asking how I knew this, I have a superpower where I can sometimes feel/hear my heart rate. And it was slower than normal. That’s all I can say about that.
Getting out of bed to head to the restroom, I wobbled a little and had to sit. Because I’m a man, and still coming out of my 30s, I shook it off.
It happened again later that morning but I just kneeled down. My wife and I assumed vertigo. And then I drove us 2.5 hours away. Not my best decision-making to date.
That night, my heart rate again felt really slow so I timed it, and found it in the mid-high 30s. The next morning, we had an EKG done, and the attending physician basically told me to get myself to an ER or cardiologist. Unfortunately, I chose the latter and saw a doctor with the bedside manner of a mortician. He told me I needed a battery in my chest and wires in my heart.
As an 8 on the enneagram, I didn’t listen and left (my wife drove this time). The next morning, with dizziness and chest pains kicking in, we headed to the heart hospital of Austin. (Big plug here for these doctors – the absolute opposite of what I’d seen at the first cardio: professional, compassionate, humble, kind, thoughtful.)
I spent the next 4 days in a hospital bed, having tests run, talking to doctors, and wondering what was next.
Supposedly it has to do with hormones, but I’m thinking stress building up over a decade plus led me to this point.
So what now?
First, I didn’t have a heart attack. Just a low heart rate and a partial block not related to my arteries.
Second, I’m fine, and even if I weren’t, there are great doctors and technologies out there.
Third, just because I’ve written these lessons down doesn’t mean I have some magical answers. Post-release, I had over 6 weeks of chest pains doctors believe stem from anxiety. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. But it’s real.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about since then.
These aren’t supposed to be Moses-coming-down-from-the-mountain truths for you or anyone else to abide by. They are, however, what I’ve been thinking and starting to actually apply in my own life.
Take them as such.
Would I be Cougar from Top Gun? Remember, he lost his edge when he got too close.
Probably not. I’m still too stubborn and ornery (think Shrek) to not want to do things my way. I’m just learning to do it, well, better.
Maybe these instances in our lives are here to help us wake up, not just scare us.
Comparison is a wicked, ruthless, insidious virus.
Nothing out there can hold Comparison’s jock. It steals joy, satisfaction, contentment, and whispers repeatedly as you lie in bed at 2 am, “So what? You didn’t do X. So-and-so and everyone else with a bit of talent and brains did. What have you done with your life? The clock is running out and you can’t catch up.”
Someone out there has a great and simple one liner on how to handle Comparison. It’s not worked for me as I’ve been conditioned to keep score my entire life – first in school, then in sports, then in school again, and then in sales and business. So, I have some conditioning to undo. I’m just using a blackjack over the head of this intruder. That, and a lot of long walks in prayer.
What I’m coming to terms with is that my life is not anyone else’s, and I have to work out what I do and how I keep score. (Please, no emails on how to keep score or stop keeping score.)
Victor Frankl’s Mans’ Search for Meaning (go read it right now if you haven’t) has this quote: ““It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
My job is to do the work before me.
Right now, that’s not raise a 10 mm series A. Or sell to Vista Equity. Or buy a ranch. Or IPO. Or make some list of people under a certain age.
What’s the work? For me, it’s knowing God. Loving my wife. Being present for and raising my kids. Knowing who I am and how I’m made. Figuring out how to serve my clients really, really well. Growing the company I’m in.
There are things I want to do: build my own (non-consulting) company. With great partners. Buy a ranch (without water moccasins in the water). Spend a summer or year in Italy with my family.
But that’s not today. And who knows? It may never come. I have something before me to do, and while to many people it sounds like giving up or punting on a dream, I’m finding I need to work well on what’s in front of me, because it’s there for a reason.
Either God’s provision, my decisions, or both. And I’m responsible for what I do now.
You? I can’t say. For me, I’m fighting every day with Comparison to keep him from having a say in my life.
Sometimes the standard wisdom doesn’t help.
For me, that sounds like, “You need to be doing X by age Y. You need to have $A by age B.”
I’m 100% positive I’m behind on all those metrics. And it’s had me stressed and anxious.
Here’s one problem with that wisdom you find coming from people on places like Twitter and Linkedin: it works for them. But if it causes chest pains, it’s part of the problem.
It’s not helping. Know what does? Doing the work in front of me.
Take it easy.
Great song by The Eagles. It’s also becoming a mantra when clients or companies I work in or for get wound up. I have to ask myself, “Is this worth my health?”
Things tend not to be as bad as people think, or as great as people think when it comes to business. We’re better off playing long-term games and building for the long-term.
If the people I’m with aren’t wired that way, or aren’t thinking that way, I’m probably in the wrong spot. Sometimes it’s me, not them.
There are 4 kids and a wife at home counting on me to come home, not just solve problems and hit numbers.
I realized that if I’m going to believe, I’m going to believe. Meaning, if you talk to me about my faith in God, I’ll tell you. But the rubber hits the road when I actually have to, well, have faith His handling of my affairs related to decision-making, health, money, and all the rest.
It’s one thing to say I believe. It’s another to not stay wound up so tightly I land in a heart hospital.
Some of you think this is absolutely insane. I can respect that.
But I believe there’s a God at work, in the macro, and in my micro. If I’m going to believe that, I have to assume He can handle my work, career, income, and purpose better than I can or have to date.
So I’m resolving to do a little more believing. Jesus, when asked what the work of God was, replied, “To believe in the one He has sent.” Didn’t say anything different. Belief is work enough.
Every time I’ve worked in or with any company, I have found I do best when I focus very deliberately on a handful of things where I can make a real difference. Everything else I should ignore as much as possible. They just don’t matter.
One of my first acts post hospital was to say no to meetings that didn’t immediately deal with my function. Meetings stress me out because they keep me from working, and they often have too many people in them, and they go longer than they need. We can probably get it done with an email or a quick phone call.
Know what else comes out of meetings? More action items.
I’m not opposed to work. I probably work 10 or so hours per day. It’s about asking, “Is this work really material? Is it relevant? Does it get us closer to the goal line?”
The second piece of doing less is saying no to things like introductory conversations, or “just checking in” conversations, or that potentially helpful conversation with that person who is an expert in the space. I’m sure some author somewhere is saying, “Well, you need to take those conversations,” but that dude isn’t in my life, and I’m not trying to climb someone else’s ladder (see above). There are things that need my attention, and if something from a work standpoint isn’t in the top 3 of my list, it gets a No.
Meetings and conversations seem small, but they’re just examples of things I choose to decline right now.
Richard Koch (start reading his work if you haven’t) helped many of us begin applying the Pareto (80/20) principle to our work to get more out of ourselves and our efforts. Know what? The research bears out. Focus on less – do it better – get more done.
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast, someone once told me.
When I coach salespeople, we hammer this mantra. When I coach football, I coach kids to do new things very slowly so they actually learn how to do it and don’t look like they’re actively drowning.
You know who needs to go slow? Me. In product or service offering development. In taking on new clients. In improving one aspect of a business.
I’ve been in a hurry – at least emotionally – for 20 years. I just have to remember: Do. The. Work. Whatever is in front of me. Just do that. There’s always going to be more. I need to slow down, do it well. Then move to the next thing. Because something will always be waiting.
Do what I do well.
Remember when Vince Vaughn tried to go dramatic, and left behind his comedy? Me neither, because the movie sounded awful. It’s ok for me to play in my sandbox, with my toys.
In my consulting work, I’m having to focus on what I do well, and what comes easy to me. I’m an ok consultant. Maybe pretty good at some things. I’m damn good at the sales coaching and training piece. But I stressed myself out for some time trying to do too many things where I was average, or that were outside my wheelhouse.
It’s ok for me to do what comes naturally, and focus deeply on those things. I can always add more later.
It’s also ok for me not to be someone else.
I got out of the heart hospital and said, “Just coach and train. Everything else stresses me out. Do what I do well, and stop trying to be a Bain or McKinsey guy.”
Know how I’m wired.
My wiring is tight and intense. And I’m biased toward action.
It requires a little bit of grace for myself.
I was telling a mentor how I’m hard on my kids at times. This person said to me, “We treat our kids the way we treat ourselves. Take it easy on you first, and you’ll really start to take it easy on them.”
You know what else? I’m bent toward action, and not always building an 82 page plan, like Richard Williams. I can get by with a one page plan, but I have to have that one page plan. And stick to it. Because when I don’t have that plan, and am going based on what’s in my head, I start to get anxious, wondering if I’m doing enough. Especially when, as ALWAYS happens, someone pretending to be an expert tells you the 4 crucial things you have to do, which are rarely things you’ve done.
Stress-inducing relationships need to be suffocated.
They just can’t get any air.
This could be gossip. It could be a discussion about how someone else is screwing up.
A mentor of mine, Ed Perry, once stepped in as president of a company. First thing he said? “If you lie or steal, you’re gone. That’s easy. If you gossip, you’re fired.”
That changed the culture. Immediately.
Too much out there in the business world is a poor imitation of Game of Thrones. Or it’s just insecurity and fear. Either way, it takes time, which stresses me out, or it’s unhealthy, and that stresses me out. I’ve resolved to just not deal with it.
This, I believe, can be done with some measure of grace. For the person I’m choosing not to engage with, and ultimately, for me. It’s not helpful to be around these people.
Telling the truth.
This makes me anxious in the short-term. What will people think? What will they say? Will I lose a client? Will I go broke as a result?
A few times recently, I’ve found myself being talked down to. And I find it wasting my time.
My resolve is to say, “I think you think I don’t know this. Can we agree on what we’re trying to achieve so that we make a good use of each other’s time?”
Or I see someone behaving in foolish ways, and no one tells them.
Or someone is doing something detrimental to a relationship, a person, or a company. And no one says anything.
My resolve there is to say what no one else will. Tactfully. Respectfully. But not with concern about how I’m perceived, just for the truth.
You know why this matters? Because people need to hear the truth. No one has cared enough to tell them. And they run around like Wreck-It Ralph making a mess of things. Including their own lives.
Sometimes it’s the kind thing to do.
If I don’t, I am party to it. If I don’t, I take on more stress living in that environment. A little light goes a long way.
I don’t know how much impact these rules will have. They’re just ones I’m trying to live out to reduce my stress and anxiety.
It’s tough, because like everyone reading this, I’m wired a certain way. It’s hard to go against who we are. Remember Rocky in Rocky IV? “We can’t change anything, Adrian. All we can do is just go with what we are.”
But I gotta try since my M.O. to this point landed me some EKGs and MRIs.
Practically speaking, here are some things I’m DOING.
For all you A-type personalities who need some action items other than avoiding meetings and “doing less.”
I’ve recommitted to journaling each day. I did it for years. Is it the silver bullet to kill the werewolf of Comparison? No. But it defangs the wolfman.
I started using John Eldredge’s Pause App. If you’re not into Christian spirituality, probably not your bag. But it’s helping me slow down.
I have begun (again) using an app called Brainwave when I can’t get my mind to settle late at night. There are nights I wake up concerned about getting things done, or how something might go. I wish it weren’t the case, but it has been. This helps.
And I pray. I never really stopped. But now I’m not praying for all the solutions to my problems as much as I am praying the way I think and believe change.
Is there something in here for you?
Only you can say. But a wake up call like I had has force me to examine my life, the way I live it, and the things that help or hurt.
There’s not much pithy in this that will help you close a deal, or lead a team, or choose your next opportunity. But maybe it’ll help you in some other way that matters more.
That’s my hope. For both of us.