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 thoughts on “What doesn’t kill you….”
really sweet post…great to still have you here 🙂
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.
Nice, for if that makes you happy then it is the right decision. I think of coming back to new York, though I am not sure if I will love it as much as I did in my wild days 🙂
Funny, the city itself becomes a character in your life. Nothing like the streets and the dynamics of this place to keep you inspired. And inspiration knows no age limits.
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.
Thanks for your comment. Glad that you found the post valuable. And have a swell 2012.
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.
I hope you have a wonderful new year too. I hope whatever your personal struggles are, become history soon.
Lovely post, as per usual, Om. Speaking of, I think you owe me an Espresso? 🙂
Thanks nick. Expresso is yours on demand 🙂 when are u back.
Thanks for catching the typo 🙂
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.
How well put Blake – winning is doing less
Thank you for making me stop and think for a few minutes.
Glad to help. :). Thanks for reading.
To the next 4 years and many more to come.
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.
Trying to arm twist Kevin Tofel to do a podcast with me 🙂
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.
It is the little things 🙂
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.
Friends and family kept me going. 🙂 u know it brother
awesome post Om … quite inspiring
Great post Om. I will take it to heart. See you on TWiT 🙂
See you on TWiT Dan 🙂
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.
Nice. I am putting that on a sticky and pinning it to my desktop. 🙂
Great perspective. I look at what you’ve done over the last 5 years and it’s been amazing! You and another media rebel, Leo Laporte, are inspiring!
Glad to have you around. Best wishes for years to come.
Thanks Chetan for being part of the life since.
“stop evaluating life by the moment and instead live in the moment.” Very well said Om.
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…”
Thanks for sharing Robert. I hope I can stay as positive as you have over many years.
Om, this is great. I’ll be honest that I never really visited GigaOM. This post changed that. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the kind words. Hope we as a team can live up to your attention.
I hope.. I got 40-50 more years to read your writings and believe it would happen…. thanks for sharing this OM
I coulnd’t agree more with Charlie!! Sweetest post i’ve seen in days :P. KEEP IT UP BUD!
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
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.
Awesome and motivational read. Much success in life Om!
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. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/01/hitchens-201201
His photo in that article is in stark contrast to the one on his ‘contributing editor’ profile: http://www.vanityfair.com/contributors/christopher-hitchens
I will miss him. And yes, I was more lucky than him. I think that is what reminds me to do what I think is the right things to do. Appreciate your comment.
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.
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.”
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
Thanks Stefano. I am pretty sure the team is going to be thrilled to hear about your sentiments.
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
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 🙂
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!
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?
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.
Bravo! Love reading your writing and learning from you. Thank you.
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.
Amen to that.
Beautiful. You are a powerful inspiration my friend.
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
Thanks Cameron. I hope we all have great times in 2012 and beyond.
Wonderful post. Sometimes the tech blogosphere lacks the human element as the subject matter is inherently a bit dry. Happy New Year!
but from your other blog, it looks like you are back on coffee.
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.
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.
First comment on Gigaom: glad you are still with us :). Congrats on the success – in life and more.
Beautiful, Om, simply beautiful.
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.
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 a thoughtful and helpful post.
Ben La Marca always told me you were a great writer. Was is Ben always right? Thank you for sharing. Happy birthday
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.
Damn auto correct. The word is Why is Ben ….