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:
- After a 40-Dunhills-a-day-habit for nearly 20 years, I stopped smoking.
- No more cigars, either.
- No drinking.
- No red meat.
- Caffeine, sugar, salt and all unhealthy foods are now banished from my diet.
- 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.
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!
99 thoughts on “What I Learned This Year”
Thanks for sharing. I’m thrilled to hear about your dramatically improved health and continued success in your business. Here’s to a great 2009!
You’re looking great. I remember when Paul called a year ago today. Helene and I were in Valencia, on our honeymoon. Never was I more concerned about a friend. We’re both proud of the way you have lived for the past year.
See you again soon,
Andy & Helene
Thanks Om. Perspective is everything. I think it was Einstein who said “point of view is worth 20 IQ points”. Thanks for the simple reminder, clear inspiration and solid example. You should consider doing a health book “How To Survive in Silicon Valley”. I’m serious, I think it would provide a good service to the non-20 something geeks who are still driving hard and taking corners fast.
I’m going for a jog. (first one in 8 weeks. 🙂
I am so glad to see that you are in a better place in all aspects of your life after such a challenging year.
Here to being able to say what a good year it was in December 2009.
well done om. happy and healthy 2009
Without good health nothing else matters. Happy to hear about your new healthy lifestyle. I suggest Japanese food: http://www.hungrydru.com/2008/12/25/genyadana-hamadaya-tokyo-kaiseki/
Good for you OM! I am super happy for u!
Thanks guys. I couldn’t have done it without your support. Thanks for every single word of encouragement and watching my back.
As a physician watching net potatoes consumed with their sedentary lifestyle it’s fantastic to hear someone of your stature come out with a message of balance. Congratulations. While you don’t need to hear it from me, this is a remarkable sign of character.
This is great news, Om. I’m glad to hear your lifestyle is healthy these days. Likewise, without any reason than “because,” I tossed every item in my fridge and cupboards earlier this year that contained artificial ingredients, especially (high fructose) corn syrup; and am guaranteed every meal I concoct in my apartment is made from 100% organic ingredients.
Great post Om. I’m adding going to the Gym to my to do list today. Be well!
Om, you and your network produce nothing but the highest quality content. You’re all always thoughtful, calm and you never pick fights. There’s no drama here and it starts at the top. This was always the Om MO but now clearly with your scare, you are really taking it all to new heights and this posts reflects your attitude. Looking forward to more from you and your crew in 09. Maybe I will come to one of your events this year! – Best always, Steve
Bravo, Om. A little communication, a little less conflict in this world, maybe we’ll all live as long as we should.
Have a Happy New Year.
Om; Thank you. I had a bypass 3 weeks ago at age 45 and am looking at life differently. Your post gives me your concise personal experience which now adds to the information I have been gathering in mine. Thank you for sharing what is important to you; perhaps I will echo your words in one year as well.
I am glad to be of help and if you need to talk, please drop me a line. I know first few months can be quite challenging and whatever happens, you have to keep an eye on the bigger goal. It isn’t what you give up, it is more about what you have. Remember that and it will work out fine.
Please don’t hesitate to email if you ever want to chat about what is going on with you. Have a good holiday and please take your time coming back to work. No need to rush!
Om, so many of us are better off with your writings, thoughts and contributions. And I’m saying that from the perspective of a reader, not as a member of the GigaOM family. I’ve been a reader FAR longer than a meager contributor here. While vacationing this weekend, I’ve started to think about my own lifestyle so your insights are here are perfectly timed. There’s always from for improvement and focus, which are two of my goals for the coming year.
Congratulations. Great lessons…
Have a happy an healthy new year.
Om, your wake-up call has produced great wisdom. Thank you for sharing.
My prayer is the the many people like you were 12 mos. ago, and me, 13 yrs ago, will learn from what you experienced. I can live in hope,eh?
Blessings on your future!
@GaryFPatton in Toronto
I salute you Om. Keep up the good work with your health and your awesome site. Much love! 🙂
Thanks for sharing. I am less into binary choices, though, and prefer to enjoy things in moderation while keeping a halfway reasonable work/life balance.
You might want to have a look at http://www.santegourmet.com so you can have cakes without going against your choices.
wonderful post Om.
Thanks for sharing this
and i’m happy that you are taking great care of yourself!
I’m so glad to see you rocking the world a year later my friend. You’re happy, healthier and doing great. That’s something we always wish for our friends. The only thing lacking in 2008 was that Sheryl and I didn’t get to see you, but we’ll fix that in 2009.
I woke up this a.m. to a beautiful morning and said I’d head out after a cup of coffee for a run or walk. That was 3 hours and 45 minutes ago. I’m still sitting here. Have enjoyed two cups of coffee and a nice breakfast. But this is the last blog post or Tweet I’ll read. It’s a sign to get off my ample backside and head outside! Thanks Om and all who have commented here.
Thanks for sharing this Om, that’s a very inspiring story. A good one to read as we roll into another year.
Thanks for sharing the hard fought lessons – and for your focus and keen analysis – here’s to 2009!
Congrats, Mabrook and Mazal Tov
So many clueless people. Dr’s are in business. I’m not going to waste anyones time so I’ll just state the facts, what I’ve learned. Jogging is incredible bad for your feet. Learning deep breathing , yoga, tai-chi are keys to health. Watch blood sugar, never spike it. Smoking will kill you. DUH! Unconditional giving is important to life. We have known these things from the beginning, “Live everyday like it is your last” sounds good. Heard it a million times. We live in the most hypocritical society, no one heeds the wisdom. “Live as if you would die tomorrow, learn as if you would live forever.” Knowledge is the greatest thing. Heartburn/heartattack, very rarely is this true. Most times heartburn is HEARTBURN. What are you eating. We take DRS advice like they were Gd. Both my parents died and my father was never the same after 3x bypass. My mother died of cancer that was missed. I found she had lyphoma by searching the internet using her blood test 5 weeks before the DR got the results. She died in 3 months. I got no help from anyone. My nieces and nephews didn’t even bother to send an email telling me sorry your mother (grandma) died. Still haven’t heard from them. The hospice people were dishonest and ending up billing medicare almost $10,000 for 7-15min visits. Doctors either scare you into $50,000+ worth of treatment or they don’t tell you the truth. They are scared of lawsuits. A majority of cases are MISDIAGNOSES. The only one you can count on in life is yourself.
Thanks for this.
And for the ongoing example.
Just as important as what you’ve given up, let go, is what you’ve added – the servant-leader approach and, of course, Monk.
wishing you a happy and peaceful 2009. thank you for all the wonderful stories and discussions of 2008 – quoting pinter (RIP), “apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?” and you help chip away at the unknown bit by bit all year and i am thankful to you and your staff for a wonderful product you put out day after day.
looking forward to more in ’09
Thanks for sharing this, Om, and glad you are here to write this. It’s both personally inspiring as well as a nice collection of ponderings to kick off the new year… with a general theme of simplifying, paring down, prioritizing. Happy 2009.
Dear Om, thank you for sharing.
Eckart Tolle comments that stress is a personal decision – and that when we stress our bodies out to the max, the only way our body has of crying ‘help’ is to fail in some way.
So you actually have to drive yourself to be ill, to get well again!
Hope you survive 2009!
Felicidades, Om. Keep taking care of yourself
Inspirational post, Om. “Mens sana in corpore sano”. “A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this world”. (John Locke)
All the best,
The Kitchen MC
Happy to hear your health is improving, and that you have had the mental strength and discipline to keep it going.
My best friend of 20 years back recently decided to make a similar change in his lifestyle, and has dropped from around 290 pounds to 180 pounds in less than a year (that’s from very obese to a fit looking guy in a year), and I have not seen him as happy since we where kids.
Health and happiness truly go hand in hand!
Congrats on all the great improvements, both personally and professionally. A great model of discipline and perspective.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
Om, congratulations on the turnaround in your health. And thanks for sharing such insightful words. As someone whose health is good, but whose career has been caught up in the economic downturn, I can really relate to your mountain-climbing analogy. And how “short-term goals had to supplant those focused on the long term.” Happy holidays, and here’s to a great 2009.
Way to be, Om!
Now for the hard part :
Keep it that way. NO EXCUSES .
Happy holidays to you and your team.
I like the Lesson 2
going sugarless is a great way to change things around. However, you will pry my beer out of my cold dead fingers.
Great lessons here. Thanks so much for sharing! I hope you have a happy and HEALTHY 2009.
Om – thanks for the inspiring article and thank you so very much for your support of UCSF
I am glad to hear that you are doing well James. Keep up the good work and stay nice and healthy. Have a great New Year. Make it a healthy one.
Excellent post. I am glad to hear that you’ve been sticking with your changes. 🙂
Here’s to a great 2009!
P.S. Eliminating caffeine, sugar, and beer from my diet resulted in a loss of 8 lbs for me in the last two months. It really works.
Thanks for taking the time to share these important lessons.
I hope you don’t mind that I take this opportunity to share one of my own.
Folks that read your post will see you have eliminated red meat from your diet and they will probably think it is okay to eat fish and chicken as protein alternatives.
As someone who has been struggling with my own health issues around mercury poisoning this year, I want folks to know they really need to limit their fish intake as well.
The best web resource I have found on the net that helps sift through what fish are safe to eat is found at the Environmental Defense Fund (www.edf.org) site. Look for the Seafood Selector tool under the “Oceans” section on the home page.
These folks provide all the details regarding the types of toxins found in fish as well as the recommended serving frequency for men, women and children.
I had given up eating red meat when I was a young adult and 20 years later after eating chicken and fish as my primary source of meat protein ended up with the highest levels of mercury that my doctor has seen in her entire practice! My mercury levels were literally off the chart of what they could graph in the test!
If readers take nothing else away from this comment, please stay away from Swordfish and canned white Albacore Tuna, which were the primary sources of mercury for me.
Some background on the growing mercury problem in seafood below:
The problem of mercury-contaminated fish is widespread. According to the EPA’s National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories, mercury advisories increased 163% between 1993 and 2003 (from 899 to 2,362). The number of states that have issued mercury advisories has risen steadily from 27 in 1993 to 45 in 2003. As of 2003, more than 13 million lake acres and almost 800,000 river miles were covered by some type of mercury advisory. Currently, 21 states have statewide mercury advisories in freshwater lakes or rivers, and 11 states have statewide advisories for mercury in their coastal waters. Statewide advisories urge people to limit their consumption of all fish and shellfish from freshwater or coastal areas.
What Are the Health Risks Associated With Consuming Mercury-Contaminated Fish?
Mercury targets the nervous system and kidneys. Developing fetuses, infants and young children are at the highest risk from mercury exposure, since their brains and nervous systems are still forming. Fetuses can absorb mercury directly across the placenta, and nursing infants can get it from their mother’s breast milk. This is why it is so important for women of childbearing age to minimize their consumption of fish with high mercury levels. It can take 12-18 months for women in their childbearing years to significantly rid their body burden of methylmercury.
Children exposed to mercury before birth may exhibit problems with mental development and coordination, including how they think, learn and problem-solve later in life. These neurological symptoms may appear similar to cerebral palsy. Developmental and neurological damage can be irreversible for fetuses and young children, but as children get older, the risk associated with mercury exposure decreases.
Mercury exposure can also harm adults. Symptoms can include numbness, burning or tingling of the extremities (lips, fingers, toes); fatigue; weakness; irritability; shyness; loss of memory and coordination; tremors; and changes in hearing and blurred vision. Extremely high mercury levels can permanently damage an adult’s brain and kidneys, or even lead to circulatory failure.
To your continued health, happiness and hopefully a mercury-free 2009! 🙂
Congrats OM. Not only for making it past your heart attack but growing so much from your Desi Party Page days.
Great advice. I’m going to take it *before* my health really suffers.
Glad you’re doing so well.
David. (We met a coupla times – London and San Francisco.)
Om. Life is a tragedy. It always seems bittersweet to me that many of us need a near death experience so that we can appreciate our lives and only then do we make common sense changes in our lives. Thanks for using your experience to remind others. Share the love brother. Good on you.
I really like what you wrote here and how you wrote it. Thanks so much for sharing.
Congrats Ohm! Very happy for you.
If you haven’t already… read “Fantastic Voyage” by Ray Kurzweil… changed my life.
Awesome. You had a great 2008. I hope you will also have a great 2009!
Om, your suggestions apply not just to those in a health crisis, but to everyone on this planet. Thank you. I’m so glad you’re here and happier than one year ago.
Glad you decided to make some healthy choices. Keep going!
Happy New Year, Om!
Thanks for sharing your inspiring journey. I’m thrilled (and relieved) you had such an incredible comeback. Here’s to more successes in 09!
Glad you are her to inspire by example. Motivating post. People do not change until the price of nto changing is too great.
Have a great 2009!
You should also keep out high carb stuff like white flour, too. All in all, you have some good ideas! A good read!
Great motivating post on how to deal with adversities by focusing on the right things.
Happy new year!
Here is to your next anniv. You have set an example for many to follow. Keep up the good work. Wishing you and your team a healthy and prosperous 09.
Thank you for sharing. This is very powerful information. We all think the world will not go on without us. I feel this way in my personal life, and at work. I wish you the best in your new outlook on life. Sounds like you are very blessed. Best of luck in 2009.
à votre santé
Great to hear you are doing well. Setting simple goals – inspiring. And quitting smoking is awesome 🙂 Btw..we met briefly at High Holborn, London in ’06.
Thanks for sharing
Above all, a reminder again that Success != Money all the time.
Thanks for taking the time to write this, Om. Congrats to you on your 1st anniversary and here’s to many more.
I salute you Om. Keep up the good work with your health and your awesome site. Much love! 🙂
Thanks for your nice notes and comments. As part of my new life, I take a day off from computers and yesterday just happened to be that day.
Again, as I said before, a lot of the recovery has happened, thanks to all the push you guys gave me. I deeply appreciated it then, and I do so now.
I actually do eat mostly veggie stuff but sometimes when I have to go, I would go eat fish. I appreciate your concerns though and agree with you.
Also, when I say no meat, I mean even chicken and turkey.
I enjoy hearing about your successes, and I pray that more will come. Congratulations with your new healthy outlook on life, especially quitting smoking. I know firsthand that is not an easy feat. It took me many tries and fails before I succeeded. (I’ve been smoke-free 3.5 years now.) Again, congratulations.
Dene’ from Shawnee, Oklahoma
Thanks for sharing and best wishes for continued health. Look forward to reading your posts here for many years to come.
Om, as a fellow member of the “you can knock me down but you can’t keep me there” you know how impressed I am with your changes. It does get easier believe me and feels great as it should. The mental adjustment is the hardest part and the most life-changing. Take care my friend.
@Aronski, I too had a bypass at the early age of 45. That was 8 years ago and I’m going strong. If you’d like to get in touch please email me. jk AT gigaom DOT com. Meanwhile you may find the chronicle of my bypass “event” of interest:
The bypass after-effects do fade with time. Take care.
Great advice Om. Thanks for sharing with us.
Best wishes for your continued recovery Om, you are and always will be an inspiration for many of us.
Great post. In the last several years I’ve been privileged to work with you and see you turn what you thought was a setback into an incredibly clarifying and empowering event. You now inspire us not only with your words (as you have done for years), but also with your actions. Thank you.
Great post and even greater year, but the greatest is still to come.
Happy New Year! I believe health is the most important thing in life, and you have underscored that for me.
I wish you many more healthy years.
I have enjoyed your perspective for a long time. This post about what you have learned is fantastic. You have great writing skills. Look forward to more and more. Wishing you the very best.
This is my first visit to your site (gigaom.com) and thank you very much for sharing ur learnings during this year.
I am not that big to share my learnings this year, but definetly i will be learning good things in 2009 so that i can share with you.
Happy to look into your writing. An honest insight. I must confess the last part is very strong where we need to throw trust on others which I lack.
It is very nice of you to share your personal story with a larger audience. It is also great to see that you have made the choice that is right for you. Wish you all the best and again thank you for sharing a little part of your personal life with us. Most people do not realize the abundance of wealth they walk around with. Good health is all that one needs to be successful, happy and alive.
I have said it before and I say it now — thank you for being part of this recovery and helping me focus on the right things. There are too many people to identify by name but this has been a collective effort and a necessary evolution.
Congratulations. I can’t even fathom making the lifestyle changes you’ve made in such dramatic fashion. All that plus some of the most insightful writing on the net. Cheers to you.
It’s great to see you feel that way.
A good lesson for us all!
Makes me so proud: prouf of you, and @ our ability to change.
Happy New Year.
It’s great to see you feel that way.
A good lesson for us all!
Makes me so proud: prouf of you, and @ our ability to change.
Happy New Year.
“Happy 1st Birthday”! I wanted to let you know that this is a VERY inspiring post. A few simple sentences, lots of wisdom. Here’s wishing you the very best in Year 2009.
Rock on, Om!
Great post and great lessons learned. Wishing you successful and happy 2009.
Great post and thanks for sharing. Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous (in that sequence BTW) New Year!
It’s good to hear that you are more health conscience these days. Everyone in this country needs to start taking better care of their nutrition and health. Good luck to you Om!!
Great quote. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’s Stanford commencement speech.