As a busy solo entrepreneur transitioning from part-time consultant/freelancer to full-time business owner it became the norm to grab whatever was convenient for meals- like a slice, burgers and burritos, drown each bite with caffeine and then neglect the gym in exchange for a few drinks at the bar to unwind.
As the strange symptoms went from occasional moments of oddity to blatantly obvious reasons for concern, I went through the excuses: I’m not eating that well, I’m not sleeping that well (I had a terrible habit of staying up until 4am working and starting again at 10am) or I’m not getting enough fitness. I was also devoting a considerable amount of time to my then girlfriend and ignoring my own needs in regards to time and emotional fulfillment from friends/family.
In other words, I was neglecting all of the critical factors for personal health: physical fitness, nutrition, human connection and rest. For the average person looking in it was pretty obvious that I was in need of a massive shift in lifestyle. As an entrepreneur I simply didn’t have the time to deal with it. If only I could go back and shake myself for such ignorance.
When I began feeling an aggressive and uncomfortable aching in my lower abdomen I knew that I had walked to the end of the line with whatever was impacting my health. On June 3rd, after weeks of encouragement from those close to me, I casually ventured into the emergency room. Of course, I had saved the trip for the end of the day- as I made time to take a lunch meeting with a friend and preview a venue for a client event with my intern first. Once again, taking care of me was my last priority.
When the ER nurse at check-in first looked at me she blurted out, ‘you look terrible’. I was pale, weak and immediately worried. It was becoming evident that my self-diagnosis of needing a simple prescription to correct some small dietary imbalance was far from reality. The average human has a hemoglobin level of 13-17, which is really a measure of the amount of oxygen in your blood. Tests indicated my level was 4.7 that day. I was later told I should have had a heart attack or stroke weeks before. I was admitted for a barrage of follow-up tests. It was already known that I was severely anemic. A few days later, like a silent bullet ripping through me while I walked down the sidewalk, the true diagnosis came.
‘You have leukemia’. I was no longer the founder of my own company, a soccer player or a writer… the only title that now resonated with my identity was the one that we all dread: cancer patient. It was a term I had heard before and immediately associated with death.
Fortunately, I was built for the battle that lay ahead and I had the support around me to fight through the 5 months of treatment, stem-cell transplant and on-going maintenance that followed. Luckily, I am able to write this blog feeling near normal health again and with a new found vigor for bringing C2Bseen services to socially-conscious and passionate entrepreneurs who are working to realize their own visions. However, without a mix of luck and miracle involved, my fortune could just as easily been tragedy.
In recent weeks I have had some transformative conversations with individuals exploring their deepest inner purpose and wishes for a life of fulfillment. While financial concerns, professional aspirations and ambitious tangible goals are a piece of that puzzle, our talks always seem to come back to the simple things that construct a real platform for happiness and success; the same things I was ignoring while blindly believing all my time and energy had to go toward my start-up.
The lesson I learned the hard way, but am richer for knowing, is that without self-preservation of your innate human needs you are depriving yourself of the possibility for professional longevity. A sick, exhausted, discontent and disconnected entrepreneur at the helm will only breed a similar culture. An absent entrepreneur forced into the hospital won’t be able to work at all. The rule is clear: when you ignore you the work will suffer, growth will be stunted and creativity will stall.
There are a thousand quotes that claim that the successful business person gets there by burying their head and digging in. In theory this is accurate: you will need to work as hard as or harder than everyone you know and most certainly your competition. However, there is such a thing as a business that fits your lifestyle and you should be open and honest about what you need on a personal level in order to build a prosperous company.
Entrepreneurs that fail to recognize the need for purity in mind, body and soul are setting themselves up for almost certain ruin. Heed my warning before an irreversible wake-up call does it for you.