For three years, I’ve been giving new life to an old cigar warehouse I’m planning to lease out. I’ve set it up so that every contractor working on the project has to teach me their trade. So I’m doing plumbing, electrical, structural, flooring, heating – everything. At the same time, I’m on so many boards – Head of Binghamton, NY’s architectural review board; Chairman of all our city New Year’s Eve charity celebrations; Regional Airport Board. And on top of all this, I’m cramming in print, radio, and TV interviews three to four times a week.
And then, suddenly, the blowback. Unexplainable excruciating stomach pain so bad it feels like I might die. Rushing to the hospital. Batteries of tests. Vomiting. Mental fog. And almost overnight, so little energy I can’t be on the job site. Most days I’m curled up in a ball of pain. And I’m losing weight fast.
The life I worked so hard to create is collapsing. Even my social life. I was dating a woman, Anna. But instead of being able to wine, dine, and impress her, I was continually stuck in the bathroom with deeply embarrassing, emasculating digestive problems.
“You have Crohn’s disease…and it’s incurable.” The doctor puts me on a regimen of pills. Pills with side effects. Meds that can only alleviate my symptoms, not solve the problem. “This is all we can do,” the doctor says.
One of the pills increases my chance of getting lymphatic cancer by 10,000 percent. And this is what I’m thinking about at the moment I lose control of my truck and slide off a wintery Pennsylvania road at high speed. I hold on for dear life as my vehicle rolls over, glass shatters, and my body smashes to a halt.
Emerging from the crash miraculously unhurt, I have an epiphany: I need to start asking, “Why has it always been done that way? What is the better option?” For Crohn’s. For running my life. I need to find a better way.
Crohn’s left me with only enough energy to work one single hour a day. So I have created new systems to get as much done in that one hour as possible. I’ve taken back control of my time. By optimizing, automating, and outsourcing, I have elevated myself out of the day to day and solved my overwhelm.
There are a lot of similarities to how I approach Crohn’s. I go against “what the experts say.” I do everything I can to take back control (this time over my body). Within five months of my diagnosis, I am able to suspend my medication. Within two years, I am competing in Ironman France. Eventually, I am declared free of all traces of the “incurable” disease.
What I learned from almost killing myself with overwhelm is that you don’t have to choose between a meaningful work life or meaningful family life. You can have both. You can spend your days doing what you want and only doing things that bring you joy.
Especially founders, because big businesses have a way of taking control of the entrepreneur.
When an entrepreneur’s sense of control ends, that’s when my work begins.