It all started with some good physical training, “PT” in Army parlance. My friend Jude and I had just finished a great run through the lush green park behind our headquarters in Ilidža, a municipality of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Toward the end of our intense run, my throat felt a bit sore. I chalked it up to running in wet, rainy weather. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning.
As an officer in the U.S. Army, it is not always convenient to be sick. The same can be said of a Founding CEO. So when I awoke with a full blown sore throat I quickly went to our German health clinic and they hooked me up with some good German pharmaceuticals. I thought I was “good to go,” as we say in the Army. After all, I had a huge intelligence briefing to prepare and deliver and I was about to deploy our mobile headquarters to a remote airstrip. There was no time for being sick.
The meds were increasingly ineffective. But, I plowed on with work until I passed out and ended up in a field hospital. There was no way I was having throat surgery in the middle of no where. The saga eventually led me back home to an operating room at Eisenhower Army Medical Center where a golf ball sized cyst was removed from my throat. They didn’t know if it was cancerous. It’s funny how life has a way of teaching us what’s important.
Startup CEO Wellness
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It’s been a year since we launched our “From Founder TO CEO” podcast. It’s been a lot fun speaking with so many top Founding CEOs.
Before and after I press the record button, many of my guests have shared similar stories of health close calls. They also talk about sleepless nights, headaches, and other ailments. Stress seems to be a common thread amongst all their stories.
One of our loyal podcast listeners suggested that I read Brian Smith’s book, The Birth of a Brand. Brian Smith’s story as the founder of the world-renowned UGG Australia brand is really inspiring. One part of his book really stuck with me.
On page 75 he wrote, “…I was constantly beset by a sense of dread that came over me every weekday morning as I opened my eyes, and haunted me every night in restless sleep.” He went on to write, “The mental pressure from not knowing if the business could survive, added to the pressure of how to make ends meet at home, became so unbearable that I had to find some release in physical activity.”
Can You relate?
Taking care of you, the person behind the title of leader, is so important. This became very real to me when I was in Bosnia. It became very real to Stephen McDonnell, Founder and CEO of Applegate Farms, when he suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve 2013. It became very real to Neal Patterson, co-founder and CEO of health IT giant Cerner, when he was diagnosed with a “treatable and curable” form of cancer. It became very real to well known Founder and Venture Capitalist, Brad Feld, when he realized he was “actually depressed.” And we certainly know the story of Steve Jobs.
Age is immaterial. Your wellness has a significant impact on the health of your company. Your first priority must be to make you your first priority. And, it’s easier to do when you focus on these three things:
- Schedule down time on your calendar
- Read books
- Keep a daily journal
- Get an annual physical
- Eat real food
- Attend a place of worship
- Meditate, Pray
- Take a vacation
Want to know what big lesson I have learned over the past year? Our number one job as a Founding CEO is to be well. Yep. We must take care of ourselves. You can’t put it off. You can’t kill yourself for six months during a company growth spurt, and hope it doesn’t have an impact on you. Starting and scaling a fast growth business may seem deceptively like a sprint, but it’s really a marathon. It’s just hard to understand the distinction when you are running fast to scale your company.
Thankfully my thyroglossal duct cyst was benign. Thankfully I make it back to the U.S. in time to have it removed before it had a greater impact on my health.
Don’t let your startup prevent you from starting now. Don’t put it off like I did with my throat. Incorporate wellness into your leadership routine now, so it’s a habit when your amazing company grows bigger than you had imagined.
I’m off to the gym.
What about you?