What I Learned About Life and Business from Having a Stroke

What I Learned About Life and Business from Having a Stroke

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For most people yesterday was just another uphill Monday battle, the beginning of the work week or perhaps the beginning of something more fun like a spring break trip with family.  March 28th for me however, has become a time of reflection and a day of intense concentration over the last three years.  Three years ago on a Thursday afternoon at around 2:45pm my world became a little less secure, undoubtedly more vulnerable and altogether unsettling. I had a stroke.  In the hours and moments leading up to this terrifying moment I can say that for the most part it was a normal day.  As a matter of fact, I thought I was doing pretty darn well, at least physically anyway.  I had just completed a triathlon a few months earlier and was well on my way to the best physical shape of my life.  I’d go out and run five miles as if it was a nice jog and just that morning I had achieved a personal best with my bench press at the gym.  While that may sound silly, I had never achieved peak physical condition growing up and was excited by my newfound vitality. I actually thought that driving myself hard through exercise would be the magical tonic I needed to balance or reduce the effects of intense stress that had been building in my life for several years.

I’ve rheadshotead countless stories in the press and on the blogs of today’s leaders and entrepreneurs about the toll that business ownership and stewardship can take on your life and mental health.  Many business founders suffer from thoughts of inadequacy or even worse severe depression.  More than a few have spoken out about fears that they would be “found out” for being a fraud.  I definitely think that some of these thoughts were plaguing me in 2012 and 2013.  It is no easy task, as I now know, to launch a professional services company that has no reputation at all for the work we were hoping to do.  Corporate buyers of our industry’s services were looking for tried and true track records.  It didn’t matter how compelling our business story was, we just needed more time to be viable.  Time is the enemy when it comes to growing a business and Cash Flow is Time’s first lieutenant.  We were running out of both.  I had risked literally everything to launch and grow Barton Career Advisors.  This path was at a great, nearly crushing cost to my family’s personal financial health, many relationships with friends and family and my self-esteem and confidence as a leader.  Perhaps more damaging, my actions were driving a wedge between me and the Lord when I needed my faith the most.

At a time when I should have been reaching out, I was circling the wagons and closing off.  When I should have been seeking the advice of more experienced leaders, I relied on my own understanding and education.  When questions came from friends, family or colleagues my answers were routinely related to our latest client success story, no matter how bleak the picture really was at the time.  The naysayers were there, those that thought my decisions and risks were selfish, irresponsible or even negligent. The last thing I could do was to allow anyone the satisfaction of accurately predicting my failure. The whole fitness thing played right into this for me.  How could anything possibly be going wrong when I looked so darn good? Everywhere I went I was striving to appear in control, confident and above all, happy.  I must have delivered thousands of glowing smiles during those days all while the voice in my head was kicking my ass daily for not being a bigger success. I went to church less and I prayed less. At the same time my brain spun unceasingly to formulate the solution to facilitate a new trajectory. A change that I so desperately needed and desired.

I turned to walk down the hall to my office and things were spinning.  The world started tilting to one side and I just could not get my balance.  I was nauseous and felt like some force was pushing my conscious self out through my ears and the top of my head. The pulsing and spinning inside my skull was unbearable and terrifying.  A mere 20 feet from where the episode began I decided I would stop in the middle of the hallway and lie down on my back.  Frankly, I was unsure how much longer I would be able to stand.  I immediately looked at my watch and began taking my pulse so I could start to “solve” this new problem for which I clearly had no experience.  Then, I stopped what I was doing, closed my eyes and really for the first time in months I began to pray.  Not my normal needy prayer, but a humble, “Lord this is out of my control. I need you.” kind of a prayer.  I knew in an instant I was in a new place. I next called out to my colleague Rich from my spot on the floor.  Asking for help was the other hurdle I crossed all within the first three minutes of having an acute cerebral vascular accident.  God had my attention and I was listening.

When I graduated from high school I was given the gift of a powerful book by my church.  Mere Christianity by the great author C.S. Lewis contains a chapter entitled, “The Great Sin”.  In this section of the book the author describes the ravaging effects of Pride on our faith and human condition.  In summary, Pride is the worst affliction you can have.  Pride comes before the fall.  I have learned in no uncertain terms that I was suffering from this malady and I still do.  The redeeming part is that now I recognize it and guard against it as best I can.  My personality type comes with a fair dose of tenacity, vision and stubbornness.  These are all strengths, that is until they become weaknesses and in my case that is where I had arrived.  I did not get the quiet whisper of my conscience voice saying that I needed to change.  The wake-up call I got was more akin to being hit by a two by four in the head.  I am not so sure this was meant as much as a second chance as it was a “course correction” in reminding me of who I am supposed to be as a leader, business owner, colleague, husband, father and son.

My course correction three years ago has given me the opportunity to…….

  • Listen more and talk less

  • Be a better husband, father and son

  • Create balance between my physical and mental wellness

  • Share my faith with those around me

  • Pray more and get to church more often

  • Recognize the need for help and to ask for it when required

  • Be a better business leader through continuous learning

  • Make better, more thoughtful decisions about my future

  • Develop more fulfilling relationships and professional interactions

  • Help more people with their journey through our career transition coaching

  • Apologize to those I have hurt along the way

  • Appreciate every single day a little bit more

  • Savor life’s small pleasures more fully

  • Strengthen my resolve, with help, to grow a profitable business that serves others

I have often thought I would write about my experience with the stroke in 2013 but I have honestly been fearful until now to share my rather intense feelings about that day.  My reflections here are not without a few tears. It is my hope that this gives to you and lifts you up in some way that is meaningful and useful in your journey to be the best you can be.

As Barton Career Advisors approaches the seventh anniversary of its launch on April 9th I am grateful for the events that have marked our success journey, including my stroke.  It was fortunate that my experience did not result in crippling life limitations like so many others that have experienced such a health crisis.  I am deeply grateful for that mercy.  I am looking forward to what lies ahead.  With your help I know the experiences with be sweet, abundant and spiritually aware.

One thought on “What I Learned About Life and Business from Having a Stroke

  1. Karesa Blagrove says:

    Thanks for sharing your personal journey. I know it must have been a very frightening experience as I was afraid the day I heard the news. Wishing you long life and great health.

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