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First off – I’m ok. But here’s the story.
“You’re in an ambulance. I’m just putting an IV in your arm,” said a disembodied voice.
I had no idea where I was. I had a vague recollection that I had been on a bike.
“You’re in ambulance. You are ok. Stay calm.”
I realized I was tightly strapped to a board and couldn’t move if I wanted to. My legs hurt. My ribs hurt. My shoulders hurt.
I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I couldn’t process where I was. I felt like I was coming out of a dream, but I couldn’t remember the dream. I couldn’t open my eyes.
The doctor asked, “What day is it.”
I responded, “I have no idea.” I forgot to say that I usually have no idea what day it is.
Patiently, the doctor asked, “Who is the president?”
I thought to myself “George Bush” but I paused, knowing that wasn’t correct. After a short time, I answered “Barack Obama.”
“What is your name.”
“Good. You seem ok. Do you know what day it is yet?”
I responded, “I generally don’t know what day it is.”
The next thing I remember was hitting a bump and opening my eyes to see a woman pushing me through some doors.
“Hang on – we are just wheeling you into the emergency room.”
Some time must have passed. I felt someone pick me up and put me back down on a bed. I felt myself being slowly pushed. I opened my eyes again.
“We are doing a CT scan to check your brain.”
Some more time passed. I remember someone doing something with my left hand, which hurt like hell. I must have said something since once a disembodied voice said, “Stay calm. I’m just checked your thumb to see if it’s broken.”
More time passed. A police officer woke me up.
“Brad, I’m with the Boulder Police. I just want to ask a few questions. In case you don’t remember this, I’ve put my card in your jacket pocket.” (It turned out the officer was Chris Burke, who was awesome, efficient, and very patient with me. Amy called him later to get more information and he was incredibly helpful, including giving her details on the six 911 calls that people made when they saw me on the side of the road and the fact that he didn’t think I was unconscious at all, or for very long, just completely out of it.)
I don’t remember our conversation at all.
The next thing I realized was that my partners Jason and Seth were in the room. I vaguely remembered sending an email to Amy and my assistant Colleen somewhere between getting to the hospital and being in the room I was in. It was so powerful to see them. I suddenly felt safe again, knowing that people I knew were around. I have no idea what we talked about, but then Amy showed up.
Finally, I was starting to feel a tiny bit lucid. Amy took over and Jason and Seth went back to their lives. I told Jason I had a fireside chat event with Frank Gruber about his new book and could he step in for me (he did, and did great.) Amy called Colleen and told her to cancel my day. The CT scan checked out clear and the hospital released me. Amy and I stopped at Jamba Juice for a giant Peanut Butter and Chocolate Moo. I went home and promptly slept until dinner, which was Noodles Mac and Cheese that Seth picked up for us.
Reflecting on this, it’s amazing to me how little of the first 60 minutes I can remember. According to the police office, I was conscious the entire time. But I have no memory of what actually happened. The last thing I remember, after much prompting, was turning left onto Iris from Broadway. While the 911 calls were all for a hit and run, there’s no real evidence of that since my bike is generally fine and nothing, including me, looks like it was hit by a car. At this point, I’m guessing that I took the turn too wide and must have hit the curb and lost control of the bike. Maybe I squeezed my breaks and went over my handlebars. Or maybe I crossed over into a parallel universe for a little while and when I came back landed on my face.
I’m doing ok today. Nothing is broken and according to the hospital I don’t have a concussion. I’ve very banged up. I’ll probably have two black eyes, I have a sprained thumb, and lots of cuts and bruises everywhere. My face is very swollen and my head is very bumpy and weird from all the swelling. I have a persistent headache, no matter how much Advil I take. My glasses are destroyed so I’m wearing some old ones, which probably isn’t helping.
I slept well last night (although Amy woke me up every few hours to make sure I wasn’t dead) and feel perky right now, but expect I’ll run out of gas later today.
My biking career, short as it was, is officially over. I’ve had two accidents in three years – the first in Slovenia left blood on the streets. It was much more serious in hindsight than this one, but I remember much less about this one. Both were when I was making a sharp left turn so part of the problem may be that I don’t have the right spacial orientation on that side. I don’t have great depth perception, especially at night, so maybe this is part of the problem.
I had a fantasy for a few weeks about taking a bike tour across America next year. I was even planning to get a sweet Trek Domane 5.9 this weekend just to get the feel for it. But, no more. I now have three nice bikes for sale (two Specialized and one LeMond) in case anyone out there is looking for a bike.
Thanks for all the Facebook notes, tweets, emails, and checkins. I feel really lucky to have so many in the people watching out for me.
Lots of people get married on the summer solstice. To all of them – including those getting married today – congrats and welcome to the club!
It’s a particularly sweet club on your 21st anniversary if you are a numerophile, which is a word that Amy and I just made up that describes people who love numbers. And blackjack. And Dragons. And Daenerys – what a serious badass she is. And Arya also. But I digress. Can you tell that we recently figured out how to watch the Game of Thrones season finale up in Homer?
21 years ago Amy and I woke up and decided to get married. We were on vacation in Alaska, hanging out in Fairbanks at the time. Amy grew up there so she loved to point out all the things that were completely unchanged since she was a child. We took her mom and her nephew Drew out for Drew’s birthday breakfast at Sourdough Sam’s, which was one of those unchanged places. Her mom asked what we were doing that day and we turned to each other and said “getting married.”
Yup – we eloped.
We went to the Pay-N-Save and bought six rings for $1.19 (we still have them). We then drove up to the top of Ester Dome. I took out a piece of paper and wrote the word “VOWS” on it twice. I tore the paper in half and gave half of it to Amy so we each had vows to exchange. We each grabbed one of the rings. Amy recited the traditional marriage ceremony. We exchanged VOWS and rings, hugged, and kissed. And that was it.
It feels like yesterday. Well, not really. But it’s been amazing. We’ve had our ups and downs, including nearly getting divorced (which I recount at the beginning of our book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur (I know you see what I did there, Brad-the-book-salesman.) We moved from Boston to Boulder in 1995 and never looked back. We thought briefly about moving to Homer, Alaska but decided instead to buy a house up here and spend a month each summer up here.
As I sit on the couch in our house in Homer, two feet away from the person I love spending time with more than anyone else on this planet, I feel so lucky that I’ve found someone to spend my life with who understands me. Who puts up with me. Who treasures me. Who holds me when I’m down. Who celebrates with me, but also keeps me humble and chases all the bullshit out of my life. Who is my biggest fan and staunchest defender. Who is always there for me no matter what.
And – who I feel exactly the same way about. Amy – you are awesome. Thank you for being you. And for putting up with me.
There has been a cliche going around the last decade or so that goes “hope is not a strategy.” It inspired a book titled Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale and is repeated often by VCs in boardrooms when they are confronted with companies that are flailing, especially when trying to reach their revenue goals. I’ve been guilty of saying it a few times although it always left a funny taste in my mouth and I didn’t know why until this morning when I read a great essay (unpublished at this point) by Dov Seidman, the the Founder and CEO of LRN. In it Dov has a great punch line.
“No doubt you’ve heard the old business cliché that hope is not a strategy. During the recent presidential election one candidate in fact said this very thing in an attack ad against the other. It’s an expression usually used to belittle someone and to exhort them to deliver a linear plan. And while they are right that hope is technically not a strategy, inspirational leaders understand one final thing: that without hope there is no strategy. “
He is so absolutely correct.
I’m an optimistic, hopeful person. I think things will turn out ok. I don’t deny reality and I live by the words of John Galt when he said “It’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering.” I suffer plenty, I have plenty of things fail, and I’m sure I disappoint a lot of people. But I never give up hope, never give up trying to do better, and never give up learning from my mistakes.
We are coming to the end of a calendar year that has had a lot of crazy, bizarre, hostile, and negative stuff in it, especially in the past two months. I measure my years by my birthday, so my new year started on 12/1 when I booted up v47 of me. I was in pretty rough shape physically and emotionally because of the preceding few months but I was on the mend and optimistic. Other than struggling through a nasty cold (which is clearly linked to a completely trashed immune system from a pile of antibiotics and the past few months of system stress) I’ve had a great few weeks with Amy, some friends, and very little travel.
As I look forward to the next year, I have a clear strategy – both for my work, my personal life, and my health. A bunch of friends have said mildly cynical things like “you say that every year” or “I just read the annual ‘Brad broke himself” blog post” – mostly in an effort to be supportive, but clearly with the view that no matter what I try differently each year, the outcome will be the same and I’ll melt down somewhere in October or November.
Part of the beauty of an annual cycle is the opportunity to try again. To revisit your existing strategy or to create a new strategy. To shift your mindset from “this is inevitable” to “having hope for a different outcome.” Now – if you only have hope, but no strategy, you won’t make any progress. But if you have a strategy, but no hope, you are dooming yourself to failure before you begin.
So take advantage of this time of year. Do whatever you need to do to hit reset. Purge your brain of all the angry, negative, cynical, defeatist crap. Accept that context in which we are living. Then, create a new strategy for yourself – for work, for yourself personally, for your relationship, for whatever, and inject a good dose of hope into the mix.
Do something new. And be extraordinary at it. Remember Yoda – do or do not, there is not try.
As they wheeled me into surgery, I thought to myself “If this is the end it has been pretty amazing.” This is a photo my brother Daniel took of me just after they wheeled me out of the recovery room and back into my little cubby hole where Amy and Daniel were hanging out. While I don’t remember any of this, probably due to being under the influence of Versed (a truly amazing drug) at least I had the right attitude in response to Daniel saying “take that kidney stone!”
I had an 8mm kidney stone removed using Laser Stone Surgery using Flexible Pyeloscopy on Friday 11/16. While not a major surgery, I still went under general anesthesia for two hours for the first time as an adult. Amy describes this as “they take you to death’s door, open it a crack, let you peer in for a while, and then pull you back and close it.” I probably didn’t need her to tell me that description prior to the surgery.
On Sunday 11/18 I went to Cabo San Lucas for a two week vacation which included my 47th birthday. I don’t remember much of the first week – I was stoned on Vicodin and in a happy, warm, cuddly, very constipated, fields of golden retriever puppy haze. I stopped taking Vicodin on Thursday 11/22 but it still took a few more days to start feeling normal. I dropped off the grid entirely for the week of 11/8 but resurfaced to do some email and writing the week of 11/25. By 12/1 (my 47th birthday) I felt about 90% and was very relieved to have the surgery, and the prior three months behind me.
This period started off on 9/5 in Kobarid, Solvenia with a bike accident. I broke a tooth, got some stitches, and badly bruised my ribs. It was entirely my fault and my partner Ryan McIntyre, who I crashed into, saved me from much more severe damage. I then proceeded to spend the next three weeks on the road, totaling a month away from home. That was mistake #1, as I underestimated how tired I’d get from it. Mistake #2 was underestimating the damage from the bike accident. I ended up running the Detroit Marathon on 10/21 and did fine, but I was completely wiped out physically by the end of October. I continued to spend a lot of time in October and November on the road and found myself exhausted and depressed by the end of it. And then our dog Kenai died.
Oh – and Amy and I wrote the bulk of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur during this time period (it’s done – we submitted the final page proofs over the weekend.) I recognize the irony of completely burning myself out during the writing of this book – fortunately we talk about this challenge plenty in the book and we communicated extraordinarily well as a couple during this time frame about what was going on. Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.
I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.
I’m back in Boulder and very refreshed. I’m also determined to learn from this experience. Amy and I spent a lot of time last week talking about changing the tempo on some things, including adding in some new daily habits like yoga that prioritize higher than other things. And I’ve accepted that part of my travel pacing has to include being home over the weekends to so I can recharge my extrovert.
Thanks everyone who gave me well-wishes and support the past few weeks. It means a lot to me. I leave you with the sunrise from Cabo that I saw each morning during the past two weeks.
I was going to write something about a new book I’ve just published but I woke up this morning and that felt trivial so I’m going to save it for next week. Instead, I’m going to talk about my day yesterday.
My long time friend (dating back to the mid-1990′s) Andy Sack has testicular cancer. Before I get into things, he’s in the middle of chemo, has a 95%+ cure rate, is open and public about what he’s going through, and has an incredibly positive attitude.
I’ve tried to call or write Andy every day since his diagnosis. I’ve probably done it 80% of the time (I know I’ve missed a few days.) Every day at 5pm my iPhone gives me a reminder to “call Andy Sack.” Most of the time I get his voice mail and leave a message, other times we talk for a few minutes. While I was off the grid last week in Hawaii I sent him a postcard every day. Either way, I get a chance to tell him that I’m thinking of him and give him some additional energy from out in the universe, wherever I am. But this was the first time I’ve been able to get to Seattle to spend time with him.
I took the early flight from Denver to Seattle and we met up at the Kinect Accelerator where the program has just started. We found a room to just sit and talk for about 45 minutes. After a hug and a heart felt welcome, we started talking about how things were going. Our first 15 minutes were filled with lots of tears and emotion as I gave Andy a gift from a few of his friends including me and Amy and we connected physically for the first time since he was diagnosed.
I was curious about the experience he was having and he was very open about chemo, how it impacted him, and what the process was. We talked some about the dynamic of a loved one being sick or hurt since Amy’s had a broken arm for the past few weeks. While the broken arm isn’t in the same category as cancer, it has changed the way I’ve thought about caregiving as it’s the first time I’ve had to be – in Amy’s words “her man servant” – in our relationship. Amy called during this time and when the Imperial March (Amy’s personal ringtone) started playing on my iPhone Andy laughed a good belly laugh. I put Amy on speaker, the three of us had a nice talk, and then we wrapped up and had a TechStars related meeting.
We went to lunch with David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars. We talked about work, but we also talked about life. Andy was total present – he was having a good day physically and emotionally – and it was great to be around. After lunch David got in an Uber and headed to the airport to go back to Boulder; Andy and I walked around the corner to his office and BigDoor’s office (he’s on the board of BigDoor with me, their office is on the first floor, his is on the second.) I said hello to the BigDoor folks, hung out for a while and caught up on email while Andy had a meeting upstairs, and then he drove me to my hotel and we said goodbye for the day.
I had a few more meetings and then ended back up at the Kinect Accelerator for the Mentor Mixer. The program started on Monday and this was the first meeting of all the mentors. I gave a talk about how to be an effective mentor during the introduction to the program and afterward noticed Andy in the back of the room. This was a nice surprise as I didn’t expect to see him again on this trip. We hung out at the mixer a little and then took off to go have another meal together – this time alone. We talked about a few experiences in the distant past and I vividly remembered a dinner in Brookline in the 1990′s with Andy, Alexa (his wife), and Amy. I couldn’t remember the restaurant, but I had the visualization of the entire experience in my head and shared it with him (he remembered it also). We talked more about a wide range of things – some business, some personal – and just enjoyed being together.
I got more than my fair share of his time yesterday. And it was awesome. As I was laying bed at 11pm drifting off to sleep I thought of him some more, some of the ups and downs we’d had together, and how much I treasured him as a friend.
We’ve been through lots of things together. One of the first things he said to me when he saw me was “your support of me through this period eliminated any fears I had lingering about our relationship in the context of any money that I’ve lost for you.” I’ve invested in a number of things that Andy has done dating back to his first company (Abuzz, which was a success and acquired by the NY Times for about a 4.5x of my investment.) But we’ve also had lots of things not work (Bodyshop.com – 0.5x, Judy’s Book – 0.25x.) However, I never, ever have worried about it – my willingness to keep trying and working with great people trumps the specific returns of any individual transaction. And more importantly, my personal friendship and loyalty is built on trust and a long term arc of honesty, not transactional results. While we’ve both screwed up plenty of things along the way and had our share of disagreements, we always resolve them and move forward. I’ve told Andy this several times in the past, but when you face mortality you have a chance to really understand (and express) this.
I wore my Fuck Cancer shirt all day. Several people gave me positive comments on it and one stood out. Near the end of the day, a woman who I didn’t know said “great shirt.” She looked at me with acknowledgement and a real spark of connection occurred. I realized, at that moment, that cancer is a disease that defines many people at a profoundly deep level, especially when they survive it.
On Saturday I’m running a 50 mile race in Sacramento. I’ve been thinking about this all week as I try to get my mind into it. It’s been hard to get real focus on it because I’ve had a busy week and I know that Friday will be my transition day. But as I sit here, the 50 mile run doesn’t seem that hard. Sure – it’ll be a physical and emotional challenge, but it’s not surgery, a 64 day chemo regimen, and the emotional challenge of “beating cancer.”
Life is short. And uncertain. Live it every moment. Andy – thanks for being you and letting me be part of your life.