Today, I became a statistic. Don’t worry, it’s the good kind. You see, 10 years ago today, I had open heart surgery to repair leaky valve in my heart. With this anniversary, I officially hit the “10-year survivor rate” and my last checkup has me as good as new. I don’t want to sound overly melodramatic about my situation 10 years ago. The prognosis was good, I was young, and it wasn’t a death sentence of any sort. Then again, whenever your chest is cracked open as mine was, you never know what happens after that. As my surgeon told me 12 hours before I went under the knife, “oh, by the way, you could die on the table.” Umm, what? It was almost something he had to say to manage his liability, but I was aware that medical procedures, and life in general, have a way of not always being predictable.
I was looking back on my post from one week after the surgery, where I felt like I had gained a considerable amount of perspective on things. But what with the next 10 years be like? Would I change who I am or what I did? I suppose I had hopes and ideas, but I was never really sure. At that time, I was almost more concerned about 6 inch scar in the middle of my chest as opposed to the mental scar that would forever change how I acted. As I look back, I confess that my experience actually made me a much better person. My life is different, my outlook is different, and I’m more excited about the future than I ever was.
I suppose it starts with the idea that tomorrow is not guaranteed. I was in my mid 30s, healthy, ate pretty well, and ran 20 miles a week. I was the last person that should end up with some sort of heart condition. But then again, healthier people than me or stricken with bizzarre illnesses or tragic accidents all the time. Death is inevitable, but we all hope to stave it off as long as possible. Sometimes it’s not our choice. I don’t embrace my mortality as much as I accept it.I feel like I’ve been able to appreciate the girls so much more, watching every achievement with an extra sense of joy. I’ve watched Cherise blossom into a public servant with political ambitions. I’ve watched my mother-in-law show tremendous strength and resilience in her transition to independence after the loss of Cherise’s father. I take pride in being able to witness these changes. I was also able to make an extra effort for my father in the last years of his life as I had to confront his mortality head-on.
But beyond those natural evolutions of life, the surgery also forced me to be more cognizant about my life choices and the impact it has on others. I am continually forced to confront my integrity and my legacy.
Who am I?
How people speak of me when I’m gone?
What can I do to leave the world a better place than when I got here?
Obviously, that starts with the girls.
When I had the surgery, Iris was still a toddler and Robyn was in utero. When I see the two of them now, I see my greatest responsibility and greatest legacy. I see my opportunity to have a positive influence to one woman and two future women who I hope and expect will change the world for the better. I take that as a serious responsibility and perhaps the most important part of my legacy. I never take my interactions with the girls lightly. Every conversation shapes who they are and what they will become. I strive to teach them to be thoughtful, caring individuals who think of their impact, regardless of their career path. I almost want them to think of getting an early start on thinking about their own legacy. Inventors University doesn’t happen without heart surgery. It was not only an opportunity for me to have an impact on these young girls who need it, but also for my daughters to think about how you need to turn ideas into action. It’s easy to talk about the world. It’s another thing to do it. No one remembers the talkers.
But that’s not the only part of my legacy.
By starting a company, I’m trying to put my stamp on the technological landscape as part of my legacy. I’ve been lucky enough to have a terrific team at UPGRADED, but as the founder, I know that business is synonymous with me and it’s success is my mark on the world. Maybe that’s why I work so hard at it. But despite my obsessive compulsion with starting a company, I have taken on a series of young people where I can mentor them, work with them, show patience for them, and help them reach their potential. Sometimes it’s lunch, sometimes it’s coffee or beers. Sometimes, it’s emails and texts. I prioritize these relationships and I take tremendous pride in this. I mentored people before the surgery, but I reserved it for Cornell graduates and Wharton graduates and a few Microsoft employees, as if to say “you’re part of the club and these are the benefits”. What a narcissistic load of crap. After the surgery, I realized how stupid that was. It’s not about exclusion, and it sure as hell is not about maintaining an elitism in some sort of “us versus them” mentality. It’s the same mentality that’s make me detest organized religion. So not only do I not care about where you went to school, but rather I pay special attention to those who look or act nothing like me. I ask for nothing in return, except maybe that they do the same when their time comes and they are older. Until then, their success is my success. And their gratitude means the world to me…
I’m not a religious guy, so I won’t say that God put me through the surgery to make me stronger. Sometimes, shit just happens. However, it did improve me as a person and made me appreciate the gifts I’ve been given. In some ways, my life wasn’t affected by the surgery. I still run 15 to 20 miles a week. I still eat fairly well, though I am less likely to deny myself certain foods as life is too short to completely stay away from “In & Out Burger”. But I do wake up every day with the special sense of purpose. I still have the scar, but every year, it fades a little. But the impact of the surgery on my life grows with every day that I am fortunate enough to experience. I try to treat each day as one step closer to achieving my legacy and having the greatest impact upon others.