7 Lessons About Life and Business Learned Again as My Wife's Caregiver
"Do everything quietly and in calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset." -Saint Francis de Sales
A few months ago, my wife Rachel underwent a life-threatening surgery that landed her a week-long stay in the ICU. She survived, but is now in and out of the hospital with a serious post-surgery complication and a long, uncertain road ahead. As her primary caregiver, I’ve gained a fresh and sharpened perspective on life, both personal and professional.
Below are some lessons learned that have reinforced my core beliefs as an entrepreneur and executive.
1. Reality is an immovable object.
I cannot wish my wife back to health, so I don’t bother trying. Instead, I’ve learned to accept and adapt to our new reality, thankful that our lives are still full of immense blessings.
For founders, each day your company is still alive is a blessing. Some days you feel like you’ve been run over by a Mack Truck. Your only option is to accept it, adapt and stay laser-focused pursuing opportunities still within your reach. How you react to hardship separates people who get things done from those who don't.
2. Privacy is overrated.
I am someone who greatly values privacy, but it has been virtually nonexistent as I’ve semi-publicly engaged with many friends and strangers regarding Rachel’s health updates. Unsolicited advice from well-wishers has poured in, and a steady stream of visitors has reduced our alone time to near zero. Although our privacy is gone, it’s realistically not a concern. Our sole priority is Rachel’s health, and we’ve both come to appreciate the widespread positive impact that her fight has had on others.
Many founders, especially in tech, are introverted. If given the choice, would opt for extreme privacy. Some find it exhausting to socially interact and baffling when others with no skin in the game care enough to pick apart, or even praise, our efforts. You must learn to get past it and remember that your sole concern is building a great company that returns value on people’s time, money and reputation points. Further, you learn to appreciate that your individual entrepreneurial journey may have a much more positive and far-reaching impact on others than what you immediately see.
3. The little victories matter.
As a caregiver, I’ve learned to appreciate each step forward, literally and figuratively. I was elated when my wife took her first step following one of her recent surgeries. It’s appreciating these details that makes the fight worth it. Each step forward is a step closer to my wife beating this aggressive, potentially fatal infection.
Founders and executives often find themselves too caught up in the bigger vision to celebrate and appreciate smaller victories. Appreciating wins, no matter the size, can give you and your team the necessary boost to fight for another day, one step closer to achieving the larger vision.
4. Keep your emotions in check.
There are no greater highs and lows than when someone’s life is at stake, but losing my mind is not an option. My wife depends on me to be by her side, firmly supporting her during every single step of her fight.
Founders live in a constant state of uncertainty and stress. Deal with it. Not every decision you make will deliver favorable results, but your ability to stay calm and collected will significantly increase your ability to successfully execute even under the most extreme circumstances. While one’s livelihood might be at stake, your life itself is not, so keep your perspective in check as well.
5. Don’t be afraid to accept outside support.
When it comes to personal matters, I generally stay quiet. But as my wife’s surgery approached, I wrote a blog post entitled “Contemplating Love, Life, and Death: Rachel’s Story.” Thousands of messages rolled in over email and social media, providing much-needed positivity to power forward. Family and friends have also stepped up in nearly every way imaginable to fill in any gaps.
Founders like to act tough, but when we’re honest, we admit that being an entrepreneur is the loneliest job in the world. Learn to appreciate the gracious support of others even when you don’t want it, as it keeps you sane and in the game.
6. No task is beneath you.
My new reality consists of helping my wife perform simple tasks, from going to the bathroom to wrapping her surgical areas before a shower. Not only am I happy to help her, but I welcome the opportunity to make a positive difference in her day with such simple actions.
As a founder-turned-executive, one should welcome tasks of all sizes. Performing small tasks makes for a more emphatic and knowledgeable leader. Emphatic and knowledgeable leaders make better, more informed decisions.
7. Let the experts do their jobs.
I’m more or less the co-CEO of my wife’s health, but world-class doctors are far better equipped than I am to evaluate serious medical decisions. As such, I force myself to step back and let them do their jobs. Of course, this doesn’t mean I abstain from being my wife’s vocal advocate, endlessly researching information and speaking up when something feels off.
For a company to scale, founders must hire specialists and ultimately groom strong, secondary leaders. Because it’s your baby, it’s tempting to jump in and interfere. The best entrepreneurs work hard to find a proper balance between diving deep and stepping back. This sounds so obvious, but it’s insanely difficult to actually strike this balance.