Last night, I was scared

By Life

I'm a Survivor

Have you ever ignored something that needed to be done, but that stood a chance–however infinitesimal–of showing results that would be really, really bad. And so, because of your fear, you avoided it? Yeah. I’ve been doing that.

Finally, I committed to follow through with some medical tests I’d been putting off. I scheduled them for today, and, in anticipation of them, I was scared.

Logically, I have few reasons to be scared: I’m in excellent health, and I don’t have any unusual symptoms. However, I did go through all of these tests once before. The results then were not good.

In 1997 I was in my last semester as senior in college, and occasionally  experienced tremendous chest pain. It was so bad at times that I taught myself pain management meditation techniques to deal with it. I was convinced it was just stress. Finally, three days after commencement (I was still up at school getting the last nine credits I needed to earn my diploma)  I took myself to the hospital. I went through a few tests and was told to come back the next day.

Like the good, responsible, upstanding young man I was, I went back. I spent the entire day in the hospital, and at the end of the day, exhausted from non-stop tests, prodding, and lack of food, someone finally broke the news to me:  cancer.


I had cancer. I was 22 years old, in great shape, and fearless. I was convinced I could do anything. The way I looked at it, I’d go back to Pittsburgh on the weekends for chemo–only a 3.5 hour drive–then back up to St. Bonaventure to finish my classes, get my diploma, and get on with my life. Fearless maybe, but definitely stupid, or at least ignorant to what lay ahead. Little did I know what I was in for with surgeries, transfusions, and chemo.

I’ll never forget the advice my oncologist gave me. It went something like this: “we’re going to kick the crap out of you with drugs, you just have to take it. That’s it. Just get through it.”

Certainly he was more sensitive than that, but in my mind, that’s what his advice amounted to that day. I did take it. I never, ever, not for a single day, hour, minute, or second did I ever take my eyes off the prize. I was going to beat cancer, and use the time to network to get my dream job on Wall Street in New York.

Spoiler Alert: I did.

Being with my fear

Through it all, the one thing I did not allow myself to feel was fear. Sure, there were moments of self-pity, extreme illness, and anger. But I never allowed in fear. It was contrary to my mission: eyes on the prize, at any cost. (Some days I wish–I beg–for that determination again. But I digress.)

Fast forward nearly 16 years when a new primary care physician suggests a some basic blood work, just to see where things are for me, and my tumor markers come back really high. We talk about it, it’s probably “normal” for me, but why take chances, so he lines up a battery of tests. I know these tests all too well: more blood work, examinations, ultrasound, and CT scan (with contrast). It’s what I went through before.

And here I am the night before thinking what if, what if, WHAT IF. And I’m scaring the crap out of myself. I’m 37 years old. I’m single. No kids. No legacy. And with a list of “things to do before I die” that’s even longer now than it was when I started it at 20.

What have I done with my life? Is this why I’m scared? Am I scared to die, or am I scared to die not having accomplished the greatness I set out to achieve?

Unlike the 22-year-old me, I allowed myself to sit with the fear. Unlike Muad’Dib, I did not let it pass through me, but I didn’t let it obliterate me either. I sat with it. I felt it. I owned it.

Sitting in the CT scanner brought back a flood of memories, too. I’ll be honest, that was the most scared I’d been in years. I allowed myself to feel afraid in that moment–not fear of the machine like some lousy Luddite, but of what would happen if these tests came back like the same ones of 16 years ago. In that moment, as the unnatural warmth of the contrast dye coursed through my veins, it was my fear manifest. I felt it boil in me. I owned it. I mastered it. And then I became it.

And for the first time in a long time. I felt alive. Very, very alive.


The tests are pending. The blood work came back as expected: tumor markers are high, but according to my doctors circa 1997, that’s to be expected. I’ll get the results of the scan next week, and if logic has anything to do with, they’ll come back just fine.

While my test results are pending, so is the rest of my life. The results will have a definite outcome. And now, so will my life.



I Fixed What Wasn’t Broke, and Broke Everything as a Result

By Life

Seriously people, it's not difficult to properly rack weights

Back in December a friend put a challenge to the Boulder startup community: exercise every day for at least an hour a day for the first 100 days of the new year. It was more of a “let’s motivate each other to be healthy and exercise” than a “I can do more burpees than you” type of challenge. Me, being a part of the startup community, and being the kind of guy who loves joining group activities, immediately signed up.

The event garnered a lot of interest from the community, and we even did a measurement/weigh-in day on December 31st. The next day, the challenge began in earnest.

We’re 10 days into the New Year, and I’m failing myself out of the program. But for good reason.


Before signing up for the 100 days challenge, I was at the gym 3 days per week for 16 straight weeks (thank you Foursquare check-ins for keeping track), hiking usually once a weekend, occasionally biking to work, and about once a month getting out for a longer ride. In short: I was getting a healthy dose of exercise, and feeling great about it.

The best part about my workout routine was that it suited me and my schedule: it was flexible and effective. I could do two back-to-back days if I knew I wasn’t going to have time over the weekend, or attend an event on Monday, then gym on Tuesday, or vice versa. If I was tired and my energy was low, I could put the gym off for a day, and would actually go to the gym the next day. I had decided that I was the type of person who went to the gym 3 days per week. And I did.

I found freedom in the flexibility, and commitment in the accountability to myself. It worked for me.

100-Day Challenge

With the 100-day Challenge, I figured I could split my lifting routine from three days to four, then throw in some other fun stuff to make the full seven days per week. One of the core ideas behind the challenge was that the community would motivate each other to work out every day; we could lean on each other for support, but it didn’t quite turn out like that for me. In fact, it had the opposite effect on me. Here’s as far as I got:

  • Jan 1: Dancing for at least an hour (after midnight on NYE)
  • Jan 2: Some good cardio in the afternoon
  • Jan 3: oops, nada
  • Jan 4: Hit the gym
  • Jan 5: nothing
  • Jan 6: zero
  • Jan 7: zip
  • Jan 8: zilch

It was on Wednesday the 9th that I had to step back and look at what was going on with me. How could I go from being someone who always got in his three weekly workouts, to someone who hit the gym only once in eight days?

I came to an important realization: failing on the 100-day commitment changed my perspective on myself. Instead of seeing myself as someone who always went to the gym, I saw myself as someone who broke a commitment, someone who failed. This happened on day 3, and then every day thereafter just compounded things.

These decisions don’t happen on a conscious level–at least the negative ones don’t! And very quickly it was affecting more than just my workouts. I used to get back from the gym, usually late, open up my laptop and plug away at some more work, some side projects, or something productive. Or occasionally reward myself with an hour or two worth of gaming time. Now I was getting home, skipping the gym, playing video games, watching DVDs, or just generally being lazy. By day 5 I was two days behind, and all I could think about was how I’d failed. Each day added another day of failure, and another day of feeling like I was so far behind that I’d never catch up, or the fact that I could never catch up because I missed one single day. One day missed and it was all over.

Seriously people, it's not hard to properly rack weights.

Seriously people, it’s not hard to properly rack weights.

Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke

Thankfully, I took stock of what was happening, and made a change: I dropped out of the challenge.

I struggled with this decision; no one likes to fail, no one wants to be a dropout. Least of all me. I thought about starting over with a new 100 days challenge to begin on the auspicious (but never attainable) “tomorrow.”

But why?

The fact is, there was nothing wrong with what I was doing before. I didn’t need to be better, I didn’t need to do more. I was in a routine–a great routine–and it was working for me. I tried to fix what ain’t broke, and ended up breaking everything.

This was an important lesson for me. My motivation and accountability systems were working, but in this challenge I changed up both of them. I went from from internal (identity-based) motivation to external (group-based) motivation, and it sapped my drive. Then, in going from internal to external accountability, when I didn’t workout, the guilt of an entire group weighed on my shoulders, though for certain they were entirely unaware of it.

Simply put, what I was doing worked, and I’m going back to doing it.

In the future, I’ll be more cognizant of whether or not something is working for m, before I jump head-first into changing everything.