What a Health Crisis Taught Me About Business

I was on top of the world a few years ago. My business was producing loads of revenue, we were landing new clients at a frenzied pace, and I was completely debt free while still pouring money into savings. It seemed like everything was perfect and I didn’t see any sign that it would ever change.

But then it did.

About three and a half years ago, I was blindsided by a mystery health crisis that nearly killed both me and my business. To this day, the doctors still aren’t sure what it is, nor do they know how to treat it, but I’ll give you a brief summary of what I’ve been through. It all started with an excruciating pain that felt like a combination of being electrocuted and burned at the same time, from head to toe, from the surface of my skin down to my bones. It also came with sudden drops in blood sugar, crushing headaches, tremors, insomnia, muscle cramps, mood swings, massive fatigue, dizziness, atrial fibrillation, difficulty breathing, and the feeling of choking, to name a few of the symptoms—and with the exception of the atrial fibrillation, all of these were pretty constant, all day, every day!

I was in the emergency room at least once a week for the first few months and quickly gave up on that because the only answer they ever gave me was “You’re just having a panic attack.” Once they finally caught the atrial fibrillation during one of their tests, they realized that I was correct and something really was going on, but they still had no answers for everything else. I ended up seeing every type of specialist under the sun, including some really smart doctors at one of the top research hospitals in America. I’ve also seen holistic doctors, nutritionists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and even an energy healer. I’ve tried treatments I would have laughed at just a few years ago and unfortunately, the only thing this accomplished was draining my bank account, running up credit card debt, and limiting the time I had available to work.

As you might imagine, it’s extremely difficult to run a business while besieged by so many symptoms, especially when any one of them can be debilitating on its own. Imagine trying to give a presentation while you’re faking a smile to mask your pain, struggling to keep a clear head, and it feels like the room is spinning.

I’m not one to give up though, and as a Marine Corps veteran, I’m the type of person who, when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, stands up and screams at the top of his lungs “Bring it on!”

Throughout this battle, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. I’ve learned a lot about both myself and about business during the process, and today, I’m going to share with you what I learned about business from my battle through my health crisis.

You Can Overcome Far More than You Think

If someone had told me I would face constant and excruciating pain from head to toe, dizziness, difficulty breathing, cognitive challenges, and a short temper every single day for several years, I would have thought there was no way to survive, much less thrive though all of that. Yet, three and a half years later, I’m still here and thriving.

There were times when the pain was so intense, all I could do was curl into a ball and pray to die. Clearly, it didn’t happen. What did happen, however, was that I learned to live life ten minutes at a time, and when you can do that, you can overcome almost anything.

In business, we face a variety of challenges, from trying to generate enough cash flow to dealing with seemingly impossible workloads and deadlines. The key to each challenge is to live ten minutes at a time and overcome the challenge you’re facing right now. When you consistently do that, you’ll overcome challenges that would make your competitors give up.

It’s not easy, but like anything else, the more often you commit to this approach, the more natural it becomes, until eventually, you view every challenge as one you can overcome. This discipline becomes a habit, a part of who you are, at which point, you become almost unstoppable.

You Have Limits

As a US Marine Corps veteran, I was accustomed to doing whatever it took to accomplish a mission, whether that meant operating on no sleep, food, or water, enduring extreme pain and stress, or tackling seemingly insurmountable challenges. My health crisis, however, was incredibly effective at reminding me that even I have limits.

Now, I was faced with a daunting balancing act because I could no longer simply outwork my competitors. I had to ensure I got enough rest to heal my body. This meant no more burning the midnight oil, drinks with clients, or rigorous travel. Instead, I had to be home at a more reasonable hour so that I could begin winding down and implement a strict bedtime routine to ensure at least eight to nine hours of sleep.

This doesn’t mean you don’t still set outrageous goals, attempt things no one else has, or try to change the world. It simply means you need to ensure that you are taken care of first, because if you run yourself into the ground, you won’t be able to accomplish anything of significance. This includes getting enough sleep, proper nutrition and hydration, and adequate exercise.

Identify and Compensate for Your Weaknesses

When I was going through an especially intense wave of pain and other symptoms, which was quite frequent, I appeared tired, disinterested, or even confused. As you might imagine, this made it significantly more difficult to network, give presentations, and close sales effectively, which hurt business.
Knowing this weakness, I had to consciously exaggerate my body language and facial expressions to compensate. I put extra energy into my vocal inflection, and I emphasized my hand gestures. This was necessary in order to engage at a level that allowed me to begin rebuilding my business.

The same applies to any weakness. For example, if you’re the highly analytical type who gets uncomfortable in social settings, you need to get outside of your comfort zone and work to improve your people skills. You can do this by attending networking events, giving public presentations, and even making face to face sales calls.

Things Won’t Happen on Your Timelines

There is nothing I wanted more than to heal and get back to normal, but all of the self imposed timelines I had set came and went despite doing everything the doctors said. Today, I’m still waiting for a light at the end of this long and painful tunnel.

You can and certainly should set timelines in business because it’s essential to planning, but you also need to realize that despite all of your planning, hard work, and experience, you’ll likely miss the deadlines of some, if not many of your goals.

It’s frustrating and demoralizing when you develop what seemed like an effective plan and consistently do the work you thought was necessary to achieve your goal, only to fall short, but preparing for this ahead of time helps you rebound and get back on track faster.

Focus on What Matters Most

Let’s address an uncomfortable truth—you’re going to die with a full inbox and to do list. No matter how productive you are, tasks have a way of filling up the time you have available.

With limited capacity due to pain, fatigue, and what felt like endless doctors’ visits, I had to be far more selective in how I invested my time. I could no longer say yes to every opportunity. Instead, I needed to carefully evaluate each one, first to determine if it aligned with my strategic goals, and then to determine if the investment of time, energy, and resources justified the benefit I thought I would get from it.

There are probably millions of things you could potentially do in a day, such as testing new software, attending a networking event, establishing a strategic partnership—the list is infinite, which makes it easy to get pulled in dozens of directions at once. That has the potential to decimate your progress.

You need to focus the majority of your energy on the things that have the most impact on your goals. This means stop wasting time with busy work like organizing your email, or low skill tasks like typing documents, and get down to the core of your business. Do what only you can, and delegate everything else. You’ll see a dramatic increase in your results.

It’s OK to Ask for Help

I was always the one who tried to take care of everyone else, but when you can’t even get out of bed, it becomes difficult to take care of yourself, let alone anyone else.

My situation forced me to accept, and even ask for help. This was especially tough for me because that wasn’t in my nature, and my ego made it even more difficult. But over the last several years, a surprising number of people have stepped up to offer help.

This wasn’t an unusual occurrence either. Contrary to popular belief, most people are willing to help if you ask them. Some will do it simply because they like you. Others may do it because it’s their way of giving back, and a few might even do it because they expect something in return. Regardless of their motivation, it’s a usually good opportunity as long as both parties feel like they’ve gained a fair value from the relationship.

When we work together, we can accomplish far more than we ever could on our own, because we can leverage each others’ knowledge, contacts, resources, and more.

Deal with the Situation You Have, Not the One Wish You Had

There have been many times while battling my health crisis I thought “If only I didn’t have to deal with this crap, I would be kicking ass right now!”

It’s easy to say that, and it might even be true, but it’s also counterproductive because it makes you a victim. A victim mentality fills your mind with negative and nonproductive thoughts, which tends to result in a downward emotional spiral and a massive loss in productivity. The time you waste throwing yourself a pity party could be better invested in accomplishing your goals. I’m not a victim. I’m a warrior. What about you?

The sooner you accept your situation and stop wishing it were better, the sooner you can take action to change it.

Jeremy Knauff has become successful not because of brilliance, charm, or a superpower, but rather because he’s learned from so many of his own mistakes and he refuses to give up. He is a speaker, contributor to several publications, and the founder of Spartan Media, a digital marketing agency based in Tampa, Florida.