We had just settled in at the office of one of our large New York clients for a day of meetings when someone asked if I remembered the room we were sitting in. I looked around, confused – the room seemed normal enough, and I couldn’t differentiate it from any of the other countless conference rooms I’d sat in during my career.
And then it struck me. This was the room where I had my first seizure.
A Vulnerable Lifestyle
In July 2017, three members of the Perfect Search team and I flew into New York on a Wednesday night before a Thursday full of meetings. When we landed, an old college buddy of mine asked me to join him for a night out, a rare opportunity for the married father of two living across the river in New Jersey. As a fearless (and perhaps slightly foolish) entrepreneur who missed his friend and couldn’t say no to a good time, I naturally responded, “Let’s do it.” And we did. It was 6:00 a.m. by the time I went to sleep, which left only a couple of hours before I had to rise again for business meetings.
After an amazing audit with an impressed prospect and a small lunch, our team set off for the office of one of our largest clients for an afternoon working session before a crucial meeting with their higher-ups that we knew we had to nail. Toward the end of the working day, around 4:00 p.m., the owner, president, two vice presidents, and heads of marketing and IT took their seats in the conference room they allowed us to use that afternoon.
Eager to start, I reached for the proposal we had put together and then…nothing. That’s what I remember – nothing. I regained consciousness laying on the ground, bleeding from my forehead with two paramedics leaning over me and asking simple questions that weren’t so simple to answer.
They rushed me to the emergency room where the news was confirmed: I had a seizure during the most important meeting of my entrepreneurial journey.
Adds a new layer to the question, “How’d that meeting go?” doesn’t it?
A Vulnerable Opportunity Missed
It’s moments like these that reveal our vulnerabilities, and not just the ones we expect. I was worried about my health, of course, but my first thought upon coming to was about how the client would perceive me. Did I look weak? How could they trust a company whose leader collapses during important meetings?
Looking back, I now see those worried thoughts as another type of vulnerability, one that fears failure more than illness.
Vulnerability shapes us. To be vulnerable is to be exposed, to have our guards dropped and masks lowered. In that state, some of us stare our fears in the face and overcome them, some of us stare our fears in the face and decide we’ll overcome them later. But if you’re like me – someone with flaws – you may not have appreciated the opportunity for change that was presented. We’re human, after all, and humans make mistakes. It would take a few more mistakes until I learned that lesson.
Once I spoke with some family members (I’m Indian and thus am required to have at least one doctor sibling) and a neurologist who helped me connect the dots, we concluded that my seizure resulted from sleep deprivation paired with alcohol and stress.
There were two family members I chose not to inform – my parents. My mom and dad already thought I traveled too much, and telling them would only make them more worried while I was away from home. Instead, I avoided that vulnerable conversation and went on with my life as normal, focused on getting better sleep.
My cousin’s wedding in Puerto Rico kicked off a year and a half later, and since my brothers couldn’t make the trip, I decided to bunk with my parents in their room. Sun and energy were abundant in the air that first day as extended family caught up after long periods away from each other. Drinks were flowing, and the night was long.
We celebrated my mom’s birthday the next day, the festivities extending late into the afternoon. Back in our room around 4:00 p.m. to rest and recharge, I was speaking to my mother and then…nothing. Again. This time, I came to with my mother and cousin leaning over me instead of paramedics, a look of fear on mom’s face like I’d never seen before or since. My emergency-room-doctor cousin (Indian, remember?) asked me more simple questions to gauge my alertness.
Once again, I pushed aside that vulnerability in exchange for a calm demeanor. I insisted I was fine. The wedding continued, and so did I.
A Vulnerable Realization
I tested negative back in Chicago for a slew of tests that would have shown if something was seriously wrong with me. Better sleep wouldn’t cut it this time, so I decided to quit alcohol without changing much else. Life went on.
After some time passed with no seizures, I began to relax my relationship with alcohol, reasoning that another seizure wouldn’t happen because I enjoyed a drink here and there. Old habits slipped back, and in May of 2019, after a late day in Dallas and flying to Houston for yet another meeting, I experienced that nothing for the third time, right around that same late afternoon hour.
They say, “Third time’s the charm,” and I suppose they’re right. Although I’m still finding the right balance of alcohol, sleep, and stress reduction, I haven’t had a seizure since Houston.
Sitting in that same New York conference room a few years later and seizure-free – the room that changed my life that I had somehow forgotten – it was hard to focus as my mind reflected on the experiences I had had since that day back in 2017.
Vulnerability makes us uncomfortable. Writing makes me feel vulnerable. Writing about my vulnerability? It’s anyone’s guess how I’ve made it this far down the page.
Sharing our stories and being open when we feel exposed is how we learn to overcome our anxieties. After the last two years we’ve collectively experienced, I think it would do us all some good to be more candid when we feel vulnerable so we can better support one another through difficult times. We’re all just trying our best.
The moral of this story? You don’t have to show clients that you’re some pillar of perfection that constantly seizes the day to impress them; on the contrary, you simply have to seize in front of them.
I’m kidding. Kind of.