It's OK to Not Be OK

With the recent news of Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love and TODAY's Carson Daly sharing their stories on how anxiety and panic attacks have impacted their lives, I’ve never felt more encouraged to share my story. Whether it’s your first panic attack like Love experienced mid-game, in an arena filled with 20,000 fans, or, feeling as though you're "hardwired" to be anxious as Daly described it in a recent TODAY interview, it's something that is difficult to openly talk about.

I cope with anxiety daily.

The good days. The bad days. The in-between, nothing too exciting, run-of-the-mill days. They’ve all been met with some form of anxiety and/or panic-induced response to what was occurring in my life at the time.

My first panic attack occurred while in college. I was in a lecture hall with about 150 of my fellow classmates about to take a mid-term exam. Prior to this particular moment, I had heard very little from friends telling me about feeling ‘anxious’ or joking about having a panic attack due to the heightened importance that an interview or an exam brought on, but I never paid too much attention to it. Throughout my entire life, I was always the outgoing one. I was the one that was the class clown, wanted to make everyone laugh, and really got my energy from being around others. I was an extrovert in every sense.

Fast-forward to that mid-term, I sat down in the same chair I had every other class, right in the middle in one of the front rows. As the exam was being passed around, I immediately felt a tight pressure throughout my neck and throat. My breaths because shorter and shorter, and, for the first time, I immediately experienced my body present me with my first ‘fight or flight’ situation. The increased levels of cortisone where telling my brain I needed to do something, that I needed to react. But to what? Why was I feeling like this? I was completely motionless.

I took a blank exam paper and knew something was horribly off when I had difficulty writing my own name. The line for the “K” was an incomplete chicken scratch at best and likely resembled something my one year-old nephew could compose. I stopped, dropped my pencil, and excused myself from the lecture hall. I walked out on exam day.

I had so many questions as I was exiting the business building. “What the hell just happened?” “Am I ok?” “How do I get rid of this?” were all of just a few of the thousand questions and concerns that aggregated in my mind. Little did I know, at that moment, for whatever reason and for better or worse, I would be on the lifelong journey or learning my triggers and managing my anxiety. These thoughts, especially experiencing for the first time, are isolating. I felt completely and utterly alone. By that evening, I had convinced myself that I was broken, I would never be the same, and now my life was on this alternate trajectory path that left me with a lesser, weaker version of the person I was. The ensuing next few years found me coming back to one particular thought, “if only I could just go back to the day before I had my attack everything would be normal..."

You Are Not Alone

First, a few stats pulled directly from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America's (ADAA) website:

  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
  • Panic Disorder (PD) affects more than 6 million people, with women twice as likely to be affected as men

A Better Tomorrow

“The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
- John C. Maxwell

Through therapy, exposure, and a consistent daily regimen, I've gotten to a point where I feel confident in managing my anxiety. This doesn't mean there's a complete absence or lack of being anxious and the occasional panic disorder, no, those are the gifts that I will continue to be the lucky recipient of. However, I don't let my anxiety control or limit what I do or don't do. A few ways to begin working towards a better tomorrow:

  • Talk It Out
    Simply vocalizing your feelings and emotions with a family member or friend, and let them into a part of your life that for most of us that deal with anxiety, is typically blocked off from the outside world. There's nothing to be ashamed of and whoever you talk to will likely be more sympathetic and understanding than you ever imagined. A licensed psychiatrist is ideal as it's a non-bias third party that is also exceptional trained in guiding you to the most ideal treatment plan.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
    As described by Mayo Clinic, CBT is "a common type of talk therapy...CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way."

    A few years ago, I enrolled in a CBT program through Joyable. They set me up with a Coach that I'd talk to once a week to talk through things going on in my life. Work, family, what was weighing me down and heavy on my mind - I found the more open I was, the better I felt. With each week there were a series of exercises that I would be asked to do as I steadily increased my exposure to what was triggering my anxiety. It was overall one of the most challenging and rewarding things I've ever gone through and something I credit as a crucial stepping stone in managing my anxiety.
  • Embracing > Avoiding
    A key element to managing anxiety is exposing yourself, in a very gradual manner, to the very thing that triggers your anxious tendencies. That sounds awful, right? The thing that you know is going to make you feel uneasy is the exact thing to do in order to live a better tomorrow. 

    In 2011, the Psychiatric Times published findings of an Exposure Therapy study and reported that 90% of participants felt a reduction in fear in their phobias and avoidance. Furthermore, 65% stated they no longer felt like they had the phobia they initially began ET for.

Whatever that ‘thing’ is that you believe if you just had in your possession, that it would cure everything and all your problems you’re currently experiencing— it won’t. With a new job comes new stress, a new house brings new payments and responsibility, and a new gadget is just a shiny object that will lose it’s luster in the next few months. And money? Well, Biggie said it best, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” 

I've never felt more like myself today than I have in the last 10 years. I again enjoy spending time with friends new and old, traveling to places I've never been before, and cracking the occasional joke during arguably the wrong time and place (according to my wife). I no longer live in fear but that doesn't mean the worry has completely vanished. I've been able to get to a point where I can identify triggers and put those initial thoughts and concerns into a more realistic perspective.

Thank you to Kevin and Carson for igniting the conversation and sharing their stories. I’ve shared mine in hopes that others will take the step in sharing theirs.  Lets keep the conversation going, open, and supportive. You’re not an anomaly, nor have an abnormality, or broken when it comes to how your respond to the stresses and pressures in your life.

It's time to embrace being perfectly imperfect.

Why I Run

I was introduced to running over 20 years ago. My parents were avid runners and I’d ride my bike alongside them during their training routes. I remember thinking every time I went with them that it was the longest bike ride I’d ever been on. It seemed to go on forever and we seemed so far away from home. Most times, I was equally worried we were lost as I was excited to go on another adventure. Years later, I’d find out the furthest we’d ever gone on a single run was less than 10 miles. Clearly, at that age, my world didn’t span much further than that small suburb in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

In my 20s, I had a dream job any supporter of this sport would appreciate. I was paid to represent a major car brand and travel the country attending professional endurance races. The Boston Marathon, The New York City Marathon, and even The Ironman Championship in Kona were a few I had the privilege of attending. I witnessed recently-retired Meb Keflezighi win the 2012 Olympic Trials in Houston, Mirinda Carfrae shatter the marathon record and break the tape in Hawaii, and was cheering on the runners just a mile away from the finish line of the Boston Marathon on that devastating Patriot’s Day in 2013.

 Mirinda Carfrae at the finish line of the 2013 Ironman World Championship.

Mirinda Carfrae at the finish line of the 2013 Ironman World Championship.

There are a number of values associated with running. It demands you to use every muscle of your body from start to finish. There are no breaks, there are no timeouts, and there sure as hell aren’t any substitutions. The thought of race day keeps every committed runner honest; the course will know if you didn’t put in the time and nutrition in the previous months leading to the starting line.  Ask any professional runner and everything they do from training to race day has a calculated purpose. Time management, grit, endurance, and keeping a long term focus are all attributes I can thank the sport for that have carried directly over into my professional career. Wanting to make a living building early-stage companies has been anything but easy over the past decade. Keeping at my craft, continuing to sharpen the saw in what I can provide both the company and my colleagues, has allowed me the opportunities to do exactly what I've always wanted.

It’s a sport that, for those not participating, is tough to watch. It’s a group of people doing the same motion continuously for hours on end. It’s takes a certain appreciation, as to master any skill, in doing the same thing repetitively until one is completely fluent in the art. Until it’s just right that it comes to you as natural as breathing; your mind orchestrating your body until it becomes completely in tune with the motions.

More than anything, the running community is what continues to keep me motivated in pushing my personal boundaries. It does not matter how fast or slow, or how long or short any runner’s workouts may be. It does not matter if you’re tying your shoes for your first run or you were a Division I runner in college. We all show up and ultimately participate in this sport for the same reason, to prove to ourselves that the little voice inside of our heads that has been telling us we can’t do this, is wrong. That its been lying to us this entire time. When we come together, and we support one another in our pursuit of being the best versions of ourselves, is when we begin to realize we’re capable of anything.

Editor's Note: I was recently asked to share my running experiences with the Million Miles running group based in Palo Alto, CA.


When Boogie Boarding Means Business

This past weekend, my wife and I decided to dust off the boogie boards and head to the beach. It was unplanned as Saturdays, like most families, is a day typically spent catching up on life. Running errands that you couldn’t sneak in during the week, picking up the house, and getting mentally prepared for the week ahead. As we were sipping coffee, an usual comment from my wife came out as she simply said, “how about we just catch some waves today?” She didn’t have to ask twice. I immediately went to our storage and pulled out the boogie boards, wet suits, and loaded the car before she could change her mind.

This particular beach is special to us as it’s located directly behind our wedding venue where we stood among family and friends no more than four months ago.. At first glance, the waves looked aggressive. We noticed that there were a few surfers that were out there, so to us, led us to believe that we’d be fine if we went just past the ‘soup’. This term, as I’ve learned from my residency on the west coast, refers to the white foam just after the wave breaks. It’s typically just before the shoreline and, depending on how the waves are coming in, can be a difficult place to paddle out. Michelle and I decided that we’d go just past the soup to catch the swells rolling in.

After just a few minutes, our excitement for the day had met its match with the cold water temperature and we both decided that we would head in. Michelle, also being a high school state swim champ and DI swimmer, seemed to be heading in much quicker than I was. I began paddling and kicking a little harder. Looking towards the sand, I was ready to get warm and continue reading a book I had recently started for a relaxing afternoon at the beach. As I looked along the the cliff line, using this as my marker for how close I was going to be to peeling open those pages while on a beach towel, it finally occurred to me:

I wasn’t moving. In fact, I was drifting further away from shore.

I had been caught in a riptide. For the past 10+ minutes, I’ve spent my energy fighting this current that had brought me, at this point, over 100 yards from where I wanted to be. I screamed with everything I had in me for help. I saw my wife running towards complete strangers, and one by one, these individuals begin raising their hands to their ears calling for professional assistance. I was in absolute panic with no end in sight and it was terrifying. I reached a point where I had to consider the resources I had available to me. A boogie board, a wetsuit, and will to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
— Albert Einstein

When I took a moment to think about what I could do, I realized that clearly the current is going to win when I face it head on. It was at that point I decided to begin swimming at an angle to see what that would allow for. After a few more minutes, I finally felt as though I was making traction, and it didn’t hurt that my wife, also noticing this new effort, was pumping her fists as encouragement. For the final home stretch, I needed a big wave to bring me in. I was physically and emotionally drained; I had nothing left to give. With the reserves winding down and not paying attention to the sets, I was pulled under by a large wave that fortunately was the cause of bringing me in and getting close enough to be able to touch shore with my feet.

Looking back, I would’ve done a number of things differently, and as I began penning through how this could have been avoided or even lessen the severity of the situation, there are a number of parallels to how we go about business. In particular, for those situations in which we feel stuck.

Plan to Discover

Often times we begin a task with an end goal in mind, with that particular outcome the milestone for whether that specific project was a success or a failure. However, it's when we come to a deeper understanding during the process that we realize there's greater potential in the task itself.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor William Barnett has focused his research on competitive advantage and knows this concept all too well as very rarely, do companies ever evolve into the sustainable businesses they once were during their infancy. In a 2015 blog post, "Discovery Trumps Planning, So Plan to Discover", Barnett lays out a number of businesses that have diverted their efforts from what they initially started as due to these findings along the way. Barnett states, "Trader Joe’s, a boutique specialty retailer in the U.S., once made its money selling cigarettes and ammunition – a far cry from the microwavable organic meals and fancy cheeses one can get there today. Honda Motors, famously, planned to sell big motorcycles – 'choppers' – in the U.S., and ended up discovering the market for small 'minibikes.'”

When Rent the Runway first launched, Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss were students at Harvard that wanted to offer dresses to their peers that desired different options for their events and formals. With a single 10'x10' pop-up tent located on campus, they allowed students to see and feel the dresses before renting. As a test, they then allowed potential renters to see the dresses but not touch them; renters could only feel the dresses once they committed to renting. What it proved to the RTR founders was that there was an opportunity to go mainstream. Touching the material was not a detriment to their future success, and ultimately, would allow them to branch from dresses offered at the collegiate level to an online presence with everyday wear targeting a far larger market.

Other things that could have helped in my given situation include swimming fins and a (much) better understanding of the water I was about to jump into. Nonetheless, it's a story that I'm fortunate to be able to tell and one in which applies in a broad range on how we go about our growing our businesses. For the next action item you tackle, remind yourself to be open to the possibility that there could be a greater discovery embedded within.


Building Without Burning Out

In the initial stages of a startup, you wear enough hats to satisfy a dinner reservation for a party of six. You're responsible for the product development, marketing, sales, and oh yeah, you need to get that LLC formed in the off chance you get an early customer that's willing to write a check. 

These are some of the most exciting times. The early, 'what the hell's going to happen next' (although, I think there's always that feeling to some degree) can keep the endorphins flowing at higher rates than you're used to. When it's time to go to bed at the end of the 12+ hour day, it can be challenging to slow the mind down. It's easy to get to a point of feeling guilty for taking a break to read, cook dinner, or even go workout because there's still so much to do. 

You have to take care of yourself along the way.


Create Headspace

Headspace is an app I use that helps me tremendously. Each session is 10 minutes, some supported with a short animation, and is an ideal way to start my day with clarity and intention. 

Massachusetts General Hospital neuroscientist and Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor Sara Lazar studied the benefits of meditation reducing stress. As part of her research, she took a group of people who had no previous experiences with meditating and placed them into an eight-week stress-reduction meditation class, and compared them to the other half of the group that did not meditate. From a Washington Post article dated May 2015, Lazar described the differences in brain volume in four distinct areas of those that participated in the meditation class to those that did not:  

  • Postier Cingulate (the biggest difference); responsible for mind wandering and self relevance
  • The left hippocampus, aides in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation
  • The temporo parietal junction (TPJ), which is associated with perspective talking, empathy, and compassion
  • The amygdala, 'fight or flight' feeling resulting from stress, anxiety, and depression

Get Physical

Getting out of the office and moving around is one of my favorite ways to burn stress and simply get my mind off work. For me, it's anything endurance related; running, biking, and swimming tend to be my go-to's and also allows for a good sweat during the lunch hour. 

Mayo Clinic, a medical research group based in Rochester, Minnesota, laid out seven benefits of regular exercise. Aside from combating type 2 diabetes and high-blood pressure, keeping one's workouts to a routine also positively impacts mental health. As reported, just a 30-minute workout can 'stimulate various brain chemicals that leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.'

Step Away From the Screen 

While it's easier said than done, setting the phone, laptop, and electronic devices down to take time for yourself is imperative. It's entirely consuming and overwhelming once the day starts; it can be an endless stream of emails, mobile notifications, and presentation decks that's demanding our attention.

One of things I've really enjoyed doing during my non-connected times is learning how to cook. With services like Blue Apron and GreenChef, it's step-by-step, perfectly proportioned meal-delivery companies that allows me to develop a skill I likely wouldn't otherwise take the time to craft. Another way to 'step away' has been reading; I prefer the feel of turning the pages as I go and in 2016 finished 10 books in my pursuit of getting from out behind the monitor. Here are some of my favorites from the past year: 

It's impossible to do everything at once. Taking that approach sacrifices your health and the quality of work that can ultimately jeopardize future success. Health and productivity go hand-in-hand and you're only capable of being your best when you make your well-being a priority.  

How do you break from the daily grind? Share in the comments below. 
Photo Cred: Headway


Why 'First Round's on Me'?

10 years ago, a close friend and I set out to take on the ridiculous prices that then major retailers, specifically those targeted to high school and college students, were charging. We had a few t-shirt designs, a website, and an appetite to take on the Goliaths of retail. 

Our biggest hurdle: we had no idea what we were doing. 

 The first Vuelon t-shirt was hand-painted

The first Vuelon t-shirt was hand-painted

We pulled all-nighter after all-nighter wracking our brains around how we could possibly make a dent in this space. We made countless mistakes, some that ended in our favor with most going against us, and after enough Hamburger Helper quick meals to keep our focus, our first venture was acquired 18 months later.

Fast forward to today, we're both still building companies and loving every minute. I've been able (and continue to) fine tune my niche within business development through outbound demand generation, product demos, and contract negotiating. Even more important, I've found myself in a unique position of not only contributing to the bottom line in pure dollars and cents, but also evolving the sales team within the company that's home to 25 full-time, employee-owners that are some of the most talented and passionate professionals I've ever worked alongside. 

I believe in people helping people.

Being a resource in sharing successful strategies and avoid the headaches I've experienced along the way is my primary focus. I often times thought, "if I just had someone in my non-existent rolodex that has done this before would make this so much easier." Starting and scaling a company comes with plenty of uncertainties and at minimum, I'll share key takeaways that have carried me through some of my most difficult times that also turned into my biggest wins.

Focus on being productive
instead of busy.
— Tim Ferris

Through blogs, podcasts, and my participation within the Stanford Graduate School of Business Ignite entrepreneurship program, you'll get my very best in being a sounding board and resource.

Let's go,