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"You Have All Of The Problems"
After a couple of days of testing, it turned out my heart was just fine. What I experienced, the doctor told me, was a severe panic attack. After 18 years of running my body nonstop in true "startup hustle" fashion, it just gave up. All of those moments of ignoring the stress, of pushing those emotions waaaay down, and forgoing my health all came to a head.
It turns out, it doesn't matter if we process those things, our bodies do it regardless, and yes, they have a threshold.
During my analysis, the doctor gave me a list of all the life events that can typically contribute to this type of reaction. They included things like a job change, marriage, new child, death in the family, chronic illness, move, etc. I checked almost every single box. He told me any one of them could put me here, but in true Founder fashion, I had to lead the pack by doing all of them.
It's (Not) Cool, Everyone Is Doing It
I walked out of the hospital thankful to be alive but also wondering how in nearly 20 years I hadn't heard a million Founders exclaim the same outcome. Maybe it was just me. So, I asked a bunch of my Founder friends if they had ever experienced any of these symptoms or challenges.
Nearly every single Founder said "Oh yeah, all the time. I had my last panic attack last month!"
Here's something that was crippling all of my Founder friends and yet no one had ever mentioned it — ever. As I continued more conversations with more Founders, I realized that this topic was more pervasive and more painful than nearly any other challenge Founders were going through. It felt like a Twilight Zone moment.
37 Is So Unlucky
Now the next data point really threw me — consistently, nearly all of the Founders I spoke to had the same type of "final breakdown" at age 37. I had never mentioned how old I was when we talked about it, and some of these Founders were older than I was. At first, I thought it was just this bizarre coincidence, but as I unpacked this over the last 10 years, I realized it made total sense.
37 is typically when most major life events are happening all at once, from building a family, to buying a home, to being neck-deep in a startup. It's not that these issues don't occur earlier in life, it's that by 37 our bodies and minds are out of energy to absorb them. Of course, the same eruption can happen at any age, but I can count nearly two dozen cases of my own recollection where it specifically happened to Founders at 37.
But this isn't about the perils of being 37. This is a cautionary tale about the fact that we are, in fact, mortal. All of that anxiety manifests whether we want it to or not. All of those life events that we keep ignoring because we have to "press on" aren't being ignored by us. Our bodies and minds can (and will) run out of gas, and when that time comes, the cost is grave.
Ten years later, I haven't had a panic attack. I've changed every habit that was killing my body and mind and learned that the success of my startup simply cannot come at the expense of my body. This shit is real friends, and if we don't get in front of it, we're in for a bad ending.
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