On June 16th, 2016, I took an Uber from Jersey City, NJ to Washington, D.C. I had my two dogs in the backseat.
I should probably tell you that I am in the business of helping people. My thought was, what better place to help people than Washington, D.C, right?
There we were. My dogs and I. In an Uber. On a mission to make the world a better place.
Nine months later.
It is now February 16th, 2017. Exactly nine months from the day I arrived to D.C.
It’s a Thursday morning and I just got ready for the day. I brought my dog in from our morning walk and was now on my way to WeWork Chinatown, D.C.
As I took my second step to cross the street I suddenly had a feeling that a car was coming from the left. I turned my head to see if it was still safe to walk.
The white truck was so close to me that I never had time to get out of the way.
Laying on a hospital bed, a doctor spoke into my ear,
You were struck by a motor vehicle while you were walking across the street in front of your home. It was a commercial van traveling 40 mph. Your pelvis and femur are shattered…crushed, really. You will require multiple surgeries. You will likely never walk again. Arthritis will set into your hip at a young age. You will need a hip replacement in the next few years. You will be in pain from this injury for the rest of your life.
I began to cry, hysterically.
Eventually, they were able to put me back together again.
Granted, my surgeon may have had to use what looks to be a bike chain.
Should I be worried?
They promised me it wasn’t the rusty one.
Staying overnight at the hospital was hard.
Staying overnight at the hospital 27 times in a row is even harder.
There was never a morning I woke up and thought to myself, “Today, I am happy that I am unable to use the lower half of my body.”
Nights were dark, quiet, and lonely. Nobody to talk to. I’m supposed to stay in my room. The only way I can move or get something I need is by ringing a bell to ask permission.
Autonomy was no longer an option. I required assistance to accomplish the most mundane tasks.
My life’s work, everything important to me, was taken away. I had no say in the path my life was about to take.
After my 27-day hospital stint, I was finally ready to be shipped home. There I would go, travel to Jersey, unsure of what my life was going to look like.
Paramedics came, wheeled me outside, loaded my stretcher into the back of an ambulance, and drove me up north to my mother’s house in New Jersey.
As of late, I had not visited home as much as I would have liked. It would be interesting, to say the least, if I were to suddenly live under my parents roof for an unknown amount of time. As a 32 year old, moving back in with my parents wasn’t exactly on my list of things to-do.
My initial plan was to stay at a friend’s house to recover in Washington, D.C. My mother wanted me to come home so she could take care of me. Being as stubborn as I am, I am surprised that I agreed to my mother’s request. I am so happy I did. I am so happy I had the opportunity to accept. I couldn’t have done it with her, my family, and my friends.
In hindsight, I am not sure how I could have done any of what I have accomplished thus far if it were not for the family and friends that continue to surround and support me today.
I am fortunate to have had a peaceful, supportive, and loving environment in which to recover. I am grateful that my parents were willing to take me in. I am more grateful that my mother insisted that I come home to be with her.
It took about a month before my mother and I found something in which we disagreed. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I was acting immature about not getting something I wanted.
Being the mature adult that I am, I wheeled myself into the living room, stared out the window, and tried to figure out a plan to escape my parent’s house.
I had a feeling it might be a bit more challenging than those nights in high school I crawled out my sister’s window and down the ladder I kept hidden on the roof.
Each day of my recovery felt empty and hopeless.
Days turned into weeks.
Weeks turned into months.
Would this horrific white-hot pain ever go away?
I was not able to think about anything else except the pain. Completely consumed by it.
Then, one morning, two months after the accident, I woke up and immediately noticed the pain had slightly reduced. Just a bit. If I had to quantify it, I would say the pain went from being 100% down to 95%. It does not sound like much. I was still in excruciating pain 24 hours a day. The pain didn’t bother me anymore. The moment I felt a reduction in the pain I knew it was safe to finally let myself have hope.
“This might get better.”
It felt so good to have motivation to be alive. I was motivated to get better. I complied with everything they recommended. I researched additional information in my own time. I ate well. I did my physical therapy. I walked with a walker or crutches around my block every morning. I went from taking zero steps a day to breaking 10,000 steps in a day.
The pain continued to alleviate.
There was progress everyday. I would be bored by 3pm, but at least I had reasons to enjoy life again.
Now that my mind was no longer distracted by the pain, I was able to focus my attention on the things that really matter in life.
So, I did what most people would do in my position.
In between Netflix binges I would roll around the house in my wheelchair. Collecting supplies for my next nesting session. I was good at finding corners of the house to nest in for hours at a time.
One thing I picked up from the hospital is what I like to call “cocooning”. It’s when I lay on my back, wrap the blanket under the heels of my feet, pull the rest of the blanket over my head, and tuck the top of blanket behind the back of my head. I found cocooning to be quite soothing throughout my recovery. I picked it up in the hospital because it was the only way I felt safe enough to sleep. I could nap anytime of day with the help of a cocoon.
There I was.
In between episodes I found some time to think about my life. My career. Accomplishments. Decisions. The people I surrounded myself with. Stuff I decided to make. Stuff I decided not to make.
As my support network watched me recover they could see I was getting better.
I didn’t always feel like I was getting better. Sometimes I just had to trust the process.
Questions like, “what’s next”, emerged.
This was hard, at first.
I wanted to have answers to questions like, “what’s next”, just as much as my supporters. I just didn’t know where or how to start. Especially not while my entire day was still consumed by recovering from a tragedy.
There was also an element of learned helplessness that I was dealing with. After months of having no autonomy it led to massive inaction. As my recovery progressed, I lacked the motivation to start building a life again. I didn’t believe it was possible to live a happy life without being run over by a van and having my entire life ripped away from me without my permission. Why would I try to build a life when this is the type of thing that happens?
I didn’t know the specific thing I would do, professionally speaking, but I knew the general direction in which I wanted to walk.
I had to start somewhere. I made a list of the people in my support network who are likely to give me the advice I need. One-by-one, I called the family and friends on my list. I heard different answers from each person. That was a good thing. I was able to juxtapose the conversations against one another to identify the parts from each that I felt were most inline with my vision.
It is important to me that my personal values are aligned with my work. During my calls, I shared the vision I had for my future.
My vision is to live in a world where business, government, education, and technology work together in the community to design a sustainable way of life.
A time when startups aren’t building widgets, but they’re building creative solutions to greatest challenges of our time. A time when people are motivated to collaborate because it is baked into their personality. A time when the human race is reconnected with their humanity. It’s also a time when I am surrounded by the family and friends who love me. I want people to think of me as a dependable and reliable guy, I want to maintain healthy relationships and a healthy mindset, I want to buy my first-home, I want to re-establish myself in the industry as a thought leader and authority, I want to invite my partner to live in my home so that we can build a life and family together, I want nice things and to go on nice trips throughout the year, and I want to want for nothing so that my family isn’t concerned with money.
I also shared my values, skills, and experiences to let them know of my previous successes. Perhaps knowing this would enable them to give me more relevant advice.
Hearing from so many people that I was valuable, important, and worthy of pursuing a meaningful project was validating for me.
At the time, my confidence and self-esteem was low. This newly discovered confidence and self-worth empowered me to break-free from the learned helplessness.
After a few weeks of these conversations, it allowed me to see a path into the future.
The common theme from all the advice I received was:
Analyze the work I did over the years to find where, exactly, I was most successful. Then, figure out how to do it better.
The advice I received sounded familiar. It sounded similar to the advice I give to many of my clients.
Prior to the accident, I helped entrepreneurs figure out simple solutions to their complex business problems. I helped entrepreneurs identify what’s missing, how to fill the gap, and what the highest impact action items to tackle first might be.
I help my customers identify opportunities for innovation. Opportunities to do things better, more effective, and like they haven’t been done before.
It seemed as if I was about to become my next customer.
Before I knew it, I went from having no direction or visible path into the future to having a general idea around what I might do. This was progress. I went from discovering a need to generating the idea to implementing with a plan.
I was the consultant and I was the client.
I started the project by putting my consultant hat on. I like to kick things off with a questionnaire prior to our kick-off meeting because it lets me assess the entire situation.
I listed the questions I would need to answer in order to understand where I might find an opportunity to innovate.
When was I most successful? Why?
What problem does my customer require help to solve?
How do customers solve the problem today?
What alternatives (competitors) offer solutions to the same problem?
Are there any opportunities to improve the existing model or design a new innovation from scratch?
An empathetic understanding of my customer is required to build the right solution and sell it the right way. This is typically achieved through the Customer Journey Mapping process.
A Customer Journey Map is a strategic tool to look at the way I’ve done something in the past to identify low risk, high-reward opportunities to improve or innovate in the future.
This post is dedicated to my family and friends. When I need you the most, you are there for me. No questions asked. You are there. You show up for me, support me, and continue to collaborate with me as I pick myself up by my bootstraps and build a new life. Thank you for all you do.