The True Cost of Ignoring Your Health as an Entrepreneur

January 24, 2018

 

Over six weeks flew by and I didn’t publish an article...I had good reason: I was sick. Really sick. Like, multiple hospitals in foreign countries and drug-resistant infection sick. 

 

Since so many of you are entrepreneurs, corporate ninjas, or side-hustlers, I thought you might relate to this detour in working life, and hopefully avoid going through something similar in the future.

 

It all started with an emergency surgery in Helsinki, where I was attending Slush, an incredible tech conference run entirely by student volunteers. Had this happened in some of the places I typically travel, I may well have died. (Let’s pause here and take a moment to thank the universe if we have access to urgent care, which billions of people around the world lack.) But Finland was good to me. I got patched up in 24 hours, and off I went to my next meeting in Amsterdam two days later. 

 

Like so many entrepreneurs, I have treated my body as if I’m invincible for the entirety of my startup life. Last year, I logged nearly 500,000 miles and 44 days in the air (Airhelp shared these stats with me, and I find them depressing…), and I managed my health by taking a lot of fancy supplements, eating decently, and staying in motion wherever possible.

 

But the stress of launching Give Work and managing LXMI and Samasource was killer. My immune system was so battered after weeks of insane travel and surgery #1 that I developed a serious infection and had to get two more emergency procedures in the same month.

 

Did I really need to keep traveling after the first crisis? No deal is that important. Many of my colleagues, partners, and investors were more concerned than happy that I pushed myself beyond my limits, set a bad example for my team, and, in the end, required more time to heal than if I’d just taken it easy earlier on.

 

The moral of my story: don’t be a fool. Good health is your most important life and work goal. Everything else depends on it. And when you lose it, as I did, especially over Christmas and New Year’s in a foreign country, you realize how very precious your one body is, and how much care it deserves.

 

Leila Janah writes regularly on social impact, entrepreneurship, and technology. Subscribe to her letter here.

 

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