When I said, “At least I’ll get a break”—and why it was a wake-up call.

Four days after a routine appendectomy, I found myself crawling back and forth between my bathroom to my bedroom, with mounting pain and a growing certainty that something was very wrong.

“Justin, I think I need to go to the hospital,” I finally said to my husband at 1 am, knowing that once arrived at the emergency room, we’d be separated just like we were four days before, and I’d be navigating whatever came next by myself.

It’s weird to have a non-COVID-19 emergency during the pandemic.

While the emergency team ran tests and tried to get my pain under control, a few members of the surgical team visited me in the ER and presented what they thought was happening: a bowel obstruction (TMI, but everyone has bowels and I now see poop as a literal miracle). They shared three potential surgical scenarios:

  1. They explore laparoscopically (a couple of tiny incisions – sort of like the appendectomy – allowing them to look around with a camera), and they’d potentially fix the problem that way. Reading between the lines, they didn’t seem convinced this would work.
  2. If they weren’t able to fix the obstruction laparoscopically, they’d need to open my stomach and potentially remove a section of colon that was blocking my small intestine.
  3. If the problem was very severe, I would wake up with a stoma – something many people have learned to live with before – but it would be an adjustment I didn’t have a lot of time to think about or plan for.

“But is there an option that doesn’t include another surgery?” I pressed. For good measure, please allow yourself to picture me in an emergency room bed, curled in a ball, shaking from pain and asking this question.

All four surgeons shook their heads in unison.

When they left, a nurse gave me another morphine injection that dulled the pain a little while I pictured the discomfort as a shrinking cartoon ball in my abdomen that responded to my breathing. I think that’s called “a trip.” 

As it dawned on me that I would probably have an unexpected, longer-than-I-wanted recovery ahead, a thought floated through my head, as if on a cloud.

“At least I’ll get a break.”

I knew I needed to remember that moment and that feeling. So, I put a memory pin in it just in case the pain meds would dull it– I said it aloud and I text messaged it to myself. Holy shit – In the middle of 10/10 pain, I considered a potentially life-altering surgery “a break?”

We’ve been working at a breakneck pace at aSweatLife, navigating opportunity after opportunity, finding our way around, under, and over obstacle after obstacle. Just like everyone.

And although I had the resources to take a break – the team that runs aSweatLife with me is whip-smart and innovative – I was still inserting myself into everything. Not because they needed me, but because I felt I needed to know everything first-hand.

The “I can do it myself” attitude reared its head again. And it took being knocked on my ass to remind me that what got me here won’t get me there. Learning how to do everything for myself – that’s great for a solo-player. But I’m not a solo-player and I haven’t been for a while.

I texted the team after a night in the ER and with a clear misunderstanding of how long I’d be there, “Move without me. I trust you.”

Six days later, when I got out of the hospital, I had staples, stitches, and glue holding my stomach together and less colon than I had started with (the surgery team went with option 2). But my team had continued normal operations without me and planned an entire socially distanced #SweatworkingWeek without my input and without missing a beat.

Realizing just how proud I was, I had an “aha.” Real leaders get out of the way.  

Your challenge this week: 

Let go of the attitudes that don’t serve your vision for your future. If I truly believe that #EverythingIsBetterWithFriends – it is – I needed to let my team be great. For you, it might be trading in a heightened sense of competition for an attitude for collaboration to help you get to your next summit. Or it could be that you need to trade treating every task like it’s the highest priority for focusing on doing the work that aligns with your priorities first.

COVID-19 Live

About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of asweatlife.com a destination for living better lives, with fitness as the catalyst. But before starting health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the first decade of her career, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience and her passion for wellness and SweatWorking was the natural evolution of that experience. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, hosting aSweatLife’s monthly #Sweatworking events.

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