Life is Sweet— Soak it Up!
I was surrounded by death. I could see it, I could smell it. In 2010, I spent 10 days in Haiti with seven members of my church; this was right after the massive earthquake. In the midst of the horror, the Haitian people were pleasant, grateful and happy to be alive, despite “having nothing.”
At one point, I came across two boys who lived in a tin shed on an open-sewer trench. They were smiling, laughing and playing. I remember thinking: As entrepreneurs, we have it so good compared to them, and yet we so often let our challenges consume us. These kids are smiling through it all! When I returned home, I reminded myself to appreciate what life has to offer, because it doesn’t last forever.
That philosophy had been, and would be, tested during two frightening occasions. Last year, USA Today ran a story about near-death experiences changing entrepreneurs. In the article, I was quoted as saying: “Life is a gift, meant to be enjoyed, pursued and shared. Failure happens, but life and health are worth so much more.” I knew from experience. My first brush with death occurred 20 years ago, when I was bitten by a poisonous coral snake. It paralyzed me within minutes, and I was in the ICU for days. That frightening experience taught me that failure couldn’t mean the end of the world.
I had just flirted with death and survived! I took a good look at where I was in life, and decided I wanted more. So I quit my job and became an entrepreneur. But life wasn’t done with me. As fate would have it, the day after that USA Today article was published I was critically injured in a skiing accident. The last thing I remember was seeing a snowmaker racing toward me. I blacked out upon collision.
When I awoke in the hospital, I asked the doctor if the injury was serious. He answered, “Yes, very serious. Your life is in danger.” Those gut-wrenching words earned me my first surgery and a helicopter ride to another hospital. My diagnosis: Paralysis of lower extremities, concussion, three fractured ribs and sternum, a collapsed lung and shoulder separation, among other injuries. Thanks to a motivating staff of nurses, my paralysis and neck brace were gone within days.
They told me I should have died, that I should at least be permanently paralyzed. Somehow, though, I was able to walk out of that hospital. I am grateful to be alive and to have sons, family and dear friends who helped during the long, challenging recovery. I am still overwhelmed that I’ve fully recovered, but I relish the pursuit of life with these special people.
After seeing others deal with death in Haiti and having gone through my own scary ordeals, I know that there is no failure in life— only learning, living and loving everything to the fullest. Sometimes we forget that as entrepreneurs; we’re so focused on the challenges and numbers. But it’s just work. There’s life beyond business. My experiences taught me that life is sweet, and I’m soaking it up!
Bill Douglas is CEO and founder of EssentiaLink. Fun fact: Bill has mentored more than 500 kids through Junior Achievement.