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IBS, ADHD, and Uphill Career Battles

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The truth is I’ve been holding back. I give you advice that I find hard to follow myself.  I motivate(hopefully) even when I  personally have trouble getting motivated, and inspire when I wonder if I’m really that inspired in my own life.

Yesterday I was chatting with Kelly Diels and she encouraged me to write about something I almost hate. It is something I hate thinking about and hate acknowledging that it is is still a part of my life, but it’s there, like a thorn in my side (literally). It is something that has done things to my life that make me think I use it as an excuse.

But, I figured it was time for the truth, a dose of the real me. Considering I wrote a post about the importance of authenticity, I figured it’s time I joined the club.

The Diagnosis  I didn’t want to hear:

Three months after I graduated from Berkeley, I found myself in a sales job at a software startup that was ass-backwards (to put it kindly).

Somewhere along the way I’d gotten it in my head that I was meant to be a salesperson. In fact, I thought it was what I was born to do, mostly because a professor in college told me that I had a skill for presentation and selling. If you’ve talked to me, or listened to my podcasts, then you know I’m a people-person and a pretty outgoing guy. Sales seemed a natural fit. Or so I thought.

Shortly after I started that job, I found myself in a somewhat unexplainable discomfort on almost a daily basis. I always had a stomach ache or always felt bloated. I truly felt like the weight of the fucking world was on my shoulders – or, actually, in my gut.  So, I went to a doctor – who himself was probably on the verge of death, considering how old he was – and he gave me some medication. That didn’t do shit so I went back and he referred me to a specialist.

I get to the specialist and he says “Yeah, you have irritable bowel syndrome.”

When I asked him what the hell that was, he handed me an informative and completely useless pamphlet. (Needless to say I have my issues with doctors – despite the fact that my sister is going to be one, and many of my closest friends are doctors.)  When I asked him how to get rid of it, he said there really was no cure.

Excellent.

The most frustrating thing about a condition to which there is no cure is it’s not going to kill you anytime soon and there is no end in sight. There are moments where you have supremely self-pitying thoughts like “At least if I was dead, it wouldn’t hurt anymore.”  Other times, I refused to believe that I couldn’t get rid of this thing and I went off to battle.

What it’s like to have IBS:

If you want to know what this feels like, go eat a bunch of crap that you shouldn’t mix together like pizza, ice cream, coffee, and then wash it down with a glass of vodka and you’ll get a dose of what it can be like on a daily basis.  I think we all know what I’m talking about.

Even if you don’t eat any of that stuff, stress can trigger it.  How do I cope? Don’t get me started. The whole world of dietary recommendations is just a mess to which there is no end. The worst part is that it goes away when you sleep, so the only thing a doctor will tell you is that there is nothing wrong with you.  So that should give you an idea of why my sales career was flushed down the toilet before it even started.

Sales? Stress. Stress? IBS.

Lifestyle Changes? Yeah Right

I was 23 at the time of diagnosis and the doctors recommended not drinking, not partying, or any of that. It was like “I know you’re 23, but I think the best thing you can do is just not have fun.” So, I didn’t bother with the lifestyle changes. I wanted to hang out with my friends, experience life, and live it to the fullest. And I paid for that.

Hitting your low point:

Everybody experiences a point in their life at which they reach their ultimate low. After almost a year at my first job, a 20% pay cut and no sign of a commission check despite being a top performer I was fired 5 days before Christmas.  One friend who had his goodbye lunch that same day says I stole his thunder. Apparently complaining about not getting paid a commission check was unacceptable. It had easily been the worst year of my life and I was off to Vegas to celebrate just how bad it had been.  Dec 30th I found myself at rumjungle in the Mandalay Bay, a place I think I will hate for the rest of my life given the experiences I’ve had there. I guess the cocktail waitress cleavage is a somewhat redeeming quality of this place. After losing count of my vodka and redbulls, I found myself kicked out of a club, with no credit card(because I opened a tab), a lost phone, on the floor of a bathroom stall in Vegas. I can’t think of another moment in my life where I’ve felt worse. It was really the low point. It was the conclusion of a truly awful year.

The Uphill Career Battle, ADHD and the belief that has kept me going

My career track record is less than stellar.

After the unceremonious, traumatic end to my first job, I didn’t give up on sales. No, I embraced the punishment and took several more jobs in sales even though – looking back – I didn’t enjoy them.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.

So, basically, I was crazy.

One boss chained me to a desk because he didn’t want me interacting with clients.  Not exactly a vote of confidence, but I knew where this was coming from. IBS takes your energy level down to a level where you are always tired, uncomfortable, and you come across like you can’t sit still.

Another boss told me I wasn’t cut out for sales. (One day I’d like to write  a bestselling book and send it to him via Fedex with a note saying  “You were right. I’m not cut out for sales. Thank you so much!”)

When I finally did get out of sales, I found myself unable to focus. I mean really, really, really unable to focus, like what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-me?? unable to focus.

It was then that I discovered that I had ADHD that had gone untreated for years.

This made sense. My previously inexplicable 2.97 GPA – at a college that is known to be one of the best schools in the world – became clear. It was not because I didn’t study, it was not because I’m not smart, it was because I struggle to focus on anything for more than about thirty minutes at a time.

There are exceptions. There always are. The one exception to that rule is that anything I love and find interesting consumes me and  extinguish the thirty  minute rule. For me that exception is writing and speaking about what we are really capable of.

It’s a blessing if you can learn to control it and a curse if you can’t.

Apparently people with ADHD operate at a capacity that’s very different than the average person. If they love something they can have a laserlike focus that most people can’t rival, or they have absolutely no focus. The average person operates at 75% of their capacity in day-to-day life, while a person with ADHD functions at 20% or 100%. We get no in-between. It’s all or nothing with us.

The one Belief that has kept me going:

I told a good friend once “Ordinary lives are for ordinary people. I was never meant for that. My life is supposed to be extraordinary.”

I believe we all have a gift, something we were put on this earth to do. Whatever my gift is, I know that part of it involves being extraordinary.  Maybe being extraordinary means being different. Maybe it means carving out my own path instead of raveling along what others – including myself, sometimes – think is the safe, appropriate, predictable road.

Pension Plans, promotions, and a guaranteed place on the corporate ladder  without an opportunity to imagine and build an empire sounds like a prison sentence where I’m the warden and caging the brightest birds.

Just writing this gives me chills.

On the one hand, if I push publish, I may be committing career suicide, since a prospective employer might read this and think I’m nothing but trouble.

On the other hand, I might find exactly what I’m looking for and be propelled into the stratosphere.

I’m going to go with the latter.

Surfing has saved my life:

Rumor has it that surfing has ruined my life. One of my good friends – who got me interested in the sport, in the first place - told me that  he heard from someone close to me that they thought surfing was ruining my life. In all reality I spent ungodly amounts of time in the water this past summer. 6 hour sessions are not really normal. Part of me wonders if I swim out there to forget, or to run away from it all. Either way, it was beginning to look like it was taking over, so somebody decided to tell a friend they thought it might be ruining my life.  I had a good laugh at that. Seriously, what were they going to do, have an intervention with me?

While the adrenaline rush, the endorphin release, and the overall feeling of being stoked got me addicted to the sport, what made me stick with it was the fact that after I started surfing, IBS started to lose its hold over me.  This is not a coincidence.Feeling light, free, and full of life – the way I was when I was 22 - is incomparable.

Within the first week of my recent job I started to have a relapse of IBS. Considering the story above, it’s not like I’d survive it this time. I’m not 23 and the body has its limits. If stayed in the job it might have been a death sentence.  So, yeah I walked away from a job, I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. I’m not here to tell you how this is going to end.

I’m here to tell you how it’s going to begin.

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