I was in agony.
Waves of pain unimaginable shot down my spine, causing every muscle in my body to contract as if I’d been shocked with 20,000 volts of electricity. My back arched up at an unnatural angle. My arms and legs began to shake.
One moment, I was on a webinar talking to a few hundred people about traffic, walking them through exactly how to start a blog and make it popular. The next, everything went dark. I was still conscious, but just barely.
Underneath the layers of pain, I remember thinking, “You can’t pass out. You have to finish talking about how to build an email list.” Of course, the pain was so bad I’d forgotten how to freaking see, much less pontificate on the intricacies of opt in pages.
So, I stopped. I waited a few seconds. My vision slowly returned, and I was able to wiggle the mouse up to the “Mute” button again.
For the next several minutes, I just sat there, quivering and trying to catch my breath as waves of pain continued up and down my spine. Eventually, the pain receded somewhat, and I wiggled the mouse back up to the “Mute” button again.
“Sorry folks,” I said. “Looks like GoToWebinar is having some technical difficulties. Can everyone hear me now?”
They said they could. We finished the webinar. Immediately afterward, I went to bed and stayed there for the next 16 hours.
And the worst part?
It was a normal day. I’d nearly collapsed on several webinars, not just that one. You might’ve even been on one of them.
Part of me worried if I was about to die. Another part hoped I would, just to be free of the pain.
I was at the end of my rope. One way or another, things were about to change.
Hold on, though. Let’s back up a bit.
When I was in college, my best friend calmly informed me he was going to kill himself.
A few months earlier, he had gone to the hospital in a horrible pain, and doctors found more than a dozen tumors nestled around his spine. He’d been on nonstop radiation treatments and narcotics ever since, but the tumors weren’t shrinking, and he was still in a lot of pain.
“I can’t take this anymore,” he said. “If this pain doesn’t stop, I’m going to blow my brains out. I’ve already bought the gun.”
I stared at him, horrified. Thanks to being born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I’ve had more than my share of tough times, including more than a dozen bouts with pneumonia, over 50 broken bones, and a spine reconstruction surgery with, I kid you not, a two-year recovery time.
But I never considered killing myself. Not once.
Noticing my silence, my friend looked up at me and wheezed out a small laugh. “You don’t understand, do you? Not even you.”
I shook my head. “Come on, man. You’re stronger than this. You’ll fight through.”
For a long time, he said nothing. Then, in almost a whisper, he said, “Strength doesn’t last forever.”
A few weeks later, he refused treatment. He would’ve died, if not for his four-year-old daughter breaking down in tears and begging him not to give up. Just to console her, he resumed treatment, and six months later, he was cancer free. He’s still alive to this day.
I never understood what he said, though. Not until almost the same thing happened to me.
For my entire life, I’ve been like Superman. I can’t move from the neck down, but I graduated college at the top of my class, built several successful businesses, and now I’m one of the most popular bloggers in the world.
But as it turns out, even Superman has his limits. Strength doesn’t last forever.
I didn’t tell anyone about the pain.
It started small enough. A bit of aching in my lower back, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I just plowed right through it like I usually do, working 12 hour days,
A few months after moving to Mexico though, I knew I was in trouble. The pain crept up until I felt like my legs were on fire, a dagger was buried between my shoulders, and a bullet was lodged in my brain.
Suffice it to say that it hurt. Bad.
Not just every now and again, either. I was in pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And it was like kryptonite.
Where I used to have endless energy, I struggled just to stay alert for a few hours each day. Where I used to always be the smartest guy in the room, I went through the day feeling cloudy and confused. Where I used to have unshakable confidence, I was now afraid to get on the phone with a client for fear of falling apart in front of them.
I was able to do just enough to scrape by without my entire business falling apart, and I spent the rest of my time hiding, ashamed of what I had become:
This went on for more than six months, and I didn’t tell a soul. Not my friends, not my family, not my employees. Only the nurses taking care of me knew what I was going through.
And for the first time in my life, I understood how somebody could commit suicide.
It’s not that they want to die, necessarily. They just want the pain to stop, and killing themselves seems like the only way.
Thankfully, I never got quite that hopeless. It might’ve happened eventually, but I held onto the belief that, no matter how bad it gets, eventually things will improve. That’s not always true, but that belief (or faith) kept me from ever considering taking my life.
I did come to understand suicide, though. All forms of it.
When a businessman loses all his money and puts a gun to his head, people think, “How could he do that? It’s only money.” What they don’t understand is it has nothing to do with money.
It’s about looking at your situation and knowing you don’t have what it takes to get through it. It’s too painful, and you’re too weak. That’s when you make one of two decisions.
You kill yourself.
Or you ask for help.
The painful truth about accomplishing your goals
After six months of nearly nonstop pain, I came to an important realization:
I’m not Superman.
Yes, I’m super smart. Yes, I’m super disciplined. Yes, I’m super talented.
But bullets don’t bounce off my chest. I can’t go more than two days without sleep. If the pain gets bad enough, I will pass out.
In other words, I have limits. You’d think I would’ve known that, but I didn’t. I thought I could do everything, all by myself, forever.
The harsh reality of the situation was, I needed help. Not just from doctors, but from my family, friends, employees, everyone.
So, I broke down and told them. I asked for help. I admitted I wasn’t Superman.
And surprise, surprise:
Everyone bent over backwards to help me.
My mother dropped out of her last semester in her MBA program to drive me back to the US to see some better doctors. One of my nurses left her husband and four-year-old daughter in Mexico, traveling with me and caring for me 24 hours a day. Marsha, my assistant, took over managing everything and everyone, even hiring a few extra people to carry the workload.
I went to see a renowned spinal surgeon. He ordered an MRI of my entire spine. I came back for the results, my palms sweating, my heart pounding, half expecting a death sentence.
“There’s good news and bad news,” the doctor said. “Which do you want first?”
I thought about it. “The good news.”
He smiled. “The good news is there’s nothing wrong with your spine. You’re fine. For now, at least.”
I didn’t believe him. “Then why am I in so much pain?”
“That brings us to the bad news,” he said. “Your blood pressure is 160/100, which I’m guessing is the stress of running your business. You’re about 30 pounds overweight, and because you have hardly any muscle in your back, it’s pushing your vertebrae together and pinching about a half-dozen nerves.”
I was stunned. “You mean I just need to relax and lose weight?”
He smiled. “You got it.” We shook hands, and he walked out the door.
Fast forward three months, and I’m about 10 pounds lighter, I no longer work weekends, and I’ve doubled the size of my staff. The result: my blood pressure is now 125/80, and the pain is worlds better. It’s still there, for sure, but it’s going down, and I think it might disappear completely after losing another 20 pounds.
In retrospect, I feel like an idiot.
I was working myself to death. Literally. At the time, I was even proud of it. As it turns out, though, I’m not Superman.
And the painful truth?
You’re not either.
The shocking reason why most bloggers fail
It isn’t a lack of talent.
It’s not bad luck.
It has nothing to do with traffic.
The problem is Superman Syndrome. You’re smart and motivated and hard-working, so you figure you have everything it takes to build a popular blog.
To understand why, imagine you’re going on a long trip with some friends, and the airlines will only let you take one suitcase. You stuff it full, zip it closed, and then start to walk out the door, but then you notice one sock you overlooked. You unzip the suitcase, cram in the sock, and try to close it again, but now it’s just too full. It won’t close.
Well, that suitcase is your life, and the sock is your blog.
Chances are, you’re already running yourself ragged between work and family and friends, and there’s just no more room for anything else. It seems like you should be able to squeeze in time for your blog, because after all, it’s just a few hours here and there, but for most people, it’s “one sock too many.”
So, you have five choices:
- Quit. Decide your life is just too full, and leave blogging to other people.
- Shove the sock in any way, risking making the suitcase explode. (That’s what I used to do. Not surprisingly, the suitcase, my life, eventually exploded in the form of horrific pain.)
- Leave something behind. Stop watching television, quit your job, or hire an assistant to do the laundry and your groceries for you.
- Learn to pack more efficiently. If you get serious about time management, you can, in fact, get more done in the same amount of time, but it has its limits.
- Give the sock to a friend to carry. In other words, ask for help.
In my experience, a combination of #4 and #5 is the right answer for most people who are serious about building a popular blog. #3 can also work, but it requires Olympic athlete self-discipline, and if you had that, you would already be a popular blogger.
You’ll also be tempted to believe you can get by only with #4, time management, but it’s not true. You can’t take care of your kids, hold a full-time job, and build a blog at the same time any more than you can squeeze a stretch limousine into a suitcase. It’s just not possible.
So, what do you do?
Ask for help
To use our suitcase metaphor, you ask a friend to carry the sock for you.
The biggest time sinkhole for most bloggers is the technical stuff. You beat your head against the wall trying to get your theme, plug-ins, e-mail list, and web hosting working together, wasting weeks or even months where you should have been writing posts.
Thanks to the glory of the Internet, there are thousands of freelance techies out there waiting for work, and the rates are surprisingly cheap. You can get a lot of simple WordPress problems solved on Fiverr.com, where everything costs five bucks. For more complex jobs, go to oDesk.com and hire someone in India, Russia, or the Philippines.
You might think you can’t afford it, but it’s astonishingly cheap. You can get almost any problem taken care of for less than $50.
What’s more valuable to you: $50 or three months of progress you lost by trying to do it yourself?
Also, asking for help doesn’t always mean hiring a freelancer. A lot of successful bloggers I know have designated hours where they write, and they get their family and friends to agree not to interrupt them, unless it’s a life or death emergency.
If you’re really brazen, you can even take it a step further and ask them to do the laundry, pick the kids up from school, get groceries, and all the other little tasks you normally do, just to give you a chance to write. You might be surprised at what they would do for you, if they understood how serious you are.
The bottom line?
Whatever you do, don’t try to keep going by yourself. You’ll fail.
Maybe not at first, but eventually, your strength will run out. Hopefully you won’t drive yourself to the brink of despair like I did, but you might still burn yourself out and want to quit. Maybe you’re already there.
If you are, the solution isn’t audacious goals.
The solution isn’t positive thinking.
The solution isn’t more self-discipline.
It’s surrounding yourself with people who can help you shoulder the load. No one can go it alone. Not even you.
So, stop trying.
Pull out your list of goals, and write down beside each one who is going to help you accomplish it. If you can’t think of anyone, make finding someone your biggest priority.
After all, that’s the real story, isn’t it? Not a superhero, standing alone against the darkness, but a superhero and a sidekick, steely-eyed and ready for war.
Hurry up and get yourself one.
And then go out there and kick some butt in 2013. The bad guys won’t know what hit ‘em. 🙂