The migraine that changed my everything

Two years ago in November I started seeing the spots.

Now, looking back I can imagine my soul was flashing it’s lights… HELP!

But in reality I was “just getting a migraine,” I learned, as I explained how I couldn’t focus on my laptop or what was in front of me.

I then drove home from the office, the entire left side of my body went numb, I was convinced I’d crash my car on the highway. “What is going on?” “What am I doing to myself?” questions raced through my brain.

After sleeping off pain and sensitivity like I had never experienced in my life, I investigated migraines, their causes, and like any inquisitive growth practitioner, I started tracking everything to understand where this migraine came from… I needed a baseline if I was going to start testing solutions.

I had gotten new glasses earlier in the month… they must have been why I got my first migraine at 27 years old, right?

Or maybe I should get my head checked.

At the same time, an old colleague and dear friend started having chronic migraines and was getting all sorts of tests ran to try to figure out what was going on in her head to cause such pain and misery for months. Years later still no medical answer other than stress and the migraines have since gone away.

A few months went by and things felt back to normal. I continued…

  • launching a new GrowthHackers website (Jan)
  • planning for the 2018 GrowthHackers Conference (Feb)
  • launching NorthStar, a software for companies to manage their growth (Feb)
  • speaking at my first international speaking gigs in Edmonton and Calgary, Canada (March)

Two weeks before the conference, the migraines returned. I had two in one week, and one occurred after I went for a hike to help relax before the conference in Joshua Tree.

Pure, pitch black joy. Sarcasm.

SHIT. My head felt broken and I had zero time to deal with this.

I needed to sell tickets, figure out logistics, get our software promotion ready, deal with last minute speaker cancelations, print badges, prep the team, get the dress, prepare for moderating panels and introducing speakers, write the blog post, send the emails, the list goes on…

Finally, a break.

I just kept running until an extended weekend family trip in April.

My brother was turning 30 and I had organized a birthday weekend in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Of course, I couldn’t help but get reminded of work while cruising down the slopes…

We booked my brother a massage and the spa receptionist was nice enough to let 5 of us join at the spa in the relaxation area with a sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, and cold plunge.

Enter the body.

I bring this up because it was the first time in years I felt truly relaxed.

Surrounded by family, looking up at the big open sky, and physically releasing the stress I had built up over the last few years. I could feel my tight muscles melt and my blood move.

I became so grateful for those moments.

Watching my family laugh, sitting by the fire, and just enjoying the time passing by. Being surrounded by massive mountains to remind me of my small problems, thin air to help me realize how adaptable (and unadaptable) us humans are in life.

Something dawned on me that day, and I believe it was subconscious at that point. I finally signaled to my body, “hey, it’s okay to relax.”

Now, let’s figure out how we can get the mind & soul in on the party.

When I got home later that week, I went for a run and saw a guy with a cowboy hat sitting and watching the sunset (not an every day site in Newport Beach). He had a bike with a sleeping bag.

My brain immediately started crafting a story for this man. Wow, he’s homeless and I hope he doesn’t run after me. He didn’t.

As I ran on, “Float On” played in my ears…

A fake Jamaican took every last dime with that scam
It was worth it just to learn from sleight-of-hand
Bad news comes, don’t you worry even when it lands
Good news will work it’s way to all them plans
We both got fired on exactly the same day
Well, we’ll float on, good news is on the way
And we’ll all float on, okay
…and it brought me to tears. “What the heck is going on? Why am I judging this man who’s so at peace with his surroundings? What can I learn from him? What can I learn from this?”

The question that changed my mind.

My mind was starting to catch up to my body.
I had internalized all of the stress of our startup. I was finally changing the script in my head from a reactionary standpoint to a proactive one.
As I was running back in the direction to the man, the question “What can I learn from this?” entered my mind, and has yet to leave it. The question now takes many forms…
  • What can I learn from this person?
  • What can I learn from this relationship?
  • What can I learn from this mistake?
  • What can I learn from this stress?
  • What can I learn from my thoughts?
  • What can I learn from failure?

My thoughts changed when I looked at life through this new lens.

The “homeless” man I passed on my run could have really been a celebrity for all I know. Regardless, I could learn from him how to be at one with nature, how life can be lived on a bike, how he got the cowboy hat, etc.

I found the magic potion that could turn frustration and judgement into new learning and proactive positive thoughts.

Well damn, that made everything a little bit easier.

I stopped internalizing so much of what I couldn’t control and began using every input, good or bad, as an opportunity to learn and grow.

But, what about the soul?

As I was going through this time, yoga kept me on track and coming back to being grounded. I began to connect to my body and intuition in a way I never had before.

Every Tuesday I met Angel at the beach and spent an hour flowing as the sun left the horizon and dolphins jumped. Angel taught us about the different chakras, or energy centers, within our own bodies, and how to be present with ourselves and the environment around us.

My gratitude for life, my body, my breath, this moment, and everything else soared to new levels.

I also continued to run as I knew the endorphins would make me feel better, no matter what I was going through. Thank you marathon training for teaching me that hack.

I began listening to Rand Fishkin’s book, Lost & Founder on my runs. Rand’s words taught me so much about vulnerability, life priorities, the intricacies of the tech world and fundraising. Rand places importance on core values for a founding team.

Thinking to myself, “I should have core values that I follow.” The next weekend I scheduled a date with myself to create my core values. I revisited my peak experiences in life, suppressed values, and the code of conduct I believe the world should follow.

When I finished this exercise, I landed on the following core values and definitions.

  • Growth – find meaning in learning, stressing & resting, building & breaking
  • Community – support, connect & elevate those around me for greater good
  • Health – seek mental, physical, emotional & spiritual wellness
  • Respect – seek to understand & create space for myself & others
  • Equality – elevate the voices & perspectives not represented or heard
  • Longevity – act sustainably for our collective future

These have since been my guardrails for life decisions. Not every thing I do will fall within all 6 of these values, and that’s okay. However, if enough of my decisions fall outside of the values, I feel it deeply, and it manifests as burnout.

I realized through this process that while my work at GrowthHackers fulfilled some of my values, I could feel the crying screams of the values that were being suppressed.

When I’d see companies raising tons of money for a convenience app, spending money and resources recklessly, making it more expensive for everyone else to compete, my longevity value would be inside screaming WTF?!

When I’d see all white men panels and speakers about growth or marketing, or really anything, my equality value would be inside punching a punching bag, trying not to explode.

When I’d see leaders take hospital rides after a physical burnout from chronic stress, my health value would be running around inside trying to find the fire alarm to sound.

The reframe.

The new level of awareness as to where my unhappiness and apathy was coming from allowed me to reframe my situation. After all, I had all of this pent up gratitude I needed to do something with 😉.

I had the opportunity to use my current situation to activate my values. So that’s what I began to do.

While we had company goals and processes I worked on, I created new personal goals.

I would help at least one person a day to understand sustainable growth, I would speak up about elevating more Women in Growth voices and prioritized finding diverse voices for GrowthHackers AMAs, and I began reading about and talking about how to live healthy lives.

I created a habit of asking *what can I learn from this?* in all situations.

Baby steps in my own direction.

Fast forward to August of 2018 and I left GrowthHackers as the last full-time employee before the company was sold. Looking back, my reframe allowed me to make the most of the last months I was at GrowthHackers and prepare me for what was next.

The year of patience, testing & ultimately breaking.

When I left GrowthHackers, I knew I needed time away. I wanted to take in everything I had learned from the network we had built, synthesize it, and use it to propel me forward. I had no idea what that would look like, but I did have my values and some loose plans.

I’d take a yoga teacher training from September to November, and I’d move to Amsterdam in January.

Little did I know that I’d go through heartbreak, grief, and life challenges that break me. And with time I slowly begin to discover and rebuild myself, find belonging, get comfortable with being alone, find validation within, recover from burnout, build systems for reaching goals, and focus on making impact in the next 5 years.

On that final note, I’ll share with you some simple Fleetwood Mac lyrics that have stuck with and continue to inspire me…

You’re not like other people, you do what you want to

In my next posts, I’ll share more about my yoga teacher training, moving to Europe, speaking internationally, becoming a paid writer, advising people and companies on growth, downsizing, living out of a suitcase, and more, all on my own terms.

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