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What I learned from my recent appendectomy

Happy Saturday my friends! I hope you had an amazing week thus far and your weekend is even greater! My weekend? Let’s just say it has had a unique start. I underwent an appendectomy!

I was chuckling during this pre-operation selfie. I told the surgical team, “thanks for protecting my beautiful head full of hair.” (I’m nearly bald for those who didn’t know.)

No matter how big or small, I always try to find a lesson in each of life’s circumstances. So what could I have possibly learned from an appendectomy? Well, the first thing I learned is that seeing a medical professional early on can make a huge difference. This was the first time in my life that I did not attempt to “tough it out.” The medical professionals were able to fix the issue in the early stages (before the infection in my appendix worsened and rupturing became a threat). But there was a larger life lesson.

The life lesson: We must quickly address life’s hurts and pains.

Let’s backtrack for a second: I woke up this past Thursday feeling normal. I went through my morning routine and showed up at the gym at 6 am for my one hour Yoga session. Such a relaxing start to the day ☺️. As the morning progressed, I began to feel a small pain/discomfort in my stomach. I initially thought it was nothing more than gas (sorry if that is TMI 😬), but I wasn’t so sure anymore by the time I arrived at work. It was getting worse throughout the day, but I was reluctant to express this feeling to my peers. After all, they probably already assumed it was COVID, so I did not want to cause alarm. There was no hiding it, because I am always jovial; striving to be the one to bring brightness to the room. Contrarily, I was quiet, withdrawn, and exhausted. One of my colleagues even said, “Are you ok?…You look like you are really hurting.”

Luckily, I was responsible for picking my son up from school that day, so I had an excuse to leave early. When I made it home, I laid on the couch and slept. I tossed. I turned. I tried lying upside down. I took Tums… Anything to relieve what I thought was simply “trapped gas.” That evening, I told my wife the words that let her know I was actually in pain, “I am going to the doctor in the morning to see what is wrong.” She knows I HATE hospitals, so she knew it must have been serious.

I arrived at the hospital Friday morning, still playing the tough guy role. I imagined they would hand me something to quickly relieve the pressure in my stomach and allow me to go home. At this point, I just wanted to “rule out appendicitis.” I mean seriously, my phone was on 40%, and I left my charger in my vehicle; I just knew this visit would be short! I was wrong.

After reviewing the Computed tomography (CT) scan, the surgical team came into the room to confirm I had appendicitis (a condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus, causing pain. Source: Mayo Clinic). Thankfully, I sought help early enough to avoid a rupture. The surgical team presented me with two options:

1. Take antibiotics to “hopefully” reduce the inflammation.

2. Remove the appendix to eliminate the chance of reinfection.

I chose the latter, and the rest is history.

Why did I share that entire story?

I was able to identify several parallels between my life and my recent experience.

1. Pain is an indication of something more serious. Sometimes we become so accustomed to emotional hurt and pain that we ignore it. We consider ourselves “lone wolves.” We “tough it out” because we do not want to look weak. We mask our pain. We pretend we are ok. We attempt to become numb to the pain. We ignore it in hopes that it will go away. The downside is it does not go away; it just intensifies. Then, we find ourselves attempting to treat the symptoms with things that may cause the pain to temporarily subside only to find that the pain only increases–requiring more temporary treatment measures. We focus more on covering/treating the pain than identifying the root cause.

2. Though they can see straight through our ruse, we attempt to hide our pain from others. I knew I needed to bounce back after the first time my colleague asked, “are you ok?” So I ran to the store and grabbed tums and ginger ale. After about 30 minutes I said, “I feel much better after my Tums, ginger ale, and [lightly salted] veggie chips!” I said it in such a way that I even started to believe it. I told an occasional joke or two to throw him off. Meanwhile, the pain was worsening, and he wasn’t fooled. How often do we do this? Instead of admitting we are in pain and seeking help (or allowing others to help), we attempt to hide it. “I’ll be ok.” “I was built for this!” “Pain is weakness leaving the body, right?” Those are just a few of my go-to quotes. What are yours? Regardless, no one is falling for it anyway, so why not just get the help we need?

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.

J.K. Rowling

3. I got the help I needed. I like to think of myself as a pretty tough guy, but I challenged myself to do something different this time. I decided I would get help instead of self-medicating. I am so glad I did. The surgical team informed me that my case was worse than they originally assessed via CT scan. Meaning, had I not gotten it taken care of, I risked rupturing my appendix (potentially fatal). We should normalize seeking professional help. Attempting to self-medicate our problems tend to make things worse. I learned this from previous injuries, and I am encouraging you to do the same. Do not try to do this on your own. Stop trying to hide or mask the pain and get the help you need to remove the root cause. Which moves to my last point:

4. You must address the root cause. When the surgical team presented me with options, I felt the answer was obvious. To me, Option A was: The surgical team would immediately treat the symptoms in hopes that the problem would not resurface. Option B was: The surgical team would remove the root cause which will immediately hurt more but has a greater chance of preventing future pain (reinfection). I chose the latter because that option addressed the root cause–my infected appendix. Simply reducing inflammation would have led to temporary relief. Chances are I would have returned to the hospital with the same pain in the future. So yes, I exposed myself to risks and pain associated with surgical removal, but in the long term, I do not have to worry about my appendix becoming reinfected… Because it is gone. Addressing the root of the pain was the right answer for me, and I believe it is the right answer for all of us. Healing and recovery may hurt and take time, but I will confidently endure knowing I made the best long-term decision for my health.

I know facing hurt and pain is a challenge for all of us. It can be scary and make feel vulnerable and weak. However, we must address the root cause of our pains if we want to live a healthy physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life. Today is your day. This is your sign. Allow me to be your friend today who is pointing you towards seeking help. We can do this together. I believe in you!

Olaolu Ogunyemi: U.S. Marine Officer | Mentor | Best-selling author

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How to shift your perspective and live a better life TODAY!

I have said it a million times; The Lion King is one of the greatest movies ever! One of my favorite scenes is when Rafiki smacks Simba on the head with a stick. In my younger days, I loved that scene solely because I thought it was hilarious. Well… I still think it is hilarious, but now I have a more profound understanding of why Rafiki smacked Simba. Rafiki was challenging Simba to adjust his perspective.

Source: The Lion King

Let’s begin with this quote:

Life is like a weight room: full of things that can either crush you or make you stronger. It all depends on your perspective. -Olaolu Ogunyemi

So how do we transition from being crushed to building strength? Easy(ish)! We must adjust our PERSPECTIVE in the following areas:

Pressures of life. Let’s deal with the word “pressure” really quickly. Pressure is defined as a “continuous physical force exerted on or against an object.” When we describe the “pressures of life,” we often think of a continuous crushing feeling that breaks us down or holds us back. However, as a person who spends a fair amount of time working out, I think of the word “resistance” when I read that definition. For years, we have acknowledged and enjoyed the benefits of resistance training (i.e. we build muscle strength as our body adapts to the continuous force against it). I challenge you to view the pressures of life through this lens. The pressures of life are opportunities for you to grow, develop, and get stronger and wiser than you were before!

Energy. When it comes to positive energy, I have said in the past, “you are what you think.” This merely scratches the surface and gives the illusion that positive energy is derived from simply maintaining happy thoughts. Let’s develop a deeper perspective. In addition to “happy thoughts,” we must live a life of hope and anticipation to create sustained positive energy. The key is to always remember that everything will work out just fine no matter how heavy the resistance is.

Relationships. It is so easy to develop transactional relationships in this life we often refer to as a “rat race.” Quick exercise: look at your current network (contacts, business/social media connections, etc.). Make a ball park assessment of how many people you have added to your network for transactional purposes. If you are anything like me, that number is pretty alarming. Does this mean we are evil for wanting to build our network to grow our businesses or platforms? Absolutely not! The focus here is to transition current and future contacts from transactional relationships to genuine relationships. (Hint: there is a reason the vast majority of effective leaders are people oriented). I challenge you to be true to and transparent with your personality, characteristics, and values. That way you attract people who connect to you for those reasons. In turn, I implore you to connect to people for the same reasons.

Seasons. Just as the four seasons are associated with a change in climate, life’s seasons change based upon the world around us. We must be aware of and adapt to these many changes. Do not mistake this for changing who you are and/or abandoning your values. Instead, develop creative methods to serve others in ways that align with the season. For example, if you enjoy social media and your passion is teaching others to dance (for the record: Definitely not me. You don’t want to see my uncoordinated dance moves), why not combine the two during this season when social media continues to thrive? Gladly welcome change and thrive in every season!

Patience. Fellas, if you want to spark WWIII, look your wife in the eyes and say, “I prayed for patience, and God gave me you!” Ok, I’m sorry. Back to business. Growing patience requires action. I believe we are naturally inclined to want immediate results. That is why inventions like the microwave have been successful for decades! I love how dictionary.com defines patience, “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” We will discuss the emotional control aspect a little later, but let’s first discuss the “capacity” portion of this definition. We expand our capacity each time we learn to delay gratification. This is where hope and anticipation comes into play. Our belief that everything will work out just fine drives our hope and anticipation which expands our capacity to accept delay without negative emotions. Let’s normalize waiting with anticipation.

Endurance. Earlier, we discussed how the pressures of life aka “resistance” helps us build strength. Consistently building strength over time creates endurance. Fun fact: When you exercise consistently, your body continually adapts and strengthens which requires you to increase resistance to continue to get stronger. You see where I’m going with this yet?! As goes life. You are stronger today than you were yesterday! So keep building that strength! Keep working hard! Keep pushing! You are strong and resilient, and you have the endurance to continue growing from the pressures of life! In the words of my old basketball coach, Nick Brown, “if that does it motivate you, you don’t have a pulse.”

Chance. Life is full of risks. Even driving to work exposes you to danger. Today I want to encourage you to believe in yourself and take a chance! I found an excellent article on therapychanges.com that describes the psychological benefits of risk taking. Here are the 9 benefits the author (psychologist, Rochelle Perper, Ph.D) describes: 1.  Unforeseen opportunities may arise; 2. Build confidence and develop new skills; 3. Develop sense of pride and accomplishment; 4. Learn things you might not otherwise; 5. The chance to actively pursue success; 6. Spurs creativity; 7. Opportunity to create change in your life; 8. Develop emotional resilience; 9. Feel more engaged and happy.

Time. I view time as one of the most precious nonrenewable resources we have. In other words, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Firstly, that is great news because we should not dwell on our past failures. Like Rafiki said, “It doesn’t matter! It’s in the past!” My buddies in the Marine Corps would say, “that round is down range, and it ain’t comin’ back.” Those failures of past times are gone… so let them go! Secondly, we have to budget our time the same way we budget our money in that we should be intentional about how we spend it. I’m not encouraging you to obsess over time; rather, I want you to avoid wondering, “where did the time go” at the end of the day. Develop priorities and be intentional about who and what you spend time on.

Inspiration. Sometimes it gets tough to maintain that hope and anticipation we’ve mentioned a couple of times. So how do you continue to push? What drives you? What is your “why?” Your inspiration is the wind beneath your wings during thriving times and the force that drives you through valleys during low times. This is your purpose, conviction, and mission in life. Three quick questions to ask yourself: 1. What activities, thoughts, or passions energize me? 2. What are my greatest strengths? 3. What value do I bring to those around me (hint: we all bring value to those around us)? The intersection of these answers will reveal your inspiration.

Victories. Celebrate wins! I don’t care how “small” they may seem. For example, I typically workout 6 mornings a week. Although this may seem routine and mundane to others, I absolutely love working out first thing in the morning, so I celebrate every day. No matter how challenging the workout, I complete it! This victory sets the tone for my entire day, which sets the tone for my week, which sets the tone for my month, and so on until it sets the tone for my life. I won! I defeated the urge to roll over in my bed that somehow feels the most comfortable when my alarm sounds. The daily victories reinforce the fact that I am a victorious person (one who consistently wins), and so are you! What victories do you need to start celebrating?

Emotions. Around 4th grade, I learned that humans are also called “homo sapiens” and we are in the Mammalia class. It was so fascinating to learn about our connection with animals. These lessons encouraged me to explore my primitive behaviors and actions (especially in sports as I yelled, “I’m an animal!“). When I entered Junior High, we began to discuss how we differ from animals by introducing key terms like “cerebral cortex.” I then became fascinated with how our mind is capable of processing complex thoughts, languages, memories, and emotions! The older I get, the more I admire our minds’ complexity. This admiration caused me to shift how I view our emotional responses. We have complete control of how respond or react to a given circumstance. This emotional control is fed by all of the previously mentioned tenets and like the others, takes practice. Food for thought: How will you respond? Will you use your admirable complex mind, or will you revert to a primitive response to adversity? You have the power to choose!

Life throws so many things at us. The weight of the world often makes us feel as if we are unable to cope. This is your encouragement: you can make it! The resistance is making you stronger! You have what it takes! Let’s adjust our PERSPECTIVE and live a better life!