Tony’s note: The following post was written by my close friend, amazingly talented tech reporter and about.me Advisor Om Malik as part of our Stories about.me project. Om survived a near fatal heart attack in 2007. Annually he raises money for heart disease-related projects at UCSF and we’d like for you to consider joining us in supporting his charity: Heart to Heart for UCSF Cardiology.
For 27 years I was a slave to cigarettes. I would plan my day around smoke breaks, avoid long flights because I knew I would need a fix, and seek out new apartments based on their “smoker friendliness.” I resented snide comments about my smoking habit, because I was not in control of the habit. The devil’s weed controlled how I lived.
My last cigarette was minutes before I walked into the emergency room seeking treatment for what would turn out to be a near-fatal heart condition with a long road to recovery. I think back on that moment with disgust. There I was being boxed around by the grim reaper and all I wanted to do was take one last drag on a cigarette. As I recovered in the hospital and gained some clarity, I knew I would never touch a cigarette or cigar again.
It has been almost six years since my heart attack and that last cigarette. I’m often asked how the entire experience changed me and what I learned from it. For the most part, I’m basically the same guy. I still notice the little things like the patina on a pair of boots, the lines on a bag, and the way green chilies are sprinkled on lentils. I still obsess over ideas and the act of turning them into words for hours before I actually do.
Certainly I’ve adopted better lifestyle habits, such as a nearly vegetarian diet, more exercise and cutting out alcohol and smoking. But the real change is in how I “do” life. One of the two promises I made to myself when I was released from the hospital was that I was going to stop trying to control everything. As life’s unpredictability showed me, the best you can do is control the inputs (or your own efforts). We cannot control the outcome. The other promise I made was to stop evaluating life by the moment and instead live in the moment. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi put it, “Live as if you would die tomorrow, learn as if you would live forever.”
The past six years have added up to what could be the best years of my life – for now. I have tried many new things. Some have been hard, some full of wonder, but none of them boring. So the next time someone says, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” you better believe it. Because it places a premium on what you have: time.