Today is the tenth anniversary of the open heart surgery that saved my life. 

I cannot say thank you enough to my wife, Angela, my family and friends for rallying around me, praying for me, driving hours across southern Minnesota to give me a 15-minute ride home from Cardiac Rehab, for phone calls, letters and cards showing your support. Thank you Jason L. for driving me to Cardiac Rehab 3x per week for eight weeks, to Craig L. for “stopping by” with enough BBQ to feed us for a week straight, to Aunt Judy and Uncle Bern for the “Keep Calm and Eat Cookies” t-shirt, so Jim and Robbi for the duck-brand duct tape with penguins on it (which I still look at and chuckle every time). 

Thank you also to the wonderful care providers at North Memorial Heart and Vascular Center for enduring my endless questions and for taking such good care of me, and of Angela as well, as we tried to understand my disease and to eventually accept the surgery required to save my life.
If you want to get an idea of world-class bedside manner leading up to cardiac surgery, watch this short video of my cardiac surgeon, Dr. King at North Memorial Heart and Vascular. Words fail in describing the gratitude I feel for how he cared for Angela, as she struggled to process the idea of me undergoing open heart surgery, while I compartmentalized and jumped straight to acceptance of a terrifying, but life-saving operation.

My condition was chronic (not acute), but my profound atrial septal defect certainly would have killed me. It might have been slowly via congestive heart failure, or quickly if one of my Transient Ischemic Attacks (small, temporary strokes) wasn’t so small and hit a more critical part of my brain. 

Every year since I take today off to visit my cardiac rehab nurses and thank them for helping make the world feel safe again. Shout out to St. Francis Cardiac Rehab; your work is vital. 

(I have also tried visiting my cardiology and cardiac surgery care teams, but I’m not a great planner, and they’re not as readily accessible.)

Unlike last year and years past, I didn’t break down sobbing while thanking my cardiac rehab nurses; and I think I know why. 

For starters, two years ago I began writing about my diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. Through writing and sharing some of that writing, I finally started to process all the fear, worry, and anxiety which I had kept compartmentalized for ten years. 

Part of my story, which I haven’t shared widely, includes struggling in the months following surgery. 

Physically, everything went swimmingly. I was back in the gym and did ½ of Murph (1/2 mile run, 50 pullups, 100 pushups, 150 squats, then another 1/2 mile run) eight weeks after surgery. My patched heart thumped away vastly more efficiently with a “cow patch” in place of my native fenestrated, aneurysmal atrial septum. 

Unexpectedly, the cognitive, mental, and emotional struggles lingered for months after my physical recovery was complete. It turns out that a couple of TIAs and an open heart/cardiopulmonary bypass procedure were hard on my brain. 

As I shared my story with others, people started sharing their stories with me.

Through telling my own story and listening to the stories of others, an unexpected pattern emerged; virtually everyone whose loved one had open heart surgery or had open heart surgery themselves, shared stories of cognitive struggles after surgery. 

Some of these stories were merely annoying, like the text I received that said, “I’m in Walgreens, and I have no idea why I’m here.”

Others were more serious, like the friend who shared with me that, after his operation, there was new friction in his marriage as he and his wife adjusted to his new post-op forgetfulness. 

Others were tragic, like the friend who shared that her uncle took his own life mere months after a heart attack and open-heart triple bypass surgery, despite no history of mental illness. 

The other thing these stories had in common was the lack of awareness that there was a risk of cognitive, mental, and emotional symptoms after an open heart operation, and the lack of understanding that resources were available should those symptoms arise. 

That lack of awareness led to months of quiet post-op struggle for each person, struggle for their loved ones, and in my friend’s opinion of one tragic case, suicide.

As I sat in my car in the parking lot outside St. Francis Cardiac Rehab, wondering why I wasn’t sobbing my eyes out, the reason occurred to me; I finally knew what to do; 

I want to change the standard of care for open heart surgery to include pre-op and post-op cognitive, mental, emotional, and behavioral care. 

I don’t know how I will do it, but I know that my own story, and the stories of other heart surgery patients and their loved ones will be a part of it. 

If you know someone who has had heart surgery, ask them if they’d like to tell you their story, and simply listen to them. If you’ve had cardiac surgery, consider sharing your story with a loved one. It might be cathartic to both of you.

I’m also in the process of writing a book about my own story. If you’d like to help me with that, please subscribe to my email list, or message/follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn, and I’ll keep you posted as I turn my manuscript into a book and explore other ways to get better care for heart surgery patients.


I accidentally came up with a thought exercise.

Regardless of your personal beliefs about heaven, hell, reincarnation, a soul, consider trying it out.

What if when you die, you merely cease to exist. No pearly gates. No purgatory. No coming back as another person, or another species. Instead of an eternity of bliss or damnation, you’re just gone. 

If that were true, would you do anything differently?


I came across a discussion between digital nomads; location independent freelancers and entrepreneurs who can live and work anywhere with good wifi.

The discussion went like this; (my paraphrase)

We all work our tails off to get that freedom; that control over our time and location. And we build great careers and great businesses. But once we have that control, and the freedom that comes with it. and we try to get “to the next level,” we can’t.

Our “why” was “freedom of time and location.” But once we have that, we don’t know what we want next, and “leveling up” our freelancing or our business rings hollow.

Once that “pain” is gone (the pain of being stuck in an office in a city 8 hours x 5 days x 52 weeks per year), then what. …

What’s that change you want to see that is worth experiencing the discomfort that comes with growth toward making that change?

I have been staring at my Olympic Bumper Plates stacked against the wall in the basement for over a year, thinking about building a nice rolling rack to organize them.

There were a number of reasons for just staring/not working.

First, my shed was a disaster. There was plenty of room for my table-saw, and my compound miter saw, but there was a crappy utility trailer in the way, as well as a motorcycle that I hadn’t ridden more than 200 miles in two years. Also, the lumber I wanted to use for the rack was in a 10 foot by 10-foot wall panel that I had removed to install a garage door but never completely demoed.

But things started to change this year. First, my wife and I bought a camper, and that camper is going to live in that shed, which meant we spent 2 weekends cleaning, organizing, giving some things away, and selling others until finally, we could reach that wall panel.

We dropped it, pulled plywood from the 2×4’s, pulled hundreds of nails and staples, and turned that wall panel into a stack of 2×4’s and two-and-a-half sheets of plywood.

Finally, after all that, the shed was clean and open enough to host; we had some friends from our “quarantine pod” over for ribs last week.

And on Friday, I stared at that stack of weights for the last time.

Yesterday, I measured a lot and cut a few boards. Today, I cut a lot more, glued, clamped, pre-drilled, counter-sunk, applied adhesive and built a rack with locking casters for all of my Olympic bumper plates.

It’s not pretty.

I’m pretty sure “Liquid Nails” would be frowned upon by most woodworking guilds. But it’s done, and it’s a tank. I’ll probably bestow it to a niece/nephew/God-child upon my death.

And I’m proud of it and of the work it took to get access to the tools and materials needed to build it.


I sold a trailer online. I must have priced it too low because I received over thirty inquiries in about four hours.

Some asked questions about condition, size, weight, or suitability to pull behind a sedan cross-country on the freeway.

Some offered to pick it up in four days, six days, two days, and everything in between.

I sold it to the first person who showed up. I also started messaging everyone who had offered a later pickup date.

I didn’t realize that I had archived some messages, so I missed communicating the sale to a buyer who asked about picking up in the future.

Three days later, that same buyer, the one with whom I agreed to a later pickup date messaged me. He saw the trailer was marked as “Sold” and wanted to know if that meant sold to him or sold to someone else?

I replied that I sold it to the first person who was able to get here with cash. That I tried to communicate with everyone who asked about a future date, but I must have archived this message and forgotten to message him. That I was sorry.

He let me know he was disappointed. That he had put a lot of effort into arranging to be able to drive across town to pick it up. 

I apologized again. “I’m sorry. I don’t sell a lot online, and I didn’t realize how badly I violated the norms here. I know it doesn’t help you, but I’ll do better next time.” 

I would have been pissed off too if I was him. I don’t know exactly how far he was coming from, or if he had a job he was leaving early, or kids that he had to arrange transport and care for.

All I know is that he was put out because of something I did. 

And all I could do was apologize, but I also had to mean it. 

My employer provided the entire engineering and sales organizations with access to Masterclass. This access was rolled out as part of an “All Hands” style meeting. 

What followed was an interesting exercise where we were put in teams of 6 or 7 and asked to select and watch ~45 minutes of video that we were all to watch on our own. After watching the videos on our own, our groups came back together and discussed 2-3 “takeaways” from the video.

We elected to watch Gordon Ramsay teach Kitchen Knife Technique, Chris Voss teach negotiation, and Annie Liebovitz teach photography. 

The interesting thing was that between the six of us, we all noticed the commonalities between these three otherwise disparate classes. 

  • Start slow
  • Practice/ Get repetitions in
  • You are doing this together (with the other party in negotiating, with the knives and food, or with your camera and your subject in photography)
  • Empathy and emotional connection are required (ok, maybe not so much with cutting food, but still…)

I quite enjoyed the exercise, and I’m grateful that the company decided to encourage continued learning by giving us access to this resource. 


Too many among us are continuing to fetishize long working hours. Too many of us are wearing our fatigue as a badge of honor.
Michael Rucker, Ph.D.

I love hard work as much as the next person. 

I just told the story today about my worst ever day at work; digging a hole about five feet deep into a packed gravel driveway, cutting a clogged 90° fitting out of a 10″ sewer pipe, bailing hundreds of gallons of manure by hand out of the hole, patching the pipe (with 2x 45° bends instead bend to prevent future clogs). I still remember the almost apologetic way my boss asked me to fill the hole back in at the end of the day.

The fitting wasn’t the only thing that was 90°. That was one of those miserable, stupid-hot, crazy-humid Minnesota late summer days. I must have drunk 2 gallons of water that day. My boss’s wife made me breakfast, lunch and dinner. I climbed out of the hole to clean up and eat, but other than that, I was in that hole all day and up to mid-shin in manure for a lot of that time. 

Manure takes on a certain potency when the sun hits it. There is no wind at the bottom of a five-foot deep hole, and no geothermal cooling effect could take the edge off of a noon-day sun in late July in Minnesota. 

“Steve, we have feed being delivered in the morning, which means the semi-trailer needs to go right where that hole is. If I do chores for you, do you think you could stay and fill it back in?”

And I did. 

I had done chores at 5 am that morning, and spent from 7 am to 5 pm digging a hole, bailing out liquified manure, and patching the pipe. By the time I got done shoveling all that gravel back into the hole, it was nearly 8 pm. 

My boss told me, “Thanks.” and offered to take my shift doing chores in the morning, too, so that I could get some rest.

When I got my next paycheck, he had given me a $2/hour raise. 

I didn’t ask for it. And he didn’t tell me about it. But evidently he really was grateful.

I’d do that again tomorrow, for him, or any number of farmers around my hometown who gave me the opportunity to work hard and earn some spending money in high school and college. 

But even from a guy who thinks longingly about the simple hard work offered by a day like that, this idea of Gary Vanderchucking it for 80 hours a week has got to go. 



Eight years ago today I had open-heart surgery to correct a congenital atrial septal heart defect. That operation was the culmination of 2 years of symptoms, a misdiagnosis of seizure, a finally a correct diagnosis of Transient Ischemic Attacks (i.e. tiny strokes),

After my operation, my brain did not work as it did before all that. This was due in part to the trauma of the operation itself, and in part from trauma caused by the TIAs and the neuro-chemical roller-coaster of going on and off and on and off unnecessary seizure medications.

And it was the greatest gift I’ve ever received. I saw people demonstrate their care for me by taking time off of work to drive 1-2 hours one-way to drive me to cardiac rehab. I learned what the cognitive impact is of an open heart operation, and I’ve used that experience to help three close friends and family work through their own struggles after an open heart operation. I’ve also deepened friendships with coworkers who are battling neurological disorders of their own.

None of that could have happened without the gift of this heart defect and subsequent repair.

To some extent, that operation has defined my last 8 years, not by what it has taken from me, but rather by what it has given me.

One is a point. Two is a line. Three starts to be a trend.

Humans are fantastic at pattern recognition. Sometimes one data point is enough for us to learn. putting your hand on a hot oven top, for example. Other times, we need to take in similar information over and over to make the point.

I love reading, and listening to podcasts, which means that I hear authors interviewed on podcasts, and if the discussion on the podcast was interesting enough, then I often buy their book afterward. 

You can probably see where this is going. 

The result is I get backed up with reading, and reading is a great way to procrastinate when I would rather be creating. That’s where pattern recognition comes into play (as well as dialing back my podcast subscriptions, but that’s another story).

If I come across one person I respect espousing the merits of a particular book or author, I make note of it. If a second person I respect sings the praises for the same book or author, I may read a summary there-of. If a third and fourth person I respect promote the same book, then it goes on my reading list. 


Spoiler Alert
Terminator 2 had a problem. The problem was that the plot relied heavily upon a major revelation mid-way through the film. The revelation?

  • Background: In the first Terminator movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the villain sent to kill Sarah Connor (mother of John Connor, the eventual leader of the human race in the future battle versus the machines) and a human, played by Michael Biehn was sent to protect her.
  • Setup: In Terminator 2, Swarzenegger’s Terminator character was sent back in time again, and another character, played by Robert Patrick, was sent back as well. Both characters are in a race to find John Connor, played by Eddie Furlong.
  • The audience should assume that Schwartzenegger is the bad guy and Robert Patrick is the good guy until it’s revealed that Robert Patrick is not a human sent to protect John Connor, but rather an advanced cyborg sent to kill him, making Schwarzenegger’s original terminator the surprise hero this time around.

The problem is, that moment of suspense and awe was “spoiled” by the T2 trailers which gave away that Robert Patrick was actually an amorphous liquid metal killing machine.

The moment of suspense where Eddie Furlong is caught between the two cyborgs with the audience assuming Schwarzenegger is the villain was ruined by advertisers who wanted to show off their special effects.

I have a similar conundrum; the book I’m writing is the story of my own health scare. Real-time, I had a suspenseful experience as progressed through a series of specialists to find the actual cause. Again, spoiler alert; I had an undiagnosed heart condition requiring open-heart surgery to fix it. The “seizures” that my neurologist thought I was having were FAR more likely to Transient Ischemic Attacks (tiny strokes).

So my question;

  • Do I title, market, and brand my book as a story about the long long winding road to heart diagnosis and surgery? (and “spoil” the surprize, but have a better chance to “niche” down to a specific type of patient; heart patients)
  • Do I market it as a medical mystery and save the big reveal for the inside the book? (and potentially miss out on “niching” down that one last step?)