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Mike Figliuolo

Health Care

Work Isn’t Worth a Heart Attack

So don’t use it as an excuse to neglect your health

Published: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 - 15:53

Work is a convenient excuse for not taking care of yourself. Not exercising, poor diet, and stress are a bad combination. You’ve got to make time for you. Work will always be there when you get back.

Just over a year ago, I had a heart attack. My second heart attack. Yep. Two. The first one sucked, but it was my fault. Crappy diet, poor exercise habits, not managing stress well. So I lost a lot of weight, dropped my cholesterol, and modified stress responses. I was feeling great. I had conquered the cardiac event... wrong.

Heart attack No. 2 was a nasty little bugger. Hit me on a flight to Salt Lake City. I was headed out to teach my Leadership Maxims class. It ended up being the first class I’ve missed teaching in 12 years of running this business. It wasn’t fair. I was in shape. I was eating well. I was managing stress. Kind of.

I threw a chunk of plaque and it blocked my obtuse marginal artery. Ended up with a third stent. Missed teaching the class (although my client was unsurprisingly understanding about my dilemma). I quit caffeine after that one. That was painful, but green tea isn’t a bad substitute.

Where am I going with all this?

It’s easy to fall out of good habits.

Of late, I’ve had a string of busy weeks. I’ve had some personal events change my routine. Through all of it, I’ve (generally) kept to my diet, but my exercise regimen has fallen off. I’ve gained a few pounds. I’m not happy about it. Every day I think about exercising again, but then that little voice pops up: “Why bother? You’re just going to get on a plane again in a couple of days, and it’ll be hard to start a routine again. Just start again after this next set of trips.”

I’ve succumbed to that temptation. The elliptical machine has gathered some dust. My waist has gathered some diameter.

Work is a convenient excuse for not taking care of yourself. It can be all-consuming. It’s easy to make excuses, and before you know it, life has taken over. But if you want to be an effective leader, you’ve got to step up and work past the excuses.

The benefits of the changes I made after the first heart attack were huge. On the day I had my first heart attack, I looked like this:


That’s actually me during my heart attack. As much as I’d like to say the camera angle and the gurney made me look fat, I really was fat.

I weighed about 215. I learned after the fact that my cholesterol was 266. I got winded after lifting only my fifth slice of pizza.

After a year of making changes to diet and exercise, I was much better. I looked like the fellow on the right.

My cholesterol was down 65 percent from pre-cardiac event levels. I dropped 15 pounds. I felt much better. I slept better. I could see my toes without bending over.

Some of you might be looking at the changes and saying, “That’s impossible. I don’t have the time or the energy to change my routine. My diet is too hard to change because I travel/work. I can’t fit time for exercise. It’s just too hard.”

It’s not.

Start today.

Order the salmon instead of the burger. One meal.

Buy some yogurt or baked chips or almonds or pistachios instead of chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and Doritos.

Go for a walk. And then another. And turn that into a jog one day.

Even then, there are no guarantees. Here’s me just over a year ago when I had my second heart attack:


It’s in the terminal at Salt Lake City Airport. You can tell by the look on my face that I’m thrilled with what I’m about to go through. That moment could have been a huge deterrent to future efforts. I could have easily said, “Why bother? Even after all those changes, I’m still on a frickin’ gurney. What’s the point?”

But I didn’t. I kept at it. You should get to it and keep at it, too.

You have to start somewhere. I’ve been inspired to hear the stories of a few of you who have made changes because you saw what happened to me. I met with a client the other day, and he told me since making his Mike-inspired changes, he’s dropped 18 pounds. He said it wasn’t that hard to do. No major lifestyle changes—and 18 pounds. Many people have shared their own success stories like his. I feel like I’ve had a positive impact on the world. Maybe I’ve even saved someone’s life without realizing it.

Look, I plan on being around for a long time. I have a lot of living left to do. I’ve made this a way of life, and I’ve seen the benefits. I won’t fall out of these habits and use “work” as an excuse.

I’m incredibly grateful for all the people around me who have supported and encouraged me along the way. People who have given me a kick in the ass when I was whiny about working out. People who care about my well-being. I’m lucky to have people like that around.

If you’re one of those people who are already making changes, keep at it. It’s worth it, and you can do it. If you need some inspiration, give me a call. I’d love to cheer you on! Work isn’t worth a heart attack. Make time for you.

If you haven’t made changes and you need to, I ask: What’s stopping you? The only thing I can think of that’s holding you back is you. Start today. People like having you around, too.

If you’re interested in learning more about leading a balanced life and managing stress, I invite you to attend Executive Insight 16 on Nov. 10–11, 2016, in New York. Our firm is hosting two days of great content with topics you’ll enjoy and benefit from. We’d love to have you join us.

First published May 25, 2016, on the Thought Leaders blog.

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About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch and One Piece of Paper. He's the co-author of Lead Inside the Box. He's also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC—a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.