Life Stories

Taking risks – My story

Skydiving

And I thought skydiving would make me look cool.

Life is really short

Sure, it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do, but while you’re doing it, you may as well make the most of it.

By nature, I’m not very adventurous. I’m more of a nerdy guy who would rather take something apart and reassemble it than go climb a mountain. My senior year of high school, during an unrelated visit to the doctor, I found out that I had a heart condition. A bicuspid aortic valve to be precise. The pediatrician who told me about it said that I would need heart valve replacement by the time I was 25, and that I wouldn’t be able to live an active lifestyle. It freaked me the hell out. I was 18. Life was just beginning, and here some woman (along with an intern who clung to every word she said) was telling me that life could very well be cut short for me, and that in 7 years I’d be on an operating table getting the heart valve from a cadaver put in my chest.

I vowed then that I wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks that could prematurely end my life. On this list were doing any intensive “crazy” exercising like running a marathon or a triathlon, bungie jumping, parasailing, and yes…sky diving. Too much risk, I thought. Not enough reward.

College was rather uneventful as a result. Yes, there were some great stories in there, but I was fairly tame when it came right down to it. I rushed a fraternity though…my senior year. All in all, I was pretty boring.

Sometimes you just have to jump

View of Lake Michigan from my old apartment

I moved to Chicago after college. It was completely out of character for me. I only knew two people in the city: my roommate who moved with me and his girlfriend. I had never lived in a city larger than Lincoln, NE, which was only for a summer, and I also moved before I had a job.

My roommate (Duane) and I signed a year long lease (which each of our parents co-signed) for a penthouse apartment that we got for dirt cheap. We had a beautiful view of Lake Michigan from the 18th floor of the high rise, and our neighbor was an amateur pornographer.

And sometimes you’ll fall

After 3 months of spending most of my time playing video games, drinking at the bar, and missing home, I was nearly broke. My life savings dried up well before I thought it would (in hindsight, I lived pretty well for 3 months on less than 7 grand), and if I didn’t find a job in the next month, I would have to put my tail between my legs and sulk back home. To Nebraska. Back to the old me that stood at the front door of my parents’ house as I left for Chicago and said, “You can’t make it in some strange city. Stay here and be safe.”

So try harder

With the very real threat of going back home, I realized that I wasn’t helping myself much. In the 3 months I was in Chicago, I applied to about ten jobs. TEN. That’s about 3 per month.

For the first time, I made getting a job my job. I applied for a few dozen jobs in the next week. My dreams of landing a middle management position that paid $75k right out of college went out the window. I applied for entry-level jobs. I customized my resume. And I did something I had never really allowed myself to do: I asked for help.

I asked people that I knew if they had any Chicago connections. I’d go for anything. Does your friend own a hot dog stand? I’ll hand out condiments. Does your uncle own a horse? I’ll scoop its shit. Just give me a job.

I was so scared that I was going to fail.

And sometimes you get lucky

Duane came home from his job that he got a month before and asked me a question. “Do you want to do contract work for my company? We can pay you $20 per hour.”

$20 per hour was a lot of money to a guy who was broke.

Hell yes I’d do that. Plus, I didn’t have to scoop any shit. I joined Duane at his job for a month before one of my connections, the pastor at my family’s old church, Dan Davis, reached out to me. He had an old friend in Chicago who used to be in the consulting field before he retired. I called his friend, Max Stucker, told him what I was looking for, and went back to my $20/hour job. A week later I got a call from a consulting firm in downtown Chicago. They wanted to bring me in for an interview. I hadn’t sent them an resume or even inquired about a job there. Max had recommended me – after only a 30 minute phone conversation. I landed the job.

Since then, I’ve had a comfortable living in Chicago. Finances were something I didn’t have to worry about, which I’m very lucky to have.

Keep going

Being financially stable was great, but I soon learned that living didn’t mean just getting by with what you needed. It means LIVING.

Check out those calves! (They're cramping)

Check out those calves! (They’re cramping)

In 2008 I decided to do something stupid: a marathon. I trained for nearly a year, and on the day of the event, the Chicago weather decided to have fun and top out that beautiful October day at 90 degrees. At mile 24, with the sun beating down on my back and radiating heat off of the asphalt, I became disoriented. My body was giving out on me. I pushed it too far. I stopped running and began to walk/wobble. It was the infamous “wall” that people hit in long races. I walked for a mile, throwing as many fluids in my body as I could find. When I hit mile 25, I pulled my head up and gave myself one command: run.

I ran the last 1.2 miles. I crossed the finish line and threw up more water and Gatorade than I thought I could fit in my system. Medics took me to an area where I could sit and they put bags of ice all over my body. After half an hour, my internal temp came back to normal and I was able to walk again. I had finished a marathon. And I lived.

Be inspired

Triathlon complete.

Triathlon complete.

Two years after the marathon, my wife fulfilled one of her dreams. She completed an Olympic distance triathlon. A TRIATHLON.

I had done most of the training with her in the months leading up to it, and couldn’t help but be inspired by her determination and drive. The next year, we both trained for the Chicago Triathlon. On August 28th, 2011, my wife (fiance at the time) and I completed the Chicago Triathlon. I didn’t puke.

 

Put in the work

Every big accomplishment in my life has come from hard work. I hate to admit that, because a part of me really despises hard work. Procrastination is my biggest “gremlin” and I am constantly fighting against it. Through the years it’s gotten easier though. I see the benefit of hard work. My wife and I have completed 5 triathlons now. This year we plan on doing two more.

On my bucket list I had “write a book.” I crossed that off the list last year. This year I’m going to publish it. It wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t willing to put in the work.

Jump out of a perfectly good airplane

In 2012 I took two plunges. I married the woman of my dreams in June. And a month before that, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 12,000 feet. My fears were holding me back until that moment. I wasn’t willing to really experience life.

In that moment, standing at the door of the plane, wind whipping by at 150 mph and the ground over two miles below me, I released my fears. My feet left the safety of the airplane, my stomach came into my throat and my heart nearly stopped. The feeling of falling lasted about two seconds. The wind roared past me, louder than I could have ever imagined. And in that moment, I couldn’t help but smile. Then I opened my mouth.

The risk was worth the reward. And as you can see at the beginning of the post, it was worth the picture.

I’m currently 31. My heart is fully healthy and I never had to receive a valve transplant.

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6 Comments

  1. Cory

    An inspiration, as always. PS glad yr heart didn't pop, Bro.

    • brandon_chicago

      Me too.

  2. Sherril

    Wow!! Proud of you. Autographed copy of your book requested.

    • brandon_chicago

      You got it!

  3. Wally

    The only unfortunate outcome of this entire story is me becoming responsible for the end of the human race.

    • brandon_chicago

      If the prophecy holds true…