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A Year of Yes: A near-death experience this week changed my life

I’m posting these embarrassing selfies for your benefit:

I got off a plane from vacation in Vancouver. It was a fantastic trip—more on that later. This post is about you. Well, it’s about you via a story about me. I’ll be brief. My eye started to hurt on the plane. Nothing big; just noticeable. I got home, picked up my dog from boarding, and decided to take a nap. I woke up with my eye crusted shut. My doctor, via video call, thought it was a case of pink eye and prescribed antibiotics. 24 hours later, the swelling, redness, and oozing got much worse, and then spread to my second eye. I got on a video call with my doctor again, and she was alarmed to see how much my condition had deteriorated. She sent me to the emergency room.

I didn’t have pink eye. I had a condition known as periorbital cellulitis. It’s an extremely dangerous infection if left untreated, and can be lethal by causing sepsis or meningitis. It’s usually caused by an insect bite or another similar kind of trauma. I’m immensely lucky that I have access to great, timely medical care. Again, my gut instinct to get help saved me, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

Now the bit about you:

1.) If you’re sick, please, please, please get medical help quickly. Don’t worry that you’re being a hypochondriac. If you think something is wrong, it’s much better to get it checked.

2.) Do what you love. Please. What you’re passionate about, what lights you up, what makes you curious to learn more and more. Create beautiful art. Write. See your friends. Help people. Share what you have. Fall in love. Adopt a dog. Live. If you’re in a job or a relationship you don’t love, go. Quickly. Don’t waste your time. You never know how much of it you have. Your life can turn on a dime, from something as insignificant as an insect bite. So wear bug repellent and sunscreen because you might as well give yourself your best shot at your best life.

Wonder: What do you do now if you work in healthcare?

Working for a financial services firm during the recession that started in 2007 has proven to be quite a blessing now that I have some distance from it. Just as the economy was in turmoil then, there are a number of industries now that face similar challenges to their business models and my current industry, healthcare, is one of them.

From this moment forward, I spend my time thinking about what we do now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be repealed or recast in any number of ways. What products, services, and systems can help protect our most vulnerable people? I couldn’t have imagined that the painful lessons I learned in financial services from 2008-2012 would be useful in this way and so soon, but life’s like that sometimes. We go through hardship and difficulty because they have something to teach us that we will be able to use to help others down the line. I will try to hang onto that tough and necessary lesson in the coming months and years.

Wonder: Once an entrepreneur…

As much as the security of a full-time job is comforting and the angst of being an entrepreneur is anything but, I’ve begun to think about striking out on my own again. This next leap is likely at least a year away as I start small, test ideas, ask for feedback, and develop a solid plan. I just know in my gut that I’m meant to do my own thing, to use opportunity to its full advantage where and when and how I see it, not how it’s defined by others. I’m only at the very, very early stages of this process and the lessons (tough and otherwise) of my last independent venture are looming large in my mind, and I plan to take all that wisdom and reinvest it in this new venture.

Last week I went to the U.S. News & World Report Healthcare of Tomorrow conference here in D.C. and I left every panel inspired, energized, and hopeful. There is such an immense amount of innovation happening and we are just beginning a new era of medicine in which we’re literally outpacing science fiction. From genomic and precision medicine, to transplants and prosthetics, to life-saving nanotechnologies and artificial intelligence paired with human creativity, there is so much possibility. I want to do my part to usher that possibility into reality.

I’m just now floating early ideas by some trusted people who aren’t shy with their critique and also unfailingly supportive of my dreams. It is a fine line to walk and they do that with grace and intelligence. I can see the future now, out there on the horizon, and I’m taking steps toward it every day. Like all things, it’s a journey and just knowing where I’m going has given me a lot of peace in the pursuit of the next adventure.

Wonder: Excited for today’s U.S. News & Word Report Healthcare of Tomorrow Conference in D.C.

Today I’m going to the U.S. News & World Report’s Healthcare of Tomorrow conference here in D.C. I’m looking forward to hearing from the many inspiring speakers about the incredible work they’re doing. I’m especially keen to hear about the collaborations that are helping to improve patients’ lives and increase access to top quality care. If you’re around, please make sure to find me. I’d love to say hello and hear about your work!

Wonder: How can technology help those with mental illness?

This week I’m in Arizona immersed in the innovative work they do in this state to help those with mental illness and their caregivers. It’s an incredibly eye-opening experience. There are so many people out there who need community, support, and hope—people struggling with mental health issues and the people who love and care for them. Their issues are chronic and intense, and yet so many of them could be healed with proper care.

My job is to think about how technology could help them and the people who care for them—whether those caregivers are family, friends, teachers, community members, or clinicians. And then I need to go build those solutions. I look forward to digging in further and finding opportunities where technology can help all of us be better together.

Wonder: And today, a new career chapter begins

I got up this morning and pinched myself. Today, I’m starting my new job as a Director of Product Development in the healthcare technology space. In many ways, this job is bringing my life full-circle and uniting so many disparate points of life together to build something meaningful with a team as passionate about healthy living as I am. I’ve been immersing myself in the design and business of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality as applied to the physical world.

When I was in high school, I thought about becoming a doctor. In college at Penn, I thought about going into the healthcare field as a psychiatrist or an administrator. After I left Broadway theater, I explored the idea of becoming a physical therapist. When I was at American Express, I looked into technology product development applied to areas such as prosthetics and the artificial heart. My yoga and meditation teaching was largely an outgrowth of my passion for health and helping people feel better. I now write for The Washington Post, and most of my stories are about healthcare, medicine, stories of survival from disease, and the technologies and innovations that make that survival possible.

Now I’m pulling together my experience in and passion for product development, business, health, writing, and improving the human condition into one full-time job, in a city I love, with people who are going to be such incredible role models and mentors to me. My whole life has been preparing me for this, and I am excited to begin.

Wonder: What the Cox commercial of a dancing grandpa teaches us about technology

I love this commercial for its focus on the use of technology to connect people across generations in a spirit of joy and fun. This is the promise I’m intent on fulfilling in my new role as the Director of Envolve Innovation Lab, a healthcare tech innovation center owned by Centene, where I will be working on artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) products. I’m using my love of business, design, and technology to help people live healthier, happier lives. This is the kind of work I was born to do.

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