Episode: The Opportunity Behind Our Sabbatical Not Going to Plan
Megan Hyatt Miller: Hi, I’m Megan Hyatt Miller, and this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Hey, as I’ve mentioned before, I am recently back from my sabbatical. My dad is out for his first ever three-month-long sabbatical over the summer. We’re excited to be back together here in several more weeks and share the insights from our time away once he’s back.
In the meantime, today I have another exciting guest (from my perspective, maybe the most exciting guest), my husband and our chief product officer, Joel Miller. I feel like I need like a big drum roll.
Joel Miller: I would also agree that this is very exciting.
Megan: Wait, wait. It’s not your part yet. Hang on. Sit tight. I have to introduce you to the people. Okay. Joel is responsible for the stewardship and ongoing development of our intellectual property, whether that’s in a book, a course, or a coaching format. He works really closely with my dad and me to develop our best ideas in ways that are transformational for you all. If you’ve ever wondered how we have all this amazing stuff to share with you guys, Joel (or his team) is probably behind it. On that note, he has built a phenomenal team of writers, editors, and creators who really bring all these ideas to life. We could not do it without him.
Anyway, Joel, I’m so happy to have you here today. Welcome.
Joel: Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.
Megan: It’s so fun. You’re at home in our home office/studio. I’m in the office/office. It’s kind of funny to be in two different places but doing this together.
Joel: Yeah, it is, and odd and kind of wonderful.
Megan: Well, you really are the most exciting guest that I could ever have on the podcast and my favorite person of all time. We’re going to talk about my sabbatical and how it was a little different than what I planned on.
Okay, so let’s talk about the sabbatical we thought we were going to have, which was very well planned, as they typically are.
Joel: Yes, lots of lists.
Megan: Guys, the lists were amazing. I’ll talk about that in a second. It was my best ever list showing, I just want you to know that it was next-level planning. If only it had worked out like I thought.
Joel: But it didn’t.
Megan: But it did not. We’ll get to that in a minute. We’re going to make you wait for it for just a second. The plan was that we were going to go to Uganda. If you’ve listened to the show for very long, you know that Joel and I have five children. Together, we have children ages 20 to 2, and our two middle boys are adopted from Uganda. They were adopted in 2011, and we have not been back since then.
We have recently started a relationship with their birth families. They’re not biologically related. We have done that over Zoom. It’s amazing that that can happen. That wasn’t even possible when we adopted them in 2011. Technology for the win on that. So we were excited to go see them, to kind of reintroduce them to our boys and really make those connections with their homeland and their families. Their birth families and extended families have lots of family members.
We had been planning this, and let me tell you… I think I probably had a little anxiety about this trip, so sometimes how my anxiety works out is planning. There were many, many lists, and it really came out in packing and like, “How can I get all the things we need to take our kids and our nanny and do this in a developing country with a toddler and diapers and food challenges and dietary issues…?”
Joel: Let me just say that NASA does not prepare for trips the way you do. This was next level; we could have gone to space with the level of thouroughness.
Megan: Right. We could have gone. We were really ready. We were ready for it. So imagine that. Imagine folding tables in my upstairs with everything organized by category. You know, here’s the cooking stuff. Here’s the packing stuff. Here are the special clothes. Here’s all the medicine we have to take in advance. We got our travel shots, all of that.
We were set to leave in early June, and at the end of May, right before leaving on sabbatical, just a few days before, I was sitting in a meeting with my executive team. Suddenly, I started feeling some discomfort in my chest. As someone who is a an avid exerciser… I had lifted weights the day before, so I thought, “Well maybe I’m having kind of like a spasm,” because I’d done some chest presses, some chest flies with free weights. That’s normally how I lift weights. I thought maybe that’s what was happening, except that it continued to escalate.
I was trying to concentrate on what everybody was saying. In my mind, I’m like, “Is this like a panic attack or something? This doesn’t feel right.” Then I’m thinking, “I’m not anxious, so that doesn’t make any sense. It’s painful. That doesn’t make any sense.” After maybe five to seven minutes, it’s getting really painful; I can’t concentrate anymore.
Joel was sitting right next to me. Joel is on our executive team, as I mentioned earlier. I said, “Honey, my chest really hurts.” He kind of looked at me like, “What in the world?” Everybody, you know, I’m trying to not say this, because I know everybody is going to be worried. So my executives are like, “What? Oh, my gosh.”
Joel: We all turned and were leaning in.
Megan: Right, leaning in. I’m trying to get my watch to check my heartbeat and all the rest. Anyway, it just got to the point where it continued to escalate. The executives were like, “Megan, you need to go to the hospital.” Joel is like, “Yeah, we need we need to go.” By this point, I’m in excruciating pain.
Joel: That was like three minutes.
Megan: Oh, I thought it was like 10 to 15 minutes. See, I have no sense of time.
Joel: It was no more than three minutes between you putting your hand on my arm and standing to leave.
Megan: Okay, so apparently time was slowing down in this whole experience. By this point, I’m in a lot of pain. I’ve got to walk out of our office, and I’m just thinking, “Don’t fall over in front of your team. They’re going to be real worried if you pass out or something. You just have to get out of the building.” I’m having pain in my jaw and kind of under my tongue and my neck, across my shoulders and chest. Many of you are seeing where this is going.
We walk out to the car. We walk to our parking lot where our car is parked, and I’m feeling really nauseated. We get in the car. Now we’re trying to drive to the ER, which is about 10 minutes away from our office, and I’m starting to realize something is bad wrong. Like, this is not… I don’t know what I thought was happening, but I was not yet thinking heart attack. I was thinking anything but that, and by the time we’re about four minutes away from the hospital, I’m thinking, “Just don’t die before you get there.”
Joel: Well, I was driving fast enough that that wouldn’t happen. Let me just tell you that. We were getting there. I’m just saying I have a V8, and I’m not afraid to use it.
Megan: Right. That’s true. We get there, we go in, and we’re like, “We think I’m having a heart attack.” They take me back, and they’re looking at me. I’m 41 years old, if you don’t know. I’m healthy. I’m fit. I exercise 5-6 days a week. They’re like, “Yeah, right.” I mean, that’s kind of what their facial expressions say. They hook me up to all the things, and I’m in pain. I’m like, “When am I getting something for the pain?” They basically give me Ativan. They think I’m having a panic attack. They don’t really see anything as wrong.
Joel: They hooked you up to the EKG, and that was normal.
Megan: That was normal. This is not helping me in terms of getting what I need. Finally, though, they take these enzymes, which, if you’ve had a heart attack, become elevated when you have a heart event. That all of a sudden changed things. Then they admitted me. They still couldn’t figure it out, though. They’re like, “This doesn’t make any sense. I mean, you’re so young, and you don’t fit the profile and nothing makes sense.”
The next morning, I had a heart-catheter procedure, where… I’ll spare you the details, but they were able to actually look inside my heart and the vessels and arteries and all of that. What they found is that I had a very rare kind of heart attack called a SCAD heart attack that affects women, average age 42 (basically my age), who have no other risk factors, who are physically active. So, basically, they don’t know why it happens.
They don’t know what the true cause is. There are a few kind of hypotheses about this, which I’ll share in a second. But, you know, I don’t have high blood pressure. I don’t have high cholesterol. I don’t have any lifestyle factors that would be in play for this. In fact, there are no lifestyle factors. It’s either potentially hormonal, an underlying tissue disorder, which I now know I don’t have, or in men, it’s extreme exercise. If I were an Olympic powerlifter, but neither of us are Olympic powerlifters, unfortunately. Although I was planning to train for a tough mudder race in the fall; I hadn’t quite gotten to that intense part of my training yet, so that wasn’t the cause.
More than likely, it’s either hormonal or, “Sorry, we don’t know.” I’m going to be going to the Mayo Clinic here in a couple of weeks. They have a team of three cardiologists who see only patients with SCAD heart attacks and this condition that literally… This is how rare it is: My cardiologist and others that I’ve now talked to say they only see a patient once every 10 to 15 years with this condition. Really, really weird. They kind of looked at me like I was a freak of nature.
Yeah. I’m just going to take a deep breath, right? That was kind of crazy to share that with you guys.
Joel: I remember when the cardiologist came in after doing that heart-catheter scan and described what he saw. Just imagine this for a minute. Here’s your very, very, very, very tiny artery that has a cell lining that is one cell thick. That cell lining tore.
Megan: Like a run in your pantyhose.
Joel: A tiny tear. Pressure from blood pumping through that artery causes that tear to run, so he was able to visibly see that in the heart. First off, that is amazing to fathom that that can even be done. But it (praise God) was also confirmation of what happened, which otherwise would have been completely mysterious.
Megan: And really, this is a condition that there’s not a lot known about, and a lot of people don’t get the correct diagnosis. They used to put stents in, which they don’t do that anymore. This was essentially like a hematoma in the artery that creates the blockage, and they used to treat it like an actual blockage. They would put a stent in, which if you ever tried to mess with the run in your pantyhose, ladies, you remember that it gets worse, right? That’s what would happen. You actually want to try to leave it alone as much as possible so that it can heal.
Anyway miraculously, one, I got a diagnosis. I’m so grateful for that; that really gives me clarity. Number two, we were not in Uganda, when this happened. I mean, literally, we were days away from being… There’s basically like a… The capital of Uganda is Kampala, and the medical treatment that’s available, of course, is limited, and we weren’t staying there. We were going to be three hours away from the city, in an area where we would have had no medical care in terms of cardiac availability. So it’s just a total miracle that we had not already left. That was a mercy.
Then the other thing is that because I have really prioritized my health… I’ve talked about this on the show. This is something that has been important to me for a long time. But for the last year, I have been really serious about exercising and fitness. I love working out. I’m really consistent. It’s part of my morning ritual. So I think my body was in a strong enough place that, I mean, the outcome is really good. I’m okay. I’m here, for starters. There’s that.
But then second of all, the prognosis looks good for the future, as best as we can tell. What was interesting, because I already had my sabbatical plan… I mean, I would say that was the other thing. In God’s mercy, I already had a month planned off, and while the sabbatical that I thought I was going to have going to Uganda with my kids and seeing their birth families was a loss… It was a loss for them for sure. They were kind of simultaneously relieved, and I think, disappointed at the same time. You can imagine there are a lot of emotions going into that. We’re hoping to do that again next summer. But the fact that I already had this time off meant that I could see all the doctors I needed to see without some crazy heroic rearranging of the calendar.
Joel: Which became a new part-time job.
Megan: Which did become a new part-time job. Fortunately, Nashville is a great place for medicine. We have amazing doctors here, and I have an incredible cardiac internist, Dr. Mark Houston. My mom and dad both see him, and he’s also kind of like a primary care physician as well with this specialty. My parents say (affectionately) that he does a living autopsy. I have had more tests than I even knew are known to man.
The good news is that I’m really, really healthy. I had the opportunity to take my health kind of to the next level in terms of… I was already doing so many things right, but this event gives me an invitation to do even more than I would have otherwise and prevent all the preventable cardiac stuff that might have been something to be concerned about as I age. That’s pretty cool all by itself, but man, I’ve learned a lot about cardiac health, right, Joel?
Joel: No kidding. In the hospital… We were there overnight. The scan happened the very next morning, very early. The news, the diagnosis and all that, was in before noon, and we were in the car by like 2:00 p.m. out the door, which was odd. You go in for a heart attack one day, and you’re out the next day.
They were basically saying to stay active. They were encouraging you to get up and walk and all of that. I remember the first few times walking around the block being concerned. You had special medication just in case something were to happen. Nothing really did. Within a few weeks, no one would have even known that anything happened. It was odd. I mean, it was very surreal and still is in some ways.
Megan: I think it is surreal. You know, it was interesting. I was pretty restricted in terms of what I could do there for the first few weeks. Like, I couldn’t get my heart rate over 90 beats a minute. I got my Apple Watch going all the time. Even if I was walking… They allowed me to walk on a flat surface in my neighborhood, which is pretty flat, but slowly.
I’m kind of fast normally. Like everything I do is kind of fast. So all the older people in our neighborhood… We live in a neighborhood where there are a lot of people who probably have been here since the neighborhood was built. They’re out in the morning walking, and they are like lapping me, lapping me hard. It’s so humbling to just be out there shuffling like, “Okay, I really have to go slow,” walking at probably like two and a half miles an hour or something.
But I don’t know. It was, like you said, surreal. I would say the first week was just total shock of like, “I cannot believe that this has happened,” just how… Transparently, I went and saw my therapist, and I was like, “The math doesn’t add up. I have never been more on top of my health. I’m not working too much.” You know, all these things.
She’s like, “Megan, sometimes the math doesn’t add up. That’s life. Life is not an equation in that way. I mean, certainly what you have been doing has helped you to have a great outcome, but there are things outside your control, in case you forgot.” I was like, “Oh, yeah, you’re right.” So that was interesting,
I would say it took me a few weeks to just kind of get my sea legs again. Then I started feeling more like myself. I’m now in cardiac rehab, which is also funny because I’m the youngest person by a good 20 to 25-plus years. But I’m getting my confidence back about what I can do. I’m working up little by little and will hopefully be able to be at the level of exercise that I was at before all this happened by the time I’m done here in a few more weeks, so that’s exciting to me.
Joel: The hard thing about that surrealness, and you know, just the whole everything-goes-sideways kind of moment is understanding what it means. It’s impossible not to try to figure out what things mean. You know? We’re historical creatures. We live in time and events happen around us as we are moving through the world, and this happens and that happens or whatever, we try to stitch it all together in a way that makes sense to us.
When you said the math doesn’t add up, that’s totally right. None of the factors that would be there that would explain it are there. I mean, you’re the butt of jokes when you go to cardiac rehab because you don’t fit in that group of people. I mean, a sitcom writer could have a field day with that. That’s an odd thing. I think that kind of puzzlement is, I don’t know, a great reminder that we are way smaller and our ambitions are sometimes curtailed by things that we can’t even begin to understand.
Megan: I can’t remember who I was listening to the other day talk about this. They were talking about taking responsibility for things. Oh! I had a conversation with my sister Mary about it. We were talking about how much you should be taking ownership of things. How sometimes that concept can sort of get abused in a way that has us taking responsibility for things we can never control in the first place.
She was saying how important it is to be mindful of the fact that we can only take 100 percent of the responsibility for things that we actually control. I think with regard to our health or our safety or anything like that, we don’t have complete control, but we have a lot of influence, right? We have a lot of influence over the outcomes in our lives. We have a lot of control over certain things. I think that it’s really empowering to be aware of those things and to take full advantage of the opportunity to positively impact our own lives.
But that’s intention with the fact that, you know, people who never smoked a day in their lives get lung cancer, right? How do you explain that? I mean, just weird things that happen to people sometimes. Or you get in a car accident, and there was a drunk driver that hits you. It’s not… You weren’t driving dangerously, and that’s obviously… There are hard examples to share, but I just think it is important to remember lest in a way our ego get inflated that we have a level of control. There’s kind of a level of hubris about being masters of our own destiny that’s not true.
That may sound like a funny thing to say, because we talk so much on this podcast about being intentional, about really being in control of the things that you are in control of. But I think the kind of balance to that is also remembering that ultimately our lives are in God’s hands. We are not the masters of our own destiny completely. There are things that happen that are outside of our control that we would not choose and then it becomes up to us to decide what’s the story we’re going to put around that.
I’ve had to be very conscious of, “Okay, what’s the narrative around this? Was this the worst thing that ever happened to me? Or is this going to be the best thing that ever happened to me?” I don’t say that lightly. Like this is just some icing that I’m spreading over something to try to make it into a cake, but it wasn’t. I don’t mean that. I mean I have to really decide, like you said, Joel, what is the meaning that I’m going to give to this.
When I was at cardiac rehab this morning, one of the nurses was telling me about another… They’ve only had a couple of their SCAD patients in her time there. She said this other woman, who was like your age, had a really hard time when she was here because she was just so traumatized. I get that. I get how you could be so traumatized.
But I think sometimes there are certain kinds of traumas… Certainly not all, and I’ve studied trauma a lot. I’d say this is a very nuanced thing. Sometimes trauma is about how you experience something, not about what happens to you. Sometimes that doesn’t apply. That’s not a relevant thing to say. But in this case, I think it is. For me, I don’t feel traumatized. I just feel like that it was maybe kind of like a traumatic thing to go through, an event, but it’s not… I am not traumatized, like ongoing.
I think that I want it to make me more sober-minded, have more clarity in my life about what matters, obviously, as any kind of life-and-death experience does. But I look at things… I’ve decided, even though it doesn’t seem that stress is a factor in this… Again, lifestyle factors are not a factor in this type of heart attack. But just as kind of like precautionary measure for the future, I thought, “I’m going to join an eight-week meditation program.” It’s called MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction; it’s out of the University of Massachusetts. It’s really cool. It’s very medically oriented, studied in a medical context, not religious.
My motivation for that, and kind of what got me excited, was one of the most important things about leading at a high level is not being reactive, is being able to have an intensely emotional situation which, if you’re leading a company those things bubble up to you sometimes, how do I make decisions that have high stakes, have an emotionally intense situation, and not be reactive, but be able to be really present and put enough distance between myself and the stimulus so that I can make an intentional decision?
Well, I thought not only is this good for my emotional health, my cardiac health, all that, but it’s really going to be good for my leadership. So that’s one of the things that I kind of made this heart attack mean for myself, that this is an invitation really to take my (obviously) self-care to the next level. I mean, there’s always another level to go to with your health and your self-care, but also my leadership, my parenting, my ability to be your wife and partner, that that’s a great thing. I’m really honestly excited about that, even though, obviously, I’d never want to go through that again.
Joel: There’s a novel called The Hakawati, and it’s written by a fellow whose name I will undoubtedly mispronounce so I request a little generosity from listeners on this point: Rabih Alameddine. He says this in the story. The narrator says, “What happens is of little significance compared to the stories we tell ourselves about what happens.” That’s probably been said a hundred different ways by a hundred different people, but there’s a sense in which all of life is what happens and then what we say happens. And what we say about the thing that happens can be either more useful or less useful.
One of the things I have always found compelling about you as a person is your commitment to finding the most useful version of whatever it is, the narrative about something, because you are not the kind of person who is content to… I want to be careful about how I say this because I don’t want to imply that other people are not like this or couldn’t be like this or whatever. But when something negative happens, you are very keen to not allow it to be definitive or final. I mean that you want to be able to move past it, so you are very adept at interpreting events, at narrating events, understanding events, in such a way that you can continue to move forward.
I find that compelling as your partner. I find that inspiring as somebody who works with you day in and day out in a business context, someone who raises our kids together, who has the life that we have together, any number of things in life throw curveballs, and in some cases really ugly boulders at us. One of the ways we’re able to navigate those boulders is your ability to have a sense of possibility and resourcefulness about events. I think that that’s something that all of us could develop more of. It is profoundly useful. Maybe one of the most useful ways of being in the world is recognizing that when the boulder comes, you can do something with it.
Megan: Yeah. Well, thank you. I appreciate you saying that. It’s probably important to say two things. Number one, that has been learned over going through a lot of hard things in my life. We have had lots of challenges with our kids, which we’ve shared about. We have kids with special needs. We’ve had all kinds of stuff that we have faced together, and certainly in my life before we were together, and I think that has been a gift in many ways.
I will say also, that that’s not my first response. That’s where I usually end up, but it’s not my first response. There were plenty of tears. There was plenty of “Why did this happen?” confusion, discouragement, all that stuff. I would say that’s the normal part of being a human that just comes up.
I think it’s not helpful when people sort of skip over the human part to the part where they’ve figured it out and they’ve kind of got that clarity. I mean, I think sometimes we don’t realize there is the option ultimately to decide what narrative we want to latch onto and move forward with, so that’s really empowering. But it’s also empowering to know that that’s usually a process, and it can be messy, a little bit, getting there. That’s just part of being human. That’s certainly true for me.
Joel: Whatever story we tell ourselves has to be true. That means you do have to go through those hard parts of that, the experience parts, the metabolizing the change, the unsmoothed, very lumpy parts of that process, because it’s not true otherwise; it’s just a manufactured or fake kind of thing, like you said, like icing over something that isn’t a cake.
Megan: Right. You can’t just be trying to resist the difficult feelings; it has to actually be something that feels ultimately truer to you. I think this does feel truer. I mean, the truth is, every hard thing I’ve been through, including the very hardest things, have always turned out to be a gift. They’ve always been the seeds of my future success, of my ability to lead and love people well, for empathy, all that kind of stuff. That has always been central.
As I sort of integrate this experience now into my current reality, and it’s now part of who I am, and it’s part of the future I’m headed into, I welcome it as not something I would have chosen, but also a gift. I’m excited to see what comes from it on the other side, Already, good things have come. I think that will be even truer as time goes on, and I can look back.
Well, guys, thank you for listening. I’m just really grateful for your willingness to listen to kind of an out-of-leftfield episode that is much less scripted and really intensely personal about this experience of my heart attack. It’s really meaningful to share this with you, and you guys matter a lot to me. I was really excited to get back to the podcast, to get back to our team. It gives me a lot of meaning and purpose as I look ahead into the future and what I get to contribute to you all matters a lot.
Joel, thanks for being with me today too. I think it kind of helps to just have your perspective and be able to let people into our shared experience around such a strange and unexpected situation.
Joel: Yeah, I was not pleased to go through it but pleased to share it at this point.
Megan: Yeah. You’re always my favorite person to go through hard things with, now and forever.
If you’re kind of wondering maybe what’s a practical takeaway for you, or what would I say if I just had one thing to say, besides what we just said about stories and how you have agency over the narrative in your life around hard things, I would say this:
Investing in your health and focusing on your life outside of work… Because we talk about that a lot here on the podcast, and certainly in our work at Michael Hyatt & Co., is really important. You never know when something outside of your control is going to cause you to need to make a withdrawal on the equity that you have accumulated in your health. You may not be able to control the withdrawals that come, those requests that come through life, but what you can control now is how you set yourself up to respond to those things physically when and if they come.
I’m so grateful that I have been able to prioritize that stuff, that I’ve made it a part of my life. If maybe you’ve been putting that off or it’s just kind of not been on your radar, I just want to encourage you to do it so that you will be glad later because for all of us, something will happen that was unexpected. If we are starting in a really strong place, the outcomes are likely to be much better.
Thanks so much for your time. Thanks for joining us here on Lead to Win. I look forward to seeing you next week.