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Patrick McGinnis: One Health Scare Away from Reclaiming a Career

Patrick J. McGinnis is a venture capitalist, writer, and speaker who invests in leading companies in the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. He is the creator and host of the hit podcast FOMO Sapiens, which is distributed by Harvard Business Review and has achieved over 2 million downloads. Patrick coined the term “FOMO” short for “Fear of Missing Out”, which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. He has been featured as the creator of both terms in media outlets including the New York Times, The Financial Times, Boston Globe, Guardian, Inc. Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and MSNBC. His TED Talk, “How to Make Faster Decisions” was released in 2019.

Patrick is the author of the international bestseller The 10% Entrepreneur: Live Your Startup Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job, a guide to part-time entrepreneurship. Translated into over ten foreign languages, the book has been featured by the BBC,MSNBC,CNN en Español, Entrepreneur, Fast Company,Forbes, Fortune, and many other media outlets worldwide.

Transcript

BRYAN WISH: What is your One Away moment that you want to share with us?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: There’s a couple, but I’m going to focus on one, which is I woke up in September 2008 at 3:00 in the morning in a hotel room in Charleston, West Virginia. I was covered in a cold sweat, got up from the bed, and the bed was wet. My pillow was wet. It was crazy. I went to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror, and I felt sick. That became the beginning of a whole set of things that happened in my life, but it started in that hotel room. 

BRYAN WISH: It sounds like a terrifying experience for you. What happened after? What led you to the sweat?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: So, I get up in the morning. It’s that moment of something is wrong with me. I wake up, and I hadn’t felt that well. This is right after the 2008 financial crisis. A few weeks after my employer, AIG, I worked in their private equity division. The U.S. government had nationalized them. It blew up my stock by 97%. I felt deep stress. That’s kind of what brought me to that place. Then the following day, I wake up, and I’m taking a shower. I recognize that I have a swollen gland which is not a good sign like lymph nodes. I Googled that and realized I’ve never had this before, but something is seriously wrong. I call my doctor. I set up an appointment. I fly back to New York that day. I feel very sick. Unwell. Very off.

I go to the doctor. He puts me through a battery of tests. Everything is wrong. Everything is off. It turns out that they could never really figure out what was wrong. It was like stress and maybe some sort of viral thing, but all I knew is that I wasn’t feeling perfect. I didn’t get out of bed for five days. When I was able to move again, I had blurry vision. I couldn’t do all that much. I just felt terrible, tired, and sick.

That went on for six months. It was this period where because of that experience, I withdrew from society. I didn’t see people. I didn’t leave my apartment. Number two, I was like, “I need to figure out what the heck is going on and figure out how to get better.” That began a process of reexamining my health and my career, my priorities, everything that I ended up changing to get to the place where I am today. 

BRYAN WISH: How old were you when this happened?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: 32’ish. 

BRYAN WISH: You look like you’re 32, 34 anyway. It helped.

PATRICK MCGINNIS: Clean living. 

BRYAN WISH: Let’s go back before you woke up with this crazy, cold sweat. Maybe share your lifestyle, work, health, food consumption, partying, or whatever. What was your life like that maybe led up to this health freak where you had to get your life in order?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: As a kid, I was very overweight. When I hit about 16 or so, I lost like 50 pounds—got in shape, was relatively thin. I maintained that. It wasn’t a particularly healthy diet, but by eating not that much food and counting calories. I like tennis, but I wasn’t very into sports and exercise until college and business school when I started running more. Then I got really into running. I’d go to the gym like anybody does and do the weights. I did all that kind of stuff at the time. But my work, at the time, working private equity in emerging markets, I was on the road all the time. I went to Istanbul 30 times in five years.

I went to Pakistan once a year. I went to China twice a year. Colombia, 3-4 times a year for work. A lot of business dinners, socializing. I put on like 30 of the 50 pounds I had lost over the progression of several times. Then when AIG blew up, I just emotionally freaked out—watching my stock fall 97%, watching our firm blow up. It felt very personal to me. All of that stuff together was like a perfect storm for me to get sick. 

BRYAN WISH: It sounds like you had a good hard work ethic, and you were the type just to say yes and make it happen. Go abroad. You kind of is built with the hard wiring, whether through life experiences or how you were born or just all the things. What were other factors that led to this hyper-ambitious path that you pursued?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: I grew up in a small town in Maine. Very middle-class kind of town. A mill town. My grandparents worked in factories. My dad worked for the government. My mom worked at a local business. We had a perfect, solid upbringing. It was a place where I didn’t see a future for myself necessarily. I love it there, and I love visiting, but I didn’t see a professional career that I wanted. I was always very good in school. I was a grinder. In high school, I just really wanted to go to college. If you ever saw the movie Election, the girl, Tracy Flick, wants to go to Georgetown. Like I wanted to go to Georgetown. I was like Tracy Flick. I used to wear a blazer to high school. Where people were wearing sweatshirts, I dressed like – I don’t know. It was something.

You should see my yearbook. It’s a lot. I was president of the National Honor Society. I studied so hard. I’d study things that weren’t even assigned. I was so hardcore. But I did well. I was a bit of an aggressive grade grabber. My mindset was imparted to me by the culture where I grew up, where people would just work in factories and worked hard. Work was seen as this fundamental thing in life. The most important thing that you can do is work hard. That’s the value that is uplifted. It’s not like, “He works smarter. He only worked four hours and got it done.” No. Hard work is like a Catholic value. I adopted that into my way of living my life for a long time. I still work hard, but I do a lot of things.

BRYAN WISH: To your point, you might have stretched that to an extreme, but you were rewarded by the nature of what hard work brought. I can see how it led to a negative moment, but it probably came with so much more positive as you’ve been able to adjust. 

PATRICK MCGINNIS: It did. I think where I overdid, you could be a super hard worker, but I was the guy who would never leave the office before my boss left. I was doing face time. There was a lot of performative hard work in the 2020 parlance or whatever that is so ridiculous. I think I could have found more balance, but I didn’t have experience doing that at the time. 

BRYAN WISH: You didn’t know what working smarter was. I think we’ve all been there. You hit the moment of truth when you woke up. Once you figured out you needed to get your self-care in order, what did you do?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: We didn’t have the word self-care back then. I say that word now sometimes. It’s such a funny term. I don’t even know what I think about it. That is the appropriate term. Here’s what I did. I’m good at losing weight and getting in shape because I did it in high school. I’m very disciplined when I know what I’m trying to achieve. I decided I’m going to get in shape. I’m going to take care of myself physically. That began by eating very healthy and staying in, not going out. Once I felt better, I started running a lot.

The most I’d ever really run was like three miles. I ended up starting to run 30-40 miles a week. I ended up running a marathon. I got focused on running. My view was that running is what would get me out of this problem. It will get me back into health and shape. Of course, I overdid it because I’m hardcore. I ended up getting into yoga which worked well with the running. My big challenge in life is not extreme. I’m like that Billy Joel song I Go To Extremes.

When I decided to lose weight, I was super hardcore about it. I wasn’t starving myself, but every meal was super healthy and perfect. Sleep was really important for me. I took a lot of naps. I checked out at work. I’d go to work, but I’d get there really late and leave early. In the middle of the day, I’d work out. Everybody was checked out at that point because our company was kind of impaired. The part I feel is really hard is I felt ashamed of my situation like I had done something wrong because I didn’t take care of myself. 

BRYAN WISH: When you do things at an extreme where everything becomes rigid, and you’re very disciplined as well, that can affect you mentally. What was your experience with your mental health along this health journey that you were trying to revamp? 

PATRICK MCGINNIS: From a mental health perspective, I find it hard in life to be upset about anything for more than a few days at a time. I’m such a natural optimist that even if something bad happens, I’m able to find the bright side or focus on the good things that are happening in life and be grateful for the good things and the little pleasures, which helped me a lot mentally as I had a goal. I was like, “I’m going to get back in shape. I’m going to be healthy. I’m going to do everything I need to in my power to get there.” That focused on me. I felt pretty strong. I did feel I had to hide this from people, though, which is why I’m talking about it now.

I think that’s ridiculous. I try to be more open about these things. It’s not fun to talk about it. It’s very personal, but I decided to be more forthright about these challenges. I had nothing to be ashamed of. Not everybody is healthy all the time. Not everybody makes smart decisions. Not everybody takes care of themselves. That’s not a shameful thing. You just need to get help from people or yourself.  

BRYAN WISH: I appreciate you sharing such a personal moment of your life. Why did you feel the need to hide it? What effects do you see now about being transparent about your journey?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: As men, showing weakness is hard. The way I viewed it was a total weakness. That’s why I had problems. When you’re a very ambitious person who has had a lot of success, you want to control as much as possible. The idea of giving up control or confessing or admitting that I didn’t have control, to me, seemed like a really scary thing to do. 

BRYAN WISH: You hit on something so important. Control is something that hyper-achievers or entrepreneurial types have because they want to be in charge of their dreams. It can be unhealthy at times when you try and overcontrol things. 

PATRICK MCGINNIS: Think about Elon Musk if he came out and said, “I have all these issues going on.” People are so used to thinking he’s a superman. People are either heroes or losers in our culture. You always want to be on the hero side. That’s the bias.

BRYAN WISH: I just finished watching the Tiger Woods documentary on HBO Max. Whether you like sports or not, I think it’s so many parallels to Michael Jordan. This hyper, alpha, masculine male was expected to keep it all together and control everything around him, as it eludes to the second part of the series. I think you can see that is what society wants from us. To be vulnerable, to open up and share is a weakness and hard. For you, though, is it a skill growing up that you never really developed or worked on? What’s allowed you to break that wall down?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: I don’t think it was a thing in our house. We were very supportive, and my parents were very in tune with me and my brother. I’m reading this book right now that is kind of blowing my mind a little. It’s called Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault. It’s been well received this year and getting a lot of press. I reached out to the author. It’s about her growing up in a small Franco-Canadian town in Maine that’s a mill town, exactly what I grew up in. There are so many parallels between her. It’s kind of a mix of Erin Brockovich and Hillbilly Elegy. It’s about her realizing that the town factory poisoned all the people who worked there who are French-Canadian.

French-Canadian people were super marginalized because they were immigrants who spoke a different language, and they were very religious. They were very good rule followers, and they were taken advantage of to work in these factories even though they were getting poisoned. It’s a crazy, crazy story. As I read that story, I’m like, “That’s the culture I grew up in.” You sort of don’t raise your hand and complain. You sort of don’t talk about that. You just go forward, push forward, get things done, work hard. There’s a lot of value to that mindset. I don’t dismiss that at all. I think that gave me a lot. But I would say that people up there don’t talk about that kind of stuff as a result. There’s a lot more openness around certain things that we just didn’t have in other cultures or other traditions. 

BRYAN WISH: You had this spectrum experience where you had to make some hard changes, but those hard changes also led to not being super comfortable sharing and being vulnerable about that experience, which has led you to become more vulnerable. It’s like a two-for-one in a way. Just for the ambitious people out there who want to act like everything is okay all the time, what would be your advice to them?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: You see all these mental health problems, especially in the tech and entrepreneurship community right now. Also, with work from home, mental health issues have become an epidemic in America. It’s a mess. There’s a reason why people are on extremist websites like plotting to overthrow our government. People are very isolated and not connected. This is a problem. If you’re feeling this way, you need to fix it. Not that I was doing those things, but we live in an epidemic of issues with people.

It starts at these types of places. I was able to open up to people, which isn’t easy. I’m not perfect at it at all. A couple of things I’d say is some places don’t allow you to do that. If you work at a hedge fund on Wallstreet, if you come in and talk about your feelings, people are going to be like, “Why are you here?” If you exist in an environment that’s not even tolerated or seen as a bad thing, you need to find it somewhere else. We all need some of it. Many people who read my books or that I talk to are looking for a solution to a problem in their life. It could be a problem with their career or feeling fulfilled or making decisions.

When I first did my book, I didn’t want any of me in it. I barely talked about myself. I was talking about other people. I was like, “This is not about me.” I realized that for anybody who wants to share that kind of information, the more that they can reveal about themselves and make themselves approachable to the reader or listener, the better that the message will resonate. The more personal it is, the more powerful it is. As part of the work that I do, I was forced to learn how to be more open and tell my story in a way that was way more accessible to people and grounded in my own lived experience. That’s been a big part of it. 

BRYAN WISH: There’s a book called The Art of Empathy about working with emotions and how things feel, and how to articulate. It’s targeted at women, but there’s so much value in the book because you’re right. I don’t think we’re taught these things. You have a really good framework and passion for your career of solving problems for people and help them with career decisions. It’s a very fulfilling path that you’re on.

PATRICK MCGINNIS: If I learned one thing over the last couple of years, it’s that empathetic men are so much stronger than non-empathetic men. Compare a Joe Biden to a Donald Trump. Unless you’ve been brainwashed, it’s so clear that Joe Biden is such a stronger person because he cares about other people and can express his own. People talk about the perfect president for right now because the grief has transformed who he is as a person, and he shares that. Whereas, you had Trump, who is all about projecting strength which just makes him look weaker. 

BRYAN WISH: The inauguration speech was beautiful. Very unifying. Being able to admit not everything is okay in this world is clearly what he did. Then to say that we’re here to help build it back and bring it back together. The words and communication around that can speak to a collective whole in a very one-to-one way. That’s the power of good communication and being empathetic towards people’s experiences. I’m not an expert at it, but I think I’m more attune.

PATRICK MCGINNIS: I think there’s a line too. At some point, if you’re overly empathetic, it’s probably irritating to people. I don’t know where that line is. You sometimes just have to do things. What is too much empathy? Maybe that’s a future conversation. Maybe the listeners can write in and say because I’d love to know what people think.

BRYAN WISH: I’ll see if I can get some responses for you when we roll this out. What is sustainable health to you at this moment in time?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: In the pandemic, it’s so hard. I did end up leaving my job and starting my career working for myself. I went on the treadmill and looked where I ended up. That’s why I decided to get off the treadmill and build something for myself. I’m not here to say that I’m the pinnacle of perfection on any of this stuff. I just try to do what I need to do to keep it all together. The thing I do that helps me is I have a fitness regimen that I stick to. I have a Peloton bike that I got because I’m not going to the gym with a pandemic.

That’s super helpful if I don’t feel like going outside or for a run. Yoga is something I used to do a lot of. I need to get back into it because I miss going to classes. Just have to do it at home. I meditate every day. I’ve learned how to cook during the pandemic. I’ll eat junk. Last night, to celebrate the inauguration, I ate an entire baguette. It was so good. I just had a salad for lunch. I’d cook. Sleep is really important to me. I don’t often get enough sleep at night because I’m a bit of a night owl. I take tons of naps. I’m like Mr. Nap. I go to acupuncture every month. That’s an important ritual I’ve been doing for almost a decade because it’s hitting the reset button on your life every month.

I take vitamins. Probiotics, vitamin C, vitamin D. I try to have a reasonably plant-based diet. Although, I will eat meat. I’m not anti-meat. I try to make sure it’s balanced with a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. I take vacations. Lots of them. As much as I can. I don’t value working more hours at all. I also take a lot of breaks during the day. All those things together really make a difference for me. 

BRYAN WISH: What are you doing now?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: It’s been such a crazy journey. I ended up deciding to get out of the corporate world. I had no plan, but I couldn’t stay. I was really unhappy at my firm after everything that happened with the financial crisis. I sort of lost my faith in the organization and work. I felt this stuff is all broken, and it’s just going to happen again. I’m going to get another job, and it’s going to blow up. I don’t want to do that again. I want to find a way to have more autonomy. I ended up leaving. I took a year-long sabbatical. It worked. I wrote about sabbaticals in my newest book. I think a sabbatical is amazing. I’ve written a bunch on my blog as well about sabbaticals. Then I came back, and I was like, “What am I going to do with my life?” I had no idea. I started doing these small projects and built a portfolio of things that ended up giving me the idea of writing a book about how to be a part-time entrepreneur. I wrote the book proposal. We were shopping for it. I got an agent.

Then we were getting rejected. I got 33 rejections. Then a journalist reached out to me and said, “I’m writing an article about the history of the word FOMO, and I traced it to you.” I said, “Yes, I came up with FOMO. Why do you care?” He said, “It’s in the dictionary.” I was like, “That’s crazy.” He wrote the article. It went sort of viral. My agent then showed it to the publishers. They ended up buying The 10% Entrepreneur. That was what got me the book deal. I wrote a book which I loved. It was such a wonderful experience. It came out in 2016. It did great. It came out in a bunch of languages. I promoted it all over the place and traveled all over the world on my terms. I write books, but I also do invest. I invested in a bunch of cool startups. Some have done well. As I was doing a book tour around the world, I remember I was in Beirut one night, and a guy wanted to take a selfie with me because of the FOMO thing. I was like, “If I’m getting selfies in Beirut out of FOMO, I should just write a book about it.”

FOMO is super interesting. It’s a rich topic. There’s so much demand for it. People love to talk about FOMO. I wrote that. It came out in the middle of the pandemic, which was impossible. It’s doing pretty well. It’s in a bunch of foreign languages. I also started a podcast called FOMO Sapiens, where we talk to people about their choices in life. Overcoming FOMO is about indecision and overcoming indecision. We’re in season 5. We have something like 90 episodes. I started doing it with Harvard Business Review for a while. I was with them for three of my seasons which was great. Then I decided I wanted to take the show in a slightly different direction and have more control. I spun it out this year, and now it’s back out on its own.

Finally, I just launched my first ever audio course with a company called Himalaya, a leading app for learning. It’s a podcast-style course for The 10% Entrepreneur called How To Be A Part-Time Entrepreneur. I’d never done a course before. I was a little nervous. Will this be good? Will people like it? Luckily, I’m pleased with how it came out. It just came out in January 2021. Now I’m also doing a bunch of speaking. I’m doing a lot of things. Everything is self-reinforcing. When I do one thing, it helps the other things. It all kind of comes together in a very symbiotic way. So, I don’t feel crazy about it. It’s all fun. I feel like I don’t work. 

BRYAN WISH: Between investing, speaking, writing, the podcast, all the things you’re working on, the compound. You also said something that I want to build on. They’re all connected in certain ways. If you had a higher-order level message that millions of people could see, what do you think that would be? 

PATRICK MCGINNIS: The work that you do, I’m doing something very similar. We’ve been going deep on all this stuff with me, which is super cool and interesting. It’s hard. The challenging thing for me is I’m doing a lot of different things. This is my problem, my own darn life. What is Patrick an expert in? I don’t arrogantly mean this. I guess I’m an expert in part-time entrepreneurship. I wrote a book on it. I speak about it. I made a course on it. Patrick is an expert in decision-making because I wrote a book on it. I speak on it. I have a podcast on it.

Those two things are different. So, what’s the overarching thing that unites them? Well, I’d say it’s all about making choices in your life to live fully and autonomously. That’s not very catchy. It’s all about that we live in a time where the ground is shifting. The way things were done before will not be done again tomorrow. You have to make smart decisions about how to thrive in that world. If you do, you can live an incredible life. If you don’t, you’re going to be dying of the FOMO. That’s how I think about it. 

BRYAN WISH: You’ve had to learn the hard way in many things in your own life because of decisions that you made that were on different extremes. If you can make decisions to make the equilibrium a little more balanced, you can, through those smart decisions, through the way you’ve set your life up. You can live a life that’s a little more meaningful with making good decisions 90-95% of the time. I’m excited to see how it all turns out. 

PATRICK MCGINNIS: It’s been a lot of fun chatting with you. I hope it’s something new for people to hear about. 

BRYAN WISH: Where can people find you?

PATRICK MCGINNIS: The best places to find me are patrickmcginnis.com. The podcast is fomosapiens.com. Then on social, I’m @patricjmcginnis on Instagram and pjmcginnis on Twitter. We have Facebook, but I feel nobody is on Facebook anymore. Then you can reach out to me by email at letsconnect@patrickmcginnis.com.

BRYAN WISH: Thank you for sharing with us. I felt dull before the chat, and I feel alive again. Thank you. 

One Away Podcast
Bryan Wish

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