Put Entrepreneur Problems in Perspective

I recently met soldiers severely disfigured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They taught me a crucial lesson.

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As entrepreneurs, we're often described as risk-takers who are willing to sacrifice a lot to start a business and make it sustainable over time.  We work long hours, spend limited time with family, dwindle our bank accounts, and face constant stress.  Over drinks, we recount failures, deals gone badly, opportunities missed. We think we lay it all on the line.

But, truth is, we have it easy.

I recently attended an event in Dallas--held by one of my clients, UCLA Medical Center--to raise money for Operation Mend, a partnership with the U.S. military to provide treatment to soldiers injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

But to describe these men and women as "injured" is an understatement.  They did not "just" break bones or lose limbs, admittedly horrible occurrences in themselves.  These soldiers were completely disfigured by explosive devices that detonated under their Humvees or transport vehicles.  In many cases, the injuries are so severe, these young men and women are completely disfigured and unrecognizable to friends and family.

After multiple surgeries in military hospitals, they are recommended for Operation Mend because of their need for facial or limb reconstruction.  UCLA's incredibly-talented surgeons perform transformative operations--I call them miracles--that take an average of 20 surgeries and cost $500,000 per patient.  But the patients don't pay a dime.  All funding is through donations.  They are brought to UCLA with loved ones, and they are made to feel like family.

At the event, I listened to these courageous wounded warriors recount stories of years of physical and emotional trauma.  One said that while you can always hide a lost arm or leg, you can't hide your face.  Imagine having to live the rest of your life like that.

But that's exactly what these guys are doing.  What did I notice most behind scars, deformed ears, and crooked lips?  Smiles.  These soldiers are happy to be alive and simply enjoy life.  Their strongest emotion is gratitude to everyone who cares so much about them.

Though my father and grandfather were in the military, I never had any military experience, and didn't grow up with people who did.

So the Operation Mend event made me think about the choices I've made.  These guys and gals made the choice to join the military and put their lives at risk.  They've now been changed forever in a way that everyone notices.  Their kids know they are different.  But these guys remain optimistic.  All they talk about is concern for comrades in battle.  How are their friends?

I also sensed a "fraternity" bond among everyone in the audience who had served at one time, including a 92-year-old man.  You could feel the special relationship between them, regardless of the division of the military in which each served.

Next time I have a "bad" day, I will pause and think of these wounded warriors.  My tough day as an entrepreneur just does not come anywhere close to what these guys are living through.  They risked their lives and livelihood--and suffered drastic consequences--for America.  It's a debt we cannot repay.

Thank goodness organizations like UCLA Medical Center are helping these amazing men and women lead normal lives.  I couldn't have learned a more important lesson from them.

Last updated: Sep 28, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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