Have you ever had a near-death experience? I have not, but I have had a death-bed experience. Four years ago this month I fell terribly ill. I had contracted a viral infection that went from routine, to bad, to ugly. The first couple of antibiotics prescriptions I received didn’t work and by the 3rd round, I was toast. I was so weak I could barely move. Even though my doctors assured me that I was going to recover, at age 37, it felt like I was dying. I was stuck in bed for a month and had to take an extended leave from work.
As you can imagine, this gave me more “free” time than I had in a long time. I read, listened to music and did a lot of reflecting.
I reflected a lot about life, which all of sudden felt short. I wanted to spend more time doing the stuff I loved, doing things that gave me a greater sense of meaning and purpose. I thought a great deal about the activities I had engaged in throughout my career that brought me the greatest joy. When was I the happiest in my work?
My heart and mind kept coming back to a project that I was involved in during my college days. I was part of a program that gave free trees to school kids for Earth Day. In three years, a handful of us raised money and distributed over 30,000 trees to tens of thousands of school children across southeast Iowa.
It was the most rewarding work I had ever done. Seeing the smiling faces of all those kids, knowing that we were doing something that was going to beautify our communities – it filled my soul with feelings that no amount of money could buy.
What if I had kept working on that project? Why did I abandon it after I graduated college? Where would it be today if I continued building on it?
As I laid there, reflecting on these questions, I made up my mind to rekindle this old college flame. I decided that I was going to do what I loved doing no matter what. Even if it was just a hobby, I wanted to add meaning and purpose to my life and my work. I wanted to give trees to kids again.
And like that, Neighborhood Forest was born. I didn’t have a website, a business plan or a budget, but I started anyways. I was determined to work on it, even if for a couple of hours a month.
Fast forward to today and, like a tree, Neighborhood Forest has grown. We just launched a website and my brother, Vivek, has taken over the day-to-day operations as this hobby starts to turn into a real social venture.
Check out the nice, 2-minute video my brother made:
I am still 110% focused on Keyhubs, but know that underneath this tech-entrepreneur / management consultant lives a dyed-in-the-wool tree-hugger that intends on giving trees to kids every Earth Day.
This is all thanks to a horrible, “death-bed” experience. Another great example of how bad stuff can lead to really good stuff if we allow it to.
It’s cold and snowy here in Minneapolis, but Earth Day is just around the corner. Soon, the birds will be chirping. It is time to plant some trees and light up the smiles of thousands of kids.
Vikas Narula (@NarulaTweets) is Creator and Co-Founder of Keyhubs (@Keyhubs) – a software and services company specializing in workplace social analytics. He is also Founder of Neighborhood Forest – a social venture dedicated to giving free trees to kids every Earth Day.
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