RAATH — Life with Ménière’s Disease

Title: Menier's Disease - My Story Image of author James Raath in a a sport jacket.Sooner or later everyone faces an unexpected challenge that tests the foundations on which their lives are built. My test was sudden, overwhelming and catastrophic. I woke up one morning to discover I was almost totally deaf. Here’s my story.

I knew something was seriously wrong. I couldn’t hear anything more than a few muffled sounds as Robyn my wife tried to talk to me. The previous evening we had been celebrating my fiftieth birthday with lobster thermidor and fine South African wine in a Johannesburg restaurant. I was fit and healthy. Two weeks previously Robyn and I had completed the 87Km Comrades Marathon, a gruelling run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg that we ran annually. Was this just a bad cold or something more sinister? We had plans to relocate to the UK the country of my birth, to expand my already successful training consultancy. I had training commitments to complete, staff to lead and a new business partner to bring up to speed. Everything was now at risk.

As a young man of twenty four, I had already lost the hearing in my left ear due to Ménière’s disease. It was diagnosed during an overseas trip to London two years earlier where I was told there was no cure and that total deafness in that ear was expected. It was accompanied by occasional bouts of vertigo, but I was able to adjust to having one ‘good ear’ and life continued, almost as normal. I had no idea then that I was on a collision course with a ‘health tsunami’ that would hit me twenty six years later and wreck our lives.

The horror of being deaf was immediate. I could barely hear my wife who had to shout into my right ear for me to hear anything. The impact on my business and our finances was calamitous. I could no longer use the telephone, attend business meetings, and conduct training sessions with clients or converse with anyone – including my staff. My customers, staff and new business partner were all left high and dry. My business came to a grinding halt and so did its income. The ‘tsunami’ had arrived but in its wake was worse to come.

After moving to England a few months later in June 2005 I had a brief period of respite and even some recovery of hearing in my right ear. But it wasn’t to last. Two days before I was scheduled to speak at a conference in Nottingham my hearing disappeared again – this time for good. I arrived at the conference and kept to myself, terrified that anyone might want to start a conversation with me. I somehow managed to present my talk and after apologizing that I couldn’t answer questions because I couldn’t hear them, I slunk away early. It was the worst day of my life to date but there were worse days to come. The long term, progressive process of Ménière’s disease had started. I had entered the world of Ménière’s disease sufferers where less than 0.2% of the population experience the condition and in one ear only. I was to be part of the unlucky few, less than 0.1 % of the population, who experience the condition in both ears. I was alone, confused and scared without the faintest idea of what to do.

Then the vertigo attacks (severe dizziness) started, accompanied by nausea, roaring tinnitus and a feeling of pressure in both ears that made me feel like my head was being pumped full of air. The room would suddenly start to spin due to the damage to the balance system of the ears. These unpredictable attacks typically lasted 5 to 8 hours and could occur at any time day or night. Sometimes a few weeks would pass between attacks but sometimes they were daily. Each time this happened it would take about a week for me to recover from the exhaustion, while the tinnitus and sense of fullness hardly abated. It was hell on earth and especially difficult when an attack happened in a High Street Bank full of customers.

My health plummeted and I was reduced from a fit marathon runner to a person so ill that it was an effort to walk 200 yards. By this stage I had acquired a basic hearing aid that helped our communication at home, but it was of little help in any normal ‘noisy’ environment like shopping or socialising. I just couldn’t cope with the amplified background noise that sounded like someone beating a metal bucket over my head. Socialising and entertainment were just not possible. I clearly remember the chilling words of the Consultant who was treating me. “The good news is that Ménière’s disease won’t kill you, but the bad news is that your life will never be the same and you can give up any idea of ever working again.” I was told there was no cure and that I would eventually lose my hearing entirely, but there were people who could help.

We were rescued by Hearing Link, a leading British hearing loss organisation and charity who invited my wife and I to a week-long intensive rehabilitation programme. It was here that we received intensive instruction and help, not only on how to live with Ménière’s and deafness, but to also how build a new life around it. This was my kind of language and the turning point for both Robyn and I. My fighting spirit was stirred. We had joined a community of people who had the knowledge and experience to offer the care and support that we so needed. I decided to embrace Sir Edmund Hillary’s words for myself: “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. I started to run again and took up cycling, eventually gaining strength and confidence. It was a long and difficult haul to get fit again but I was determined to do so.

Image of book cover: Love Mondays -- Liberated at Work. Stick people images in dark gray with hands to side with one person in red with hands raised.I also decide to write a book containing the concepts of my training programme that had been so successful. It was the only thing I could think of where my knowledge and experience could be shared and perhaps bring in some income. Robyn was working but it was not going to be enough for our long term needs and I needed to contribute. The book that, under normal circumstances would have taken 12 months to write, took 7 years to complete. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The words of my Consultant were a constant reminder to me as my brain would not function as it used to. Progress on a good day was a short paragraph that took me all morning to write and then the exhaustion set in for the rest of the day. Sometimes no progress was made for weeks and on a few occasions, months.

In 2014 I acquired a set of GN Resound Enzo hearing aids designed for severely deaf people. This caused my confidence to sour and my determination to complete the book. I rewrote the book three times to get it right, but my dream to work again and share my enthusiasm for the unique difference people can bring to a business did not fade. February 2016 will see it finally published. I have learnt to manage my time and energy carefully. I might not have the stamina that I used to have, but I have a new dream and purpose, and value every day as the God-given gift that it is. I’m back!

Build an Intense Desire to Succeed

In our journey towards personal impact we now explore the next three Laws of Noble Enterprise, which will help us achieve the focus and discipline necessary to:

1. Be fully engaged.
2. Be free to focus on impact.
3. Demonstrate personal leadership.

Fully Engaged

The most focused and disciplined people are those who have not only found a purpose that they are enthusiastic about, but have also developed the mental and emotional tools necessary to persevere in their pursuits. All of us can relate to projects that we have started but not completed because we have lost interest in them or simply run out of steam. At a personal level these projects may include getting fit, losing weight or doing a study course. In a business context they may include campaigns to motivate staff, gain new customers or drive new efficiencies. Why, then, do well- meaning efforts to achieve something worthwhile so often dwindle and die? The answer might be twofold. Firstly, the absence of goals that really engage us with our purpose, and secondly, the absence of defined actions needed to achieve them.

I believe the majority of employee actions are only vaguely directed by goals, if at all. Therefore much of their time and effort is void of the vital ingredients of what and why, that are so necessary in defining our personal impact and engaging us in delivering it. The eighth Entrepreneurial Law, Set Goals, ensures that we are clear in our own minds about what it is we want to achieve and why. In a business context, this includes the tangible impact we expect our goals to have on our business. The spiritual law, Action unlocks Power to Achieve, comes into play to unleash the motivation and energy within us to achieve our goals – as we begin to take action. Taking the specific actions required of our goals is just as important as the goals. It is this focus on our goals, together with the power of our actions, that transforms the use of our time in a way that is not possible without specific goals. But it is vitally important that our goals have personal importance. For it is this ingredient that brings ‘life’ to our efforts and to the challenge of staying focused and disciplined to see our goals accomplished.

A business goal must have consequence for an individual at a personal level and team level for it to motivate performance. To the degree that it does, it releases not only enthusiasm and purpose, but also a strong and personal desire to succeed, thereby potentially becoming the most potent force within an enterprise. Business goals that employees and teams identify with and embrace, because they have personal significance to them, elevate belief and the desire and the discipline required to achieve them.

The problem that many businesses have is that from an employee point of view, the business goals they are required to pursue are often merely arm’s length objectives to be achieved for the business. Without goals that employees can identify with at a personal level, there can be no real connection to the objectives of the business. The effect of this on performance should be obvious.

Beyond Financial Goals

Although every company has a documented vision and mission that is customer-centric, when it comes to actually setting objectives, these are often mainly financial in nature and beyond the remit of ordinary employees. This has the effect of further distancing them from fully engaging in the business.

It is unusual for a company to give employees a platform to define how they will bring their personal impact into play in executing the business plan, and then feed back to them the effect that achieving their goals has had on financial results. More importantly, there should be constant communication between leaders and staff around the strategy for the business, and opportunities for staff to see the gaps to engage entrepreneurially. Leaders of companies desiring to significantly lift performance will make this a priority, giving every team and individual the opportunity to make the achievement of company financial objectives personal.

Goals and Personal Impact

It should now be clear why there is so much more that can be achieved if we allow teams to include their own specific goals on how they plan to impact the business to raise the bar of company performance. The self-imposed limits that organisations place on themselves are lifted when its employees set and achieve goals that engage them in delivering the high standard of personal impact.

Goals give us a wonderful sense of personal freedom and purpose

In competitive sport, athletes and their teams need to have a belief that is so sure, and a desire to win that is so strong, that victory becomes highly likely if the plan is followed through properly. Sometimes the only thing that sets the winner apart from the loser is their level of belief, desire and commitment to win the prize. It is the same in an elite business team. Belief and desire are captured, clarified, reinforced and sustained when goals are clear and they engage everyone. The more clarity there is to the goal, and the more challenging it is to achieve, the more believable and desirable it becomes.

While the objectives of the business are set by its strategic planners, it is in the detail of how teams and individual members within teams bring their own unique impact in executing the objectives that personalise it for them, thereby defining their personal impact on the business. It is the freedom given to people to define their own impact, and then build this into their contribution and link it directly to their earning power and career growth that connects them strategically to the business’s mission. Each person should be able to say, “There is something unique about me and my contribution to implementing the business plan, clarified and documented in my goals, which gives the business its strategic focus and ability to succeed.”

Employees and teams on a mission to create personal impact will:

• Never be fully satisfied with their current level of performance, because there are always new performance boundaries to explore.

• Never be swayed from the focus necessary to achieve important goals.

• Regularly set aside quality time to review mistakes, and learn from them to continually improve performance, while keeping alive an intense desire to succeed.

• Constantly set and review goals, and as a habit, personalise them for every team member.

• Keep track of progress towards achieving goals, and when they are achieved or hindered.

Free to Focus on Impact

Adopting the concept of personal impact into our daily business practice requires a rethink of how we do many things – including the way we view and value time. While we have no control of how much time we are given, we do have control over how we use it. To Harness Time, the ninth entrepreneurial law, we need to view our time at work as our Gift of Opportunity, and a personal business asset that must be harnessed and not wasted. When we do, we will also be grateful for it, using it to advance our team’s business mission and therefore our own personal work mission.

Valuing Time

The majority of employees have the attitude that while they are at work they are in ‘company time’, hired to achieve company objectives. This outlook precludes them from seeing their time at work as a personal asset and as a result, devalues their appreciation of it. This inevitably diminishes their contribution to their team and company’s success, and ultimately their own career prospects.

The well-known concept of Time Management is viewed primarily as a company issue and not a personal one, and when applied to employees, becomes just another company routine to be achieved for the sake of the company. While employees do of course have a sense of the value of time, it is not the same value they would place on it if they were running their own business. But, we are using our own time to run our ‘own business’. Our career is our business, and what we dream of accomplishing and how we go about it, is entirely up to us. When we see ourselves in ‘partnership’ with our employer and colleagues in achieving common goals, then our time becomes one of our most valuable assets.

Impact Management

Impact Management empowers us to see time as a friend not an enemy

The secret to harnessing our time and using it to its full potential is to elevate our thinking about its use by connecting it conceptually to what it is we are trying to achieve. For example, time management by definition places emphasis on ‘time’ and its best use, usually in the context of achieving many things. In this regard, it is often ‘how much’ we achieve that gives us our sense of achievement, but this does not take into account the ‘value’ of what is achieved. It may be that some things we have managed to squeeze into our day have little or no effect on the important outcomes of our business.

Impact management, however, makes personal impact its primary goal and arranges time accordingly, with a shift in emphasis from ‘how much’ we achieve to the ‘value’ of what we achieve. The principle idea here, is that whatever our role in our team, it is our personal impact derived from our unique ability that is most needed by it, and therefore this becomes our primary focus. This method of harnessing our time as a personal asset helps us to orchestrate our work life so that we are able to define, apply and achieve what is most important to us and our team. This does not exclude the ordinary everyday tasks that must be accomplished, as we will soon see. In fact these everyday tasks are now viewed as important things to do in support of, and in preparation for, our personal impact. Applying this idea in a team context requires that we also elevate our thinking about how teams work. We will cover this subject in a later chapter.

I can imagine that many readers might be asking themselves, “How do we escape the ‘pressure cooker’ of overwork and insufficient time that chokes our initiative and prevents us doing the things described in this book?” “How do we find the time to reset our goals and plan to do things differently?” We will now look at a simple technique to achieve this, but it does require some discipline to apply it. To achieve elite goals we must learn to clear up the clutter of busyness that distracts us from developing and delivering our impact.

To help in this process it is useful to consider the demands made on us at work in terms of four well defined segments into which all our activities can fit. This can be applied to our individual role, our team, or entire organisation. The four segments are defined by impact or non-impact, and focus or non-focus activities. Impact management creates a logical framework whereby employees can create and manage their value, which will enable any enterprise to achieve its full potential. Impact management enables current strategic goals to be achieved, all the daily tasks that keep it functioning to be accomplished, and the innovation that will keep it in business tomorrow.

It does this by helping employees to:

1. Redefine their work value.
2. Delegate or ignore what is unimportant.
3. Focus on delivering impact.

Impact Zone

This segment is aimed at helping us maximise our effectiveness by making our impact priorities the centre of our work. This must not be compromised by allowing less important demands to distract us and rob us of our key opportunity. The Impact Zone covers any activity that we have defined as having impact and that is a current focus for us and our team. Although this may occupy perhaps only twenty percent of our available time (or less), it counts for probably eighty percent of our value. This is why it is so important. For a sales person it will be those face to face focused minutes with customers. For a CEO it may be the inspiration they pass on to staff during their direct contact time with them. For a person serving coffee at a Starbucks outlet, it may be their genuine smile and greeting that leaves every customer feeling special. For administrative employees it may be the speed, accuracy and efficiency of their work and ability to anticipate, identify and solve problems.

Task and Preparation Zone

This segment enables us to approach the daily tasks in our work with new appreciation. Although these tasks are non-impact and may often be repetitive, utilising the bulk of our available time, they are still part of our focus because they play an important part in producing our unique value. By approaching these tasks as either preparation for our Impact Zone, or creating extra time for our Impact Zone through our efficiently, we bring new life and creativity to what might have been mundane work. For example, the sales person gets the reporting and paperwork done accurately and quickly to make room for planning a fresh approach and a new presentation to sales prospects. The CEO utilizes his executive assistant to master more of his daily tasks (her Impact Zone) while he focuses on growth strategies for the company. The Starbucks service manager arranges to have a colleague take care of production so she can give customers more of her ‘extra touch’. The administrative team get so good at processing and reporting, that they arrange their first ever innovation conference.

The Development Zone

This segment describes the time we set aside to invest in the development of our future impact. It is our personal innovation segment, where we consider new opportunities and challenges that are on the horizon, but not yet imminent and therefore non- focus. This segment is vitally important because it is where we keep ourselves economically fresh and relevant. Ideas that are generated and worked on in the Development Zone today are the source of our Impact Zone tomorrow. Both should enjoy equal importance in our thinking and planning. For example, the sales person researches new sales presentation techniques and how to apply them to current products. The CEO reads new literature on organisational effectiveness and considers how to adopt the principles to his business. The Starbucks service manager has been working on ideas to share with her boss on how to improve sales. The administrative team have identified and been trained on new software that improves the integration of their work with other departments.
The Ignore Zone

The Ignore Zone defines any activity that is non-focus and non- impact. These are typically tasks that come our way that can either be completely ignored, or delegated to someone whose impact is defined by doing them in their support for us. For example, the sales person ignores the temptation to take long lunches. The CEO ignores most of the news journals that are sent to him apart from three carefully selected magazines. The Starbucks service manager ignores the temptation to still get involved with production – something she is so proficient in. The administrative team have identified two reports they produce that are never read and are a complete waste of their time.

Personal Leadership

Delivering personal impact requires emotional resilience and a solid platform of motivational beliefs to overcome the many obstacles that must be faced while doing so. Of all the characteristics of our humanity, there is nothing more powerful than our ability to believe. Belief is that unshakeable internal spiritual confidence that we can achieve what we have set out to do. It removes the mental boundaries we have erected that limit what we thought possible, and engages us to act in ways that surprise us. Doubt however, does the exact opposite. It kills our dreams, our desires and our will to achieve. It makes us shrink back from challenge and avoid difficulty. It makes us a coward. Doubt therefore, must be faced and dealt with.

Building a belief system to support our goals takes a lot of thinking and personal review, but it is necessary and so worthwhile. Any negative beliefs we have must be replaced by positive ones. This is how we do it.

Believe in Yourself

We all have a choice to make regarding our approach to the future. We can either allow it to overwhelm us and dictate our circumstances, or we can embrace the opportunities it offers, thereby putting us in control of our future. Although the future holds many unknowns, each of us does have what it takes to meet its challenges, even if it means having to dig deep to access our personal reserves of confidence and will power. We must all make the firm decision to believe that we are capable of achieving much more than we imagine. This is a prerequisite to achieving more, distinguishing people who are shaping their own future from those who are having it shaped by others.

Believe in your Purpose

Personal confidence in our capability is followed by the desire to connect this to achieving a meaningful purpose. Sustained belief in our purpose must be real, coming from deep within us. It can never be contrived and must be real enough to survive all kinds of setbacks both business and personal without being diminished.

The test of whether we truly believe in our purpose or not, is whether the flame of enthusiasm we have for it is kept alive despite our setbacks. People who display entrepreneurial drive are purpose driven and enthusiastic about both their purpose for working and their specific purpose at work.

Believe in your Value

To ensure that the confidence our company and customers have in us continues to grow, we must keep shaping our unique value in the workplace, and apply it to the changing needs of our company and customers. To do this we must add to the belief we have in ourselves and our purpose, an unwavering belief in our value. Each of these elements is an important building block in our personal belief system.

Believe in your Opportunity

Being sure of our value means we become certain of our opportunity and the results it will deliver for our customers and us. This belief in our opportunity is the entrepreneurial confidence that comes from truly knowing our customers’ needs, and that what we do for them is important to them. It also means being vigilant about meeting the smallest changes to their needs and therefore, in our value to them.

Believe in Your Future

We have built a solid belief system for what we are capable of, our purpose for work, the value we produce and the opportunities we create. We can now also face our economic future with confidence no matter how our circumstances may change. This is the ongoing challenge that people with entrepreneurial drive thrive on, and with confidence. It keeps them learning, relevant, needed and successful.

Is our flame of enthusiasm for our purpose still alive despite our setbacks?

But delivering personal impact also requires personal discipline. This does not take brains, it takes ‘heart’ – the inner strength to keep going when others stop. Discipline is doing what we sometimes do not enjoy, in order to accomplish what is important. It means persevering ‘against the odds’ to enlarge our vision and capability so that we can take on new challenges and achieve bigger goals. Discipline requires that we develop the right habits for achieving the level of success we expect of ourselves. In so doing, we get stronger and better at our work so that what might have seemed difficult to do six months ago now comes with ease. Discipline keeps this growing process alive.

People with entrepreneurial drive are ordinary people who have learnt to do this. They defeat doubt and fear with an internal belief system that is their armoury against failure, and through personal discipline, they stay on top of their game by seeing themselves as their greatest competitor. No aspect of their thinking or work performance is off limits. They are true professionals who keeping pushing the boundaries of their own performance.

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Because tomorrow will be more challenging than today in virtually every respect, we need to embrace the strengthening and growth opportunities that surround us every day, that can better equip us for the futures we are creating. The tenth entrepreneurial law, Demonstrate Personal Leadership, reminds us about the discipline and motivation we need to sustain our best levels of performance, and be counted on to deliver our unique ability and impact when necessary. Although this is not always easy to do when conditions get difficult, the spiritual law The Greater the Challenge, the Sweeter the Success not only promises us success if we overcome our challenges, but entices us to even greater heights so that we can enjoy even greater success.

Taking up the Challenge

Having created a good enough reason to take up your challenge, here are some strategies to ensure success.

1. Overcome any personal inertia that prevents you from starting out by “Just Doing It” as Nike says. It works every time.

2. Once you are working on your project, make discipline a personal challenge rather than a necessity required by the project.

3. When endurance is required, create a mind-game where you are in a ‘race’ that you must win.

4. Be consciously aware of your progress.

Questions to consider

• Considering the three different mind-sets found in businesses, what is the dominant work mind-set in your organisation?

• What does the term ‘opportunity’ mean for employees in your company?

• To what extent is employee performance linked to financial reward and do they embrace it with enthusiasm?

• Do employees’ goals connect them personally to company goals?

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