Battling with Gratitude: When Perspective is the Best Medicine

Some might say that Scott Barker and Jim Moss are determined. Some may even go so far to call them stubborn. Describe them as you will, but their similar journey from pro athlete to battling illness to CEO of a tech startup is a powerful example of how we can meet our fate head-on and find gratitude in all the good, bad and ugly moments.

For Scott, it began in the summer of 2008. He was training for his first body building competition and finishing up a degree in business at Wilfrid Laurier University, when he learned after several months of denial and fear that he had testicular cancer. Scott describes, “Hearing those words that day was like a death sentence to me. I was a fit, strong man in my mid-thirties—how could this happen?”

The next steps were surgery and a lengthy chemotherapy treatment program. As the reality of his situation set in and the possibility of a worst-case scenario took over, Scott battled depression and anxiety from the stress. He recalls the day when he decided to break-free from the negative perspective that seemed to have a chokehold on him: “I was waiting for the first day of chemo when I dozed off and had a dream about the man I once was. I remembered that I’m a fighter and I should never stop battling this disease.”

Scott woke up with a new attitude and the will to live. From that moment on, losing the battle wasn’t an option. Chemotherapy, although horrible, taught Scott that there are other options to just accepting death. He decided to start Renomii software tools to manage home renovations for both contractors and home owners. The mobile app creates better communication between the homeowner and contractor by file sharing documents like invoices, record-keeping, project management notes and adjustments.

After several rounds of pitching the product to the HYPERDRIVE incubator, Renomii was selected to be part of a small group of cohorts to take advantage of the accelerator program.

“The decision to start-up a tech company may not have happened without my experience as a cancer survivor,” Scott explains. “I have a level of hopefulness and optimism that motivates me every day. I’m still battling cancer, and wake up some mornings really sick from treatment, but I get into work and know that I’m lucky to have a job that I love and a product I’m proud of. I feel like it makes me better at being a leader and a CEO.”

Step back in time to the fall of 2009, when Jim was suddenly rushed by ambulance to the nearby hospital. Moss, who’d won the 2006 World Lacrosse Championship and was later inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, was running up a mountain just a day earlier while training for his upcoming professional NLL season.

“My hands went numb, my legs stopped working and within 48 hours, I couldn’t walk,” Jim recollects. “As I struggled with the idea of never walking again, this moment happened that changed me. A nurse on the morning shift who was helping me to the bathroom said that I had better get used to [my condition] because it might be like this for a long time.

“Then the night-shift nurse came on and we were on the same slow and deliberate path to the bathroom—but what she said really shifted my thinking. She said, ‘Don’t you worry about it, sweetheart. You’ll be back on your feet in no time.’ It hit me like a ton of bricks that what we say has such an impact on us now and can entirely shape our future.”

Jim kept this perspective in mind as he researched how to replicate the sentiment. He hoped if he could understand it better, he might recover quicker and get “back on his feet in no time.” What developed was a blog called The Smile Epidemic, a shared digital gratitude journal that encourages people to think about what makes them smile.

From the blog experience, Jim learned that people needed The Smile Epidemic at work. With a realization that there was an epidemic of unhappy people in the workforce, Jim set out to help companies refocus on what is right instead of what is wrong in the workplace. The result: Plasticity, workplace employee engagement software. Jim strives to continue the contagious nature of The Smile Epidemic by celebrating and elevating individuals through peer-to-peer recognition while learning what best motivates them to be a higher performer.

It may feel like coincidence that Scott and Jim find themselves part of a select group of startups between the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, and now in the HYPERDRIVE program at Communitech, but for most people who work alongside them, it makes perfect sense.

“Scott and Jim show up every day ready to work hard, motivating their teams even at the intense pace of our program, and yet, you rarely see them without a huge smile on their face,” says Kory Jeffrey the program manager of HYPERDRIVE at Communitech.

Over the years, some of the most influential leaders in technology describe resiliency as part of their personal and professional makeup. Most of us know Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In other words, challenges are opportunities and in Scott and Jim’s case, they both took this mantra to heart.

By focusing on the positive, they viewed their experiences not as setbacks but as good fortune.

When asked if he would change anything, Scott replied, “I looked death in the eye and battled back and won. I’m a better, stronger person now. So how could I ever go back?”