Career Shift: From Ad Man to Meditation Consultant
After life-changing surgery, Jeff Cannon turned to helping others lead calmer lives and become more productive at work
For years, Jeff Cannon was the kind of hard-charging guy who moved in only one direction: up. He had an enviable run in advertising, marketing and film production in New York City. In 2003, after leaving his job as director of Draft Digital, a leading direct marketing agency, he launched a film production studio, which grew to a seven-figure business by 2009. But by then stress was getting to him and Cannon, who is now in his "late 40s," says he was feeling “not quite right.”
So he went for a check-up and his doctor ordered an MRI. The results were shocking: Cannon had seven brain tumors and needed surgery. “There was no one capable of running my business," he recalls. "So I had 30 days to shut down my life.”
On a cold morning in November 2009, Cannon underwent more than 10 hours of surgery to remove six of the tumors. The last one couldn’t be removed because of its position in the brain, and doctors thought it might grow.
After the operation, Cannon was initially unable to smell or taste anything. When he closed his eyes and tried to imagine an image, “there were no visuals,” he says. As his senses slowly began coming back, he decided to find out what was going on inside his head and how he could heal faster. So Cannon asked doctors and Buddhist monks for their medical and spiritual perspectives. Although he had studied meditation since the mid-1990s, he hadn’t made it a part of his daily life. But as Cannon learned more about the ancient practice, he was impressed by its healing power.
In 2010, while still recovering from the surgery, Cannon did some consulting and freelance writing and integrated meditation into his daily routine. He found himself calmer and began to visualize a new life much different from the overstressed one that marked his past.
During this period, something intrigued him: His remaining tumor hadn’t grown a bit since he began meditating, despite the fact that it was blocking the area of his brain where fluid drains. There's no medically proven causal connection. But Cannon says his doctor told him: “I’m not sure how your brain is draining, but it’s opened up some different ducts or something and it’s working."
Empowered by his recovery, he embarked on a new career helping people become calmer at work and in their daily lives — and more productive at their jobs. In mid-2011, he opened a two-person consulting practice, Simple Truth, which coaches executives and offers corporate workshops that focus on the mind, the effects of stress and the benefits of meditation.
“We’re teaching people to have the right perspective to manage their businesses and their jobs successfully — to be able to ground yourself so you’re no longer at the whims of whatever is going on around you,” Cannon says. “That makes people happier and more productive.”
Although he doesn’t expect his Simple Truth consultancy to become a million-dollar business overnight, Cannon says his new career sustains him and makes him happy. “This is something I’m extremely passionate about," he says. "I think that when you believe in what you’re doing 110 percent and you’re completely passionate about it, you’re going to be successful.” And he notes that his remaining tumor still hasn’t grown even a millimeter.
Cannon’s five tips to reduce stress in your life:
- Start meditating daily, even a little. Cannon concedes that trying to add meditation to a busy day can itself be stressful. So he recommends starting with just five or 10 minutes a day of "mindful meditation." This means sitting up straight, concentrating on your breathing (see below), and focusing on the present. After that, you may find you want to meditate longer, eventually building up to an hour or more.
- Identify your stress triggers. The next time you feel stress mounting, think about exactly what caused it. Focus on the emotions that were set off when that trigger was activated, then try to remember another time in your life when you had the same emotional response. The way an event affects you involves your past as well as the present, Cannon says. Use that insight to help separate a present event from past associations, and you’ll keep stress from escalating.
- Practice the 8-2-8 breathing method. If your heart starts to race, take deep breaths into your abdomen and pay close attention to the expanding and contracting of your belly. Feel it move against your clothing while you slowly count to eight on each inhale, let your breath settle for a count of two, and then exhale for another count of eight. Let your breath settle for a count of two before inhaling again, and repeat the process two more times. This will center you and help you regain your mental footing.
- Ground yourself. When you’re stressed, close your eyes and listen to the world around you: the hum of the lights, the sounds of nearby people and equipment. Embrace your environment, but be aware that you are separate from it. Relax in the knowledge that when you open your eyes, that environment will be there, but it will only affect you if you let it.
- Understand that stress is a part of life. Although everyone experiences stress, it doesn’t have to ruin your life. Instead of running from your problems, Cannon says, find ways to face your stressors and to calm yourself when they arise.