Jakob Vendle is a marketing executive and former CMO Council strategic leader who has secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis. His optimism has helped him cope with this tragedy, even leading him to author a new book, “The MS Diaries.” For someone who lived through 20 cases of pneumonia, three years with a respirator, a year without eating, a 30-day coma, and can only move his thumb a twitch, he says, life has not beaten him down.
Excerpt from back cover: My unexpected journey began when I collapsed at Macy’s in San Francisco to the sound of Christmas carols and bells ringing. A few days later, a beige man handed me a beige folder with a dark diagnosis that would dominate the rest of my life: Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. Despite living in a rapidly deteriorating body, I still managed to climb and get stuck at the top of Mt. Fuji, fall on my face in the Galápagos Islands, get the girl, move to Stockholm, and have a daughter.
CMO Council: Jakob, your story is incredible. How were you able to survive your trials with so much optimism?
Vendle: I have to confess that when I first got my diagnosis, I denied that I had MS. It went something like this, “Look at me, I just climbed Mt Fuji,” but as the disease continued down its predictable path, it became clear that I had a binary choice to make. I could blame the world and all for my situation, for if I’m not happy, why should they? A lose, lose attitude. Or I could accept this for what it is. Make the best out of a tough situation. This way life can be lived and enjoyed. At some point, you have to embrace life to live it.
CMO Council: Who has been most inspirational in your life during these bad times and how did they help?
Vendle: My wife has stood by my side throughout my struggles. Don’t get me wrong here, she is a tough as nails Bostonian. But she has always treated me as me and not as a disabled person and this has been refreshing. Seeing my daughter growing up, growing up much too fast, seven years old already, funny it feels like she was born just last week, has been an inspiration. Then there is the question of spirituality. Which in my case meant Buddhism. I’m not a Buddhist, but I am an aspiring one. Meditation, trying to be in the moment and just breathing can open your heart to be inspired.
CMO Council: Why did you decide to write this book?
Vendle: I felt an obligation to share my bumpy ride with others. We are not in complete control, and when the worst happens, there is still hope. All our journeys have bumps in them, and they may take you to places that you didn’t want to go. I am in one of those places, but fear not, there’s joy here too. You will find who you are when all is stripped bare. Lead with kindness and you will learn to accept, or even like the person you have become. There are no best practices here, and I certainly can’t claim to know any, but I can share my story and it might help some.
CMO Council: What advice would you give marketers struggling emotionally from this pandemic? What learnings can you pass on to others in dealing with this life-changing development at the peak of your career?
Vendle: I empathize with your pain, this has been just a grueling year, and for you to keep on going is inspiring. Find joy in the simple things. Put your passion into your prose and promotions. Many markets have contracted and morphed, but they are coming back to life. Different, yes, but don’t be afraid of change. The world needs clear communications and creative thinking, now more than ever.
CMO Council: What advice would you give to people who have faced extreme adversity like yourself?
Vendle: Feel the pain, welcome it, and embrace it. It is there and you can’t run away from it. Once you own it, you can get through it to the other side. Your new normal will be different than the old normal. Getting used to your new circumstances will be painful, it just is. But humans are adaptable, and you will adapt. Once you do, there is joy.
CMO Council: Is there something about the nature of marketers that helps them overcome difficult times?
Vendle: Yes, I think so. The nature of a marketer is to be creative, persistent, and think outside the box. Marketers tend to be adaptive, changing to different market needs and cater to them. If the past is prologue, then the 2020’s will be roaring. Welcome out of the valley of darkness.
CMO Council: I understand you’ve started a second book. Can you tell us about it?
Vendle: It’s a “Stockholm Noire” crime novel, that is set in the city, in the midst of a snowstorm during a bloody weekend. The main protagonist, detective Kron Kronqvist’s wife, dies of cancer that afternoon – his daughter runs away and is not answering her phone – and he has not slept for three days. Just as he’s about to submit his leave of absence form, before he hits send, he gets a radio call regarding a dead girl in the freeway tunnel close to his house. He rushes to the scene, but it is not his daughter, it’s her best friend and the minister of justice’s daughter. This is a case that he must take, so he does. It takes off from here, in the end, it is a triangle drama, with a grief-stricken detective at its center, drifting in and out of reality. For wherever there is human activity there is a struggle between good and bad, and good does not always win.