From darkness to light, order to disorder: Lessons for life and business

When I set out to transform the logistics industry with Web3 technology, it was far more than a whim. It was the natural next step on a journey that has taken me through my own darkness and chaos into order and light.

The lessons I have learned in my life so far, coupled with a deep understanding of Web3 and logistics, make me certain that tokenization will solve the perpetual supply chain problems caused by fragmented systems and bad data. Not only do these issues cost the industry billions but the drive for sustainability and transparency makes solving them a top priority for many companies.

So what are those lessons? And how do they translate from life into business?

Like everyone else, I am a product of my past. My success as an entrepreneur, my deep relationship with spirituality and my intellectual curiosity were all forged in a crucible of shattered dreams of being a sports hero, crippling drug addiction, physical illness and childhood trauma. Despite the darkness and challenges of my past, it has been my most valuable teacher, imparting lessons that have helped me build everything I have ever built.

From a very early age, I was driven by a desire to have a positive impact on my community and those around me. In the beginning, business and sports seemed the best routes to accomplish that goal.

I started my first business when I was only 12, mowing lawns in my neighborhood. This allowed me to help the people who lived around me and also gave me an opportunity to bond with my father, who worked very hard to provide for our family.

Before that, though, came my love of football. I started playing when I was only 6 and stuck with it even after my ninth grade coach told my mother, “He might as well quit because he doesn’t have an athletic bone in his body.” I must have had plenty because the next year I was starting on the varsity team and earned my first athletic scholarship as a sophomore in high school.

Sports meant the world to me, partly because I could see how much it meant to others around me. Playing football gave me a sense of belonging I’d never had before, so I put everything I had into becoming the best player I could be.

That work paid off. When it came time to choose where I wanted to play in college, I had offers from a host of top football schools, ranging from Stanford to Louisiana State University. People actually laughed at me when I told them I was going to play for the Kansas Jayhawks, which were 2-10 at the time.

They weren’t laughing when we went on to win the 2008 Orange Bowl, a victory that was attributed in large part to the defensive line. We had the best team in school history, and my dreams of playing in the NFL seemed within reach.

The road to that victory also taught me one of the first and most important lessons I have learned in life: When you want a team to achieve a goal, it is important to make sure everyone is united and knows what role they must play to succeed.

The University of Kansas team I joined my freshman year had more raw talent than the one that won the Orange Bowl, but it was a team of individuals. Each was a good player in his own right, but they didn’t work well together as a team. The team we put together in 2007-2008 may have had less talented individuals, but we knew how to work together as a team.

That taught me that teamwork trumps talent every time. It was a critical lesson for success in business and one I took to heart and use to this day.

My second lesson was equally important but far more painful to learn.

In my sophomore year, my body started to fall apart and, with it, my dreams of playing in the NFL. I tore both my posterior labrums, the layers of cartilage that line the shoulder joint. I had to undergo surgery and was laid up for six months.

The physical pain was terrible. But the emotional pain of losing what I considered the cornerstone of my identity and source of validation was even worse. The soul-searching I did during that period opened my eyes to my second truth: If I was going to have an impact on the world around me, I’d need to use my mind because my body might not hold up.

The injury and its aftermath had a very destructive impact on my life as well: I became severely addicted to the painkillers the doctors prescribed to keep the pain at bay.

As it did for so many people who have been affected by the opioid crisis, my OxyContin addiction became an all-consuming obsession for me. I had finally found something that could numb the pain of not fitting into this world. I stopped caring about myself or my loved ones and fell prey to my self-destructive behaviors.

Oxycodone pills
Pictured are tablets of the opioid painkiller Oxycodone for a medical prescription. Like many people affected by the opioid crisis, the author writes that an OxyContin addiction became an all-consuming obsession until he went into…

Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

And just when I thought things couldn’t get any darker, I found out one June day I had testicular cancer and would need surgery the next day. Fed up with life at that point, I took OxyContin the night before. If it hadn’t been for my father’s intervention, I might not have made it out alive.

That brush with death and the intervention of friends helped me realize it was time to get the better of my addiction, and I went into rehabilitation. It was there I met a Buddhist monk and his circle of friends—which included healers, therapists and psychologists—who helped open up my mind to spirituality.

Even then, my life’s path was not without its twists and turns. The breaking point for me came eight years ago when my doctor told me he had found a tumor in my throat.

Yes, I had a moment where I asked the universe why all this was happening to me. Then I decided that since Western medicine was failing me, I had to seek a more holistic and spiritual path to finding a cure. That led me to discover plant medicines used in the jungles of South America, healing through shamanism and my third lesson. That lesson is perhaps harder to express in words, but it boils down to this: to reach peace and light, you first have to pass through moments of hardship and darkness.

Both the entrepreneurial journey and the spiritual journey are analogous to the hero’s journey: the multistep quest a hero must go on to reach an objective. There are examples of this throughout mythology and literature, probably because it is such a powerful model for living our lives better: Homer’s Odyssey, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, even The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum. In all of these stories, the protagonist must go through trials and tribulations before reaching their destination, enduring a dark period where they learn things they would never have learned in the ordinary world.

Without the practices, tools, and modalities I learned through my spiritual life, I wouldn’t be able to cope with the stress of entrepreneurship.

And as I’ve learned, those three lessons—the importance of teamwork, the power of the mind and the need for resilience—are just as applicable to business as they are to life. With those three tools, coupled with the most innovative technologies out there, my team and I are working to heal the problems in the supply chain that threaten its health and sustainability.

Todd Haselhorst is the founder and CEO of HEALE Labs, which has created a data network for shippers and brokers in the logistics industry