Learning from the Man with One Leg

Ben Einstein
From staring at this album cover for far too many hours in high school, this image became the prototypical face of wisdom for me (from The Cure’s Staring at the Sea)

As you may have heard, I’ve had a bit of a wild year. In the past 12 months (almost to the day):

  • Grace (my partner) was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, had emergency, life-threatening surgery and started aggressive chemotherapy shortly thereafter
  • We adopted a dog (Hollyhock!)
  • I (finally) bought a motorcycle and was quickly hit by a spaced-out teenage driver (thanks safety gear for keeping me alive)
  • We got married (4 days after we decided to)
  • Grace’s cancer progressed and she started a second course of chemotherapy
  • We bought a house
  • I was involuntarily removed from the company I founded (including being removed from our health insurance plan and placed on COBRA during Grace’s cancer treatment)

And through all this madness, I somehow feel luckier and happier than I ever have. Huh?!

In the truly amazing outpouring of support we’ve received since writing last month about Grace’s diagnosis and the end of my time with Bolt, I find myself mulling over an experience that deeply affected me — one of those tiny moments in life that turns out to be a giant aquifer of positive change. With the hope this perspective may benefit others as much as it has for me, I thought I’d share it:


Many years ago, in Bolt’s very early days, I was at the office late into the evening with a few portfolio companies playing dorky board games. One of the companies was building a prosthetic device for lower-limb amputees, and happened to be doing prototype testing with a few users as we nerds were playing games.

I found myself in conversation with an older gentleman who was finishing up test fitting a prosthesis for his long-ago removed leg. Being my usual introvert self, it was somewhat awkward and I, having little interaction with someone in his position of being a war veteran and missing a limb, was doing my best to hide my curiosity about his life.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t had a few beers. In my tipsy state I blurted out an inappropriate question that I immediately regretted:

“Isn’t it hard to wake up every day with only one leg?”

FUCK. Why did I say that!? What an idiot. Before I could finish saying “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” he cut me off. Uh oh, I remember thinking, here we go.

To my surprise and endless appreciation, he didn’t get upset or clam up or take any offense whatsoever. He simply stared me at me kindly and carefully, uttering words I will never forget:

“No, sir. I wake up deeply thankful everyday for the privilege of having one leg.”

I remember plunging into a deep well of emotion, but not being able to verbalize anything other than a meager-sounding “wow.”

On the walk home to Davis Square that night, I knew that perspective would stick with me for the rest of my life. Little did I know, it would be an engine of positivity to keep me going in my own difficult times, and something to lean on when there’s nowhere else to rest.

So even when life throws you a curve ball (or 10) remember you always have one leg. And if you lose that leg, you still have an arm. If you lose that arm, you still have a heart. And if you lose your heart, you have the entire universe.

Ben Einstein

Written by

Product designer and lover of hardware. EIR @EclipseVentures. Previously founded @BoltVC.

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