How To Empower Your Entrepreneurial Mindset: Rick Sapio Shares 10 Ways To Take Agency in Crisis

“To me, an entrepreneur is anyone who decides to take responsibility for outcomes.” – Rick Sapio

Rick Sapio (EO Dallas) is a lifelong entrepreneur who started his first company at age 13, after the untimely death of his father. Since then, he has founded more than 20 companies and was a founding member of the Dallas chapter 30 years ago.

In August 2023, Rick received a life-altering medical diagnosis: advanced pancreatic cancer. A life-threatening diagnosis is a pivotal moment, especially for entrepreneurs who are accustomed to navigating challenges and finding solutions.

“As an entrepreneur, you take full and complete responsibility for outcomes. And so how does that play out with a terminal cancer diagnosis? For me personally, I question everything the doctors say and take total and complete responsibility for my health and medical treatment,” Rick said. Against doctor’s orders, Rick refused chemotherapy, the standard of care for his diagnosis, then checked himself out of the hospital and took agency for his own health.

During a breakfast event with EO Dallas on February 8, 2024 (watch the recording), Rick shared revelations and insights he’s had in the six months since his diagnosis. “Think about it from your life perspective: If you took total and complete responsibility for every outcome, how different would your life be?”

Rick shared profound insights into the entrepreneurial mindset when faced with adversity:

1. Change the terrain

The terrain theory of medicine is, if you change the terrain, you change the disease. Rick weighed 222 pounds at diagnosis. Six months of radical workouts and dietary changes later, he now weighs 167 pounds with 9% body fat. “I don’t believe that the cancer knows who the heck the person it attacked is anymore!” Rick said.

Lesson: When crisis hits, don’t hesitate to make radical changes for maximum impact. 

2. Take agency in crisis

Rick demonstrated agency by refusing to accept the standard treatment protocol without exploring alternatives and second opinions. “To define agency, I mean I’m my own agent.” His decision to take control of his health journey and challenge medical advice illustrates the importance of advocating for oneself and making informed decisions.

Lesson: Empower yourself to take charge, research options, and make choices aligned with your values and goals.

3. Maintain a positive mindset

Despite facing a dire prognosis, Rick maintains a positive outlook and sees his situation as an opportunity to grow. “I’m embracing my cancer as a teacher. It is teaching me how to be more loving, more present, and more honest.”

Lesson: Cultivate a growth mindset, adapt to change, and view challenges as opportunities for personal development.

4. Proactively prepare for business continuity

Rick hasn’t worked in his business much since his diagnosis; healing pancreatic cancer is his new full-time job. Fortunately, Rick proactively appointed a capable company president two years ago and established systems and processes to ensure that operations could continue without him. “The business is doing fine. My staff stepped up as I took a complete leave of absence,” he noted. The value of peace of mind can’t be overstated.

Lesson: Prioritize building resilient systems, delegating responsibilities, and planning for unforeseen circumstances to safeguard your business’s continuity.

5. Shatter the illusion of control

Most of us live our lives thinking we have control over our business, family, or health. We think success is in our hands. But Rick has seen first-hand how control is an illusion that blinds us to many potential risks. “Over three decades in communities like YPO and EO, I’ve learned valuable lessons on courage, collaboration, and the importance of giving back. I’m trying to pay it forward with these insights to awaken others to the unpredictability of tomorrow,” Rick said.

Lesson: While it takes a significant crisis to truly grasp this reality, do all you can to adopt a mindset of gratitude and live in the present. Appreciate what you have now; the future is uncertain.

6. Entrepreneurs beat the odds

Doctors told Rick he has a 2% chance of being alive in two years. Rick thought about his life. His dad died when he was 13, then his mother had a nervous breakdown and never recovered. He told the doctor, “I’ve never had a 2% chance at anything in my life. I feel like those are double the odds I’ve had my whole life. That’s awesome. I’ll take those odds!”

Lesson: An entrepreneurial mindset and resilience are an advantage in overcoming every type of challenge.

7. You can’t change human nature

“How people respond to the news of my diagnosis has been interesting. With most people, ironically, it’s crickets. I’ve called friends to ask if they’re going to come to my funeral. Their response is, ‘Absolutely, I’m coming to your funeral.’ So then I ask, “Why don’t you come visit me while I’m still on this side of the grass instead?” It’s bizarre.

Lesson: Maximize the opportunities you have today; they may change tomorrow.

8. Give hands-on help to people in crisis

When people ask Rick how they can help, the question feels overwhelming. “It’s like my wife and I are in the ocean during a hurricane, drowning and gulping for air, and you’re in a helicopter above, yelling down to us, “Hey, you need anything?” I’m paralyzed by that question. We simply don’t have an answer,” he explained.

Lesson: In any crisis, hands-on help is appreciated: Take their kids to school, buy them groceries, take them dinner, or write them a love letter. Your time and actions are the biggest help.

9. Accept generosity and support

Rick has experienced immense generosity and support from friends and colleagues. Two great examples:

  • A long-time friend and vendor refused a US$170,000 payment from Rick’s company, saying “Friends don’t take money from friends with pancreatic cancer.” Rick was astonished, “I had never ever in my life experienced that level of generosity.”
  • Another friend learned Rick planned to travel alone to Vienna, Austria, for medical treatment – but saw that Rick was in such pain he could barely walk. The friend dropped everything and took Rick to Vienna himself. “This guy has four kids, a business in several states — and he dropped everything to be with me for 11 days. He paid for the plane tickets, hotel, chauffeur, and organic chef, explaining simply, ‘This is what friends do for friends.’” Rick said.  “I can’t even fathom that level of generosity.”

Lesson: Be generous with your time and actions. You’ll never regret it.

10. Treasure EO connections

“EO has been an incredible addition to my life. I’ve been involved since Verne Harnish called to say I needed to get involved in EO Dallas. Now,30 years later, all the people who have had a massive influence on my life came from EO either directly or indirectly,” Rick said. “Thank you for being you and for taking agency in life. Thank you for taking responsibility for outcomes, and thank you for giving me the floor today.”

To learn more about Rick and his journey, you can view his presentation to EO Dallas and his presentation, “Going Beyond Known Limits” to Stagen Leadership Academy.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: On February 16, 2024, Rick’s wife Melissa was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer. Many people are reaching out to ask how they can help Rick and Melissa. She was hospitalized for the past two weeks. The Sapios ask for your prayers. If you would like to learn more about Rick and Melissa’s journey, follow The Sapios on Caring Bridge.

Categories: Crisis Entrepreneurial Journey HEALTH


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