By Kevin Haas – April 25, 2019
How a hot-headed leader, learned to respond rather than react.
One of our clients, Josh, shares his profound and inspiring journey.
With his permission, and a little bit of editing to change the names, we are sharing his experience and growth process with you in the hopes that you might find his story helpful in your journey.
During a recent interview, Josh recollected:
“My life was out of balance. So much of my energy was going toward climbing mountains. I was overdoing the physical experiences. I was not eating properly nor sleeping well. I was completely focused externally and not paying any attention to what was going on internally.
I had trauma from early in life that I had never dealt with. I was suppressing it and would work to please everyone all the time. It felt natural at the time, but reflecting back, I was 100% in avoidance.
I got lost for 3 days on an 8-hour hike on Boundary Peak, Nevada, and I thought it might be my last day on earth. That was the day of my ‘spiritual death and rebirth’.”
Coping with a Dual Mindset.
Josh is the CFO of a financial services organization.
He admitted to being a people-pleaser at home, but obsessive and argumentative at work. As the CFO, he was in a high-pressure job with a company that was dealing with monumental transformational challenges. A lot was expected of Josh and he put even more pressure on himself. He was part of a senior executive team that required collaboration if the company was to be successful.
Josh admitted that he “did not assume positive intent” from several of his co-workers. His distrustful behavior was obvious to all those who worked with him. As a result, Josh found himself in frequent arguments with, and in front of, the rest of the team. He often felt his opinions and recommendations were not taken seriously or were undermined by his co-workers. .
Josh was aggressive and impatient.
Those who did not operate at the same speed as he did would often be met with disdain. Because of his argumentative style, Josh’s behavior got worse. As the pressure increased, he was more and more frequently “part of the problem” because of his confrontational style. The executive team often got “stuck” in arguments, instead of solving problems collaboratively.
When I met Josh, his personal and professional life was in turmoil.
His 21-year marriage had ended in divorce and his idyllic story of survival and transformation was several years away. The Stop At Nothing’s TEAM, HILS-1 and HILS-2 programs gave Josh the tools that enabled him to cope, improve, and transform his personality from a fearful and hot-headed business executive into an introspective, thoughtful, conscious and self-aware leader.
His career and personal life were in free-fall, but what he realized after completing our programs was that the fight he needed to fight was not an external fight, but an internal fight of personal transformation and inner freedom.
Best-selling author Karen Salmansohn once wrote, “Your subconscious’ goal is to recreate unresolved childhood issues and then hopefully mend them.”
Josh’s aggressive leadership style was due in part to unresolved childhood trauma. He was a man who neglected his emotional self. Josh learned to become the consummate people pleaser to make up for his perceived guilt over his childhood experiences.
He was, in his words, in “100% avoidance mode.” He lived most of his life this way. As many of us do, he swallowed his pain and sadness and pushed forward. His pain came out as frustration toward his colleagues at work.
By the time I met Josh, his relationship with his boss and co-workers were strained. His emotions were in control.
A Transformational Near-Death Experience
Josh was a physically fit individual.
He loved hiking and climbing and was recently inducted into his alma mater’s athletic “Hall of Fame.” As part of his focus to excel athletically and stay in shape, he had set a goal to climb the highest peak in each of the 50 states.
As he stood in the desert looking up at his latest ambition, Boundary Peak, Nevada, he thought about how simple the climb would be for him, relatively speaking. It would only take him eight hours. No big deal. He had conquered many more challenging climbs already. Feeling prepared, Josh hiked to the summit. When he reached the top of the mountain he enjoyed the view and then headed back down.
During his descent from the mountaintop, Josh lost the trail. He climbed back to the top in the hope of finding his way down. The trail was now completely lost and Josh had no idea how to navigate down the mountain
At this point, Josh was experienced enough to become concerned.
He needed to get back down the mountain as night was falling and he knew he didn’t have enough layers to keep warm. It gets cold at night in the desert, and Josh’s only way of fighting hypothermia was to stay upright all night long while moving to stay warm.
Sleep breaks were short and restless. For the next three days, Josh remained lost on the mountain. As the hours passed, Josh reflected on his life.
On the second day, Josh stumbled while walking uphill and blurted out, “What did you do that for?” It was at that moment that he began to feel he was not alone. He felt a strong feminine presence looking after him, and he asked with whom was he speaking.
Josh told us that he was raised as a Catholic. “I have been to my share of masses, but before this experience, God was just something I did not think much about. While I was out there on the mountain I began to feel it was Mary Magdalene looking after me. I began to see faces in the rocks and shadows and I thought, Mary Magdalene does not want me to die here alone.”
By the second night, Josh felt stiff as a board.
He could not bend his knees, so to lie down he had to fall to the ground. Whenever he stopped to rest he began to shiver uncontrollably. Out of nowhere, a thought came to him. “I pulled up my collar up and exhaled into my chest. I did this and I began to calm down immediately,” he said. “I realized that I could help myself.
I had some control over my own situation. This is absolutely a big lesson I have carried with from the experience: I can influence my own situation and I can calm myself. It is amazing how that one little thing might have saved my life.”
Meanwhile, an Air Force pararescue unit had gotten word that Josh was lost on the mountain and scrambled a search and rescue operation as part of their ongoing training exercises.
After three days Josh was found, lifted off the mountain by a Black Hawk military helicopter and flown to a hospital. Amid the enamel white walls, the blur of hospital staff and the beeping of machines, Josh learned that he suffered nerve damage to his feet and the rest of his body had taken a severe pounding.
He spent the next three days in the hospital, and the hospital staff was concerned that his kidneys or liver might fail due to his severe dehydration.
When asked if he had a near death experience, Josh responded that it was close to near death, but what he really experienced was “spiritual death.” His experience of being looked after on the mountain and feeling “not alone” led him to shift his perspective of God and the universe.
He stated that he was not an atheist, but he did not think about God. “Religion was not important to me. Now, I experience ‘wholeness’ in my life and I have a different relationship with God. There is meaning in it for me now.”
His Life and Leadership
Prior to his near-death experience, Josh’s relationship with his peers hindered his ability to lead effectively.
He felt raw, angry and aggressive at work, and he believed people had to listen to him or the company would suffer. Although when he was lost on the mountain he realized that he needed to change his life, Josh’s near-death experience led him to be on high alert and defensive at work.
He became even more aggressive than before. Over time, Josh learned he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Without warning, he would have a PTSD experience, leaving him feeling vulnerable and sometimes curled up in a corner.
Because of his fear of having a PTSD episode at work, he was constantly on alert, on edge and on guard.
This alertness came out in many ways, including continual criticism of his peers. Josh stated that the critical style he had towards his peers “turned them off.” He further admitted that certain people were frightened of having conversations with him.
Rightfully so, he admits, because he never truly listened to anyone. When others did pluck up the courage to talk to him, he was only thinking about what he was going to say back. Everyone that worked with him knew of his distrust of certain co-workers, and this created a toxic work environment.
The Turning Point
Josh thought his anger was justified.
He believed he should be angry if something was not working. His anger and confrontational relationship with one team member in particular led the CEO to conclude they needed to have a TEAM session, as they were the center of the business’s turmoil. The executive team was “stuck,” and their businesses were suffering.
During the TEAM session Josh realized that he needed to change. His poor relationship with his co-workers needed to be fixed, and these relationships were linked directly to his angry and aggressive style. Again, he was letting his emotions control him.
During the TEAM session, Josh had his first full moments of self-awareness.
When it was his turn to receive feedback, he was shocked to learn what his peers said it was like to work with him. At first, he heard what he suspected, that he was difficult, aggressive, controlling and angry. The feedback he didn’t expect to hear was that his peers were worried about his health. His first instinct made him want to laugh. His health?
He was a man in peak physical condition who exercised all the time and climbed mountains regularly. But after more people gave him the same feedback, some even raising concerns that he was on the way to a “crash,” he realized that perhaps he wasn’t the healthy person he believed he was. They were giving him feedback on his anger.
When Josh reflected on the session, he recalled saying to himself, “I am an aggressive jerk.” He realized that he needed to gain control over his emotions, rather than having his emotions control him. He managed to admit to himself that he was scared of the dark, had PTSD, was not sleeping properly and was emotionally drained. He now was able to recognize his anger as a negative, whereas he previously justified it.
He became more open to feedback. Although Josh was still behaving aggressively with his colleagues, the episodes were less frequent and he now left post-it notes on their desks to apologize.
While Josh made good progress as a result of the TEAM session, he later attended the High Impact Leadership Seminar (HILS-1).
In an unusual coincidence, he attended HILS-1 during the anniversary of his near-death experience. Normally, Josh stayed home those days because his PTSD became “10 times harder” to deal with. He was frightened of having an episode in public. However, he now looks back on his time at HILS-1 and calls it “great experience.”
Josh’s experience at HILS-1 led him to value his emotional and mental health, and not just be concerned with building muscle and physical stamina. He learned to practice Kundalini yoga and meditation to help him de-stress and become centered within himself. He told other HILS-1 participants about his PTSD, which led him to understand how to build trust and understanding with other people. He was now more knowledgeable about how to carve quiet time for himself, meditate and achieve balance.
Josh’s most meaningful takeaway from the HILS-1 seminar was that he had a stronger sense of mission and purpose, which led him to make better choices and set more balanced goals. He was beginning to be more caring, empathetic and understanding of his relationships with people, which he stated was his most significant transformation.
His Colleagues’ Reaction
When asked how his colleagues now took to him, he laughed.
“There is definitely a new Josh,” he said. At some point between the HILS-1 and his eventual attendance of HILS-2, he made a moving statement to his co-workers. He told them that he was aware that his aggressive outbursts still happened. Although many agreed with him, they assured him that they were far less frequent. HILS-1 taught Josh to give people permission to call him out if he was acting out of line.
This was a successful approach, as he allowed other people the openness and respect to critique his actions, and importantly, he was learning to listen. Josh’s colleagues now saw him as relaxed, approachable, happier and more open to collaboration. In turn, his colleagues reported feeling more relaxed around him and more confident to speak their mind should any issue arise. Josh noted that he knew he was improving, but that nothing worthwhile comes easy.
HILS-2: Another Big Step toward Transformation
Josh chose to go to HILS-2 because of the great impact HILS-1 had for him.
HILS-2 was a much deeper program. Right from his first session, Josh felt more engaged with other people and learned how to further embrace and respect them. He was comfortable in sharing deeper aspects of his life and telling other people his story. He significantly reduced the number of times he undercut or interrupted people.
During one of the meditations at HILS-2, Josh once again explored his time on the mountain. He relived his terrifying moments and his fear of dying. At HILS-2 he experienced another “spiritual death” that allowed him to give up his fear and anger, and embrace joy and life. He realized that he kept his near-death experience close to him because he never wanted to forget what he learned on the mountain.
However, this strategy backfired because his constant alertness made him scared and aggressive. During his “reawakening” he realized he could let go of his fear, anger and old beliefs without letting go of the lessons, and instead live from joy and peace. Since then he’s continued to explore deeper aspects of meditation and yoga. The more aware he became of his inner drivers and how he responded to stress, the more he was able to find new strategies to change.
Josh changed how he treated himself and others. Now, when he needs to make a decision, no matter if large or small, he always asks himself, “Does this make me happy?” Through HILS-2, Josh learned to be more thoughtful, honest, open, grateful and connected. He finally climbed out of the negative “survival mode” he had been in for so long. He was benefitting from a fuller and richer life experience.
The Vibrant Life
Josh stated that when we walk around “awake” we see more connections.
He realized that he was just a “vessel” that needed to demonstrate kindness, offer support, and spread joy. His behavior shifted. Shortly after HILS-2, he grew to enjoy and respect people as much as he did nature and the mountains. Through the TEAM, HILS-1, and HILS-2 experiences, Josh was now perceived at work as a problem-solver rather than a problem-exemplifier. Businesses were bringing him in earlier rather than too late, because they were more comfortable in asking him for help. He was now trusted.
Josh’s transformation was not instantaneous. It was an evolution, and the Stop At Nothing programs provided him with the foundation and tools to improve both his leadership skills and his life in general. Josh now recommends implementing meditation into daily practice, even if it is just thirty seconds before a meeting, to help alleviate stress and improve performance. Furthermore, he is now an advocate of post-meeting feedback to allow participants to evaluate what went well and what did not, what can be worked on and what can be strengthened.
Conclusion: A New Mountain to Climb
Josh concluded by saying that the TEAM, HILS-1 and HILS-2 sessions worked wonders.
They led him to be happier, healthier and more proactive. It’s hard work to break old habits and truly change, but he no longer looks back and insults himself. He is an improved version of his former self and is transcending towards his True Self.
Josh is now getting to the peak of his emotional needs mountain, and he looks forward to his next challenge with his newfound inner strength and joy.