It was Saturday the eleventh of November, 2017. I was standing outside in the crisp ocean breeze of a sunny Santa Monica morning feeling joyful and confident. It was the day after I had launched a new initiative at a global technology conference when my investment banker called. I imagined he was going to congratulate me on my performance, which was streamed online.
After exchanging a few pleasantries he reported that one of my investors was going to “destroy my company, destroy me personally, and destroy my family.”
The scene will be etched in my memory forever. The tactic of personal destruction – used by activist investors like Carl Icahn, Bill Ackman, and Dan Loeb to wrestle control of a company from management – is well-known on Wall Street, but not so much with tech startups like mine. Now, it was happening to me.
As a serial entrepreneur, I’d been crosswise with board members in the past but had never faced one so livid, so intent on getting his way that he was out to destroy me and my family.
I told a small part of this story in August 2019, standing up with a microphone before 60 of my fellow students and 30 team members in the training room at “Way of a Warrior,” also known as WoW, a residential course offered by the More To Life Foundation at Giggleswick, a school near Settle in Yorkshire County, England.
The weeklong course helped me leave behind the trauma of the ensuing struggle with the investor and all its fallout while recovering my confidence and facing new challenges with a greater level of creativity, willingness, and joy.
It started with pinpointing that particular event when I heard the words, “destroy you and destroy your family.” That was the “lifeshock,” a moment when time slows down, sights, sounds, and smells are vividly imprinted, and the course of life seems to be irrevocably shifted into the unknown.
One of the senior trainers told me to close my eyes, re-experience the lifeshock moment, and bring forth the feelings. I recalled the moment and felt fear, anger, resignation, sadness. I put my hand on my gut where the memories weighed me down heavy as a stone.
The next step in the process was to go back in memory to an earlier event from the past that evoked the same feelings. It came to me quickly. I was eight or nine years old. I was on my bed in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother. My mom was standing in the doorway yelling at my dad to “get the belt” for a particularly severe punishment.
The feelings were the same when I was a child as they are now as an adult – fear, anger, resignation, sadness. Instead of simply feeling the feelings, I told myself stories about them, about me, about my parents, and about life. These stories were probably meant to protect me from my feelings. They tried to make sense of what was happening to me, to create a sense of reasonableness or logic.
More To Life calls these stories we tell ourselves “mindtalk.”
The senior trainer asked me to tell myself the stories out loud, recreating the mindtalk. Stories about how I was bad, how my parents were unfair, and how I was always getting into trouble. The mindtalk swirled around until it settled on a core belief: that I am trouble.
Instantly, many other moments unfolded before me. Relationships with teachers, friends, lovers, colleagues, bosses, investors where I am trouble. Without any judgments, demands, or blame, I saw a pattern of repetition and automatic behavior woven throughout my life story.
Over the next few days at WoW, I learned ways to step out of automatic behavior and compulsive repetition by noticing when these dynamics surface, telling myself the truth about the current situation rather than falling back on old beliefs, making conscious choices, and responding creatively to whatever life brings. I no longer had an eight-year-old running my life.
In a room full of 60 students, 30 team members and 4 senior trainers, there were 94 different storylines and 94 different experiences. Recounting the lessons of a More To Life course is like talking about a dream. The sense of revelation is deeply personal. The feelings of sorrow, joy, love, gratitude, and connectedness can be intense once the protective layers are peeled away.
In the end, each participant at WoW rejoices in the moments, perceptions, and stories that are theirs, and which are absolutely unique in the entire history of the universe. We can each inhabit our lives more fully, more aware and more awake when we are open and willing for what life brings. The event I experienced was a lifeshock. It can’t be changed. We can’t go back and erase the past, and we don’t have to relive it over and over as our fate.
We can hold each experience, whether traumatic or joyful, isolating or connecting, humiliating or encouraging in our minds, our hearts, and our gut. What we choose to do with those experiences in any future moment is all ours. We can find our calling and fulfill our destiny with love, honor, and respect for ourselves, others, and the world as a whole.
Those of us who have experienced this course smile and nod at one another, fellow Warriors sharing the bond of people who have faced the fears, torments, and demons that have pursued us through life – and that we choose to leave in the past and instead invite a wide-open future of endless possibility.