Episode #102 – Marc interviews Michael O’Brien on how a devastating and life-changing accident set him on a path of purpose and passion.
Michael O’Brien is a Sales and Marketing Executive Coach, Resilience Builder, Motivational Speaker, and the bestselling author of Shift: Creating Better Tomorrows: Winning at Work and in Life. Marc and Michael share their common experience of near-fatal bike accidents and Michael talks about his life and career since his accident.
[1:24] Marc welcomes you to Episode 102 of the Repurpose Your Career podcast.
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[2:48] Next week, Marc will likely have a Q&A episode but he may decide to do something different. Listen in to hear!
[2:58] This week, Marc interviews Michael O’Brien, who, like Marc, suffered from a near-fatal bicycle accident. Hear how this changed his life. Michael is the author of Shift: Creating Better Tomorrows: Winning at Work and in Life.
Now on to the podcast…
[3:21] Marc and Michael have discussed how similar their accidents were, and how the paths they have taken are very parallel.
[3:33] Marc welcomes Michael to the Repurpose Your Career podcast. Marc and Michael met two or three years ago. It has been 6,298 days since Michael’s last bad day.
[4:32] Michael tells how the first of his life involved school, family, and the corporate ladder. He felt sales was his calling, since his paper route. He started selling copiers on commission but wanted to be in pharmaceutical sales. When he finally got into pharmaceutical sales, it was a 22-year long career.
[6:37] Eventually Michael came to his first downsizing, which was unexpected. It taught him to diversify his resume. At his next job, he had the opportunity to get into sales management but he went into pharmaceutical marketing management, instead, in New Jersey, where he and his family have stayed.
[7:33] Now, Michael helps leaders avoid getting hit by their SUV. He does that as an author and through speaking, but mainly as an executive coach. Michael loves helping leaders and shaping corporate culture. He has been doing so full-time since 2014.
[8:28] Michael tries to help people put their last bad day behind them and create better tomorrows. He tries to help people live a life that is purposeful, so they can be ‘the wealthiest person they know.’” Michael means by that, the wealth that comes from within, not just the wealth of ‘money and stuff,’ but happiness, joy, and fulfillment.
[9:02] Michael has a story about his own last bad day. He had brought his bike to a sales and marketing summit in New Mexico. Michael describes the experience of cycling and being hit head-on by a white SUV. The EMTs were scared for his survival.
[12:17] All he could do was look up at the sky and will himself not to fall asleep — to ‘stay in control.’ He remembers making a commitment that his life would change if he lived. He remembers every minute of the 19-minute helicopter flight to the hospital.
[13:59] Michael’s commitment was to stop chasing happiness. He relates this to something he had read from Zig Ziglar, who had talked about the ‘do, have, be’ way of living that many follow — work hard, buy things, and that will finally lead to happiness. Michael used to tell himself he would be happy when he got to the next thing.
[15:14] At each life milestone, Michael was happy for a moment and then found it was fleeting and he went back to chasing happiness. He knew it wasn’t a healthy way of living. He didn’t know the path forward but he knew it was a different path.
[16:10] In that moment of clarity on the helicopter, he knew he just wanted to live. Bound and braced, he could only move his eyes. He kept them on his flight nurse. He still has a picture of that flight crew. He sees it every morning with gratitude.
[16:41] Michael tells of his surgeries and how many units of blood product he needed. Many of his major bones were broken. His left femur had shattered and lacerated his femoral artery. Only his youth and good shape had kept him alive to get to the hospital.
[18:00] Michael spent 72 hours in the ICU, ‘jacked up on a whole bunch of meds.’ He doesn’t remember any of it, but he ‘was babbling like a fool.’ At one point he spent 45 minutes interviewing his wife for a sales rep position on his team and didn’t hire her. He said he had to call her back because he had other candidates to interview.
[18:48] Marc’s near-fatal bike accident was a year to the day later than Michael’s, on July 11, 2002. Marc has his own morphine-related trauma center story. He tried to go home and started pulling off his restraints. He had to insist on no more drugs.
[19:44] Michael, still loaded on drugs, tried to convince his wife they should buy Amazon stock. It was worth $15.00. She ignored that, and he forgives her since she forgave him for not hiring her.
[20:09] When Michael came out of the ICU, a few days later, the doctor talked to him about the accident and the extent of his injuries. The SUV driver had a revoked license and should not have been driving. Michael learned he would have a lifetime of limitations, dependencies, and future surgeries including total knee replacements soon.
[20:36] Michael’s quality of life was going to suffer. At that moment, he recalled his commitment that if he lived, his life would be different. It got different, but not in the way that he wanted. Michael became angry, frustrated, bitter, and even revengeful.
[20:54] Michael focused at first on the unfairness of the events and facts he had to face. He played up the victim story pretty well and everyone validated it. He was a mess. His wife was left taking care of him in the hospital and their two young daughters.
[21:52] When Michael flew home to New Jersey he had another aha moment. He realized he was dissatisfied with the toxic stew he was lying in. During his daily physical therapy one day, he saw some patients were progressing and some were stuck and moping. He knew he wasn’t showing up with the right attitude and mindset to get better.
[23:23] At that moment, Michael made another commitment that he was going to show up differently, going forward so he could be the best husband and father and person that he could be.
[23:34] He let go of comparing himself to others and showed up with a different lens — one of abundance instead of scarcity. He didn’t use that vocabulary, but he had that attitude. He decided to find some level of gratitude in his situation. Viktor Frankl said it’s not the events in our life that define us, but it’s our response to them (paraphrased).
[24:51] Michael determined to be known by his response to the accident, and not be known by what happened. Michael got busy that day trying to make his recovery something he was known for.
[25:07] Marc says so many of us get defined by what happens to us. We also like to compare ourselves to other people and those comparisons just aren’t fair to ourselves. Marc is a fan of ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse, who says to new bloggers, don’t compare yourself to someone who’s been doing this for 10 years. You’re brand new.
[26:05] The next day, Michael had a real test. He had an orthopedic appointment to see if he was ready to start learning to walk. The doctor told him he needed more time in the wheelchair; more time in the hospital. His new attitude didn’t give him new strength, but it gave him determination not to go back to his victim way of thinking.
[27:27] Eventually, day by day, or pedal stroke by pedal stroke, Michael kept working on his self-narrative, losing the victim story, and becoming resilient. Day by day, Michael was getting better. He decided he was never going to have another bad day. With his wife and his daughters in his life, there was no way he could have another bad day.
[28:21] Michael focused in on the things he could still do and the things he still had. He strung a few days of improvement together and then a few weeks and eventually, he got out of that wheelchair and out of the hospital. He still had about 10 surgeries ahead of him, setbacks, and hospital stays before he could get back on the bike as he wished.
[29:20] Someone told Michael, “Hey, listen! Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” Michael was at the beginning of a journey to get better and healthier. From the time of the accident to the start of his rehabilitation took three to four months.
[30:12] Michael’s wife and daughters had been coming to visit him at the hospital twice a day, 45 minutes each way. He was exhausted after a 15-minute visit, but he was anxious to get back home. He wanted life to be normal again. Nothing about being in the hospital was normal.
[31:25] Michael credits his employer with being really kind and very patient, to a degree that is rare. They worked out a system where Michael could go back to work part-time at first, through the rest of the year, working half a day and doing rehabilitation half a day. In January 2002, they gave him a pivot to run operations and get out of traveling.
[33:53] Michael was reluctant to give up his head of marketing position but he took the job and it turned out to be the best shift in his corporate career. He is so grateful they gave him the pivot opportunity.
[35:10] That pivot eventually landed Michael in executive leadership. All the time he was in recovery, he knew he was eventually going to go into executive coaching. This concept first came from David, a recent hire of Michael’s before the accident. David was the first executive coach Michael had met — before he even knew what that meant.
[36:07] When Michael got into executive leadership, he stayed in that role for six years, from 2008 to 2014. He had a team of close to 1,000 reps, with a P&L of around $4 billion. That was beyond any expectations he had ever had. In 2014 he got the last ‘puzzle piece.’ There was another realignment in the company
[36:38] The president of the company, Michael’s friend of 18 years, got pushed out and a new president came in. Michael knew right away they were not a good match. This was the puzzle piece that helped Michael make his last pivot. Michael told his boss in May, he would stay for the summer and September 1, he would start his own business.
[37:30] People questioned why he was making the decision. Michael told them he’d been working on the decision for 13 years and this corporate change made it clear that it was time for him to move forward.
[38:00] Marc notes how this pattern is very similar to the career paths of a lot of people he has interviewed. They start in a role that is not their favorite, an event tells them they need to do something different, they do nothing, then, a second event gives them the kick to go do what they want to do.
[38:27] Marc invites you to listen to Episode 7 with Mike O’Krent, or Episode 3 with Dr. Joel Dobbs for similar path career pivoters. We know what we’re supposed to do but usually, it takes some outside interference to get us to do what we want to do.
[38:49] If someone’s life has been touched, and they are inspired by Michael’s book or work, or a keynote, to lead a purposeful life, that’s the type of work Michael really loves to do.
[41:39] Marc shares his own bicycle accident details with Michael. Marc’s Toyota Corolla experience didn’t cause nearly as much damage as Michael’s Ford SUV experience. Michael regrets that he didn’t want to hear how lucky he was in the accident situation, with EMTs coming immediately. He knows it now.
[44:35] All the proceeds from Michael’s book Shift: Creating Better Tomorrows go to the charity World Bicycle Relief, giving mobility to girls in poor countries. Bicycles change the world for someone. You can reach out to Michael at MichaelOBrienShift.com.
[45:49] Marc hopes you enjoyed this episode. He got choked up when editing this episode. Marc hopes you will be inspired by Michael’s story.
[47:06] Marc is soliciting members for the next cohort of the CareerPivot.com Online Community. For information, please go to CareerPivot.com/Community.
For information, please go to CareerPivot.com/Community.
[47:48] Check back next week when Marc will likely be doing a Q&A session with listener’s questions.
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