Very early in my life around age five, it was discovered that I had a visual impairment. The lenses in my eyes were dislocated and I was very nearsighted. This made learning in school pretty challenging and you know how brutal kids can be when they find a weakness in you. I didn’t like being different. Funny how things change, now one of my favorite quotes is ”Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were created to stand out?”- Anonymous. Nowadays, I’m coaching people to be authentic and recognize their uniqueness.
I couldn’t see that back then of course and didn’t realize what a gift this physical challenge would turn out to be. Then in December of 1989, I had a routine checkup for an echocardiogram. The cardiologist at that time called me the next day to tell me they had found something and I had better get myself to NYC or Texas. A follow up visit the week after confirmed there was an aortic aneurysm of 6.5 centimeters. Normal size is about 3.8. The cardiologist told me I was a “walking time bomb”. Nice choice of words, huh? I changed doctors soon after that. Fortunately for me it was caught in time and I had that repaired (defused) at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. As you may be thinking, it was most definitely a life-changing experience. I knew what they did to my heart, but I was confused about how my mind had changed. I was told I might experience some depression afterwards, but I was more so elated to be alive and felt like I had a new lease on life. I wanted to know how one’s mind can change like that. Many people go through experiences like I did and still follow the same old line of thinking. I was determined to figure this out not just for my benefit, but even more so to help others. I wanted to give something back and made a commitment to the doctors at Johns Hopkins that I would do so.
While at Johns Hopkins, I was introduced to the Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Benson. You could say this was my introduction to the world of personal development and the power of the mind. This also set the tone for attracting more people and information that helped me to better understand how the mind works. A friend gave me Anthony Robbins book Unlimited Power. This really got my attention and led me to getting certified as a Practitioner of Neuro-linguistic Programming or NLP for short. This was probably the best education and training experience I had ever experienced. NLP is rather complex to explain and I couldn’t do it justice here. In essence, it is the science and art of our subjective experience or how we experience life through our senses to create a map of our personal reality. Kind of like my coaching, you’ve got to experience it to really understand it.
After a year of full recovery from open-heart surgery February 14, 1990 and my first of two eye surgeries October 22, 1990, I received notice from the Department of Transportation that due to budget cuts, I was being laid off from work. While everyone else around me was panicking, I saw this as another new lease on life and opportunity to do something different. I decide to return to school that summer to finish up my bachelor’s degree in business. It was six weeks before I got another job with the NYS Cable Commission. During the six-week layoff, I took the opportunity to explore what I really wanted to do with my life. I went through What Color is Your Parachute from cover to cover. The items I wrote down that made the most sense to me then are very close to what I am doing now in my coaching. I’ve always been involved with sports and fitness. Linking this with my quest to understand how we think seemed like a good match.
Once I got back into school I became like a learning machine. As soon as I finished up my bachelor’s degree in early May of 1992, I was starting my master’s program in educational psychology about two weeks later. I was also involved in the NLP training and then a hypnosis training as well. My motivation was sky high. I completed my master’s degree in December of 1994. I was kind of amazed at what I had accomplished after having struggled all those years in grade school, middle school, high school and my early years of college. It was also during the two years I was working on my master’s degree that my eyesight came into focus. The second surgery I had in January of 1993 was a great improvement from the previous surgery and both eyes really came into synch. The interesting thing to me regarding my eyesight was that initially I wasn’t certain about seeing. Even though I could technically see 20/20 with contact lenses, I didn’t fully believe I could see that well. My old belief system told me I couldn’t see well. The doctors had removed the physical lenses from my eyes, but they didn’t remove the mental and emotional lenses that clouded my thinking. That was something I had to work on and has a lot to do with why I love coaching.
At one point I thought I wanted to be a teacher of the visually impaired. I spent some time shadowing people who did that work and realized it wasn’t for me. I knew there was something even bigger to do with vision. A couple of years ago while working with Dr. Kathy Roth it really hit me. One day at the end of one of our coaching calls she said to me, “Tom, you’ve really helped me to see things more clearly.” I guess I’m a teacher of the vision impaired after all. I really do enjoy helping clients to remove the lenses or obstacles that keep them from realizing their dreams and goals. It still gives me goose bumps when I think about it. Was the vision impairment I experienced really just training and preparation for becoming a coach? I decided that everything that happened to me or that I experienced in life could be perceived as training for this moment. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a pretty empowering belief. I also realized that I can’t change past events, but I can change how I perceive them and what meaning I give to them. I can also apply this to everything in my life.
After a year with the NYS Cable Commission, I got a job with the NYS Court of Claims. The job opening was posted right around the time I had finished my bachelor’s degree and that was one of the qualifications. How’s that for timing?
I worked at the Court of Claims for the next several years while I finished up school and paid for a lot of the training I was going through too. I had a pretty easy job for the most part. The most interesting part was that during this time there my co-workers would come to see me and ask if they could sit and talk. They would tell me their story and I’d ask a few questions or make some suggestions and they would leave smiling and better than when they first sat down. I guess this was part of my coach training as well. I told people that once I left the Court of Claims, they would have to pay me, so they better get me while they can.
As the years went by, the desire to be in business for myself grew stronger. When I was interviewed for my job with the Court of Claims, the Presiding Judge asked me what I saw myself doing in ten years. I responded, “I want to be running my own business.” He hired me anyway. I always believe in being honest about my intentions. In 1997, I requested to work part-time with the Court of Claims. Before doing so, the personnel director said to me, “you’re not going to tell them the truth about why you want to do this are you?” Sticking to my honesty plan, I told my boss about my plans for my business. After a few weeks without hearing a response, I was called to the new Presiding Judge’s office to discuss my situation. He told me he had been about my age when he wanted to go out on his own from the firm he worked for at that time. He told me he had been treated poorly by his boss about his decision to leave. He said to me, “Tom, I’m not going to treat you the way I was treated. I’ll grant your wish to work part-time for one year.” I like telling the truth.
I did work part-time for a year, but by the end of that year I knew something had to give. I asked my boss if I could continue another year, and he said no, it isn’t working. I agreed, but knew that working there full-time was not an option for me. On April 22, 1998 I walked out of the Court of Claims and never looked back. I remember that day very clearly. I walked over to Capitol Park and sat down on a park bench. I recall my words quite clearly. “This is an act of faith.” That afternoon I met with a local college basketball coach to discuss doing some training and coaching with his players. As I described what I did, he said to me, “I really envy you. It made me smile.
This past April 22, 2017, I realized it was the 19th anniversary of my going into business full-time. I thought about all that I have been through over the years and all the people I have had the honor and opportunity to work with and learn from. It was hard to believe it had been fourteen years already. As I embark on another year, I realize how much more I want to do to make a difference in others lives while continuing to live my dream.
I have been very fortunate and I am very grateful to all my clients and mentors along the way. I admire my clients deeply for their courage and commitment to better their lives in every way. In the Fall of 2006 I found out I had another aortic aneurysm in the area of the arch. Once again I was faced with a great challenge. However, I had many years of training and experience behind me, which allowed me to get through that rather easily in my mind. I was back coaching two weeks after surgery and felt more alive than ever. It was also during this time that I realized I was not afraid of dying. Without that fear what is left to fear? I think we’re more afraid of living than dying. I hope you’ll join me in removing the fear and doubt which may be holding you back from living the kind of life you know deep down is your birthright.
If you read through to this point, thank you. If you’re new to coaching or just plain ready to take the next step, click on the button to sign up for my weekly ezine/newsletter or go to the contact page to get in touch with me to set up a complimentary coaching consultation session. I look forward to giving you my best.