On a fateful day nearly 20 years ago, Michael O’Brien, CEO of Peloton Executive Coaching, asked himself a chilling question: “Is this what it feels like to die?” Michael was a successful businessman and father who had spent years being the “Superman” to everyone in every aspect of his life. Business had brought him to New Mexico where he came face-to-face with the purpose of life. He had just been hit by an SUV at 40 miles per hour while cycling early one morning before the start of business that day. In those moments waiting for help to arrive, he shared what was going through his mind in his book, Shift.
I realized that all these preoccupations, the bike, the meeting, the helicopter ride, were just ways of avoiding having to look at the biggest problem. They were just shiny objects. I was allowing myself to be distracted by them instead of facing my fears. I did this often in my life. I allowed small worries to distract me from the things that really mattered…Focusing on what really matters takes courage and it takes risks. I told myself right then and there if I lived, I would make my life different. By letting go of my strong need to maintain a sense of control, I’ve realized that I actually have far more control over the way I live my life than I ever understood before.
As he shares in my most recent radio interview for A Climb to the Top: Stories of Transformation, the situation didn’t follow the script that Michael had laid out for himself since college. From that point on he said, “I was writing a new script.” The road to recovery was a difficult one, and it continually challenged the promise he had made to himself to rewrite his narrative and not chase happiness. The initial diagnosis painted a future of dependency, surgeries and additional pain and suffering. This prognosis would discourage anyone, even someone who was committed to a changed life for the better. Initially, he found himself falling back to old habits: avoiding core issues rather than facing difficult truths and overcoming them.
Many are familiar with the company, Peloton, that sells high-end spin bikes. The significance of the company’s name is the same metaphor that Michael uses for his company and credits for his recovery. To understand the word, Michael suggests we think of the Tour de France, where cyclists bike through the French Alps. As he described, “Those who race are called the peloton. They need trust and collaboration and teamwork to go down the road as safe and fast as possible. I had a moment in my recovery when I looked at my whole medical team – different departments, different skills – and thought, ‘they are my medical peloton.’”
Who’s Your Peloton?
Talking through this metaphor, Michael then asked a question that I thought was incredibly thought-provoking, “who are you riding with in life? Life isn’t a solo project.” The importance of team is not lost on me as a mountaineer, as the ability to safely scale and descend climbing expeditions requires the strength, skill and support of a team. Like “peloton” there are plenty of terms that describe what’s needed to reach the top of a mountain including, “expedition behavior.” ‘Expedition Behavior’ is the term National Outdoor Leadership School founder Paul Petzoldt used to describe the set of behaviors that keep a group moving together in the wilds. Like a finely tuned marriage, an expedition must navigate good times and bad and manage complex unknown risks. But the importance of your team or ‘peloton’ goes beyond the riskier parts of our lives, it applies to the entire journey and process.
In an article published for Heleo, author Abigail Barronian provides takeaways from an interview had with Steve Swenson, past president of the American Alpine Club. “Despite the emphasis on independence, working in a team is one of the most crucial skills a serious mountaineer can have. Givers thrive within a team because they prioritize the group’s interests rather than their own and are quick to contribute in whatever way they can, without worrying about personal reward or credit for their effort.”
Our ability to traverse the steep climbs in life, both personally and professionally require pelotons – they require teams that strategize together at different base camps along the way in order to achieve desired outcomes.
The Importance of Optimism
Going back to Michael’s story of miraculous recovery, there’s another key component of success that he attributes to bouncing back: the power of mindset. It’s no surprise that those facing grave physical conditions and long recoveries need to contend with emotional healing as well. As you can imagine, those who are optimistic in their outlook are much more successful in healing, than those who are pessimistic.
The power of the mind in correlation with the body is not a foreign concept; many athletes understand the importance of this relationship. It’s no different with accomplishing anything we hope to overcome – including healing. For Michael, he claimed to initially be a “phony optimist,” acting positive on the outside, but internally feeling quite pessimistic, worried, and fearful. It wasn’t until he made a shift in thought process that he would experience greater strides in recovery progress. As he so eloquently shared, “In order for my body to heal, I first had to heal my mind. And I think we tend to forget – especially given the pace of life today – that the mindset, what we tell ourselves, what we believe, can drive how we feel and how we feel drives our actions.”
He went on to share how we have the ability and choice in our lives to shift from victims to victors regardless of the circumstances. I couldn’t agree more. Our ability to rise, climb and experience success requires progress and a victor’s outlook. Progress doesn’t allow us to wallow in one spot; instead, the very definition requires movement. Being a victim stops progression and movement. As victors we can learn from our to go on and become successful.
Listen to more stories of transformation and triumph by visiting michaelobrienshift.com.