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True Connection’s Healing Power: David Richman #98

Warwick Fairfax

January 4, 2022

David Richman hasn’t just taken a day to walk in others’ shoes. He’s spent hours, and miles, and months, getting to know the stories, the fears, the hopes and the lessons learned from men and women whose lives have been touched by the ravages of cancer.  In his book, CYCLE OF LIVES, he chronicles his interviews with 15 people whose crucible encounters with cancer vary from patient, to doctor, to loved ones. In each interaction he has a singular goal: truly providing them a safe space to talk about the roiling emotions they experience in the aftermath of diagnosis. What he’s learned is that deep meaning and emotional healing can be born in those moments of vulnerability – even if physical healing isn’t part of the equation.
To learn more about David Richman and to buy CYCLE OF LIVES (all proceeds go to cancer charities), visit www.cycleoflives.org

Highlights

  • David’s youthful crucible (4:07)
  • How the death of his sister led him to pursue a vision (8:07)
  • The moment of choice that allowed him to move beyond his crucible (10:51)
  • Using his sister’s story to help others (15:14)
  • His inspiration for CYCLES OF LIFE (17:39)
  • The importance of taking one small step (19:15)
  • Why we need to talk about emotional struggles (26:39)
  • Key learnings from the book project (31:12)
  • A meaningful connection on the bike ride (39:33)
  • His biggest takeaway (42:01)
  • The more significant the trauma, the more likely one is to help others (45:45)
  • The two big lessons from the episode (52:13)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

David R:

You just never know what people are going through or what they have gone through. And to hear it, to say that, sounds trite, but to really get deep into it … when you say, “Take a day to walk in somebody else’s shoes, and then you really understand them,” we never do that. And really what people go through, what each of us have gone through or have dealt with in our lives is quite fascinating, inspiring, evocative, sometimes wonderful, sometimes terribly tragic. And we just don’t know. And I think that that was an awakening for me at such a deep level, going through this process of this book, that it really made an impact on my life.

Gary S:

David Richman hasn’t just taken a day to walk in other shoes. He’s spent hours and miles and months getting to know the stories, the fears, the hopes, and the lessons learned from men and women whose lives have been touched by the ravages of cancer.

Gary S:

Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. This week, Warwick and I talked to Richman about his book, cycle of lives, which chronicles his interviews with 15 people whose crucible encounters with cancer vary from patient to doctor to loved ones.

Gary S:

In each interaction, he has a singular goal, truly providing them a safe space to talk about the roiling emotions they experience in the aftermath of diagnosis. What he’s learned, he explains, is that deep meaning and emotional healing can be born in those moments of vulnerability, even if physical healing isn’t part of the equation.

Warwick F:

Well, David, thank you so much for being here and I’m really looking forward to getting into your book, Cycle of Lives, in which you talk about 15 people who’ve had cancer and just their stories, which is just incredible.

Warwick F:

And then I love the title of your previous book, Winning in the Middle of the Pack: Realizing True Success in Business and in Life, because we talk a lot about significance and success and you can have both, but success doesn’t always mean significance. Different concepts. So I love that.

Warwick F:

Before we get into your book, I’d love to hear just a bit about the backstory that led you to write the book, because I think you grew up in Southern California, Los Angeles, from what I understand, and you have an interesting intro in saying being a smoker, overweight, sedentary and all. But you’re also a finance guy. And one of the other phrases I love in your bio is that you realized you enjoy managing people more than money. Not all finance guys are like that. It’s like, oh, people are kind of annoying, but you got to have people if you’re going to have clients, right? But it’s all about making money. But so talk a bit about your background as sort of a bit of a backdrop for your book.

David R:

Oh, sure. I’m going to keep it short, Warwick, and I appreciate it. And thank you for that intro, Gary. Very nice.

David R:

So yeah, my background’s kind of interesting. I was so intrigued to talk to you because of this idea of crucible moments, and I’ve had quite a few of those. And not like a normal step from one stone to the next kind of path … not that everybody does, maybe even most people don’t … but mine seems a little crazy. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley area of California.

Gary S:

That’s crazy of and by itself. I used to live there, so that is crazy of and by itself.

David R:

That’s crazy of and by itself, yeah. I had a weird dynamic growing up. My parents were nearly 40 years difference in age, so my father was entirely too old to have kids. My mom was entirely too young to have kids. Neither one really wanted kids at that point in their lives. And so my sister and I kind of grew up quite alone and self-sufficient, which helped me when I embarked on the world at 18 to rely on that self-sufficience as bad decisions and bad luck gave me a lot of challenges and obstacles to overcome.

David R:

I just went kind of from one job to the next, but always found myself in a management role. And that’s where you mentioned that I like managing people more than money. I feel like there’s not … there’s a lot of people that can manage money, maybe not all of them well, but there’s a lot of people. But there’s very few people that can manage people, and I really, really enjoy that. And almost everything in my life, including my writing, has gotten me to the point where I really love deeply connecting, being inspired by, and helping to inspire others through life experience, through difficulties, to areas that will better enlighten them, set them on a more authentic life path, those type of things. So I know that’s a little out there, a little ethereal, but that’s kind of where my life’s path has taken me.

Warwick F:

So why finance? And how did that notion of focusing on people more than money, how did that kind of come through in the world of finance? Because not everybody that’s a people person which you obviously are thinks, “Oh, let me go into finance, because if you love people you go into finance.”

David R:

Yeah. It’s a good question. And I kind of have this polymath life where I just cannot seem to focus on one thing. I mean, I feel like I’m really good at a lot of different things. I’m not great at anything. And when I manage people’s money, I feel like I needed to be great at it, and I wasn’t. I was good at it. I feel like I’m only great at a few things, but I love doing a ton of different things. So that’s probably what brought me into finance, is just the intrigue, the math, the difficulty of it, the science, the art of it. It’s interacting with people, but also dealing with spreadsheets. I just love that. But I really found that my skills were in dealing with people more than in dealing with the money.

Warwick F:

So you’ve been in finance for obviously a lot of years, and you could have kept doing that, but it seems like your life took a bit of a turn from just focusing on finance. So I’m guessing that was probably just the passing of your sister. Was that … I mean, what was the key moment that shifted you from just being a finance guy to writing now two books?

David R:

Yeah. So I was always a writer in the background, but I’d never authored any books. Actually, I did author a couple of books in the finance world and one in endurance athletics before these two books came. But really it wasn’t a focus. What happened Warwick is I was in the middle of a really difficult time in my life. I had had great success at work, but I was really not feeling entirely fulfilled. I was in a terrible personal situation. I had four year old twins and I was married to an abusive alcoholic. I was terribly overweight. I was a smoker. I just wasn’t enjoying life and found myself at a really dark place. And I had to escape my personal situation for my safety and for my kids’ safety, and I did.

David R:

And kind of in that same window, a very short window of time, where I said, “Okay, man, I got to start taking charge of my life and becoming who I want to be on purpose,” I got a call for my sister who said, “Hey, I’ve got terminal brain cancer.” And so it was this kind of weird dichotomy where I finally … it was in my 30s, late 30s, I finally decided that I’ve got to take charge of my life and make a path towards where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be, and meanwhile, my sister, who I was super close to, at that same moment in time, had to decide how she was going to navigate a path that would lead to her eventual and untimely death.

David R:

So it was this weird kind of dichotomy and it really just … seeing what she was going to have to go through with family, young kids, a great career, a wonderful life, that was … she now was on a journey to the end of that. I’m on a journey to what I’m think is the beginning of my life, so those kind of things more, I don’t know, accentuated the urgency of trying to live on purpose. And that’s kind of where most of the changes came from, if that makes sense.

Warwick F:

Yeah. I mean, I want to dwell on this a bit, because we talk a lot in Crucible Leadership about being in the bottom of the pit, trying not to let your worst day define you. And we’ve had, I don’t know, 70, 75 guests, I guess, on the podcast. And there’s typically this moment of choice. It could be you might be abused. Maybe … we’ve had paraplegics, quadriplegics, people have lost businesses, and often just really, really tough challenges … an adverse health diagnosis … and you’re faced with this choice. Either you can be angry and bitter, and you have a lot of reasons to be angry and bitter. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, whether it’s God, the universe, fate, however you … whatever paradigm it is, it could be like really …

Warwick F:

I mean, my kids and family situation is one thing. But then my sister who I love … I mean, what is the deal here? I mean, one would be horrific. Both is … for many that say, “You know what? I’m checking out. I’m angry, I’m bitter, I’m going to be self destructive to myself or to others.” And you’re faced with a choice. Either you can spiral down to anger and self pity, which I have to say, would be completely understandable. I’m not judging you or anybody. I mean, I can’t imagine what that would be like, what you went through.

Warwick F:

But yet as pretty much most of the folks or all the people on our podcast, they’ve made a different choice. And it just always amazes me. How can you make that other choice? You chose clearly not to be angry and bitter and to move forward. What led you to make that choice that many don’t? Many, sadly, and I’m sure you know folks, they just stay angry and bitter at themselves, at the world. How did you choose a path that wasn’t anger and bitterness?

David R:

It’s a great question. It takes a little bit of unwinding on the answer, because for me, I kind of have always had an … not hopeful … I’m not very hopeful about things in those type of situations, because you can get swallowed up by the turmoil and the trauma and the misery and the difficulty. But I have been always in the background optimistic. And that’s different, right? It’s not event-driven. It’s just kind of a thing that just, okay, it’s going to work out.

David R:

Well, sometimes you have to really take an extra step to make it work out. And for me, that was being honest with myself and relying on myself in a different way. And where that came from is … and I remember it vividly … I was only a week or so out of that very bad situation. My kids were asleep in the other room. And I stood in front of a mirror in the bathroom and not quite in tears, but almost, and I just was looking in the mirror going like, “Who do you want to be?” Like, “Okay, you’re this and you’re that for this person. You’re a good employee. You’re a good boss. You’re a good this. You’re a good … ”

David R:

I nailed all the things that I am, but none of those things was who I wanted to be. And I just kept saying, “Who do you want to be? Who do you want to be? Who are you?” And I think that that desire to find out rather than to wallow in the single event stuff was what drove me, and then I wanted to find out. And everything I did at that point, from that point forward, was to find out the answer to that question, is who am I, and who do I want to be? What do I want to do?

Warwick F:

I mean, that’s fascinating, because I think somewhere you talk about you can focus on making others happy and it’s all about … I mean, serving others is different than, I’m going to live in light of other people’s expectations. I mean, as listeners would know, in my story, growing up at a 150 year old family media business in Australia, 2.25 billion dollar takeover and all, which ended up failing, it was all about living in light of my ancestors’ dreams. It was nothing to do with what I want to do. It was making my ancestors happy and parents and whoever.

Warwick F:

So yeah, I had to unlearn. It’s like, it’s okay to think about what do I want in life and what do I want to contribute to life? Right? You can still serve others, but out of your own reasons, your own motivations. So that took me a long time to unlearn, but I’m hearing you.

Warwick F:

So your sister passes away and I believe you said as she was … before she passed that somehow you wanted to use her story to help others, which led to … I mean, you’re a sort of ultra marathoner type. I think I’ve got here, competed in 50 triathlons and 15 Ironmans and races in 5,000 mile bike ride from California to New York, which is to me crazy stuff. Not crazy in a bad sense, but crazy as in most of us would never do that.

Gary S:

On my Fitbit, for instance, they give me badges every time you achieve a new milestone. So my badge I’ve got for steps distance so far is through the center of the earth. But that’s over nine years. You did that on a weekend or something when you took that bike ride that you took. So I’m like, oh my gosh, you’re like Forrest Gump, who just ran from one coast to the other and then turned around and just ran back.

Warwick F:

Yeah. It’s unbelievable. So just talk about your sister passing and just … you’ve obviously, amongst other things, a passion for triathlons and bike rides, and which led to the books. So talk about just those different strings, if you will, how they worked together.

David R:

Yeah, sure. First of all, I will say that nothing of significance … and you had to go through a very, very significant change … it doesn’t happen because you decide to turn left one day instead of turning right and become somebody. It takes a lot of relearning, a lot of forgiveness, a lot of understanding, a lot … it’s scary, because you’re going down new alleys and you’re discovering new things. Significant change happens step by step by step. Right?

David R:

And I have a very … let me just tell you a super quick story. I have a story that happened to me on one of my endurance events … you’ll appreciate this, Gary … That became an analogy for change and significant change.

David R:

So I’m doing an 85 mile roller blade race, if you can imagine that. Who races 85 miles?

Gary S:

I can’t, but I’m sure it’s great.

David R:

It’s completely stupid. And it’s through the hills, the gentle rolling hills of Georgia, which there’s nothing gentle about the rolling hills of Georgia. I have no business being on roller blades alone, let alone on an 85 mile race. I’ve never done anything like that.

David R:

And to make a long story short, I’m about 30 miles in and I’m heading up this hill that I cannot get up. It’s just impossible. And I’m at the end of my rope. I’m a few hours in. I’m pouring sweat out of me. I was still overweight. I was still a smoker. And I looked down and I see my sweat had created this little line in front of me. And I was perpendicular to the hill, because otherwise I would’ve gone back down.

David R:

And I said to myself, “Okay, David, you can either turn around and just go home and call it a day, and there you would’ve known everything about yourself and everything you’re capable of doing. Or you can just figure out a way to make one … go past … one step past that line, one little roll. You get one leg across that line and you discover something new. And every you take another step, you’re going to learn something new and something new and something new.”

David R:

And that’s where I feel like that significant change … or how do you go from smoking to doing a million triathlons and Ironmans and a 5,000? You do it by taking one little step and learning something new about yourself. And that’s the way that you invent yourself. The way you rewire your mind is not to take on something that’s impossible. You can’t just one day not be affected by just a seriously traumatic event. You got to take it step by step. Find out something just a little bit new about yourself and then build on that and build on that.

David R:

And that was kind of like a parody for how I think about things, right? That’s an analogy for how my brain works, is that I don’t ever want to know the answer. I don’t want to reach the line. I don’t want to reach a limit. I don’t want to think I know everything, because if I do, I might as well just pack it up and go home, because life’s done. Right? I got to keep finding out what’s past that line.

David R:

And that brought me to understanding or trying to understand what people were going through on an emotional level when it came to their cancer. And not just … guys, not just people that were going through cancer, but caregivers, doctors, loved ones, survivors, those type, because they were really good about dealing with the tasks of their cancer. But when it came to the emotion of cancer, they had all hit that line, right? They didn’t know where to go. They didn’t know what lay beyond that line, because most people don’t know how to deal with the emotional side of trauma.

David R:

And you guys know this. You talk to people about this all the time. It’s the emotional side of it that’s so difficult. And so I embarked on this project of saying, “How can I shed a light on what people have gone through or what they’re going through and limiters or the things that have enhanced their ability to be able to navigate the emotional side?”

David R:

And the reason I wanted to do that, to wrap this very long answer up, is because I felt like if I could shine light on really traumatic, evocative, inspiring stories of people who had dealt with, or at times not dealt with, the emotional side of this, and we could really, really understand and bond with them in an authentic, heart-centered, deep, authentic way, then we might be better equipped to be able to help people in our lives that are going through difficult times because we might have a better understanding of what they’re going through. Long answer, but that’s where it is.

Gary S:

It’s a great answer. And Warwick, before we pivot, and I know that you want to ask more about that, because that sets up the next part of the story, I want to back up just a couple of feet. I guess in your world, David, I want to back up a few hundred feet since you’re used to going a lot longer than a few feet. But Warwick says all the time … he uses the phrase, “one small step” a lot. And I think we have … we think about it only as one small step because biting it off more than that would be too much emotionally to do.

Gary S:

I think what you said and what I heard is that it’s also important not to go more than one small step because you don’t want to bite off too much that you can’t chew. You don’t want to go from point A to point Z because that’s a less chance of success, a less chance of completing it than if you just take that step that you took across that line of sweat, which I think is really important for listeners to know.

Gary S:

And it’s fascinating this is how these things work. Today, I’m writing a blog for Crucible Leadership’s website about the lessons that you can learn about crucibles from the movie Die Hard. It’s going to be out by the time you hear this, listener. It’ll be on crucibleleadership.com. But one of the points I make, and I just wrote this 10 minutes before I got on this call, is that one of the things that John McClane, Bruce Willis in that movie does, he keeps running into brick wall after brick wall after brick wall after brick wall, but he doesn’t try to get out of it all at once. He just wants to survive crucible A and then move on to crucible B. That’s his perspective. That’s what helps him win in the end.

Gary S:

And I think what you’re saying for you, what helped you at that moment of truth with the line of sweat on the ground was just taking that one small step and not thinking too big, but thinking big in terms of effort, in terms of emotion, but not in terms of activity of what you had to do. I think that’s a critical point for listeners to understand as we move forward.

David R:

Gary, you’re right. Let me add one thing to that. That step by step thing, and I love that idea of one little step at a time, is wrapped inside of what I think is a huge goal. So what I’m saying is I think you can set a goal that goes from A to Z, a purpose that goes from A to Z. Right? I feel like we don’t often challenge ourselves to a difficult enough level to really make a meaningful difference in our lives. But when you go after something that is really difficult, overcoming severe trauma, accomplishing a major business or personal goal, you kind of got to go step by step, because it’s impossible. It’s impossible to jump from A to Z. Now I like the goal A to Z, but you got to go one little step at a time in order to get there.

Gary S:

Yeah. And the only way Bruce Willis could save Nakatomi Plaza was surviving one incident at a time.

Warwick F:

Yeah, no, it’s such a great point. And yeah, just to dwell on this one more moment, because it is critical … everybody we’ve spoken to on the podcast, they’ve just had notion of, okay, what’s one small step? And really kind of the way I think of it, whether it’s … I have a book that came out in October, this fall of 2021, Crucible Leadership: Embrace Your Trials to Lead a Life of Significance. I mean, it took years to write, but it’s like, okay, what’s the next step? What’s the next step I can do? And be disciplined about yes, I wanted to get it published and have as many people as possible read it, but release the consequences of the outcome. I can’t control the outcome. I can’t control how many people read it. I can’t control how many people’s lives are touched or not touched. But what’s one positive step forward that I can make today?

Warwick F:

Focus on the … I mean every good athlete I’ve ever read about has said this. They focus on the process. What training do I need to do today? What can I do today to make me a better athlete, a better quarterback, a better tennis player, a better whoever? I’m from Australia, so cricket’s real big in Australia and the Ashes cricket series between Australia and England is going on right now.

Warwick F:

So there’s all sorts of analogies. But elite athletes, they always focus on the process. Every interview with an elite athlete, they’ll always say that, right? I’m sure it’s true in people who … ultra marathoners. What’s the process? What’s one … so that way of thinking, it cannot be stated too often. And certainly if today is your worst day, what’s one small positive baby step that you can do? So it doesn’t always change the outcome of a health diagnosis, but maybe it can change … we can’t always control that, but people that we’ve spoken to have come from hugely challenging physical challenges. They may not … if they’re quadriplegic, that likely won’t change. After the first few months, you pretty much know where you are, but how can I change the way I think? That’s something you can control.

Warwick F:

So let’s talk a bit about your book, Cycle of Lives, because it’s fascinating that people are sadly all too familiar with cancer, physical tragedies. They know from their friends, their family. But you’re right. People don’t talk about the emotional side, the how do you … what are those stories? How do you deal with that? It’s it just seems like people don’t talk about that for some reason.

David R:

They don’t. And that’s not just … I’m not just saying that. Every person that I ran into had to some level, if not an entire complete diving into this idea of, yeah, I don’t know how to deal with the emotional side of it. And that is literally every single person that I spoke to. And I witnessed it as well. My sister and I were able to talk about things on an emotional level, which which only strengthened my idea that that’s very much the exception. And I’m not saying that nobody knows how to deal with it, but most people don’t.

David R:

I spoke to a woman who was an oncologist at NYU, Perlmutter Cancer Institute, 40 years as an oncologist dealing in female and male breast cancer. And when I sat down and I said to her … I said, “Hey doc, can I ask you questions that you don’t talk to people about?” She goes, “I don’t talk to anybody about this stuff. Not my husband, because we don’t want to bring each other down. Not my peers, because I’m a woman doctor. I can’t show weakness. Not my friends, because we’re worried about going to a museum or going on a hike.” She goes, “I certainly can’t talk to my patients about the emotional side of it.” But she had a very dynamic, wonderful story to get out about her emotional journey.

David R:

She just had never talked about it with anybody. And so that was an example of just … it was every single person I spoke to had had that realization that they didn’t know how to talk or even process the emotional side of it. And when I saw that, and I saw it watching my sister pass away and the people that I witnessed during a bunch of different events I did and talking to doctors and all of this, I just said, “I got to figure it out.”

David R:

So when I put the Cycle of Lives project outline together, I just said, I want to grab as many different types of people, different age, different types of cancer, different points in their life, different traumas, addiction, abuse, abandonment, making bad decisions, being dealt a bad hand in life, you name it. How did all of these traumas affect them? Whether they were a one and done cancer, or they had lived their whole life with cancer or had given their whole life to treating people with cancer or whatever, so that when we say something trite like, “Oh, you never know what people have gone through,” that we really start to get some understanding. And people like you that write books like you have, the lessons that you want to give are not in a preachy, prescriptive way. They’re in a, “Hey, I really lived this. I really went through this. This is the ways in which I was enlightened by these really true, authentic experiences, and I’m just going to try to give you some insight into it so that you can take whatever you can from it.”

David R:

And that’s what I wanted to write these books for, because we both … well, we all know, that oh, one step at a time doesn’t really mean anything until you’re not able to take a step. And then finally, when you’re able to take a step, you can take one step at a time. Right? And so I have a tremendous number of lessons learned from these peoples’ stories that kind of overcome that little … trite sayings that we never want to listen to.

Warwick F:

So tell us a bit about … I mean, there’s probably individual lessons, but what are some of the themes … and just for listeners to know, as you interviewed these 15 people, it was in the context of a bike ride across the country in a fairly short period of time, wasn’t it?

David R:

Well, the bike ride was in the short period of time. So the bike ride actually came as a bit of a joke. Like I … okay, you got the whole double meaning of Cycle of Lives, but is that I said, if we’re all connected by emotion, which I think we are, and we’re all connected by stories … ever since before man could talk, we were drawing stories. So when I put these together, I said, “Ah, what better way to connect us than to get on my bike ride and kind of be the thread that connects the stories?”

David R:

And so I had talked to the people in the book, and many that didn’t make the book, for a couple years. So to get super deep, I was talking to people for dozens, if not hundreds of hours in a few different places to really get super, super deep into their stories so that I could tell them in an authentic, real way, so that we would be able to really take something from their experiences. The bike ride kind of came as an afterthought. I did it in a very short period of time, yes, 4,700 miles in 45 days. A million wonderful stories along the way, but my bike ride was the thread that tied those stories together.

Warwick F:

So yeah. So what are some of the key learnings that you have? Maybe some commonalities, maybe not with all 15, but with a number of them, what are some of the key learnings that you learned from these incredible people that you write about?

David R:

Well, there’s two things that I learned, one I’ll tell you and ask you to believe, the listener to believe, that even though it’s trite, there’s so much more behind it, and that is, you just never know what people are going through or what they have gone through.

David R:

And to hear it, to say that, sounds trite, but to really get deep into it … when you say, “Take a day to walk in somebody else’s shoes, and then you really understand them,” we never do that. And really what people go through, what each of us have gone through or have dealt with in our lives is quite fascinating, inspiring, evocative, sometimes wonderful, sometimes terribly tragic. And we just don’t know. And I think that that was an awakening for me at such a deep level, going through this process of this book, that it really made an impact on my life.

David R:

I’d say the second thing that I learned is that if you do give yourself a chance to really connect with somebody authentically, you can take something from their story, from their experiences, and it will be carried with you as a very, very light, but as a weight, maybe a positive weight. But it’ll be carried with you for life. And I’ll give you a super quick story if I could guys.

David R:

So you said something earlier, right? Just take one, one step, right? Just figure out a way to take one step. So when I started talking to this woman, if you would’ve told me … one of the people in the book … if you would’ve told me, “Hey, David, you know what the key to life is? The key to life is just figure out a way to get your feet off the bed, onto the ground, stand up, make your bed, and go about your day. That’s how you get through life,” I would’ve maybe punched you in the jaw. Like don’t tell me something stupid. I mean, really? That’s just stupid.

David R:

So when I talked to Patricia and when I got into her story … I’m not going to go super long into the story. But when I got into her story, it was absolutely mind-boggling, amazing the things that she had gone through. Not only did she wonderfully find somebody who would love her and that she loved and went through her adult life together, which is a hard thing to do, but it was in the backdrop of her having five different cancers over a 35 year period. Basically her oncologist was like, “Dude, there’s nothing left to cut out. So I can’t … you’ve been at the practice more longer than I have. You’re done. Next time you get cancer you’re done.” Five different cancers. She took care of her dad who was dying of cancer while she was going through chemo herself. I mean, this woman has been through the ringer.

David R:

But that wasn’t really her story, guys. Her story was all of that, this finding love and learning how to love and be loved and dealing with a lifetime’s worth of cancer and just a tremendous trauma, is that she had spent years trying to escape an insanely brutal, abusive relationship where she was beat up if he thought she looked at somebody. She had to reinvent herself. I mean, it was the most horrible thing anybody could ever go through. And it was just terrible.

David R:

And she told me, and I said to her … one day I go, “Patricia, how in the world did you ever get through life? I mean, I can’t even imagine the amount of trauma and difficulty you got through.” And she said, “Well, David, listen. I escaped a certain death when I left that relationship and I escaped death at least five times through my cancers.” She said, “The very first day of freedom I had from that relationship, I told myself, ‘Every single day, I’m going to get up out of bed and I’m going to put my feet on the ground and I’m going to make my bed and I’m going to go about my day.'”

David R:

And she said, “Sometimes when I went through chemo, that meant as soon as I made my bed, I laid down again because I didn’t have the energy to do it. But that’s how I get through every day, is I’m optimistic that I’m going to be able to go about my day.” And I’m like, “Whoa, that to me is a lesson.” So now if I say or I hear somebody say, “Hey, just put your feet on the ground and figure out a way to get through the day,” there might be so much more behind that. And now that I know her story, that makes an impact on me. And when I’m not feeling good, I go, “Get your feet on the ground and go about your day.”

Warwick F:

Yeah. I think there’s that optimistic mindset that really links everybody that’s come out the other side of tragedy, that’s come out the other side of the pit, is it’s one small step, but it’s like, I’m going to move forward in a positive way. I’m not going to be angry. I’m not going to be bitter. I don’t know one person has gone through tragedy and come out the other side who’s angry and bitter. I’ve not met that person, probably because it’s not possible. Anger and bitterness, it’s like poison. It will stop you moving forward.

Warwick F:

But I mean, you said so much there that it’s … we know very little about people. You meet somebody at a conference or a meeting, church, wherever you congregate … and especially in the digital world where it’s sound bites, you say, “Hey, my name’s Warwick, who are you?” And you might talk about husband, wife, kids, job, but you’re not going to say, “So who are you?” “Oh, I’m Warwick. I grew up in 150 year old newspaper business and I lost it at age 30, a billion dollar thing, and it took me most of the 90s to recover. And I’m in a better place now, but it was pretty horrific letting down everybody in my family. That’s who I am. And how about you?”

Warwick F:

Like you, David, could say, “Well yeah, I’ve had a challenging family, marriage. I wanted to save my kids. My sister died of cancer. And I just wanted to really focus on telling people’s stories who’ve gone through tragedy. Hey, that’s me David”, or some version of that. But who does that as an intro? Wouldn’t that be helpful? Is if when they ask you who are you, you just calmly give a couple minute elevator speech, if you will, of who you really are? But we don’t do that in our culture.

David R:

We don’t do that in our culture. And one of the things that we talked about before is what are some of these limiters? And you know what? People are vulnerable. And one of the things that was a common factor, not in everybody, but in a lot of people I spoke to, was this fear of abandonment, or they had been abandoned or they self isolated, or they were forced to isolate.

David R:

And so what you’re not going to do is you’re not going to have that conversation with somebody that you don’t feel safe with. And who feels safe with a stranger? Who feels even safe around people that know us? Because they might not know us like that. And so it takes a fair amount of strength and understanding that vulnerability is okay, that if you’re safe to talk to somebody about the real you, that’s okay.

David R:

I had lunch … sorry to tell you this story, but it’s been weighing on me for a couple of days. I had lunch earlier this week with a gentleman. He’s 73 years old. He’s going through a life change. He’s ridiculously successful. And he read my Winning in the Middle of the Pack book and he went, “Holy crap, David.” He goes, “You talk about this thing of caring about what you want in life. I’ve led my entire life knowing that I was supposed to be successful because that’s what my family told me.” He goes, “And I don’t think I’ve done that. And now I’ve got to worry about myself? I’ve never done that in my life before.” And it’s like, he would’ve never told me that if he didn’t feel safe, right? But how wonderful to know that I can know him at that deeper level now.

David R:

And so that’s what we do when we write books or we tell stories or you guys interview wonderful people on your podcast, is you want to unpack it. You want to create this safe space to get to the real heart of the matter.

Warwick F:

Yeah. What you’re saying I think I want listeners to really hear, because I’ve had a number of folks on our podcast that have said, “Thank you, Warwick, you create a safe place where we can feel heard,” which means everything to me. But part of the reason for that is, and it’s really the whole brand, the whole message, if you will, is I’m very open about my own tragedy, if you will. It’s not a physical tragedy. And it’s funny. Early on, I would almost apologize for what I went through, because it’s not cancer. And I remember … I know you’re originally from California … we had somebody that was from Southern California, Navy Seal, that was paralyzed in a parachuting training accident. He was an ultra … as fit and as good a Seal … his dad was a Seal … as good a Seal as probably exists, at least from his dad’s perspective.

Warwick F:

And so all of that was behind him. And I just was … one of the very first podcasts, I was apologetic. I said, “Look, what been through is nothing compared to what you’ve been through,” and he said, “No, that’s … Warwick, my perspective is this. Your worst day is your worst day, right? It’s not a competition. You could say, oh, maybe some people you’ve interviewed have worst cancer than others. ‘So you only have one cancer? Oh, I had 30. Okay. I got you beat 30 times.’ It’s not a competition between oh, you’ve got stage four or five or gee, you’ve only got one. Ha. You’re lucky.'” And it’s not that mindset.

Warwick F:

But I guess my point is, as you are vulnerable yourself … I believe in being vulnerable for a purpose … it gives other people the opportunity to be vulnerable because you’ve created a safe place and you say, “Hey, this is me,” and other people will share with you. It just creates so much more meaningful dialogue, which would be so useful, because most people we don’t know. But you love people so you want to know people. And I’m a bit the same way. I’m a lot the same way in that sense.

Warwick F:

I love learning about people who I know nothing about. I love hearing their stories because that’s part of what it is to be part of the human race, right? What are our stories? I mean, for hundreds, if not thousands of years, ancient peoples in every corner of the globe would share stories about their families and about their tribe and their people group and they would hand it down from generation to generation, even before there was the written word, because that’s our history, is our stories. Every ancient people group had that philosophy, but we somehow have lost it. We don’t share our stories.

David R:

And I mean it’s wonderfully said, and what I’ve found, and I know that I can tell from your experiences just in this podcast, is what you found is that those stories that we share when we do give ourselves a chance to really understand what’s going through somebody else’s life are really fascinating. They can be transformative. They can provide us with lights that we can use for the rest of our life. And to be open to this idea, and I love this, this concept of everybody’s living their own lives and we’re just passer-byers in everybody’s life. I can never know what either one of you have gone through and vice versa.

David R:

But when you do open up and you do connect in a really authentic, heart-centered, meaningful, true way, if even for just a few minutes, it can provide us a directional light that we keep for forever.

David R:

If I could tell you a super quick story, I’m near the end of the bike ride, okay? And I’m heading over the George Washington Bridge. I’m going to finish at my self proclaimed finish line in Central Park. I got a big group of people and I don’t know really how to navigate across the bridge to Central Park. And I roll up on these two cyclists and they’re finishing a conversation and one of them rides away, and I asked the girl that’s left, I said, “Hey, can you tell me how I get to so and so?” And she goes, “Yeah, you go here, you go here.” And then she’s looking at me and she sees this little patch on my arm that says, “Stupid cancer.”

David R:

And I go … she says, “Oh, well, what are you doing?” And I told her, “I did a bike ride,” and dah, dah, dah, dah. “I’m just finishing it up from California.” And she was like, “Oh my god. And you’re doing it for cancer?” I go, “Yeah.” She goes, “Geez. My dad died of cancer four years ago.” And the old me would’ve said, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. Thank you for the directions and I’ll talk to you later.”

David R:

But then knowing that if she could just find a safe space, there might be something she could give me. She gave me something I’ll never, ever lose in my whole life. I said to her, I said, “Oh my gosh. Were you close?” And she said, “Oh, we were so close. He was a cyclist. He got me into cycling. Even as he was going through chemo for stage four cancer, we would go on these cycling trips when he was able to. And we just had the greatest things, the greatest experiences and memories ever.”

David R:

She goes, “And he had a real good sense of humor. When he died, his cycling buddies used to make fun of him because he wore this shirt with a bunch of little ice cream cones on it. And he said, ‘Hey, I want the viewing to be with me in this ice cream cone jersey, because it’ll give all my friends a smile.'” And she started crying and laughing and we had this wonderful five minute conversation.

David R:

And when I drove away … I gave her a hug. I knew we’d never see each other again. But I thought to myself, “I’m never going to feel, forget the idea of a man who knew he was going to die and spent time with his daughter and then as a joke to his friends and because I could learn … like how graceful and wonderful and poetic is it that he wanted to be seen in something that would give people a smile, even though he was getting buried.” It just … the whole thing just stuck. It’ll never leave me, right? And so we found this safe space to know each other for five minutes, but it was a light that will never … that story will never leave me, right?

Warwick F:

That’s amazing. So what are some of the … I mean, there’s some commonalities. Were there differences? Or maybe another question would be out of everything you learned in the book, what’s maybe something that most struck you? Maybe biggest takeaway or …

David R:

I think the biggest takeaway is no matter how strong people were, whether they were a doctor, a medical professional … I mean, I talked to one guy who was a chief medical officer of a very large medical company. No matter who they were, this idea that they felt isolated or self-isolated or that they were abandoned at the biggest time of need. When they needed most to talk about things they couldn’t, or they didn’t have the safe space or they didn’t have people in their lives who cared or knew how to deal with it. How hard is it for us to talk to somebody when we’re having a good day or just a normal day? And we know they’re having a … and who doesn’t? Right now, I’m sure both of you know somebody that’s going through something difficult and it’s like, “Shoot, man, I haven’t called them in a couple of weeks,” or, “I said I would call him and I haven’t and it’s been a couple of weeks.” How hard is it?

David R:

It’s just really difficult to find ourselves in the firing line of trauma and know how to deal with people, and that just isolates them. And even though sometimes we don’t want to invade their space and we don’t want to say something stupid and we don’t want to look like an idiot or we don’t want to look uncaring, so maybe what we do is just not deal with it, that just isolates them or abandons them in a way that is just it repetitive and … so that was a theme that touched me the most, is that every person I spoke to either self-isolated or felt abandoned, especially when it came to having those meaningful, emotional interactions with people. And so they just learned to tuck those things away and not deal with them. And that’s the thing that touched me the most.

Gary S:

It seems, David, for sure that you and the captain of our plane are on the exact same timetable because this is an excellent point. I think I heard the captain turn on the fasten seatbelt sign to indicate that we’re getting close to where we have to put the plane on the ground, but we’re not there yet.

Gary S:

Before we move forward and Warwick asks you a couple more questions, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you the chance to tell our listeners how they can find out more about you and your work online. How can they find out more about David Richman?

David R:

Well thank you, Gary. That’s nice. The book, I wrote it to help people and to better equip them to have more meaningful connections with the people that are in their lives. But I also wanted to raise awareness and money for great organizations that deal with people that are going through trauma. So 100% of any penny that comes to me from the book or anything related to the book is going to … is divided between the charities and the hospitals and the other nonprofits that the book participants each chose.

David R:

So if you do go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever books are sold and you think it might be a book that might speak to you, Cycle of Lives, I think you’ll get some tools that you can put on your tool belt for how to form deep connections. You’ll also be raising a tiny bit of money to help great organizations. So you can go to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, wherever books are sold, my website, cycleoflives.org. You can find out more information about me, the book, and everything else. And thanks for that, Gary.

Warwick F:

Sure. There’s one thing that I heard, David, that really intrigued me. I think you said something like you discovered in people’s stories, the more significant the trauma, the more likely they are to focus on helping others.

Warwick F:

Now, I don’t know if I got that quite right, but it’s hard for me to get my head around that one. So talk about that, because that does not seem intuitive, doesn’t seem normal, doesn’t seem to even make sense. So just help us understand that one.

David R:

It’s tough because I don’t want to sound preachy, right? But there is some truth to the idea of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I mean, there really is some truth to that. And not everybody comes out on the other side better. Not everybody has a happy ending. And that’s the reality of this crazy thing called life, is that sometimes things don’t work out. They just don’t. And it’s a sad a thing, but it’s the reality. But I have found that what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. When you think about what it might take, one of my book participants walked in when he was six years old on his mother killing herself. Could you imagine how that could be used as a deep well to dive into anytime life gets difficult? Instead, he’s learned from that on how to learn how to rely on people and not feel abandoned. And he spreads that message. Not in a preachy way, but he just … he imbibes someone who wants to help others who feel abandoned.

David R:

I have this one … a doctor that’s in the book. She loves hugging her patients. And there’s a lot of reasons behind that. She went through some unbelievably difficult times where she could feel no human contact and all she wants to do as a doctor is hug people. And it’s just this wonderful idea of what doesn’t kill us can make us stronger. When you go through something as difficult as you, some of your guests, what we all kind of probably go through in life, not measured against each other, but just difficult, our worst days, and you come out on the other side, sometimes if we do come out on the other side better off, we want to just help people. We want to … we have some empathy for what others might be going through and we want to help. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful aspect of life that we just don’t focus on enough.

Warwick F:

There’s one final comment, because I know our time is going. One of the things I’ve found is … and I know I’ve heard other guests say this, is as you use your story to help others, your trauma, your tragedy, there is a healing balm. There is a healing component in it. Obviously not physically for those who have physical challenges. But I know for me, the book came out October, fall of 2021, and as I’ve begun to speak and people are saying, “Warwick, that story really helped me. Thank you for sharing.” And yeah, I mean, you get over tragedies like that, at least in the sense that it’s not an open wound, but it’s still a scar.

Warwick F:

Not to belabor this, but one person, in fact, a student at a college outside of New York, Seton Hall, he asked me, “So is it challenging or is it difficult for you to go back to Australia?” Now, he asked that question because he understood my story at a deep level. It’s not terrible, but because of the whole memories of the family business, and when you’ve got a wealthy family, there’s often a lot of dysfunction, yeah, it’s not totally easy. It’s not terrible, but it’s not a piece of cake. So I felt heard in that moment.

Warwick F:

But I guess the larger point is as I’m sharing my story and people are getting help out of it, it makes meaning out of the pain, but it also doesn’t all go away. But it’s absolutely very helpful. There is a healing component of it, at least psychologically and emotionally. And I have to believe that the folks you talk with, as they’re focused on helping others, at least in their spirit, in their psyche, there’s a healing component as they use their story to help others. Does that kind of make sense as we round up?

David R:

It totally makes sense. And it’s really something that is quite unique. I think it’s wonderful. I think the world needs a lot of healing. I think that when we are going through trauma, and there’s trauma all around us, but we just kind of just accept that that’s the way it is. I walked to school uphill both ways in the snow barefoot, right? I mean, suck it up and deal with it, man. That’s just the way we’ve done it, but there’s such an appetite now for that type of growth and that type of connection.

David R:

And again, because we can say this without it sounding trite, I’m unbelievably moved by people like you and the guests that you have and others who are willing to share some insight into what’s behind that, you never know what people are going through, what they have gone through so that we can connect in a meaningful way and take something with it as we’re trying to figure out our own lives and our own path and what we’re doing in life.

David R:

So I’m terribly inspired by it. I’m very proud of you for doing it. It’s very, very difficult to put yourself out there in a vulnerable, real way. And to have an altruistic hope that you will inspire one person or several people is just really wonderful. So I’m totally with you. I don’t say those things lightly. There’s not a light meaning behind it. It’s a heavy meaning behind it. And I just think it’s really, really powerful.

Warwick F:

Well, thank you so much, David. We’re frankly blessed to have you and just you share some of the stories and what you’ve learned and yeah. Thank you so much for coming on.

David R:

You’re welcome, both of you. Thank you Warwick and thank you, Gary.

Gary S:

So here’s how I know that the plane is on the ground and it’s time for us to gather our luggage and depart, is I was going to actually ask … I’ve been sitting here for like 10 minutes wanting to ask the question that Warwick asked at the end. And we don’t communicate behind the scenes here. I’m not sending him notes on Zoom to say, “Ask this question.” So I was going to ask this question as a closer, what he asked you about healing being possible even when physical healing doesn’t happen. And that was a beautiful way to end the conversation, I think.

Gary S:

And I want to leave you, listener, with sort of a mashup of the two big lessons from this conversation I think. It’s a homework assignment that’s a mashup of the two big learnings I think that we had here today with David Richman.

Gary S:

One, we talked a lot about taking small steps to get to your vision, to achieve significance, to reach your goals. There are small steps that … wake up, put your feet on the ground, get out of bed, that small steps. That’s one concept that we discussed here.

Gary S:

The other concept that we discussed was something David said about, we know very little about people and we do that because we don’t pause often to ask about people. David told a story of a woman who indicated that her father had passed away of cancer, and rather than just saying, yep, thanks for the directions that he asked for, he paused and he asked a question that went a little deeper.

Gary S:

So here’s the homework that’s the mash-up. What is one small step you can take, listener, to move beyond perhaps an acquaintance relationship and build a deeper relationship with someone when it comes to this idea of asking more meaningful, deeper questions? Please make sure that it’s appropriate to do so. So I say someone who’s an acquaintance, the small step you can take. Look around you. See if there’s someone in your orbit that you can take a small step and ask a question that you have not asked before that takes your existing relationship deeper and may unlock, for the person you’re speaking to, may unlock some of this healing that we’re talking about that comes from being vulnerable.

Gary S:

Warwick’s experienced it. He’s experienced healing from his crucible through his vulnerability. David saw it in the people he interviewed for his book. So let’s mash up those concepts of taking one small step and really getting to know each other, really getting to know people in our orbits, mash those things up and see what we can create by doing so.

Gary S:

Thank you, listener, for spending time with us on Beyond the Crucible this week. We would ask that if you like what you hear here, that you would subscribe to the show. We also want you to know as we depart that we understand, we know from experience, both our own experiences and the experiences of the people that we talk to, that crucible experiences are difficult. They’re hard. They change the trajectory of your life. But here’s the really, really, really great news. They’re not the end of your story. Not by far. They can in fact, be the beginning of a new story, a better story, a more exhilarating story that leads to a far better place than just success. It can lead to … if you learn the lessons of your crucible, apply them as you move forward, what it leads to is a story that ends at the final period of the best chapter you can possibly have, and that is at a life of significance.