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SECOND-ACT SIGNIFICANCE V: John Busacker #114

Warwick Fairfax

May 5, 2022

John Busacker thought he was having a heart attack when severe chest pains while he was driving home sent him to the emergency room.  But he wasn’t dying; he was grieving. That’s what he discovered after a doctor gave him a clean bill of physical health … and he realized he had some work to do on his emotional health. Busacker describes how the deaths of his parents, his mother-in-law and several other relatives and friends in a span of just seven months made him realize he needed to slow down his pace of life and work. After a successful run in the worlds of financial services and leadership development, he has slowed to a walk that allows him to come alongside a different breed of client and help them find their true calling and finish well.

To learn more about John Busacker and to buy his book GASPING FOR BREATH, visit www.johnbusacker.com.

Highlights

  • His interest in leadership development (2:59)
  • Focusing on the human side of growing leaders (6:48)
  • “Why are you so afraid?” (11:47)
  • The perfect second-act significance question (16:17)
  • His book Do Less, Be More (19:21)
  • The crucibles of family tragedy  (26:12)
  • The car trip that led to his second act (28:43)
  • How grief built up and caused his health scare (31:55)
  • Why he doesn’t work with people he doesn’t love, trust or respect (37:40)
  • The importance of community in leadership (40:23)
  • Why he formed his business LifeWorth  (43:13)
  • How Gasping for Breath was inspired was an inspired title for his latest book (47:32)
  • The importance of slowing down and resting (50:02)
  • John’s final message of hope for listeners (54:14)

Transcript

Warwick Fairfax:

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

 

John Busacker:

It turns out there was nothing wrong with my heart. I was not having a heart attack, there was nothing structurally going on. It was an unusual occurrence but what was happening was that the grief that was inside was finding its way out. Our bodies don’t lie. And so, even though I thought that I was processing this, talking about this, there was a lot of things inside that it just found its way out right into the center of my chest, and it’s causing me to gasp literally to gasp for breath.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

John Busacker wasn’t dying, he was grieving. That’s what he discovered after a doctor gave him a clean bill of health, and he realized he had some work to do on his emotional health. Hi, I’m Gary Schneebergercohost of the show. On this week’s episode of our series second act significance, John describes how the deaths of his parents, his mother-in-law, and several other relatives and friends, in a span of just seven months, made him realize he needed to slow down the pace of his life and work. After a successful run in the world of financial services and leadership development, he has slowed to a walk that allows him to come alongside a different breed of clients, and help them to find their true calm and finish well. John Busacker has found second act significance, and you can, too.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, John, thank you so much for being here, it’s an honor to have you.

 

John Busacker:

My pleasure, thanks for having me on today.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

John, there’s a lot to talk about, I have to say, I love the title of your book, Gasping for Breath: Inviting God’s Spirit into Your Overwhelmed Life. I mean, we could talk a lot about that, because most people are overwhelmed. And even people of faith tend not to do that, they just truck on with life and “Hey, God, I got it,” which you never have it. And you certainly don’t have it when you hit a wall. But before we get to that, I know you’ve got some interesting beats to your story. I understand you’re originally from Wisconsin, where I know Gary’s from. So just talk a bit about, if you will, the origin story of John Busacker and the strands that led you to pursue a career in leadership development, human development. And there’s always an origin story of what led you to be so passionate about what you do.

 

John Busacker:

Yeah, my wife Carol and I both grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we’re actually high school sweethearts. Yes, and Gary, we’ve been married for about 42 and a half years now. So, yeah, I graduated from a small liberal arts college and it was a degree undergraduate degree in psychology and education. The first couple of years out of university, I was a high school educator and counselor, and then made a career change into financial services where I surprisingly was good at it. It was a surprise to me, because I’m a total right brainer. I can’t balance my own checkbook with a calculator but I actually loved the conversation with people around money and found that in the context of finances, you can learn a lot about people, their hopes and dreams, their fears and failures, the things that they’re most passionate about. There’s often a sense of shame around money and all of those issues were deeply of interest to me.

 

John Busacker:

And so, I always partnered with someone that could do the math of financial services and what I was always interested in was the story behind why they do what they do with their finances. In the context ofthat Carol and I lived in Cleveland, Ohio for a couple of years. We lived in Seattle, Washington for six years, and we moved 1991 to the Minneapolis area. Shortly after we got here, the firm that I was a part of, I was a part of a leadership team, we hired a leadership development consultant to come in and work with our team and he did great work. And I found him to be personally really interesting, he had a big world view, traveled internationally, took groups of people every year to Sub Saharan Africa, that’s what lit the fuse on that for me.

 

John Busacker:

And so, over the course of the next year, a conversation here, a breakfast there, they ended up asking and I ended up taking a complete flyer and going into the field of leadership development with this small firm that he was one of the two principal founders of. I wasn’t dissatisfied with what I was doing in financial services, I wouldn’t say that I burned out, I would say I was rusting out. I wasn’t overdoing, I was under being, I was just atrophying because I was replicating year after year, the work I was doing very successfully, but was just rusted, a little bit bored. And so, that’s what led me into leadership development, human development 26 years ago now.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So, here you are, you’re in the finance world, which I find it fascinating to be in the finance world and not be interested in numbers. But I get it, because a lot of finance people are just here’s the financial plan, but they’re not really focused on what is it you want out of life. That financial plan has to be built around goals, hopes, dreams, not just needs and clearly you cater to that well. And then you had this turn, was your earlier company Inventure Group was that part of the pivot was that after the pivot from finance?

 

John Busacker:

It’s Inventure Group is the group that I joined when I pivoted from financial services to join this firm, I was the sixth partner when I joined the Inventure Group. They had been in existence for five years when I joined them.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And so, tell us a bit about that. It’s leadership development, what kind of work did you do at Inventure?

 

John Busacker:

Leadership development is a big bucket and there’s a lot of different facets of leadership development. Our expertise was on the human side of leadership development. And so, I would actually call it more life planning but called it leadership development, because it was more palatable to organizations to come in as a leadership development person than as a life planner. And so, we focused on the human side of leadership development, who you are and how you carry yourself with character and integrity and consistency as a person so that people might actually want to follow you.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So, in this whole process, you were writing books. So where does that all fall? I think one of your earlier books was Dare To Answer: 8 Questions To Awaken Your Faith. And while we’re on that, where did your faith journey kind of intersect with your career journey? Because the track you were on, you don’t tend to think of somebody on that track writing a book about faith, if you will. So, how did that all weave itself into your journey?

 

John Busacker:

When we moved to Minneapolis, shortly after we moved here, I was asked several times by a friend to attend a course that was taught by an older gentleman, he at the time was 75 years old. So, I grew up in a faithful family, Sunday going to church sort of family, Lutheran roots background. But even though I had grown up in that family and had pretty faithfully attended church all of my life, from the time I was a little boy, I had never read the scripture. Which is not uncommon for mainline denominations, Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterian, a lot of mainline Christians don’t actually spend a lot of time in the book.

 

John Busacker:

So, I was asked to attend this class taught by this older gentleman who had been for 35 years a missionary in Africa. And he had brought a course that he had started in South Africa to teach teachers to teach scripture to the United States, to Minneapolis specifically. And so, finally, reluctantly, after being asked several times, I reluctantly agreed to attend the class, thinking I was just going to attend the overview of the class and then not continue on with it. Because I had heard stories about this guy, he was kind of a tough old bird. He took people cover to cover through scripture in one year. And the way that he taught was when you came to the class, you had to come prepared with a paper to gain entry into the lecture.

 

John Busacker:

So, he was going to be lecturing that evening, he would give you the topic that he was going to cover in one week in advance. You would do your own research on the topic that he was going to lecture on and then come with the typewritten paper. He would stand at the door with his hand out and say, “If you showed up without a paper, he’d go I hope you come back next week,” and so, you couldn’t gain entry. It was in the context of that, actually, that about halfway through that class, his name was Monty. He said, “When you do your leadership development things, what do you leave behind?” I said, “Oh, we’ve got course materials and handouts and some assessments that we’ve developed.” And he said, “You should write a book, I’ve been reading your writing now for six months, you should write.”

 

John Busacker:

It was really at his encouragement, I had never considered doing that before. And so, it was actually with his encouragement and the shepherding of another person that I wrote my first book, which was originally titled 8 Questions God Can’t Answer, which took a look at, the publisher didn’t like that title. I love the title, actually, but it took a look at Jesus give or take asks about 125 discrete questions in the four gospels. It was His primary method of teaching, not just because He was a Rabbinic Jew, but because it was His way of inviting people closer in. When I think about the leaders that I admire, the coaches that are really good coaches, the people that are most interesting to me, they ask great questions and then they listen. And that’s what Jesus did. And so, I wrote a book on initially, the first book on eight of His most, for me, personally perplexing questions, and that’s how the writing journey began.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

That’s really quite fascinating. So this almost sounds like a college course, except it was at a church. I mean, that’s just staggering you have to write a paper, I guess high expectations maybe leads to high performance from the whole nother leadership development truism. So, from what I understand, this book, you ask leaders some pretty challenging questions. What do you want? What does God want from you? Why are you so afraid? I love that question, why are you so afraid? I mean, what does that question mean? That‘s a fascinating question to ask.

 

John Busacker:

Well, think about the context of that particular question. All of the questions in the book on the surface are not that difficult. So that question is asked, the context of that one is, Jesus is in a boat they’re going across a lake in the middle of the night. A big storm blows up, the boat is about to sink, the people in the boat are deathly afraid, Jesus is asleep. They wake Him up, and he says, “Why are you so afraid?” Well, the obvious on the surface answer is we’re about to die, we’re about to go down. And so, the context of that particular story, though, which is really interesting, and certainly applicable beyond just that story is, they’re going from one side of the lake to the other. And on the other side of the lake are non-Jewish people.

 

John Busacker:

And so, he’s taken this Jewish following of his, and they’re crossing the lake to the other side to an area where people would typically never go, that he’s got in the boat with him. And so, it’s not just physically the storm, the question is why are you so afraid? And the question behind the question, what he had asked them to do is, let’s go over to the other side. And so, the question that I’ve asked of groups, different groups, when I talk them through that story is what’s the other side for you? What’s the other side? And so, I did that once with a group of leaders from a large church here in the Twin Cities, had their staff for a staff retreat. And I asked that question, I said, “Just have a conversation in your small group about that question for a couple of minutes.”

 

John Busacker:

And there was this uncomfortable shifting and shuffling in the room, I could just tell that I had poked the bear with that question. And so, I called them back and I said, “What’s going on here in the room?” I can just tell that this is an uncomfortable question. It didn’t seem like it was that, and they said, “Well, truthfully, the other side for us is actually literally right across the street, right across the street from our church is low-income housing.” And we’ve been wanting them, their children to come over to be a part of our kids’ ministry. But when they’ve come over in the past, the room is a little bit messier and a couple of things have gone missing and so the other side for us is figuring out how to actually love and not be judgmental and actually walk out what we say we’re wanting to walk out in our mission statement of our church, when it’s going to be a little bit messy. That’s the other side.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I mean, that’s a fascinating question. So, do you incorporate some of the questions and thinking in this book Dare to Answer, at least back with Inventure in your wider leadership development? I could see you, you could be easily asking, so in your life and your company, what’s the other side for you? I can easily see you using that question in a broader context. Did you do that in a sense, try to weave in some of the thinking?

 

John Busacker:

Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to work actually primarily in, I‘ll call it the secular environment with large organizations, global organizations in leadership development, not primarily in churches or faith communities. And the truths embedded in those questions for example, transcend just working with a church staff or in faith community. They certainly fit working with a medical device company of organization, leaders there, trying to figure out how to go into a new and global environment for example. What are you afraid of? What’s the other side in that?

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And one of the things I love about that question and in the context of our series right now, second act significance, is that’s a very pivotal question. If you’re pondering moving from your first act in life to a new act in life to a second act in life, there’s a lot of unknowns between the first act and the second act. There’s a lot of unknowns about, okay, my heart feels like it really wants to do this. I feel like I’m really called to do this even if there’s no crucible involved, even if you’re very successful in what that first act is. Yet there’s this idea that pursuing your heart pursuing your life’s calling that you feel, that can come with a lot of what am I so afraid of? Can’t it?

 

John Busacker:

Yes. Yeah. So, Richard Rohr is an author that I like to read quite a bit. He’s a Franciscan priest, and he talks quite a bit about liminal space, so the Latin word limin is threshold, where you’re standing on the threshold and you know something is ending or something should be ending or wants to end. But what’s next hasn’t yet begun. And so, you’re in this liminal space just betwixt, in between space which is uncomfortable. It’s a time of questions more than answers, it’s a time where you will have this smoldering discontent where you know that it’s probably time to move on to something new or but you’re in between and what’s next isn’t isn’t clear. And so, and yet my own life experience, I think that of many people is that that liminal space, if we’re paying attention and if we’re patient, is actually where some of the greatest learning occurs.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

That’s a fascinating statement. Why is that? Why do you feel like maybe based on your own experience? Why is that liminal space, some of the most valuable space?

 

John Busacker:

Because we’re forced often to let go of the illusion of certainty. Like, we thought we had the answer, we thought we knew, we thought, we were so certain about this. And that’s like, oops, it actually isn’t that, okay. And so, in my own experiences of making career changes, for example, or different life experiences, things that I thought I was clear about, maybe I was at the time, but they became less clear in that space. And then I grew into a new understanding, a new learning. And hopefully, I say this with a certain amount of trepidation, hopefully that continues, right? Even though again, that in between space is uncomfortable.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So really, this foretells, I think your own liminal experience it’s coming up. But before we get there, because you have almost a story in books. I think in 2013, you wrote this fascinating book, Do Less, Be More, which I don’t know whether you look at that book with some irony, given what happened after that. Maybe God has a sense of humor but before we just tease the listeners why is that ironic? Well, you’ll hear pretty soon. But tell us a bit about what made you write that book and just some of the key thoughts.

 

John Busacker:

I was still in financial services at the time, it was this body of work that I’ve created called Life Based Financial Planning. And what it was really was, the work that I did with clients codified into a set of tools to help them look at the emotional side of financial planning. It had nothing to do with retirement calculators or that kind of stuff, it actually asked about your values and about your purpose and your dreams, and who gives you wisdom. And there were six different discrete tools, and so, actually the book Do Less, Be More is a print version of a lot of the thought that went into creating those tools to help people be clear on what matters most of them. And to what are they called and what are their core values and who is their sounding board? And each one of those is a chapter and those all come from the tools that I created to work with financial service clients.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I mean, I love some of the questions that you have if what I understand in the book, what is it you feel called to do? What are the core values that you want to live out? How do you know if you’re in or out of alignment with those values? And what is the vision for your life and your work? I mean, most people, a lot of people in the business world are very driven, but they don’t think or reflect, “Hey, that I can get a good career as an accountant but I don’t know that I really love accounting but it pays the bills and off I go.” It’s all very practical, parents tended to be all about the practical, get a job, be sensible, pay the mortgage, pay the bills, support the family, forget about this whole vision, calling stuff so.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And listener, I want to make sure the listener heard what Warwick just said when he read the questions from John’s book. Because if you’ve listened to this podcast, even three times, you’ve heard the exact words come out of Warwick’s mouth, talking about the importance of being called to something. What are you called to? What are your core values? How do you know if you’re in alignment with those values? And then what’s your vision for your life? Those are building blocks of crucible leadership, building blocks of a life of significance. And it’s one of my supreme joys as co-host of this show, is to have two guests, or to have a guest and the host who have different stories.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Last time I checked John in your bio, you did not lose $2.25 billion in a failed takeover of your family media dynasty, but-

 

John Busacker:

Not yet.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Even though their details are different, the emotions that undergird them, not just the emotions of what it feels like in the pain, but in the bouncing back and the moving forward and achieving that life of significance are so, so similar. So, listener, circumstances can be different, emotions are the same focus on those as you listen to these conversations.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, it’s so well said it’s funny as you’re talking about that Gary, I think, with in executive coaching as I mentioned, I’m an International Coach, Federation certified coach, I would talk about values. And I would sometimes ask my clients this question. So, tell me what your core values are? And I’d explain them and they’d say, “So, to what degree are you living in alignment with those values?” And sometimes they’d say, “Well, not much.” So, as an executive coach, where I’m not here to impose my beliefs on the client, I’d say, “So, would you prefer to change your core values to bring them in alignment with how you live, or change how you live, to bring them in alignment with your core values?”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

As a coach, I don’t really care which one you pick, well, how many sane people are going to say, “Oh, that’s a good point, I need to change my core values to make sure I’m living in alignment with them.” Just sort of go backwards, that would be like, you’d need a psychologist or psychiatrist to help you there. But that’s a fascinating question. So, how did you find clients and those you talk to respond to these questions in a world where it’s so hectic and busy, we don’t think about calling or values and living in alignment with them. These are questions that may make sense to us but for many people these are radical, I think I barely understand the question and I don’t want to answer them because I’m afraid of the answers. And you’re talking about this whole liminal storm stuff, and I’d rather ignore it, I’d rather keep going and close my eyes so, no more questions, John. How did you find people, how did they deal with this liminal space when you ask these really penetrating questions?

 

John Busacker:

It was interesting. So initially, the audience for what was behind the writing of that book, were financial advisors. To equip them to ask those sort of questions of their clients when they were preparing financial plans. And so, they weren’t merely asking their clients, how much money do you want to have when you retire and when do you want to retire? The question became, what is retirement? If you’re living in alignment with your values, it’s not so much a mathematical equation to be solved. It’s a life to be lived, where money is the part of the fuel that fuels the life that you actually want to live. And I found that initially, not very many financial advisors wanted to have that conversation with their client.

 

John Busacker:

And in fact, most of them didn’t want to have it with themselves, because they were afraid that they would get down a dark alley with their client that they wouldn’t be able to extricate themselves from. They were afraid that they would ask a question that they actually hadn’t pondered themselves, or that the client didn’t know the answer to. And that would be and that would be frightening, when they were setting themselves up as the expert with the answers in their financial plan. That has shifted some with time with financial advice, for example, as it has become more of a commodity. In order for advisors to really create relationships that are sticky with their clients they need to provide more than just numbers.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, I can imagine. You ask those sorts of questions, some clients going like, “I came to you for financial plan, not spiritual advice, what the heck are you doing?” There’s that fear, so let’s fast forward because life was going great, it would seem you’re doing well and leadership development, you’re writing these books. And it would seem like everything’s pretty rosy. But then you hit a patch, I think about five years ago, in which in seven months, you went through a whole stack of tragedies. So, just talk about those seven months and how that was a crucible, if not pivot point in your life, even though it seemed like life was going pretty well.

 

John Busacker:

Life was going well. Carol and I, I lost all three of our remaining parents, as well as several close friends, as well as a sister-in-law in seven months, in 2017. So, we went from having three parents, two of whom were seemingly healthy. Carol’s, my mother-in-law had Parkinson’s and so she was unhealthy. But my father and my mother were both seemingly healthy, pretty healthy, older adults 89 years old, each of them, both of them. And all three of our remaining parents passed away. My mother-in-law and my father two weeks apart, in February of 2017. And then seven months later, my mom passed, she was the seventh of the seventh person in that span to pass.

 

John Busacker:

And so, it was a time not just during those seven months, but for a pretty significant period of time following that of really deep grief. And grief is not a linear process, it comes and it goes and it shows up unexpectedly, with a word or a song or a smell or an experience remembered. So, for example, every time I would travel, any significant trip I would take, I would always call my parents when I got home, to tell them that I was home. And then after my mother had passed, I found myself just instinctively picking up the phone to call her when I returned, realizing she’s not there anymore. Which just would again trigger this sense of loss, of grief.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, that makes sense. I know obviously, a lot of our listeners, sadly have gone through grief, whether it’s losing a loved one or other tragedies. But it seems like there was almost a crystallization of this grief if you will, in a car trip. So, talk about that car trip that was, I don’t know if that’s a liminal event, it was certainly a big event, it would seem like in your life. So, talk about that car trip and the significance of it.

 

John Busacker:

The experience that you’re referring to is, so my mother passed away on November 1st of 2017 and in December, I was driving home from a series of appointments in downtown Minneapolis. I felt like I had been processing all of this well. Carol and I were having really wonderful conversations with each other, some of the best conversations in our married life about the next stage of our own life together. And we felt like we had, we didn’t just feel we did finish well with our parents, which was our mantra when they were ill and passing. We wanted to finish well with them to not leave unsaid things that we wanted to say, to not say anything in anger or bitterness or impatience at the end of their life that we’d regret after they passed. And so, we’d finished well with them.

 

John Busacker:

So, I had had these series of business appointments, they had gone really well, I was optimistic about a new business relationship that was just forming. I was just about two miles from our house late afternoon, when all of a sudden, I felt this visceral pressure in my chest, like an anvil setting on my chest and I started to sweat. And I could just feel my blood pressure rising, I thought I was having a heart attack. And so, I did what any normal person would do, I pull them to the local food store, because they have a free blood pressure cuff in the lobby, I thought I should probably check this out. And so, I took my blood pressure and sure enough it was off the charts, I rang the bell, in the local Cub Foods.

 

John Busacker:

So, when I got home, I walked in and asked as casually as I could of Carol, who was a cardiac intensive care nurse by background. I said, “How late do you think our doctor’s office is open?” She of course, knowing that that was not a casual question said, “What’s going on?” I told her. Within minutes, we were on our way to the emergency room. Turns out, there was nothing wrong with my heart, I was not having a heart attack, there was nothing structurally going on. It was an unusual occurrence but what was happening was that the grief that was inside was finding its way out. Our bodies don’t lie and so even though I thought that I was processing this, talking about this, there was a lot of things inside that had just found its way out right into the center of my chest and was causing me to gasp, literally to gasp for breath.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So, it’s like you weren’t really having a heart attack, you’re having a grief attack if you will? So, obviously, you’re a very smart person. You thought you were processing it, so it wasn’t like it seems that you were ignoring it. Some people would just say that, “I don’t have time to grief, I got to push through it, I’ve got people to help, people depending on me, let’s keep going a million miles an hour.” Were you trying to process it or as you look back, where there things that you weren’t doing that you should have been doing? Or was it just one of those things where at some point that just hits you, even though you try to do everything right? So, talk a bit about what happened, any lessons learned, or?

 

John Busacker:

I think it was the latter Warwick, I think that we’d had a lot of conversations, I had not sought out a therapist or a grief counselor but I had many conversations with Carol and with some close friends about this. I was in conversation fairly regularly, I’ve one sibling, an older brother and we have talked about how we had finished with our parents. But I think it was a cumulative effect of that many relationships in that short of a period of time. Some of them unexpected, so 89-year-old parents, we knew that they were out of warranty at that point. So, it wasn’t completely unexpected even though it was quick, it wasn’t completely unexpected.

 

John Busacker:

But to lose a 64-year-old friend early on in that stream of deaths who had a headache, he was an executive pastor of a church here in town. Had a headache at work, went home, laid down on the couch had a massive brain aneurysm and was gone like that, that was stunning. And so, there were some of those experiences intermixed with so I think just the cumulative effect of all of that just finally came out.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But it seems like after those experiences it caused you to take a shift in your life. You were doing well with family, wife, leadership development, you were probably faithful churchgoer, you were doing good in the world. People would say, “Boy I love what John does, he’s really making a difference.” Everything seemed like it was going well. But yet this caused you to make a shift. Why did this cause you to make a shift, because it’s not obvious that you are on the wrong track. Some people are just like, “Oh, John was on a wrong track,” but it seemed like you’re on the right track. So, why did this cause you to shift?

 

John Busacker:

Well, two things happened, all of that happened which cause me and us, Carol and me to really think carefully about the next stage of our life. So, I just turned 65 a couple of weeks ago and so, we have a belief, a perspective that we’re really in a sweet spot of our life now. Carol and I are both the same age and so we’re both healthy, we’re active, we have good relationship with our adult sons, we are grandparents. We just got back from spending a couple of weeks of vacation, a portion of which was spent with our adult sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren. And we’re able to do things with them because we’re healthy and active, we’ve been blessed with good genes I guess and eat well, and exercise and all of that.

 

John Busacker:

But we know that there’s a time stamp on that, that that’s not going to be forever. And in losing those people, some of them unexpected, some of them younger than us, caused us to be very intentional about asking questions about how we’re in a sweet spot right now, how do we want to steward that well, given that God has given us the gift of healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and so forth? So, we feel a responsibility to steward that well. The other thing that happened from a business perspective is I also had a client that was a very significant client of mine with whom I had worked for many years, that had a leadership change. And shortly after that, they called me in and said, “Your services are no longer needed here.”

 

John Busacker:

And so, the grief of losing significant relationships along with losing a significant business relationship that amounted to a pretty significant portion of my income, in addition to a lot of long standing relationships, decades of relationships caused me to really examine okay, you’ve been given this, you’ve been given this wonderful gift of liminal space. What are you, what are you learning? Here? What are you going to do with it?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So, what was the answer that you felt from the Lord or wherever? What was the answer that came to you in a liminal space? What are you going to do with this time? In your mid-60s? What do you feel like you heard?

 

John Busacker:

Well, I’ve done a couple of things, I haven’t intentionally worked to recreate all of the business relationships or income that I lost with that relationship, I’ve intentionally become more discerning about with whom and how I work, I’m working less and enjoying it more.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

One of the things that you told me John, when we talked before the interview was that you don’t work with people you don’t love, trust or respect. I would think with those guardrails in place, that would tend to maybe have some people to sort of drop off by attrition, right? And never actually get in the door. I think that’s a good place to start, again, as you’re looking to do what we’re calling here second act significance, you want to live, listener the second act of your life significantly, that’s a good gateway question to ask yourself. Are you working with, are you surrounding yourself with people you love, trust and respect? That’s a good place to start, I think.

 

John Busacker:

I find that the most, as I look back at all the different organizations and leaders with whom I’ve really been fortunate to work with, the relationships that were certainly the most enjoyable and fulfilling were ones that had those characteristics. I love, trust and respected the individual leader or the organization, the mission of the organization. Where in the past, it may have been a profitable relationship in terms of financially profitable, but I can think of a number of organizations, a number of years ago with InventureGroup that we work with that it’s like and it just kind of drag yourself into the work. Because there was something that was out of alignment, something that we talked about before; our own personal bias or my values were out of alignment with leader more importantly the organizational values. And, so just wasn’t a good fit, even though it may have been a profitable, financially profitable relationship, it wasn’t enjoyable.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I want to ask you about your life work in your current book, but I’m trying to think of a polite way to say it. As listeners know I’ve written a book, Crucible Leadership Embrace Your Trials to Lead a Life of Significance. It came out last year. Sometimes you write all this stuff, and we believe in it but actually living what we believe and we write is not always easy. I’m trying to be polite because I struggle myself. I wouldn’t have written these words, if I didn’t believe in it. But you look back and say, “Well, didn’t I write a book about making sure that what we do is in alignment with our values?” Did I miss that chapter or do you look back and say, “Well, I mean, 80% of the time I lived it that way but maybe I.” Do you look back a bit and ponder a bit or smile to yourself if you know what I mean?

 

John Busacker:

Yeah, so those who can’t do, write, right? So, certainly I’m a work in process with this. I have with time gotten better, more in alignment more intentional but am I foolproof every day, am I faultless every day? Certainly not. And so, that’s where one of the things I wrote about in both, Do Less, Be More as well as in my most recent book Gasping for Breath, I talk quite a little bit about the need for community of not going at it alone. If there’s anything in the arena of leadership development that I’ve banged the drum on consistently for 26 years, it’s that the leaders that I’ve seen get themselves into trouble, that have gotten off the path that have failed sometimes colossally.

 

John Busacker:

In almost every case, that’s happened because they were alone. David goes up on the roof when the army is out fighting the battle, and he sees Bathsheba naked and he goes, “Hey, there ain’t nobody around here,” and so he was alone. And so, one of the important aspects of something that I am really dutiful and practicing is I have a small group of people that know the good, the bad, and the ugly John. Carol is one and then there’s several other people that focus on my spiritual health, my relational health, my business health, my emotional health, and asked me the tough questions and hold my toes to the coals of the commitments that I make.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, I think what you’re saying John is so important and different ones will do it in different way, whether it’s friends at church, loved ones, business folks, sometimes it’s one group, sometimes it’s a series of groups. Sometimes our loved ones won’t understand all the ins and outs of our business world and so, there might be different folks with different expertise. But it’s so important, your life isn’t meant to be lived alone, because no matter how smart you are, we can be blind to our own faults, failings, fears, which can get in the way of smart people thinking clearly. As people move from my story, when I lost this $2.25 billion dollar takeover at age 26, I had an Oxford undergrad degree and a grad degree from Harvard Business School. In theory, I was meant to be somewhat intelligent but I made colossally bad assumptions, because of emotions and all the other things.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So, as we kind of begin to wrap up, just tell us a bit about Life Worth and the heart behind your latest book, Gasping for Breath: Inviting God’s Spirit Into Your Overwhelmed Life. Just talk a bit about what’s the core purpose, what’s your heart behind the book and your mission if you will with Life Worth?

 

John Busacker:

So, 10 years ago, I was asked whether I’d be willing to coach the senior pastor of the church that we were attending, his name is Dave, David Johnson. And when I was asked, I said, “I don’t know because I don’t know him. I just knew him at the time as the man who stood up in front of the church, waving his arms wildly and talking too fast for me.” Brilliant, brilliant teacher, terrific theologian but I said, coaching, as you know Warwick is a relational thing. There has to be a trusting sort of bond and I didn’t know him. And so, I said, let me meet him first for a cup of coffee and see whether there’s any connection.

 

John Busacker:

We met, and within 10 minutes, I knew I didn’t want to coach him. I knew I wanted to be his friend, because there was almost this immediate brother from a different mother sort of experience. We were laughing and joking within 10 minutes and I knew this is a guy that I’d like to actually have as a friend and he has become a dear friend. Well fast forward, he retired now, two years ago, almost three years ago, two and a half years ago, and shortly after he retired, he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. So, idiopathic, no known cause or cure, pulmonary lungs fibrosis, a hardening or scarring of the lungs. The way that a person passes away from IPF idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is they suffocate. It’s a terrible disease and he was diagnosed with it given two to five years to live at the time.

 

John Busacker:

And so, I woke up shortly after that, after he had told me of his diagnosis, with a vision. And I don’t use that word lightly and I’ve not often had that experience. But I woke up with a vision to co-author a book with him titled Gasping for Breath. But what was in my mind, and in the vision that I had was based on his physical circumstances. But what we quickly came to is that actually, it is a metaphor for, he didn’t want to write about his physical circumstances as much as he wanted to write about how does a person finish well? And by finishing well, I mean, how do you stay strong in the faith? How do you end without being bitter? How do you finish well relationally with the most important people in your life? And so, we set about on November of 2019 to begin to write that book, and then March the following year COVID happened.

 

John Busacker:

We had no idea how prophetic it would be to write about a book on breathing, using that metaphor, when all of a sudden, the whole world is having a global epidemic and the focus of everybody worldwide is a shortness of breath. So, it’s been really remarkable, I think, the way that we both redeemed the time during COVID because all of a sudden, I found myself without nearly as much work and no travel. I mean, before I was on a first name basis at the Delta Sky Club and all of a sudden, I was home in my pajamas in my basement on Zoom with people. And so, we redeemed the time, we wrote the book in a little bit under a year during COVID and had almost daily FaceTime conversations with each other, which has been a tremendous experience to walk alongside my friend as his health has deteriorated during that time.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Wow, so Gasping for Breath obviously, it has this and I didn’t realize this other meaning and the physical side, but then there’s a spiritual. Talk about how both for people of faith and people in general, why is it important to gasp for breath? Why is it important, obviously, for people of faith to invite God’s Spirit into their lives? Because, as we said earlier, a lot of people they’re working very hard, or they’re stressed-out, there’s a lot of things to be stressed out these days in the world. Whether it’s the war on Ukraine, or is COVID going to come back, the economy supply chain. Personal life, business life, there’s almost endless lists of things that would make us hyperventilate, if you will, which is not what God wants us to do.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But talk about why some of these concepts are so important for the stressed, harried, overworked person that says look, “I don’t have time to think. I’m scared, I’m afraid I’m working 24 hours a day, I don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet. And I don’t know how I’m going to even get up in the morning.” Talk about why some of these concepts are important, especially in the world we live in.

 

John Busacker:

So, I would say that the meat of the book kind of the arc of the book first of all, is from first breath to last breath. So, we talk in the first chapter about first breath and the last chapter, Dave wrote the lion’s share of the last chapter, which is last breath. Talking about, his death is, none of us gets out of here alive, but his death is perhaps more imminent than some because of his disease. And so, but the meat of the book, is the chapter that we found the hardest to write. It took us the longest to write and a lot of back and forth and spirited dialogue. And by spirited, I mean argumentative dialogue between Dave and me is on a series of practices. Because his story that he unpacked, some in the book, is 12 years into his ministry, when everything seemingly was going really well, they had become kind of that church that people were traveling to in the United States. It had gone from a couple hundred people to 5,000 in a very short period of time, it was just rocking.

 

John Busacker:

And they were the church of what’s happening now. And so, but he hit the wall, he could not sustain himself in that and so, he realized that he needed to adopt some different practices in order to remain healthy and be able to breathe fully, metaphorically, himself. And my experience of losing the group of people, same experience. We needed to adopt some practices, so we talk about several practices, whether you’re a person of faith or not, silence, like just we have no difficulty convincing anybody right now that we live in a noisy world. Like the noise is just nonstop. The news is always shouting all around us, we’re never in an environment where there isn’t ambient noise. I can’t go to a restaurant that doesn’t have big screen TVs anymore.

 

John Busacker:

So, we live in a noisy world so silence, solitude, prayer, or reflection, Sabbath, just taking time where you take your hand off the wheel for at least a short period of time. And reverent wonder, being attentive to the beauty that’s all around us, if you’re a person of faith, the beauty is God’s creation. And so, just being attentive to wow, Carol and I are fortunate to live on a lake in Minnesota. And so, we look out at this lake and the view is never ever the same every day. It’s different every day, the sun on the water, the setting of the sun, the ripple on the water, the ice currently on the water. Whether it’s overcast or sunny, partly cloudy, it’s different every day. So, actually realizing that and being grateful for that, having a sense of gratitude to be able to see and take that in is a practice, which then allows us to take a breath.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That sound that that you just heard listener wasn’t just John taking a breath. It was the captain turning on the fasten seatbelt sign indicating that we have begun our descent of the plane to end this conversation but we’re not there yet. And one of the reasons that we’re not there yet, is I’d be remiss John, if I didn’t give you the chance to let listeners know how they can find out more about you how they can find out more about Life Worth and how they can get your book and your books. How might they do that? How might they find you online?

 

John Busacker:

Well, you can go to my website which is simply johnbusacker.com. So J-O-H-N-B-U-S-A-C-K-E-R.com, johnbusaker.com. There is a separate site for gaspingforbreath, that’s gaspingforbreathbook, for is spelled out F-O-R book.com, gaspingforbreathbook.com. So, there’s some resources on that site. The John Busacker site has all four of the books that you’ve referenced today that are on there.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

All right, Warwick the last couple of questions are yours.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, John thank you. I love the concepts you’re talking about silence, Sabbath rest and reverent wonder. We live in this harried world, we’re just being silent whether it’s prayer, meditation, a walk in nature, taking time off. I’m from Australia, where Australians actually do know how to take time off. No offense, I’ve lived in America for 30 or more years. So, it’s a bit of a skill that can be challenge in the culture here, but just take taking real time off, unplugging. And then just being grateful, it’s so easy to be ungrateful or complain. Just what are the things I’m grateful for? It’s hard to be in a bad mood if you go through a list of things, you’re thankful for. Whether it’s just the wonders of nature, friends that you love them. I’ve been married over 30 years, so grateful as you are with your wife, I’m sure I’m just incredibly grateful to what the Lord brought into my life.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So, for those who might be listening, that might be pretty stressed and maybe angry, bitter, how would you crystallize all that into a message of hope to people that may feel like, I don’t know if I’m in a liminal space, or just at the bottom of a fiery pit, but I’m in somewhere, I’m somewhere that’s really unpleasant. What would be a message of hope that you would offer folks?

 

John Busacker:

As an afterthought, honestly, with the book Gasping for Breath, we wrote an epilogue to the book. It is a short section from Mark chapter 4 in Scripture, and it was amazingly Dave had been a pastor for 42 years and it was something that in 42 years he’d never preached on and it’s a story that I had never paid attention to. So, there’s two stories in Mark 4 of the sower with seed. The first one I’d heard countless times, the sower throws out the seed, it lands on four different kinds of soil and only in one doesn’t really grow and flourish. There’s a second story that goes like this, the kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed uponthe soil, and then he goes to bed at night and falls asleep.

 

John Busacker:

So, in Scripture, almost always when it refers to falling asleep is referring to dying. It’s like asleep or awake, but in this case that’s not the case. It’s just the essence of the story is this person just does what this person does. He just throws out the seed, and then he goes about it, he falls asleep. But here’s the punchline, when he gets up the next day, he discovers the seed had sprouted and grown, but how he himself did not know. And so, for me, and for us in writing the book and for you, if you’re watching listening to this podcast, the word of hope is to do what you do, actually. So, to change your child’s diapers today, to go about your work a day work today, to just pay attention to the person next to you today. To just to do what you do, and in essence, fall asleep, just let it go, to just throw it out there and to let it go.

 

John Busacker:

Because the work of having that flourish is not on you, it’s actually on God. The seed sprouts and grows but in this story, this parable, this guy has no idea how and in fact he didn’t make the seed grow. And so, in my own life and in my own work, I’ve just been trying more and more, to just do what I do and then let go of the illusion of control or even in some cases of influence. But just do my very best and then to let it go, and trusting that God is faithful and that it will flourish. In many cases, I may not even see that in my own lifetime but it will.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I’ve been in the communications business long enough to know a couple things. One, when the last word on a subject has been spoken, and John Busacker has just spoken it, but I’ve also been in the communications business long enough to know that the best thing about rules is you can break them. I said that was the last word I’m going to get John to say one more word because I want to frame this up for listeners with a short response from John. We’ve talked about some acts in your life and you are in we’re calling it second act significance. It could be fourth or fifth act, but you’re in a new act from where you were, after your heart attack scare that wasn’t a heart attack, the grief that you went through. Do you believe that the act you’re in now, do you feel a true life of significance, a sense of significance in what you’re doing now with that health that you’ve been given, with that opportunity that you’ve been given?

 

John Busacker:

Yes, without question, I feel a sense of calling. So, root word there vocare, to give voice, I feel like I have the opportunity right now in a number of different facets with writing with speaking with having the opportunity to have this conversation. Trusting that it’ll go to where it is meant to go and people that are meant to hear it will hear it. A sense of calling a vocare of giving voice to the gifts that God has graciously given me in the time that He’s graciously given me and the passion for the things that I’m passionate about right now. I feel called to that so the things that I’m up to right now aren’t a job. I’m not doing it for the sake of just earning a buck. In fact, I’m doing more and more that doesn’t earn a buck, but have a sense of vocare with a vocation.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Well with that the plane is on the ground or since John and I both live on lakes, perhaps the plane has landed, a sea plane has landed on the water. But all that to say, listener our time together this week is over you have spent time with us again as part of our series second act significance. Until the next time we’re together, please remember and there’s still a couple more episodes in second act significance. So, stay following the show and learning more about how you can find a true-life significance that as John just described in another act and that you don’t have to be afraid of it.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

You don’t have to be afraid of pursuing that. We do know as well here at Crucible Leadership that your crucible experiences can be painful, they are often painful, they knock you off your feet, they knocked the wind out of your lungs. But here’s the good news, they’re not the end of your story in fact, if you learn the lessons of them, if you approach them as this didn’t happen to me, it happened for me. The story that you can live after that, the story can be the best story of your life the best chapter in the next story of your life because where it leads is to a life of significance.