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SECOND-ACT SIGNIFICANCE VIII: Chris Schembra #117

Warwick Fairfax

May 25, 2022

Chris Schembra returned home to New York City in 2015 after producing a successful Broadway show in Italy, only to find himself feeling insecure, lonely, disconnected and unfulfilled. His antidote for that crucible?  Food and friendship. What began as a simple gathering of a few friends to eat and share stories once a week became the 7:47 Gratitude Experience – named after the start time of each dinner — which has sparked 500,000 relationships and helped some of the nation’s top companies create cultures of gratitude among their teams.

 

At the height of that impact, though, Schembra — by then known as USA Today’s Gratitude Guru — hit another crucible: one whose complex emotions he’s had to battle through to embark on a third act of significance.

 

To learn more about Chris Schembra, visit www.747club.org

Highlights

  • The crucibles of his college years (3:08)
  • Making his mark in theater production (5:06)
  • Deciding to pursue his own dream — not just helping others achieve theirs (11:25)
  • The beginnings of the 7:47 dinners (14:16)
  • The importance of inviting people from different ZIP codes in life to his dinners  (18:37)
  • How his loneliness and insecurities led to his second act  (25:52)
  • The question around which the dinners are structured (28:03)
  • The grateful processing of unpleasant memories  (32:53)
  • The crucible of his second act feeling like a J-O-B  (36:03)
  • Injuring himself and the emotional healing that followed (39:52)
  • How second-act significance can come with its own crucibles (42:32)
  • Focusing on bringing more joy to others (49:43)
  • Chris’ greater sense of peace in his third act (54:31)

Transcript

Warwick Fairfax:

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

 

Chris Schembra:

My dinner table became a way of me giving back. For the very first year, July 15th, 2015 to July 15th, 2016, we hosted a dinner party every week once a week for free in our home. It was our way of building community, but it was also a way of giving back. We would meet people on the subway, young kids who didn’t have a place to go that night other than eat in their college dorm and they’d come over for dinner and they’d tell these amazing stories.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

They didn’t just tell amazing stories, they developed amazing relationships and helped this week’s guest, Chris Schembra, build an amazing movement, all based on gratitude.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Hi. I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. In this episode of our series, Second Act Significance, Schembra explains how when he returned home to New York after producing a successful Broadway show in Italy, he found himself feeling insecure, lonely, disconnected, and unfulfilled. His antidote for that crucible, food and friendship. What began as just gathering a few friends together to eat and share stories once a week became the 7:47 gratitude experience, named after the start time of each dinner, which has sparked 500,000 relationships and helped some of the nation’s top companies create cultures of gratitude among their teams. At the height of that impact, though, Schembra hit another crucible, one whose complex emotions he’s had to battle through to embark on a third act of significance.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Before we get into what you do now, one of the things we love doing on Beyond the Crucible is get a bit of the origin story. I mean, you obviously have a love of food and a love of theater. What are some of the origin stories that makes Chris Schembra Chris Schembra? Just some of the themes in your family, parents, grandparents, some of the elements that get to form who you are and what you love.

 

Chris Schembra:

We had a tight-knit family. We were lovers of life. We were, hopefully, honest people filled with integrity. Most of us have achieved luckily a tremendous amount of success in whatever our craft became. I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Beaufort County. I had a shrimp boat. I was a boat captain. I was a kayak tour guide. Every day after school, I’d walk the beach with my dad and I’d meet all the tourists girls so he could talk to the parents and sell them a home. We had a good thing going. I had a great academic career and athletic achievements, philanthropic endeavors, but one day, I went away to college, got the opportunity to reinvent myself for the first time ever, and it didn’t go so good.

 

Chris Schembra:

I turned to drink and drugs and crashing cars and spending obscene amounts of money and doing all the things one shouldn’t do as a young individual. So I was shipped off to rehab at the age of 20 after my sophomore year in college, and I spent a lot of time away. I was in rehab for about 11 and a half months and left rehab, moved back to my home town, started taking tourists on these big adventures around our island via kayak, paddleboard, and boats. Eventually moved down to live on a glacier at the southern tip of the world down in Patagonia, Chile, and then made it back to Hilton Head, outgrew the island, started a few companies, made my way to New York city with $8,000, no job, no college degree, a criminal record, living on my buddy’s couch in Brooklyn, and somehow made it work. So that’s the long and short of it.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I want to transition here. So you became a successful theater producer, and I think you did some stuff with your buddy, Tony Lo Bianco. So talk a bit about your theater time. You went to Italy. I love that whole phrase, dolce vita, which is you would understand more than I do. I don’t know if it’s the good life, the sweet life. I mean, I think in the ’60s they did all these dolce vita movies. It was massive. So talk a bit about the whole-

 

Chris Schembra:

Spaghetti Western, all those-

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, that, too.

 

Chris Schembra:

Well, that’s when Rome was the place to be. You had Gianni Bozzacchi, and Gina Lollobrigida, and Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton. They were in Rome seemed like every day, Sophia Loren, Tony Lo Bianco. Anyways, I met Tony. I moved to New York City with, as I said, no job, no college degree, one suitcase, living on my buddy’s couch in Brooklyn, $8,000 in my pocket. I started roaming around the streets of New York City. I figured I’d figure something out at some point.

 

Chris Schembra:

I called up my dad. I said, “Dad, I want to be an actor.”

 

Chris Schembra:

Dad was like, “All right. I don’t know what that means, but here, talk to my friend Tony. He’ll help you out. He’ll let you ask him some questions about the business.” Tony had come to a charity dinner that my dad had started in honor of the late Thurman Munson, the late great Yankees captain catcher.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yankees catcher.

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. When Thurman Munson passed away in August 2nd, 1979, a bunch of Thurman’s teammates and his wife, Diana, and my dad got together and started a dinner raising money for some wonderful organizations. He’s met a lot of good people through that dinner through the years. They interview all the top folks in the New York world of sports and entertainment, et cetera. Well, this actor guy, Tony Lo Bianco, kept coming to the dinners. So Tony gave me his phone number.

 

Chris Schembra:

It’s funny. I was supposed to go up and meet him on Friday, September 28th, 2011, and I almost didn’t make it. See, I’m a man of my word. Now, don’t get me wrong, but as I was biking through the city on my friend Julian’s single-speed bike, all sweaty and everything, fresh off the boat from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, I rolled into a store at 14th Street and 6th Avenue called Urban Outfitters, and for those listeners who are listening to this, Urban Outfitters is quite a swell and swaggy joint, a lot of really popular clothing and furniture, et cetera, and I walked in with my pink polo and my rainbow sandals and my khaki shorts.

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “Hey, I’d like to apply for a job.”

 

Chris Schembra:

They said, “Well, there’s an onboarding training going on right now. Do you want to step into the onboarding training to see if you like it?”

 

Chris Schembra:

I’m sitting there and it’s eight to 10 people around me and everybody’s looking popular as hell and I’ve got my double pink popped collar. All of a sudden, I see there was a door right here and it had a little glass insert and I saw a woman essentially just poke her head in, opened up the door and hold a piece of paper and asked for me to come out. She gave me my resume back and said, “I think you’re a little too overqualified. I wish you all the best of luck. Find your search elsewhere.” She fired me before I could even attempt to apply.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Jeez!

 

Chris Schembra:

If I had gotten the job there, I wouldn’t have made it up to Tony’s. I was on my way to Tony’s. So anyways, we met Tony. We talked for eight hours just about life. I mean, he asked me about my tattoos. He asked me about my rehab. He asked me about my depression, my insecurities, my stage fright, whatever. The first thing he did was he gave me a rock and he said, “Look,” not this rock, but this isn’t even a rock, but he said, “Look at this rock. How do you think this rock got to my apartment? How old do you think this rock is? What do you think this rock has seen in its life? Where do you think it’s traveled? Where do you think it’s been? What do you think it’s made out of?” A lot of these curious questions, those kind of things.

 

Chris Schembra:

By the end of it, he said, “What are you doing for money?”

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “Nothing.”

 

Chris Schembra:

He said, “What are you doing next week?”

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “Nothing.”

 

Chris Schembra:

He said, “Why don’t you come hang out?”

 

Chris Schembra:

So we just started hanging out. I started cleaning out his drawers and driving him to charity galas and calling people in his phone book to get their email addresses, and all of a sudden, five years had gone by and we ended up doing a lot of really neat things together. We would spend probably 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, five years straight. You get to know someone pretty damn well. We had, still have, a lot of love, a lot of empathy, a lot of wisdom. He taught me how to walk, talk, negotiate, and think like a Brooklyn, New Yorker. I learned the language of life from that man. I was raised a Schembra, but I was molded for five years how to get what I want from the most powerful people on earth. I learned it from him.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

It’s interesting to note, Chris, that Tony Lo Bianco and you are not the same age or even in the same generation, right?

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah, for all the listeners. Yeah.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yeah. I mean, for people who don’t know who Tony Lo Bianco, one of his first movies was the French Connection in 1971. He starred as a mob boss with Stallone in the ’70s in a movie called Fist. So he’s somewhat older than you. So that relationship is unique in that sense, right?

 

Chris Schembra:

He was 74. I was 24. He had never had a son. I was in the market for a new best friend and second father. Boy, we met some really neat people through the years. We put on some really neat productions. We had some great fights. We had some great arguments. We were in competition every night to see who could get the most business cards. I was the token young kid who would go dance with all his friends’ wives at the charity galas every night because his friends were just occupied by Tony. It was an amazing relationship.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So you did theater productions, you went to Italy and produced some plays there. That must have been fun. I mean, that must have been a lot.

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah, that was amazing. What happened was we were going over to Italy to put on this one-man show we used to do about Fiorello La Guardia. Tony was the actor, director, writer, producer. I was the other producer. So my role was to just make all the pieces move. We get to Italy. I’m staying in one place. He’s staying in another place. I’ve got a driver for the week, and the driver was the father, the driver is the normal driver of the great Gianni Bozzacchi, and the driver’s daughter was the assistant of Gianni Bozzacchi.

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “Oh, how does Vanessa,” or Alessandra, I forget her name now, “how does she like working for Gianni? She’s worked there for a long time.”

 

Chris Schembra:

He said, “Well, she loves the work that they do, but at the end of the day, she’s just spending a lot of time helping someone else live out their dream.”

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “Well, that’s an interesting thing to say about your daughter.” By the way, we were speaking in Italian at the time because I made sure to become fluent in Italian so I didn’t get screwed over by the Italian unions by the time I got over there and the stage workers. So anyways, it was wonderful. I believe it was on May 17th, 2015 and it just woke me up, man. I just sat there and I was like, “My God, I love Tony, but am I just spending all day helping him live out his dream? What’s my dream?,” Right?

 

Chris Schembra:

I got back to New York City, and it really threw me for a loop. I mean, I was miserable, overwhelmed, insecure, cautious, anxious, nervous. I just broken up with a girlfriend. I was lonely as frick. Then Tony got married to Elise, which is the best thing that ever happened, but I was sitting there and I was like, “What do I do now?” I said, “How do I recreate the magic that I felt over in Italy? What was it about Italy that la dolce vita? Was it that how they walked, how they talked, how they dressed, how they honored history, how they loved art? No. It’s how they ate food, specifically. It’s how they ate food amongst community.

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “I got to do that.” So here in my kitchen in New York City, I started playing around with all these different recipes and accidentally created a pasta sauce recipe. I thought it was a decent recipe. Gary thinks it’s pretty, pretty good.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Yes. I have to say I ate it a couple days ago when my stepdaughter’s boyfriend came over for dinner and it was a huge hit with everyone. We’re buying more.

 

Chris Schembra:

Heck yeah, heck yeah. I figured I should probably feed it to people and maybe host a dinner party. So July 15th, 2015, two months after we got back from Rome, Italy, I called up my buddy Tripp Derek Barnes, and I said, “Can I use your backyard? I want to host a dinner party.” At the time, it was just 15 friends coming over for dinner at 6:30 PM. Each of them brought a bottle of wine. We worked together to create the meal. We served each other. We had great conversations, decent pasta sauce. You know what? The rest is history. It took me about six months of doing these dinners for then by December of 2015 to call up Tony and say, “You know what? We’ve had a good run. I think it’s time to part ways,” and off we went. That was it.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I mean, that’s amazing. I mean, I want listeners to hear what you’re saying is that you and Tony were having a good life doing theater, but just that one comment over in Italy is that somebody’s daughter is just helping somebody else live their dream. You never want to be that person. I mean, I in my own way can relate in that my whole family were helping my great, great grandfather, John Fairfax, live his dream. The thing about dreams is sometimes they’re wonderful dreams. Not all dreams are bad. In my case, having a newspaper that would be independent, it’s original masthead back in the 1830s, 1840s was, “May whigs call me tori, tories call me whig,” which means, “May liberals call me conservative, conservatives call me liberal.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Having an independent paper, I mean, we need that probably now more than ever when everybody goes to the left or the right, everybody’s polarized and hangs out with friends who agree with them. We need a little bit more community and diversity rather than polarizations.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So that’s a great vision, but that wasn’t my vision. I didn’t want to run a big paper. I’m more a reflective advisor, writer. So all that to say is I’m sure Tony’s vision, what he does is not wrong. It’s great, but as Chris Schembra you’re thinking, “Tony’s a good guy, but what do I want to do with my life? Don’t I have a God-given right, if you will, to chart my own path?”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I think everybody listening, you can respect your parents, but respecting your parents doesn’t mean that you have to live their dreams or your friends’ dreams or your teacher’s or your mentor’s. So I think that’s so important. So here you love la dolce vita, and part of the 10 in life, you love food, but yet, as you’re thinking about the whole sense of community, I mean, as you look back, do you feel like that was part of living the Schembra heritage, family, charitable works? Maybe you did it knowingly, but that’s part of being what it means to be a Schembra, right? Just that sense of community.

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. It’s great point. I’ll often credit that I learned how to cook Italian food and I learned how to host a dinner party from Tony that I had watched. He fed presidents, kings, queens, politicians, actors for all the five years we were together. He served the biggest people in the world around his dinner table. They would squeeze into his massive upper West side apartment by the dozens just to line up to eat his food and sit on an armchair. It was the greatest thing in the world. They would pay tens of thousands of dollars at charity auction to come eat at his dinner table.

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “My God, there’s something to that,” but the truth is, Warwick, what you were just talking about is I learned it growing up around the Schembra family. I mean, my mom and dad threw the best dinner parties and parties you could ever imagine. People would fly in from all over the world to come to their themed parties or their Christmas this or their dinners that, and their festival trees this.

 

Chris Schembra:

My dinner table became a way of me giving back. For the very first year, July 15th, 2015 to July 15th 2016, we hosted a dinner party every week once a week for free in our home. It was our way of building community, but it was also a way of giving back. We would meet people on the subway, young kids who didn’t have a place to go that night other than eat in their college dorm and they’d come over for dinner and they’d tell these amazing stories.

 

Chris Schembra:

It was our way of building church, right? I grew up in the Catholic faith. My dad is a very God man. My buddy, Dave Lindsay, always said, “You built your church through community,” and that’s it. So it was all part of that Schembra thing.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I think one of the most interesting things about the way that you built that community is you make a point of pointing out that you invited people, and you just mentioned it, right? There was someone that you saw in a subway. You invited people from different zip codes of your life, right? You didn’t invite here’s 15 people I know or 15 couples I know who all enjoy the same movies I do or here’s … You invited people from a wide swath and that who weren’t already in community and then they built community around your table.

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. It’s interesting. There was a strategy behind that. For all the listeners, we’ll put in the show notes below, there’s a great article in the Harvard Business Review. It came out in about 2015 written by Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap titled How To Build Your Network. What they talk about, and I’ll tell the story, is it’s essentially the story of Paul Revere that gets back to this diversity of network. I have a question for the listeners and I have a question for the two of you. Do you know who the man William Dawes is?

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I do not.

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah, nobody does, nobody does, but here’s the truth. On the midnight ride of Paul Revere that we’re all familiar with, Paul Revere wasn’t alone. There were two guys, Paul Revere and William Dawes. One went one way, the other went the other way, the exact same message, “The war is coming. The British are coming.” The difference was one guy knocked on, strategically knocked on doors of people who didn’t know each other. So therefore, his message spread in a very diverse, non-incestuous message or way. The other guy accidentally knocked on doors of people who knew each other, and so his message was only spread in a very incestuous, non-diverse way. Can you guess whose strategy was which why we only know one of those guys’ names? Paul Revere, non-incestuous, super diverse.

 

Chris Schembra:

So I am a fan. See, true belonging doesn’t occur when you show up in a room full of people filled with other people who believe in the exact same things you believe in. That’s not belonging. True belonging happens when you show up in a room full of people who believe the polar opposite of what you believe in but you can authentically show up as you are.

 

Chris Schembra:

I wanted to create that space. It wasn’t a networking group. A networking group is filled with people who can serve each other. A group that we were putting together is a diverse group of people who can learn from each other. We had a simple rule. First time you come, you come alone. The second time you come, you bring a friend. After that, you’re eligible to nominate someone.

 

Chris Schembra:

So people, they had to go through me to show up and everything, but someone would show up and I’d hug them at the door, and they’d cry around my dinner table, and I’d Google them the next day and I’m like, “Holy crap! That was that guy? Yes,” and that meant the world to us is that people could just show up, not worried about who they were, and they just got put to work, doing the dishes, making the pasta, making the peanut butter, and then we all cried together all on one equal plane. It was perfect.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

What you’re sharing, Chris, is so profound because you talked earlier about the polarization. You’re bringing people who are diverse groups, I’m sure, race, gender, but they’re also diverse in their thinking and personalities and political views. You’re right. There’s a tremendous sense of belonging, a sense of unity when you get together with somebody so different than you and, “Hey, we’re all human. We all have joys and sorrows, tragedies, revelations.” When you can have unity on that basis, that’s a sense of belonging that is in this day and age is almost impossible to find. It’s this fountain of youth, nirvana, heaven, whatever you want to call. It’s this space that nobody’s ever experienced. You’re creating this incredible space, if you will.

 

Chris Schembra:

Well, you know what’s funny is that I didn’t make this shit up. This is actually what human evolution is. The original human beings, A, so I could go off on a lot of tangents, but I’m just trying to return us back to the origins of humanity, right? We’re born to be tribal. We’re born to find a common meaning and purpose of fighting against something together, right? If you look at the ancient humans, suffering was the norm. You needed to rely on each other or else you got eaten or you died. If you didn’t know how to get along, if you didn’t know how to pull your weight, you got kicked to the curb out of the tribe and you were dead within a day.

 

Chris Schembra:

Happiness or the pursuit of happiness, that’s a new invention in the grand scheme of human history, right? So when people want to put on this fake filter, they want to pretend their life is perfect, and they want to chase this happiness, and they want to hack that metaphor, do whatever they want to do with the gurus, that’s all bullshit, and that’s not when you connect with people. You don’t connect when life is perfect. You only connect down in the trenches.

 

Chris Schembra:

I mean, Sebastian Junger, the author of The Perfect Storm, War, Tribe, a friend of mine here in the New York City, he calls it trauma bonds. That’s the shit you look for, shared meaning and connection and purpose, and when you can connect in that trough, that down energy, whoa, man, lifelong bonds.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I’m sure Warwick’s going to get into this, some of the activities that took place during the dinners, but one of the things I want to make sure listeners understand here is what you’ve just described about bonding over tough times, negative experiences. You were in that place, too. You said that when you got back from Italy, got back to your small apartment in New York City, you had four emotions going on in you. You were a man who was feeling insecure, lonely, disconnected, and unfulfilled.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

So what we find all the time on the show is as you step out to serve others, live a life of significance, a life on purpose dedicated to serving others, which is what you were doing, that brought some sunshine to you as well. Helping others is the best way to help yourself, and you discovered that. You built community for yourself as you built community for others, correct?

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. I mean, it goes back to the ancient Roman, Latin, Greek definitions of happiness came in two forms. There was hedonism, which is happiness that’s derived from superficial pleasures and acquiring things and all that kind of stuff, and then there’s you eudaimonic happiness, which is the happiness that’s derived by being in the service of others, and that’s the happiness, if I want to call it if I’m chasing happiness or whatever, that’s what I want to chase is being in the service of others.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Now, what you’re saying is profoundly true. We call that second type of happiness, which is in incredible thought, just the origin of it that you described, Chris, is a life of significance because life on purpose dedicated to serving others. As Gary said, I want to get into a bit just so that all the listeners will know. Talk a bit about that methodology. You talk about, I think, it’s the 7:47 Club named after, as far as I know, at 7:47 on that day in July 15th, 2015 when the pasta’s on the pot and then 8:00 it’s served.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So you have people, whether they be rich or poor, in the kitchen chopping stuff and putting stuff in pots. They’re actually cleaning up. They’re not just being served, they’re serving, but yet, you set it up with a very intentional question that’s fascinating. What’s that question that it says that part of the secret sauce or that secret spice that makes that meal more than a meal? What’s that secret ingredient, that question that you ask people to answer and it’s part of that wonderful evening?

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. The formula for that secret sauce for human connection we always thought was the pasta sauce and we always thought that’s what they kept coming back for, and then over time I realized that this one question kept almost guaranteeing a certain depth, and it’s a very simple question that falls and Aristotle’s got something he calls the golden mean, which is the pendulum between courage and something that doesn’t require courage. This question is perfect in that It’s not too hard and it’s not too easy, and it gives people a chance to share an amazing story. We first asked the question on July 15th, 2015, then we got away from the question, and then we came back to the question, “If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to that you’ve never thought to thank, who would that be?”

 

Chris Schembra:

For all our listeners out there, I want you to think about this for a sec. I don’t give a shit what you’re grateful for. Put that out of your mind. I want you to go deep. Who have you never thought to thank? Now, what’s popping up for you? Is it a grandmother that drove you to soccer practice? Is it a third grade teacher that gave you a ukulele? Is it your wife who’s sitting next to you in the car right now? Is it an ex-bad boss? Is it a mean ex-girlfriend? Is that high school bully?

 

Chris Schembra:

See, that question elicits two different types of responses. You can either use this question to tell a story of a positive person who’s impacted your life or you can use this question to tell a story about a negative person that’s impacted your life in a positive way. Regardless of where they choose, positive or negative, the stories go deep, but the deepest is always when they choose the negative.

 

Chris Schembra:

We saw people sharing amazing stories of overcoming fear, regret, adversity, failure, trauma, whatever it may be by answering this question. We’d hear stories like, “I’d like to thank my mean ex-boss. They always told me I couldn’t do something and it made me quit that job, find a new one, and realized that something is actually my best asset. Something that once held me back in a previous role is actually the thing that will now create significance.”

 

Chris Schembra:

We heard those kind of stories, and the people came alive. So pretty soon we realized, “God, the dinner table is not the secret. This gratitude question is the secret. The concepts that surrounded gratitude as a whole were the secret, and that’s what we should focus in on.”

 

Chris Schembra:

If you looked at my life in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, all I was to people was a dinner party host. Oh, I was really good at it. I’ve helped people make tens of millions in net new revenue by entertaining their clients around the dinner table. That’s what I did, but it was so limiting, right? It was 18 to a couple hundred people at a time, and then the pandemic hit. I had just, at the time, February of 2020, just returned home from a big trip to Italy, just like in 2015.

 

Chris Schembra:

Again, I found myself lonely, unfulfilled, disconnected, insecure. I was in the middle of a raging pandemic. They took the dinner table away from me. We had to start all over again. So we pivoted to virtual, and it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to us. Adversity is a gift. It makes us stronger. It shows us what were made out of.

 

Chris Schembra:

A researcher out of Eastern Washington University, Philip Watkins, did a wonderful study of some fine folks out there and he called the study The Grateful Processing of Unpleasant Memories. He found that when bad things happen to you in life, you can do one of three things to it. You can either pretend like it never existed and just store it away in the city storehouses or, two, you could recollect that memory and talk about it or write it down and de-stigmatize the negative emotion or, three, you can do those things, you can find the positive benefit in it, you can give gratitude to it, you can make it part of your story, which literally rewires the brain. It broadens and builds the brain’s thought action repertoire that’s needed for hope, pride, optimism, self-confidence, self-efficacy.

 

Chris Schembra:

There’s something that we call the perceived benefits list. If you can look at a negative autobiographical experience from your past and you can see that it teach you empathy, family closeness, material gain life, shifting, et cetera, et cetera. If you can say yes to any one of those things, well, then there was a positive benefit. Let’s give gratitude to it. Tell that story.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Amen, and that leads to hope and healing. So I want to pivot to your most recent thoughts because all this led to your book, Gratitude and Pasta and 7:47 Gratitude Experience. You have, I think somewhere, I think I saw maybe you have 500,000 relationships or something staggering. I mean, you’re doing well, but you’re doing so much good, so much healing and bonding and diverse people of opinions getting together. It would seem like how could life possibly be any better. How could anybody be as joy-filled and happy and the good version of that word happy than Chris Schembra? I mean, Chris should be the most happiest person on the planet in that sense. Look at the good he’s doing, but yet, it seemed like there was a new crucible. So talk about where it felt like it was just a job. Talk about this most recent crucible how somehow some of the joy maybe eroded a bit. So what happened?

 

Chris Schembra:

It was ingratitude at its finest. I had all these great things going on, but as my buddy Scotty The Body once said, “I just couldn’t see the clearing through the forest.” See what would happen, Warwick, is that because my perspective was so wrong, I actually convinced myself that every piece of accolade or compliment that I would receive and, oh, by the way, they come in probably 50 a day, every accolade I received, if they only knew who I really was, they’d think I was a monster. They’d think I was the worst human on the planet.

 

Chris Schembra:

What it all stemmed down to was I just didn’t actually appreciate much, and what that felt like was I had all this great things on the outside, I was screaming, “imposter, monster” on the inside. Yeah, that wasn’t good. Somewhere along the way, 7:47 went from the time of night on July 15th, 2015 where I fell in love, where something saved my life to then it just became a brand. Then it just became a J-O-B, and the minute I turned my passion into profit, it lost its impact on me.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

One of the things I think listeners need to hear what Chris is saying because I think you’re talking a lot about, which we talk a lot about is identity. Who am I? You could get accolades from everybody. I mean, here you are making people so grateful and yet somehow you felt a fraud in your words, a monster, and you could get a thousand emails today saying, “Chris, you changed my life,” and it wouldn’t matter. It could be a million a day. It wouldn’t matter. It’s like, “Yeah, but if they only knew me. I’m a fraud and are my motives pure?” I mean, none of us are pure. We all have mixed motives. None of us are perfect, but I guess from my perspective, I’m a person of faith and from my faith framework, I’m loved because God loves me unconditionally, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. We’re all screw ups. We’re all going to do dumb things and bad things, and whether you believe in faith or some other set of values, your self-worth has to come from inside, whether it’s God, faith, values, family, you’ve got to feel like, “I am worth something because the universe, God, my family loves me and they know who I am.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I mean, obviously, if you believe in an eternal God, God knows everything that we’ve ever thought or did. Those of us who have families, I mean, your family knows who you are, people you’ve grown up with your whole life. It’s not like, “Oh, you don’t know who I am.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

They’re like, “No, Chris, we know exactly who you are, the good, the bad, the ugly.” You’re not fooling them. You’re not fooling people who know you well, but yet they love you anyway, right? So somehow we’ve got to get to a point where we can solve the identity equation, and whether you sell a million books or two, whether you go onto fantastic success or it all falls tomorrow, your identity is not wrapped up in what other people say. It’s wrapped up in the internal. That’s the big equation we’ve all got to solve. Does any of that make sense?

 

Chris Schembra:

Oh, everything. Yeah. It’s one of the coolest things that happened to me in my crucible moment. So to describe my crucible moment to the listeners, I was on a call on Thursday, December 30th, 2021. I was on a call with a client at 4:00 PM. The call was supposed to run from 4:00 to 5:00 PM. At 4:30 PM, she looked at me, Lisa Penn looked at me and said, “You don’t look so good. We should probably end this meeting. I’ve never seen you look like this. You normally have such high spirits.” I, whatever, I felt a little tired, but she’s a very intuitive person. She knew something was up. So we hung up the call.

 

Chris Schembra:

My girlfriend and I went out to dinner to celebrate buying a new home, her getting a new job. We accidentally drank too much, and I did something or said something that was misinterpreted. The intentions were misinterpreted. So it made me feel or convinced myself, “I’m a piece of shit monster. How could I end such a beautiful night by doing something so unpure?” We got home. I self-loath to the most dramatic extreme, and then I went into the kitchen, pulled out my favorite kitchen knife, and went slash. Blood everywhere. Going in for round two, she calls my mom. My mom talks me down off the ledge. We wrapped up the bandage. I get a little food in my system.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

You were slashing yourself.

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. Big old cut across the arm. You know the drill. We went to bed. We woke up the next morning. She hopped on a flight to Detroit to see her dad who had indirectly just had a heart attack a couple days prior, but she was gone for six days. I just sat in that room and cried and got to know myself, and it was phenomenal. I think that was the most important part of my crucible moment was that I didn’t even let anybody know what I had done except Sean and Leslie and Alec and John and Scott and Caitlin and Jonathan and Cass and a few other people, but I had just sat in my stuff and gotten to know me. Why did I do this?

 

Chris Schembra:

The most important part was that I found I didn’t want to kill myself. I just wanted to scream out and feel a little pain. Okay. That’s a very important to know, am I suicidal or am I non-suicidal? Luckily, I fell in the non-suicidal self-injury path and then I just got to listen and cry and feel what came out. I just avoided getting to know myself for so long. I could put things on my calendar. I could call myself busy. I could really avoid hard conversations with myself and I’d done that so successfully, but that was my reckoning.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So how did you get to know yourself? I mean, your inner soul is saying “Chris, I’m hurting, I’m frustrated, I’m angry. You need to know me. Let me out. You need to get in touch with me.” How did you get through that? How did you feel like you got to know yourself and deal with that? How did you get out of that hole, so to speak? I think you used that expression off air before, that pit. How did you get through that?

 

Chris Schembra:

A, I made it part of my story and then, B, I got really good at saying no, and I became grateful for it. I have a way of, yeah, very quickly processing, at least on paper, very quickly processing and putting a narrative around something. That moment gave me the introduction to my new book. So it was the perfect thing I needed. So then I didn’t see it as a moment of pain. I saw it as a moment of awakening and opportunity and a great gift that I could share with others.

 

Chris Schembra:

Part of getting out of my crucible moment was to say no to taking on other people’s trauma that connected with my story. I put together a video. I was on the phone with my best friend Scotty The Body, and when he said that you couldn’t see the clearing through the forest thing, you were just overwhelmed with so much opportunity, I immediately hung up and I recorded a video. This video was a 13-minute video of me telling people what I had done and some of the things that I felt why I did it. I shared it online. I don’t know, we got 58,000 followers on LinkedIn. We got tons of other people on Facebook and Instagram and email. Boy, they wrote back and a lot of them asked for my time so that they could share their story.

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “No. I love you, but no. I’ll listen to your story at some point, but I got to create space for me.” So it really involved me setting massive boundaries, and that’s the only way that I could get through my crucible moment. I mean, I read Oliver Burkeman’s book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. It’s all about clearing space and setting priorities. For the first time in a really long time, my priority became me. That was new.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, and setting boundaries. It’s like you might have team members that say, “Hey, Chris, we could go from 500,000 to a million to two million to a billion. We could do virtual things a thousand times a day. We could reach millions. We could, we could, we could,” and you’re just like, “Okay. So what? Maybe I don’t want to. Maybe there’s a limit.”

 

Chris Schembra:

So the craziest thing is I asked a friend of mine to introduce me to an executive coach. Well, she offered to introduce me to her ex-husband, who’s a wonderful executive coach. We spent the entire onboarding call, introductory call talking about numbers and scale and how many millions we could make per year and how many events and how much we could charge. By the end of it, I got so jazzed up because he’s a really good executive coach, but I got so jazzed up. That was two days before my non-suicidal self-injury. I don’t see it as an accident that I was so overwhelmed with opportunity. So many people came to me saying, “We could scale this and we could do this. We could do this,” and I was just like, “Shut up. When will I prove that I’ve done enough?”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

The answer is never.

 

Chris Schembra:

Never.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Never. I asked my team this about myself. It’s like, “Well, what does Warwick want?” We had a meeting recently and that was the very first question, “What do I want?” because I can get into this duty on a country thing, a US military thing, which I’ve never served, but it’s like I can get on the treadmill of, “Okay. This is what we need to do to build the brand and get to the next level, but what do I want?” That’s the starting point, which I think obviously you’re grappling with. So as we begin to-

 

Chris Schembra:

It’s so funny because, sorry.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Oh, please.

 

Chris Schembra:

It’s so funny because the line that, and I don’t tell the part of the Italy story about the driver and the daughter very often at all, but the line about me living out someone else’s dream. By the time I got to December 2021, I was living out other people’s dreams. I was using my greatest gifts. I was monetizing the hell out of what I do best, but I was doing it at the scale of other people’s dreams, what what other people wanted out of my talent.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That is a great point to make as we level set what we’re talking about. This is after all an episode of Beyond The Crucible baked into a series called Second Act Significance, and folks would look at your story, Chris, they’d see the book, they’d see that you went from feeling isolated and lonely to building community, to finding hope in community and they’d think, “Hey, he arrived at second act significance,” and in some ways from the outside looking in, that happened. Even from yourself, there was a period of time, I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, where you felt that you had achieved second act significance, but then it fell apart as you’ve described. What I love about this episode being the final guest episode of our series is that the second act doesn’t have to be the last act. In other words, you’re on your third act now.

 

Chris Schembra:

I’m still only 34 years old. I can’t wait to see what happens when I turn 35.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

You are on the road to third act significance right now because you’ve learned some lessons from your second act significance, right?

 

Chris Schembra:

Well, here’s the funniest thing. Here’s the funniest thing about going from second act to third act. I had the non-suicidal self-injury episode in December. I learned all the things that I needed to learn since, and here’s accidentally what happened. From a business standpoint, record profit. We tripled our prices. I get to work one-third the amount of time for even more stuff, and when I say stuff, I make money so I can give it away. We have tonned it because I just finally reconnected with my myself, but what’s even cooler is my third act significance looks like me bringing more joy into my life.

 

Chris Schembra:

Now, I had a great call in January of 2022. My girlfriend’s going out to get her toenails done or haircut done. “Get it short, honey.” I love it when it’s short and spunky. Anyways, my third act significance, I was on the call after my non-suicidal self-injury with a guy that I should probably hire as my executive coach, Kyle from Cultivate Advisors, wonderful firm.

 

Chris Schembra:

He said, “What are you going to do to bring more joy into your life in 2022?” I had my list all prepared. I was like, “Meditation, exercise, surfing, yoga, reading, ding, ding, ding.”

 

Chris Schembra:

He said, “What do all those things have in common?”

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “I don’t know. They bring me joy.”

 

Chris Schembra:

He said, “Bullshit. They’re all individual activities. What’s the stuff that saved your life?”

 

Chris Schembra:

I said, “Co-creating cool, playful moments with people.”

 

Chris Schembra:

He said, “Why isn’t that on your list? Why not? What are those things?”

 

Chris Schembra:

I said …

 

Chris Schembra:

So third act significance is a lot of me co-creating things with people, and playing around, and getting back to my roots, and playing around the dinner table, and inventing new recipes and maybe doing acting classes, I don’t know, that kind of stuff, that playful, joyful, youthful stuff.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That’s a good time for us to, I normally say on the show the captain’s turned on the fast and seat belt sign, but come on, I’m talking to a creator of food, a creator of pasta sauce, a creator of dinners that focus on pasta and author of a book called Gratitude and Pasta. So I’m just going to say the water’s boiling. We got to throw the pasta in the pot soon, but not yet.

 

Chris Schembra:

Deal.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Before we do, Chris, I would be remiss as we wind down here and get prepared for the meal as it were, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you the chance to tell listeners how they can find out more about you, about 7:47, and about your new book. When’s that coming?

 

Chris Schembra:

Yeah. The new book launches June 21st of 2022. We’ve got a wonderful, wonderful team, a wonderful launch community. So if people want to be a part of the launch community, there’s a variety of ways of getting involved. Just email me, chris@747club.org and I’ll loop in whatever part of my team I need to loop in, depending on what you’re emailing about. Look, if there was anything that I said here today that you agree with, I hope you go out and act on it. Go out there and serve others in this way, but serve them with sacrifice and significance as Warwick talks about.

 

Chris Schembra:

I got lucky is that I had a lot of people that served me throughout my life. So I was able to build a life in service of others. Now, the people listening, what often happens in the gratitude space is that people don’t go out and show their gratitude to others because of two reasons. One, we completely underestimate the impact that it’ll have on the recipient, and we completely overestimate the perceived feelings of awkwardness that it’s going to feel to give it in the first place.

 

Chris Schembra:

So when I say this, it’s that go out and give gratitude to people. Go out and be of service to people because it’s going to make them feel good and it’s going to make you feel good. You’re going to get caught up in what that looks like or how you’re going to do that, but always stay connected to the why and the intention behind the gift, the service, the connection, the community, whatever it is.

 

Chris Schembra:

Take care of yourself. It’s a lonely world out there. Seek connection with people that you’ll be able to find some genuine moments of belonging. If we can provide that, please reach out. Love to have a chat with you, but yeah, look forward to getting to know all of y’all soon. I wish I had something that I could invite you to, but I’ve just become such a B2B corporate whore, and I don’t get to host these free things for my community anymore, but certainly reach out and we’ll try to invite you for free to something that we’re doing in the upcoming moment so that you can get some good benefits of the community.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

All right, Warwick. I’ve put the pasta in the colander. We’re going to serve it up here, but you get the last question before we go eat. So take it away.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, Chris, again, thank you so much for being here. I just love your story and your journey and just your authenticity and vulnerability. It’s just really inspiring. I mean, as we close just with this third act and just this sense of is it just a job, I’m on this treadmill or bigger and bigger and bigger., and what does Chris Schembra want, do you feel like you have a greater sense of peace, a greater sense of, “Look, maybe I’m a screw up in some ways, but aren’t we all?” Do you feel like you have a greater sense of peace and maybe self-acceptance, which I don’t know that we ever get to 100% self-acceptance and peace, but do you feel like you’re making progress on the journey to say, “Look, I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to do well by doing good. You know what? I’m not perfect, but that’s okay”? Does that make some sense?

 

Chris Schembra:

I would say I have a little bit of progress, but I never don’t want to be that miserable, lonely, unfulfilled, disconnected person because the minute that I stop being that is the minute other people will stop being able to authentically connect, right? You have to be going through the emotion to reciprocate the emotion with others. So I’m grateful for my dark times. I’m grateful for my imperfections and loneliness. It’s what inspires the creativity. It’s what inspires my curiosity. It’s what drives my girlfriend crazy, but I’d rather know that as my truth than never get to know my truth or pretend like I’ve figured it out. So I don’t know how to measure progress. I just know I never want to be that person who’s got it figured out then that wouldn’t be the Schembra way.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I have been in the communications business long enough, listener, to know the last words have been spoken on the subject, and Chris Schembra just spoke them. So thank you, listeners, for spending this time with us on the final guest episode of our series, Second Act Significance, which ends with a bonus, right? Ends with Chris Schembra’s third act of significance, which I think is a great place to land the plane as I often say.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Next week, Warwick and I are going to go through all the episodes we’ve had, all eight episodes and pull out some key learnings about how to pursue and enjoy and really make the most of your second act significance. So until the next time we’re together, please remember that your crucible experiences are indeed difficult. We know that, Chris knows that, Warwick knows that, but good news, they’re not the end of your story. In fact, when you learn the lessons of them, when you recognize that they didn’t happen to you but they happened for you and you move forward, where you go when you move forward, it’s not the end of your story by far, it‘s the beginning of a new story. That can be the most rewarding story in your life because where it leads is to a life of significance.