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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Petty

024 My Top 5 Takeaways from 2020

How Conversations with My Guests Changed Me


This podcast has changed my life.

I didn’t really expect that when I set out to create it. I hoped it would change YOUR life--but changing mine came as a surprise. A most welcome surprise.

As 2020 drew to a close, I reflected on some of the lessons that have stuck with me the most from the many enlightening conversations I’ve had with my guests. That reflection revealed 5 big takeaways for me personally, and I share them with you in this episode. To do that, I dug up specific clips from some of my guests and added a little commentary to tease out the takeaway more fully. It’s a fun romp down memory lane on the one hand--and a poignant reminder of what matters most on the other.

If you’ve been tuning in regularly, then probably one or two of my takeaways is similar to one or two of yours. But you’ll have a few that are different from mine. That’s part of the magic and power of Story:

The same story penetrating two different hearts can have very different results.

If you haven’t been tuning in regularly or are tuning in for the first time, this episode is a good introduction to what this podcast is all about--a sampler to give you a taste of what the full menu is like. I hope that what you taste will keep you coming back for more.

What a Ride...

This time last year, I had a concept, title, and artwork for this podcast. What I didn’t yet have, though, was an actual podcast. Plenty of enthusiasm for it--but still no podcast. Then, with the welcome support of my podcast coaches, Tim Wohlberg and Valerie McTavish, of Podcast Performance Coach (they’re AWESOME!), and the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19--which took away about half of my usual work volume and left me with more discretionary time than usual--Andrew Petty is Dying launched at long last on April 6, 2020.

Pheww. Got over the starting line.

What a ride it’s been since then. As the COVID situation unfolded for all of us, I simultaneously (and coincidentally) began to have conversations with ordinary people like you and me who’ve had extraordinary encounters with Mortality and share those stories with you.

Serendipitous timing, to say the least.

The Inherent Value of Story

I think there’s inherent value in hearing someone else’s story. Among other things, it helps us make more sense of our own story, reminds us of the challenges that are common to all humans drawing breath on Planet Earth, and helps us feel a little less alone and maybe even a little less crazy.

We connect with another human through their story and the vulnerability it takes to share it, and that connection nourishes our souls on the deepest, most life-giving level.

In a year of tremendous DIS-connection, maybe you’ve gotten in touch with just how much human connection means to you. Or maybe you’ve connected more deeply with others than you have before. Maybe a bit of both.

Either way, when you add to the intrinsic value of hearing someone else’s story the additional gift of transferable wisdom and lessons gleaned from face-to-face encounters with Mortality-- you’ve got a recipe for profound real-world CHANGE for all of us.

That is...IF you’re willing to let someone else’s encounter with Mortality change YOUR life right now--before you have your own crisis with Mortality.

Therein lies the key. And therein lies the reason that this podcast exists.

On this show, we intentionally keep our Mortality in mind to tap into its power to motivate us to live with guts, gusto, and abandon right now--rather waiting for the “ever-elusive tomorrow.” As Aussie and cultural-bridge-building finance entrepreneur, Jono Belz, said in episode 15, too many of us live in the shadows and fail to step out into the full, bright light of our unique purpose in the world.

As I’ve said before, I think that’s tragic.

Now, without further ado, let’s get to my 5 big takeaways from 2020--taken in chronological order from earliest to most recent.

Takeaway 1: Face the Fear

Episode 6 featured author, skydiver, globetrotter, and life cycle celebrant, Lise Leroux--a remarkable woman whose mind-blowing story reads like a sadistic experiment designed by a mad scientist. She lived with a terminal diagnosis for 35 years--for that entire time expecting her demise was no more than six months away. Then, just five years ago, her story took an unbelievable turn. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t listened to her episode yet.

Jump now to 4:53 in the episode audio using the player at the top of this page to hear Lise share what those many years of suffering taught her about the importance of facing the fear.

I don’t know about you, but my knee-jerk reaction when fear shows up is to resist it, try to make it go away, or attempt to ignore it. But those efforts are like Lise’s attempts to avoid the pointy tree; they actually give the fear more power in my life. Lise’s exhortation to turn and face the fear head-on to see it for what it really is has been a tremendous boost for me this past year. And given what she had to endure to learn that lesson, there’s a ton of credibility behind it.

What fear do you need to turn and face today?

So that’s takeaway #1: Face the Fear.

Now, let’s move on to takeaway #2, which I’m calling “Embrace the Mystery.”

Takeaway 2: Embrace the Mystery

Imagine that you died and came back to life. How would it change the way you lived?

Joe Harsel, my guest on episode 011, doesn't have to imagine it. About three and a half years ago--just a day after getting a great report from his doctor at his annual well-check--Joe was walking up the sidewalk to his son’s swim meet. A friend said hi, then Joe collapsed headlong--upright and breathing one moment and prostrate with no measurable vitals the next. For the next 30 minutes, Joe was clinically dead. Then, for no known reason, he came back to life in the back of the ambulance as he was being transported. To this day, why Joe experienced sudden cardiac death and then suddenly came back to life is a huge mystery.

Jump now to 8:21 in the episode audio using the player at the top of this page to hear Joe share how the experience has taught him and his family to “embrace mystery.”

Wow. I do NOT like this kind of mystery in life--not at face value, anyway. I want certainty, clear cause and effect. In Joe’s case, his heart was in better shape than ever according to medical science’s ability to determine--and yet it was his heart that gave out just 24 hours later. And it’s still not clear why! That really messes with me. Especially given that my particular flavor of anxiety gravitates toward an inordinate fear of catastrophic health events.

But Joe’s story forced me to face the mystery of life in a transformational way this past year. Timely, too, as we navigated the uncertainty of COVID. And today, when my old demands for certainty rear their head, Joe’s exhortation to embrace the mystery--hard-won from his literal life-after-death experience--rings loud and clear in my heart and I’m able surrender my demands for certainty, embrace the mystery, and keep moving forward. Sometimes better than others, of course. But this has been an invaluable gift to me.

What’s your relationship with life’s mystery like?

Next up, Takeaway #3, which I’m calling “Let It Die,” from a fascinating conversation I had with my friend and colleague, Rick Kahn. I listened to this episode no less than four times in the week following production because it was so impactful for me.

Takeaway 3: Let It Die

Rick Kahn is an outstanding executive coach for companies whose products and services we all use every day. His road from dyslexic middle child, high school drop-out, globetrotting spiritual seeker, and high-end custom home builder to the life he lives today based out of a quaint seaside town in Mexico is fascinating at face value. But add to that storyline two mind-blowing encounters with mortality separated by 30 years--and you've got a tale that's packed full of extraordinary lessons and wisdom for all of us.

In episode 013, Rick showed us how life is a series of necessary deaths that lead to fuller life before we depart planet Earth.

Jump now to 11:57 in the episode audio using the player at the top of this page to hear Rick in his own words.

Sometimes, we hold onto something well beyond its useful purpose in our lives, and it holds us back from moving on to better things. Not to be too morbid...But it’s like trying to take our dog out for a walk for days and weeks and even years after it’s passed away. That’s obviously nonsensical, but we do that in ways that are less obviously but equally nonsensical in our lives every day. My relationship with soccer was that way, and in Rick’s episode I share how finally letting soccer die in my life allowed new and better things to come to life.

What do you need to finally let die so that something new and better can come to life?

Moving on now to Takeaway #4, “There’s Love Beneath the Waves,” from my friend Matt Wilks’ harrowing 7-year story of Job-like suffering.

Takeaway 4: There’s Love Beneath the Waves

Matt Wilks is a physical therapist by trade who today serves as VP and Chief Rehabilitation Office for Sheltering Arms Institute--a cutting edge inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Richmond, VA. The story Matt shared in episode 20 is a firsthand report from the front lines of seven years of suffering. It’s absolutely heartwrenching stuff. He invited us into the darkest moments--his own dark night of the soul--the triumphant moments, and much more in between to help us connect more powerfully with what matters most in life and what it's all about. In his modern-day story, we find ancient wisdom for living our most fulfilling and meaningful lives as humans on planet earth.

Jump now to 15:14 in the episode audio using the player at the top of this page to hear Matt share how his “dark night of the soul” led him to discover that “there’s Love beneath the waves.”

My own journey in life has been permeated by a pretty strong sense of loneliness. “Aloneness” might be a better word, actually. The anxiety I’ve known my whole life creates a sense of separation and isolation from others and the world around me because the war is waged internally. It’s invisible to others, but it’s very, very real and often very painful for me. That contributes a LOT to the “aloneness.” I’ve also experienced a persistent sense of separation and disapproval from God--someone to whom Matt and I both give credit for our existence and with whom we one day hope to be reunited in perfection. I’m not saying, BTW, that I’m actually separated from God or disapproved of by him, but rather that this has been a troublesome ongoing internal struggle for me. And that, too, has created a long-standing and painful sense of aloneness. And a sense that it’s ALL riding on my shoulders, on this or that decision in this moment, etc.

So, for Matt to have plumbed the depths of despair in his dark night of the soul and discovered that, when all else is stripped away, there’s still “love beneath the waves…” Well, that’s a gift of immeasurable value for me. Both in being able to know that without going through the suffering that Matt has endured and in the actual knowledge that underneath it all, God is there sustaining me. I’m so grateful for that gift--made possible by Matt’s courageous vulnerability in sharing his story.

When you look beneath the waves, what do you find?

Takeaway #5 came together courtesy of my friend and most recent guest, 25-year fire-service veteran, Tony Gonzalez, in episode 023. I call this takeaway “There’s Magic in the Mundane.” And it’s also something that, in one way or another, EVERY guest on the podcast has emphasized in their own way. That makes this one an all-caps, bolded, underscored, italicized takeaway. Whatever we call it, it’s one of the biggies that’s emerged from almost a year of these conversations with people whose encounters with Mortality radically changed their lives..

Takeaway 5: There’s Magic in the Mundane

When harrowing encounters with Death are a routine part of your job, how does it change the way you live?

Tony Gonzalez helped us answer that question and put the lessons he's learned to work in OUR lives right now.

Tony retired in 2017 as one of 8 battalion chiefs for the City of Denver. His peers and colleagues scratched their heads in disbelief when he made the decision to retire. It's far from the norm to exit the fire service at that point in your career. But Tony's many encounters with Mortality as a firefighter--one in particular that he shares in the interview--and others in his personal life had led him to dramatically re-evaluate things. And he left the fire service behind at the peak of his career to double-down on what matters most to him. He's never looked back.

Jump now to 20:55 in the episode audio using the player at the top of this page to hear Tony share what he’s learned from being present with his family now more than ever before.

Tony’s reminder--added to essentially the same exhortation from every other guest on this show so far--has helped me a ton. I can tend to get caught up in the big picture, ideals, and the world of ideas; persistently pursue a better future at the expense of the beauty that’s right here now; to minimize the mundane in my zeal for what could be. But now, the mundane has a special place in my heart and life. Wrestling and rough-housing with my eight-year-old, taking shooting lessons with my 11-year-old, running around town doing errands with my wife; just passing time together without a specific purpose or objective in mind...I see the magic in those mundane moments now better than ever before. I have Tony and all of the guests who preceded him to thank for that change.

How much room do you make in your life for the magically mundane stuff of life?

That’s a Wrap!

So there you have it--5 of my big takeaways from nearly a year of conversations with ordinary people who’ve had extraordinary encounters with Mortality.

What have a few of your big takeaways been?

Thank You and a Request

I want to publicly thank my guests--heroes in my eyes for the courage it took to share their stories. And I want to thank you, the listeners, for tuning in, taking to heart what you hear, and living with more guts, gusto, and abandon.

I also want to ask you for your help. If this podcast has helped you, would you help spread the word? Share an episode that was especially meaningful to you with just one other person, and ask them to consider doing the same. It’s time for more of us to become the people we were made to be and live the lives we were made to live.

Remember, you ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!

I’d Love to Help You

My purpose as a coach is to help you live the life you know you were made to live--with guts, gusto, and abandon. Connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, visit my website, or email me. Go here to learn about Graveyard Group masterminds----where we make time each week to invest in your life's most important work.

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