042. Coming Back from Tragedy As a Victor, Not Victim with Sandra Younger

By on February 12, 2019


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Sandra Younger lost her home, 12 neighbors and nearly her own life in a catastrophic California wildfire. Her best-selling book about the disaster, The Fire Outside My Window, is praised by Amazon reviewers and studied by top-level emergency professionals.

After the fire, Sandra discovered that personal resilience is both a natural strength and a skill set we can build like a muscle. Combining her own recovery experience with leading academic research, she developed The ComeBACK Formula™—a five-step system of powerful, commonsense practices proven to transform disaster into opportunity and loss into legacy. She teaches the approach in The ComeBACK Formula Guidebook.

Sandra now shares her resilience-boosting message as an international speaker, workshop leader and media guest. She’s appeared on NBC’s Dateline, ABC, CBS, PBS, CBC, Fox, the CW and more than 20 podcasts.

Key Points from the Episode with Sandra Younger:

  • Sandra Younger and her husband moved into their dream home outside of San Diego in 2003. Then one night, they woke up in the middle of what was the biggest wild fire in California history at that point (and for 14 more years).
  • The fire was set unintentionally by a hiker who was lost and set a signal fire to help himself get rescued.
  • She and her husband grabbed all they could, including their large Newfoundland dogs and their bird, and jumped in their car. As they backed out of their driveway, they saw that their home was about to be engulfed in flames.
  • They drove down the mountain they were on unable to see anything due to the smoke, with a bobcat suddenly appearing in front of their headlights, which acted as their guide down the mountain as it, too, tried to escape the blaze.
  • Interestingly, she made a point of steering toward the darkness, since the road was the only thing not burning. It was very significant that she was steering into the dark.
  • While she and her husband survived, their 12 neighbors did not. That got them the label of survivor, which she has actually never taken to as it labels you a victim and feels disempowering. Victim, to Sandra, is about not being overpowered rather than overcoming and triumphing. Instead, you can be a Survivor, who turn into Victors over time.
  • She ended up writing a book about the experience and being triumphant over it, which is called The Fire Outside My Window.
  • What she learned through writing it is that some people embraced the label “victim” and some did not. Those who did seemed to be looking for justice while those who did not use the label were trying to live their lives by moving forward.
  • What was more interesting to her is that the ones who used the labels were not the ones who lost the most. Those who lost family, friends – including some who lost their children – who refused to use the label felt that the fire had already taken enough, and they would not let it take any more from their life. The one who held onto the label “victim” the most lost a detached garage and its content, but nothing else. That is so interesting to Sandra and what it says about our ability to see a path forward and the choice involved in that path.
  • While we do not get to choose what happens to us, we get to choose our response, which Sandra calls, “Our story.”
  • Sandra’s book is really about resilience, which she discovered through the research she did in writing her book. What she found is that we can build resilience like we do a physical muscle through purposeful practices.
  • She boiled all the research down into five practices to change disaster into opportunity. She calls this The Come BACK Formula.
    • It starts with the word “Come”, which means, “Come from a place of gratitude.” This seemed to be a difference between victims and survivors – the former focused on what they lost while the latter focused on what they have.
    • B – be patient with the pain. No matter what the experience, there is a process to coming back, so you need to be patient through that.
    • A – accept help when it’s offered, and be tough enough to ask for it when you need it.
    • C – choose your story, your response. Man Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is incredibly helpful in building this strength.
    • K – keep moving forward. It isn’t about just persistence but also detaching from this past that is no longer happening so you are free to embrace the possibilities and opportunities of a new future. That includes forgiveness of anyone who you think has a hand in the tough experience, including yourself.
  • She shared an example of someone who is a victor. Her friend Rena lost her son at a very young age. She decided to transform her disaster into an opportunity that has created a free screening program for other parents to check for the kind of abnormalities that took Rena’s son to try to help save lives going forward.
  • You can choose not to be a victim but to be a survivor and victor no matter what the situation is, whether it’s something as serious as losing a child or as (seemingly) small as being offended by someone. We have that power no matter what.

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041. Going from Why Me to What’s Next with Cornell Thomas

By on February 5, 2019


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Who is Cornell Thomas? That’s a question that even he wasn’t quite sure about until 2011. He is a former athlete, a speaker, an author, a thinker, an activist, but more importantly than any of those titles, he is a husband and father.

Cornell Thomas is the youngest son of Bobby and Tina Thomas. That sentence is very important in regards to who he is, as you will hear in the show. If not for his parents, he wouldn’t be the man you see today. His father passed away when he was just three years old, and although his time with his dad was brief, he learned through others the amazing legacy that his father left behind, as a police officer and community leader.

His father’s passing forced his mom to become he and his siblings’ everything. She was their main provider, mother, and life educator. She was forced to become an expert problem solver, and that skill was passed down to her children. Cornell’s mom raised her children on the old adage, “Everything happens for a reason,” and that one lesson out of the myriads she has taught him was never forgotten. It’s what he remembered when he suffered a career-ending basketball injury, and the first thing he thinks about when any adversity comes along.

In that dark times, his mom’s teachings served as his light. It was that ‘bounce-back-ability’ ingrained in him since his youth that has allowed him to find his purpose through the pain.

What Brought Cornell to The Do a Day Podcast?

That’s the question most people spend their whole lives trying to answer. He thought his purpose in life was to play professional basketball. In 2003, he received a contract to play professional basketball in Portugal. A dream he had since discovering the sport at 16. Two weeks before he was supposed to leave, he suffered a career-ending injury that reshaped his life, as he gets into in this episode. He was sickened by all of the negativity he was seeing online, and decided to start writing his own motivational quotes for his personal Facebook page. The quotes eventually led him to writing a blog, and the blog led to his first book The Power Of Positivity-Controlling Where The Ball Bounces.

In 2011, he realized what his true purpose is – to inspire and motivate others. He’s been fortunate enough to speak all over the world sharing his story with people from all walks of life. Daring others to say, “What Now?” instead of, “Why Me?” in the face of adversity.

Key Points from the Episode with Cornell Thomas:

  • Cornell’s lost his father to cancer when he was just three years old, leaving his mother with five young kids to raise on her own. That set Cornell up to see what it means to never quit as his mother always pushed through no matter how hard things got.
  • In his teens, Cornell found basketball and fell in love (despite being totally uncoordinated).
  • He learned how to play thanks to a short, Asian man named Ray. That taught Cornell you never judge a book by its color (let alone its cover).
  • He made basketball his life, practicing constantly, including skipping the senior prom.
  • Cornell had a dream of playing in the NBA, but he did not fully believe in himself yet. But his mother did, and kept pushing him to go for his true dream.
  • After many years of intense practice, Cornell finally found his skills while in college and became a solid player earning accolades. The only reason he got there was sacrifice. He sacrificed other things for what he loved (basketball). But what he really loved was the idea that his mother wouldn’t have to work again because he was successful enough for let her retire. He stayed so focused on that, which is why he got to where he needed to skill-wise.
  • He earned a scholarship to play for North Dakota, and was now playing with NBA-bound college players.
  • His dream was taking shape as he finished school as he got an email from his agent that he had gotten a contract to play professionally in Portugal. He went home to tell his mother that it was really happening.
  • A week before leaving, he played a half-court game casually with friends, and heard a pop. His Achille’s tendon had ruptured, and he needed surgery.
  • After surgery, as his contract to play in Portugal had just been voided, his first real memory was his mother kissing him goodbye as she went to one of the three jobs he told her she’d never have to work again.
  • He went into big Why Me mode, and his mother called him out. She told him to get out of Why Me mode and get into What Now mode. That’s how she had been living since his father died, so she knew it better than anyone.
  • When you find yourself in these moments, focusing on what happened is not going to help you move forward. You have to look at what’s next rather than dwelling in what already happened that you can’t change.
  • He worked through his recovery, and was at about 90% when he went to a training camp where he left one night to go back to the hotel just as some guys came in with guns and shot at participants including killing one of them. This was a sign to him that he wasn’t supposed to be doing this.
  • Cornell soon was asked to coach a junior college team, which was the next sign. As a 26-year-old player, becoming a coach was almost throwing in the towel so he fought it. It took his mother telling him to go to the interview anyway for him to at least give it a chance. He ended up taking the job, and fell in love with coaching.
  • As he became a father, it kept building, culminating in writing a book and finding his voice as a speaker.
  • One thing he realized is that all the hours, skills and discipline he put into basketball can be translated to other parts of his life.
  • As a coach, he realized that he has to love his players no matter what. That means not holding them to the standard he holds himself to since that’s about him, his life and his goals. His brother reminded him that if the players don’t think you love them, they won’t play for you the way you want them to.

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