When giving up is not an option.
By Todd Mitchem
When my sister Holli was born, she was normal for one day. The most special day of my sister's new life was that 24 hours when my parents had hopes and dreams for her, they could see a bright future for their now well-rounded family of two kids. I am sure leading up to my sister’s birth they talked about all the things she might become and wondered what dreams she would have in life. As all parents, do my parents envisioned a life with two amazing kids growing up together and living a blessed life.
On her second day of life, during a nurse's extended shift change, something went terribly wrong. My sister Holli lost oxygen for a long time. Her oxygen loss was so severe that when she was discovered her skin was a dark blue color. Tragedy had struck our young family and on only the second day of such a hopeful event. After she was revived, she was never going to be the same; this massive oxygen loss left my sister with permanent scar tissue on her brain and, in effect, left her mentally disabled. The brain scaring had also caused epileptic seizures that would often send her to the hospital in the middle of the night causing strokes, near death experiences and incredible stress for our family.
At the age of 5 my life was forever altered. What I would learn years later was that my sister's disability would send my life in directions I would have never imagined.
What is your motivation?
Growing up, I was imbued with the feeling that I had to do things differently than other people. Because my sister could not do many things or go out in the world and experience what I could, I soaked up life like a hungry sponge. I took huge risks, dared to go for my dreams, and fought fearlessly to accomplish things that would scare normal people into exile. I always lived with a sense of purpose. I took these risks to live out my own feeling of belonging, but more to demonstrate that life is a precious thing that we must ALL take advantage of to accomplish those things we feel are impossible.
My disruption mindset was always based on the grounding of “Do it for Holli” in a way that caused me go farther, explore more and dream in new ways. But I don’t want you to think it has all been negative with my sister. Her disability has also taught me valuable lessons in unconditional love, and how to find the joy in ANY situation. Holli’s unwavering love for our family, my kids and me warms the heart and has motivated me to do greater things than I ever imagined.
By 2005 I had built an entertainment concept that would last in Chicago for 21 years, performed on stage in front of tens of thousands of people all around the world, studied at the famed Second City, become an actor, built a successful entertainment business and moved into the corporate world as a leader, speaker and expert in corporate change management. I had lived a really exciting and amazing life. My career took an even bigger turn for the better in 2006 when I, with my team, built a four-day curriculum for teaching 2,500 Pizza Hut managers a variety of leadership skills. In fact I was so on my game at this time that I took another risk at the conference and performed entertainment prior to our last session that electrified the room to a standing ovation. People still email me about that conference telling me how much the learning impacted their lives. My motivation had caused a DisruptionEffect in my own life and career that was paying off in HUGE ways. Then in 2007 everything changed.
December 7, 2007 started as any normal lazy Sunday in the mountains of Colorado. I woke, had my coffee, played with the kids and then decided to run an errand down in Denver. When I left the house, I never had a clue as to what was about to happen. My music was playing, the sun was shining, and all was good in my world. I was booked to travel to Europe the following week to give a series of talks to Monster.com, and it was my daughter's 2nd birthday. I was excited to get home to a celebration for her after the errand. I had reached a level of business success where I was travelling, speaking and energizing thousands of people each year.
At 9:00 am I stopped at a red light in our small town and just sat listening to the music. I reached down and took a sip of my coffee, put the mug back in the holder and WHAM! Travelling at nearly 55mph, a woman in her massive Ford Expedition had been looking down to dial her cell phone, never seeing the red light where I was sitting. When she hit me I was sitting still. From a complete stop, my car was thrown over 126 feet into the intersection, then rolled off the road, down a steep hill and came to rest against a tree. I remember saying “Oh God” then looked at my car’s clock, it said 9:01am. Lights out.
When I regained consciousness, the clock said 9:08am and I was in a mental fog. I could not see well, everything was cloudy and to this day I only remember flashes of images of the next six hours. It was like I was watching a movie of my life but had no control. The doctors all said I had a severe closed head injury, massive concussion and that I would be “off” for a long time. Being the resilient guy I am I thought they were exaggerating. My stepmother rushed to my side and stayed until I was at least able to venture into public. But my condition was severe and it was not until I walked into a Wal-Mart for some Christmas shopping with her that I realized just how bad things were.
For the first time in my life, I had a full panic attack. I ran out of the store, huddled in the cold near the entrance, began shaking and crying and ultimately nearly passed out. Suddenly in that moment, my career, life as a father and responsibilities as a man flashed before my eyes. I was panicked. Locked up. Then the self-talk started. How would I provide for my kids? How would I live without the career I loved? What would I do? How would I function in society? Where would I go to find happiness again? Had it not been for the patience and love of my stepmom who was visiting to help our family, I don’t think I would have made it off the ground that day. She took care of my kids while I recovered and yet I was falling into a secret depression, despair and agony. Incidentally, those of you with family members, friends or co-workers who are experiencing some terrifying or terrible circumstance, it is your job as a human to be there for them. That support is among the most valuable contribution you can give the world.
For nearly six months I was in a spin. I could not go in public, let alone speak to thousands. I could not see the future or any hope of regaining my self. That old Todd to me felt dead. And I was hopeless.
Then I remembered.
One day I woke up and shot out of bed. I had experienced a dream about my sister and me walking together in the driveway of the simple place where we first grew up. I could see the trailer we lived in at that time and the rock driveway. The difference was that Holli was not disabled. In this dream she was completely normal, healthy and shining brilliantly. She looked at me and said, “You are not me.” When I shot out of bed I realized that unlike Holli, I could get better, retrain my brain and at least make the attempt to push ahead. That Disruption-minded guy inside me was still in there. I just needed to understand that he was still there. Then a call came from my mother that completely refocused me.
When my mother first got breast cancer in the 90’s she beat it back with an unwavering will to live. She fought each day to win that battle and her call to me was the extra reminder I needed to pick myself up, refocus and get disruptive again. She talked to me about the power of will, the power of standing up and healing yourself. Her words resonate with me to this day and pushed me to push myself again, “If I could beat cancer son, you can make your brain better, so stop complaining and do it.” So I did.
You are in control of you.
I won’t lie to you. The first presentation I gave after picking myself up that day was strange. I spoke for two hours, used a script and when I finished, the room stood in ovation. It worked except for one small thing, I could not remember a word of the presentation. People talked to me afterward and I simply had no idea what presentation they were referencing. I blanked. But I kept going and eventually after nearly two years of work, I regained my sense of stage, disruption and ability to entertain audiences without anxiety, fear and panic. I overcame a devastating situation because I remembered who I was and refused to let it end at that crash site.
It got big then…
Everything in my life—my sister’s disability, my destructive car accident, my mother’s cancer, amazing family support—these things have shaped me into the disruptive influence for good that I am today. After my crash, I went on to be the top leader on our team, helped to generate millions in revenue for the company, and ultimately reached levels of success that were even greater than prior to the accident. I used my experiences to grow and improve. I used my will to get better. I was on my game again in ways I never expected.
If you are living this mindset, if you believe as I do that this life is short, you will start to see the world around you very differently. We simply don’t have time on this earth to complain or naysay our own lives, let alone the lives of others. My message to you is that if you want to change something, change it. If you want to live a dream, go and do it. Take a step, any step you can, to achieve it. Don’t crash and die full of these amazing ideas that none of us will get to hear about. That is simply selfish. Had I sat there after my accident and simply said, “I can’t do this, I should just move on,” the countless lives I have touched, the work I have done and all the good inside me would have never been allowed to happen.
There is one certainty in this life: it will end for all of us. We can’t get around that fact. Yet, daily, humans make every excuse imaginable to justify their lazy-minded lives. They watch endless cat videos on social media, spend hours venting behind the comfort of their computer and never actually get up and do much of value. Why?
I surmise that this occurs because all of these mundane uses of our time have stolen our greatness from us. People everywhere are drowning in negativity and if you are a positive person who wants to live a full life, look around you. Are you surrounded by other positive, supportive people, or are you surrounded by the most negative among us? If you were on a boat with 100 of these negative people and it capsized, do you really think you could swim to safety dragging behind you a hundred negative people all kicking and screaming, “We won’t make it, we will die!”? If you are reading my story and you at all feel the need to begin to look at your life differently, I suggest you start with those closest to you. The people closest to you at work, at home, in your friend circles, are often the most destructive around you. Time to clean house. Time to remember that you and you alone care about your mission in this life. I am here to tell you that all the work I have accomplished and the many dreams I have realized are all things that many people told me were impossible. That word is no longer allowed to be in my world.
….life can change in an instant.
Shortly after my recovery I received the most devastating call of my life. My mother, the survivor, the powerhouse cancer-beating positive influence who helped me recover, called to tell me that her doctor reported that she again had cancer and this time he said it was fatal. In fact the prognosis was that she had a max of six months to live. I traveled to see her in the hospital, met her doctor and started to plan for the end of her life. This was the most gut-wrenching painful experience. I remember the doctor telling us privately that there was no way she would make it. This cancer, most likely caused by the radiation treatment from her previous cancer, was a “definite fatal event.” According to her doctor. He was a kind man and did his best to comfort us all.
My mother decided to forgo massive chemo treatment and instead opted for a holistic center that could prepare her body for the agony she was about to face. A nurse at that facility told my mother to get her hands on some “good weed” because it would help her with pain relief as she died. But my mother, living in Ohio, had no access to legal cannabis, nor had she ever ingested it. In fact, if I had been caught smoking weed as a kid I would have been certainly and swiftly punished. So my mother, being the disruptor that she was, asked my stepfather to help her grow cannabis in their home. She then took that first harvest and made muffins, from my great grandmother’s recipe no doubt, and ate one of her infused edibles each night. All at once I was learning about the impact of cannabis on a cancer patient first hand.
Six months after my mother was diagnosed I received a call that would serve to catapult my life to a whole new level. When I answered the phone, the voice on the other end was crying, the person on the other end was my mother. She told me that her doctor had been in a terrible car accident, his car pinned against a guardrail by a semi-truck and it had exploded. He, along with his 13 year-old daughter, were both tragically killed. My mother broke from her crying to tell me the one statement that I keep with me today. “No one gets to tell you when you die or when you are done!”
That was nearly seven years ago and I am elated to tell you that my mother is STILL ALIVE. That’s right, those cannabis muffins not only crushed her cancer into full remission, it has enriched her life in many happy ways. It was in 2013, motivated by her story, that I decided to quit everything in my career and jump feet first into the cannabis industry. My goal was to improve the industry by teaching the companies in the space how to build better, smarter, stronger, healthier companies. On behalf of people like my mother, I dedicated the next phase of my career to an industry that was ready to be legitimized. Since that decision, I have helped build some of the top brands in the space. I helped take one brand to “Largest Brand in Cannabis” status, changed a brand to make it more “Mindful,” and built the world’s first global social network for cannabis people everywhere, High There!
Today, as I write this, my team has built what is among the cleanest technology hardware for a better performing and safer personal vape experience. Called ION (www.IONvape.com), our devices are disrupting the game for all who vape in e-cig or cannabis because we are focused on clean, safe, smart technology. We built this because we care about the customer.
My work in cannabis and my attitude around the DisruptionEffect led me to my other business partner who helped me forge new territory with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Production. (www.CRCPinitiative.com). We work with key Attorneys General officials around the US to elevate thinking around standards for the entire cannabis industry.
Work in the cannabis industry has been among the most challenging and risky that I have ever attempted, but also among the most rewarding. All because I took to heart the lessons life was teaching me. I looked at the stressful moments as gifts and I utilized the experience of miracles like my mother’s remission as fuel to Disrupt everything.
Incidentally, in 2015—I think in large part due to living these principles I am asking you to adopt—I met my fiancée, Diana. My personal life has never been better. The DisruptionEffect also works to attract amazing people into your life. Remember you can’t do epic stuff with simple negative people! In fact, she and I started a new project to build a home for people like my sister Holli (and Diana’s cousin who has Downs Syndrome) called Holli’s Way (www.hollisway.com). There we will help adult women with mental disabilities live the life they dream of and to help them accomplish epic goals.
That to me is what the DisruptionEffect is all about. You look at your life, your situations, your work and you make a decision to live, truly live. You ignore the naysayers and instead sail your boat to the destination of your dreams. YOU can make goals, dare to dream and have a strong desire to engage this same DisruptionEffect. However, if you are not clear about your core reasons for living life your way, when the challenges start you will either collapse and die inside or stand up and live the life you always dreamed of. That choice is on you. What do you choose?