Episode 294: On Purpose with Purpose with John Ramstead

Episode Summary

The definition of success varies from person to person; for some, it means to be wealthy, for others to be loved, impact lots of people, or change people’s lives. But what happens when everyone but us thinks we are successful? It might look fantastic from the outside, and still, we’d feel miserable. When success is not intimately linked with purpose, it feels empty.  

Rob Shallenberger: Welcome back to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners. First of all, wherever you are in the world, we want to say thank you for being here today and I hope you’re having a great day. And whether you are or not, part of the reason for doing this podcast is to help you have a great day. And so, in the spirit of good, better, best, we’re going to see if we can make make your day better. And I have a great guest on here. I even had the chance to be on his podcast months ago, and really is someone who I look up to. You meet those people every once in a while who you just say, “That is a really sharp person.” And that is John Ramstead. I was so impressed with him when I first met him, maybe that’s because he’s also a former fighter pilot – we have that bond – even though I think he was the Navy, right, John?  

John Ramstead: That’s correct. Navy, absolutely. F-14. 

Rob Shallenberger: So, we’ll forgive the Navy part of it. That’s all right. We’ll keep that aside.  

John Ramstead: Well, we’ll forgive that you landed on a runway and I had landed on a ship.  

Rob Shallenberger: My whole goal in life was never to land on an aircraft carrier. But anyway, we’re grateful to have John here with us today. He just released a new book, On Purpose With Purpose. All of our listeners know we talk a lot about vision and things around that. So, it’s going to be fun to hear this from a different perspective – new ideas, new thought processes, and just a different perspective. And so, first of all, John, welcome to the show, glad to have you here, and maybe you can just give our listeners a brief background on who you are if that’s all right. 

John Ramstead: Sure thing. Thanks, Rob. Great to be here and spend some time with you. The first thing is I’m coming up on 32 years of marriage to just my best friend. We’ve got three boys, a grandson, a daughter-in-law – family is huge for me. Grew up in Minnesota, went to college on a Navy ROTC scholarship. I graduated a year after the movie Top Gun came out – so, that was in the late ‘80s. So, it was a crazy time, but I gotta tell you, it was an amazing journey going through flight school and getting to fly the F-14. And then what happened is I actually got orders to go to Top Gun, never got to attend because I was playing softball, Rob, with our Squadron team, and I got hit in the eye with a line drive and had a little bit of nerve damage but enough where I lost my medical. That was a very hard transition, as you can imagine when a dream is just taken away from you. But that led me into business and being an entrepreneur because I found out I wasn’t a very good employee, mostly because I was just kind of angry at life at the time. But you know what? It was an amazing run. So, building and selling technology companies, going to Wall Street. I was starting another company in 2011. And I had an accident that should have killed me, put me in the hospital for the next two years, 23 surgeries – that was nine years ago. It’s been a very long recovery, still not back to where I was before the accident. But in that, I had to change and relearn everything. I had a severe brain injury, but I had to learn how to walk again and talk again. But here I am.  

John Ramstead: So, there is a lot to unpack, there are many highs and lows, but your whole podcast is about becoming your best – that honestly became my quest. After the accident, when I realized I should have died, and I was sitting there imagining my funeral and what would people say? You say all the good stuff. You imagine all the good stuff but nobody gets invited to a funeral or church unless you know they’re going to say the good stuff. But I figured, “What do they actually say afterwards? What would they say one, or two, or three years later?” And then I realized, “You know what? I was kind of convicted, quite frankly, that I had not been my best through my life.” I’d been focusing on my goals or pleasing others, there’s so much we could probably dig into. But I love this concept because I really feel – that’s what my whole book is about – when you become the best or a better version of yourself and you close that gap between who you see in the mirror and that best version of yourself, all of a sudden your influence, your relationships, your work in the world, that sense of purpose, everything got clear and just expanded. So, love what you’re doing, my friend. 

Rob Shallenberger: Well, what a background. I’m excited to talk about this. And one of the things that I love about books – I mean, obviously, we’ve written books, we’re passionate about this – is when you read other people’s books, you’re taking a lifetime of knowledge and experience and being able to assimilate it, in a matter of a few hours, what has taken someone a lifetime to acquire. I’m sure so many lessons from your accident are packed in here. I’m sure so many lessons from your previous accident – everything that came from that. And as hard as a statement it is to make, I believe that everything works in our good or for our favor. That doesn’t mean things will be easy. But some of these lessons that we can learn through life only come through experience, and sometimes that’s not easy. And so, I would like to talk about your book because I know you have a lifetime of experience packed into that. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the title is On Purpose With Purpose, is that right? 

John Ramstead: That’s correct. On Purpose With Purpose: Discovering How to Live Your Best Life. 

Rob Shallenberger: So, let’s talk about that. What inspired you, first of all, John, to write it? I mean, I’m sure some of these things that you just addressed played into that. And then why does this become so relevant now? I mean, I agree with you in everything that you said about purpose and vision. From your perspective, though, what inspired you to write this and why is it so important right now in today’s world?  

John Ramstead: Let’s just juxtapose, before the accident – and this is how I describe it in the book – I got to this place that I describe as just smoldering discontent, Rob. Because I was at the top of my career, I’d been an entrepreneur, and business owner, and started some nonprofits. Here’s what I realized looking back on that period of time. From the outside, everyone had been like, “You know, John, you’re doing great. Your company’s growing” – it was a small company – “And you’re doing this, and you’re married, and you’ve got these kids.” But I was miserable, and why was that? What I realized, Rob, I was living under the tyranny of They: What did they expect? How did they define success? How did they think I should show up? How did they think I should spend my time? Because I was trying to meet this standard of excellence, this standard of success, and nothing was being driven by a deep need, or a deep passion, or an outcome that I wanted to create. And what I wasn’t aware of at the time is that if you don’t have your own plan, if you’re not living on purpose to get to a meaningful destination, then guess what? You are fulfilling that role in somebody else’s plan. And I think that is why I felt so disconnected. And I didn’t know how to compensate, so all I did, Rob, was just work harder, and then work harder, and then do more, and then volunteer more. And I didn’t say no to anything. And I didn’t realize at the time that when I say yes to something, I’m actually saying no to something else, like a great marriage, like great relationships with my kids, like having really good health. And as I recovered coming out of one of the most horrific accidents – we can talk more about it if you want – but I should not be here. I had almost my entire body crushed, my chest up; my skull was crushed, my neck was broken. And in that recovery, I realized I had this opportunity to rewrite my script. I was 46 years old, I just turned 55 – I said, “What would it look like for me to live a life so the use of my life would outlive my life?” And in a way that I just had extraordinary marriage and relationships, made a difference in this world. I had a business that people loved to be a part of. I was finding people’s unique value and launching them into what they were meant to be, and be that person and look back on and go, “Man, I’m so glad that I got to work with John or worked for John, and he was that mentor,” because I have some of these amazing mentors in my life.  

John Ramstead: So, I had to go through this very long process of rebuilding. Two years after the accident, when I got discharged from the hospital, because of my head injury, I could literally only work eight or 10 hours in an entire week; that’s all I could do, that’s all I had the energy for. So, I could not go back to working in a company, and I’m like, “I don’t even know what to do.” My wife had been my caregiver, Rob – so, she couldn’t go back to work full time because I still wasn’t in the place where I could just independently live; I couldn’t drive yet. And that’s what actually led me be like, “Hey, I could use all my life and my experience into helping other people and being a leadership coach. But how do I do that when I still got all this other stuff I’m dealing and going through?” And here’s where the book came about. This was about two years after that point. A client that I was working with, he had had transformational results in his life, his business. And I have a meeting with him, he’s like, “Hey, John, today’s about you.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’m the coach.” He’s like, “No, no, no.” He goes, “You’ve walked me through something that I don’t think you’re aware of: a process that just led to these great outcomes, the outcomes that you have. And I think you’re just doing that because it’s coming naturally. But I want to kind of figure it out.” We spent two hours on the whiteboard. And we actually looked at everything he and I had done, what I do with other clients, that process I’d walked through in my life. And it was out of that, sitting on that whiteboard – I’ll never forget that day; this guy, Roy, has become one of my closest friends to this day – that was the genesis of what became On Purpose With Purpose. 

Rob Shallenberger: I love it. What an awesome background. I’m just sitting there listening, John, and I know everybody has their different spiritual backgrounds and beliefs and upbringings, but I believe that we’re here for a purpose, and that it’s a temporary time however long we get on this earth, and then there’s life after this, and that there’s a lot more to be lived. I’m just listening to your story, and some people know this, who listen to this regularly, I’ve shared it a couple of times. My mom passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s in December 2020 – so, last year, eight or nine months ago. And we watched this slow decline. How old did you say you were? 

John Ramstead: When the accident happened? 46. I’m 55 now. 

Rob Shallenberger: So, she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at your exact age right now, 55. And it took her 10 years to go through that decline until she passed away. And people loved her. She was a brilliant lady, valedictorian. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about her. And I remember standing in her closet with my other brothers and sister after she had passed away, and our job was to clean out all of her stuff. And it was a real epiphany for me, it was a learning experience. I always knew it right here in my mind, but it was a learning experience for my body, soul, and heart. Because I realized, she’s not taking any of that with her; her special earrings that she got in Spain, they stayed; her favorite dress, it stayed. And all of these things stayed. The only thing she took with her was, who she became and the relationships that she had formed in the people’s lives who she had touched. That’s it. Everything else had stayed. And so I think, oftentimes, where is our focus? And you talked about your background; it was all for other people and all of this. So, you’re writing this book, and I think a lot of people struggle with this; what is their purpose? Why are they here? And why do you think so many people feel like that? Feel unsure about their purpose? Because this is something I think we all need to figure out with the time that we have. 

John Ramstead: Well, everything you do is the actual solution to that disconnect; becoming your best. Here’s what I mean. Before the accident, honestly, I was trying to find that purpose, that sense of calling, like, what is my big Why? And that vision and mission. I do those exercises and retreats, I can write that for my company, but writing one for myself was really hard. I’m being honest with it. And I honestly felt like I was either not worthy to have one, or I was yet unequipped to dig it out like it was some buried treasure and I didn’t have the tools or the experience or the wisdom. And I gotta tell you, it was frustrating. Now, here’s what happened. I realized I was going about it backwards, because I figured out, “Hey, you know what? I gotta figure out what I need to do, then I can figure out who I need to become and what skills to learn to then accomplish that.” And as I recovered and I started working on this because you know what? I’ll never forget this, I was laying in the hospital bed and because of the accident, I literally had my skull crushed and neck broken. I should not be here. I had one of those near-death experiences, God showed up and I was standing in His presence.  

John Ramstead: It was the most intense and powerful unconditional love that I’ve ever felt. It was life-changing in that moment. And I was told, actually, one of the things that was shared with me is that all things work together for good for those that love the Lord. So, I’m just sharing with you. I mean, this is just what happened. This is factual. For wherever folks, you guys come from, from faith wise. But what that did for me, though, here’s what it gave me is hope as I recovered, that maybe tomorrow could be better, and sometimes tomorrow wasn’t. And then the next day, and then the next day. But I’ll never forget, Rob, I’m laying there in the bed and the neurosurgeon comes in, I have seven IVs in my arm, and he looks at my wife, and he says, “You know what? We gotta do a craniotomy. We gotta take off John’s entire skull and try to fix this stuff.” And what I’m hearing in this conversation is that the chances of me surviving the surgery are very low. And he asked my wife, “Does John have a will? And more importantly, a living will?” I’m like, “Oh, boy.” And so she goes off to get that for the doctor before the surgery, but I’m alone in my room. That’s when I started playing that video about my funeral, and I realized, “It’s not about what I do. It’s about who I am. It’s about the being.”  

John Ramstead: So, let’s think about it. Here’s what I’ve come to know when we get in touch with that best version of ourselves. As I was on this quest, really, of self-awareness, of stripping out limiting beliefs, of understanding what my core values were, of understanding what I was passionate about and why did those passions exist maybe in me uniquely, I gotta tell you, as I got clarity on not only who I was but who I was made to be, I gotta tell you, all of a sudden, it was like the fog cleared on a field and I could see the path forward toward purpose. And I realized the whole rest of my life I’ve been going about it backwards. I felt like I had to find the purpose to move into action. And since I couldn’t find the purpose, then I would just work harder and get more frustrated. And when I reversed that, all of a sudden, things cleared up. And in that, I moved toward a life today that’s very different than it would have been had the accident not happened – financially, physically, everything. But I gotta tell you, I’ve never been having more fun, I’ve never felt more fully alive, I’ve never had such a great marriage. So, this process for me – what you’re talking about, becoming your best – truly is foundational to then being able to connect more fully to that purpose. 

Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, I mean, you just brought it up. It’s amazing, John, how much we labored over what we should call the company. The question was, should we use the word “become” or “becoming”? Is it “become your best” or “becoming your best”? And we kind of landed on “becoming” because we realized this is a lifelong journey, this is a process. I’m not sure that we ever do “become” because it’s a lifelong journey as long as we’re here. And to that point, I tuned into a word earlier that you shared. Along the way we’ve really come to value mentors in our lives – coaches, mentors, friends maybe – whatever word you choose to use for that. So, I want to talk a little bit about mentorship with you here. That’s going to tie into purpose. You mentioned that friend of yours now that you worked with, I think, Roy, you said was his name. Would he’d been able to do it without you? Maybe, maybe not, we don’t know that. But you, obviously, as a mentor for him, played a key role in helping him through a lot of things. And he’s become a good friend and probably helped you work through things too – it goes both ways. So, describe the value of mentorship, and how do you find a great mentor? Because we talk a lot about this, you hear it, people say, “Find a guru. Find a mentor.” Well, that’s easy if we know the right people and we know where to go to look. But what about for the people that aren’t sure where to look? What’s the value of mentorship and how do you find a great mentor? 

John Ramstead: Yeah, so the value of mentorship. So, everybody listening, just think about a time in your life that was really challenging, really difficult, and you’re looking back on it right now in hindsight, you’re going, “You know what? I got through that.” And getting through that – whether it was healing from pain, making a difficult decision, a career transition, a relationship melting down – in each one of those inflection points in my life, you know what? There were people around me. It could have been my dad, it could have been a friend, a mentor. I didn’t have a coach until recently. You know what? As I look back on my life, every time I ever made significant progress in my life, there was somebody around me that was seeing in me what I wasn’t seeing in myself, and maybe believing in me and pushing me to a place where I started to believe in myself more. And when I got out of the Navy – remember, I got hit with that softball, and now I’m on my own, I don’t know what to do next – I actually met a guy at a networking and a business meeting. And you know what? I just feel so blessed and fortunate because he just took an interest in me and we just started meeting. His name is Jeff Saavedra. To this day, 30 years or so later, we are still in touch and we are still friends. He took time out of his life because he could see that I was kind of a higher-performing, very in-pain person, and he started helping me understand what my gifts are, and what I’m good at, and what my skills are, and what would be a good job. But here’s something he shared with me, he said, “John, the person you’re going to be in five years – you’re coming out of the military and I can just tell with you and I talking, you’ve got a lot of limiting beliefs. You are intimidated outside of that military environment of people that have been successful in business.” I’m telling you, I was. They scared me. I mean, I had some of the worst meetings ever in front of people that I would perceive as powerful or wealthy. I mean, I’d been in combat and landed on an aircraft carrier, and you put me in a sales meeting in front of some CEO of a company, I literally was a soup sandwich. It was bad. Just being real here. I’ve come a long way now. But he said, “Listen, you’ve got to reprogram your brain.” He challenged me to go, “Hey, go read a book. 10 pages a day.” And I wasn’t a reader at the time, and I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” And he goes, “Can I hold you accountable to that?” And he handed me a book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He said, “You gotta start replacing the stuff in your head with good stuff.” I have been now reading 10 pages a day for 25 years. Some of the stuff that comes out of my mouth, I don’t even know where it comes from. I guarantee it’s not mine, it’s probably from something I heard or I read at some point.  

John Ramstead: And the other thing he said is, “John, you have to go find people that have accomplished what you want to accomplish. Find out where they hang out. You’re going to have to put in the work to build a relationship. But who you are in five years from now is going to depend on who you’re spending your time with.” This is before Jim Rohn’s quote, “You’re the lowest common denominator of your five closest friends.” Well, guess what? What I realized was, I didn’t know anybody getting out of the Navy that was successful in business, or sales management, or as an entrepreneur. So, I can hang out with my friends, but they can’t help me. So, I had to intentionally go figure out like, “Hey, how do I put in some effort?” And here’s how you go find a great mentor. You find some people that you admire and that you respect, and you do something to add value to them. Here’s an example, my book. The guy who wrote my foreword is Horst Schulze, he’s the co-founder of the Ritz Carlton hotels. So, his book came out called Excellence. I loved it. I don’t know this guy. So, guess what? I did a video review and I sent it to him. I did reviews on Amazon. I reached out to him and I said, “Hey, can you come on the podcast?” I reached out to him and said, “Hey, I’m gonna write an article that I’m going to submit to Forbes.” Forbes never accepted it, by the way. But I said, “I want to interview some top leaders, as we’re going into the pandemic, about how you would handle this.” And I was able to have two or three conversations with them. But it took a lot of time and effort to have that first conversation, and then the second conversation, and then we stayed in touch. And then I said, “Would you be willing to write the foreword of my book?” This was my dream ask. And he said, “Yes, I’d love to do that.” So, what it does, it takes some time and effort.  

John Ramstead: I’d also tell you, folks – Rob, you’re probably the same way – a lot of people reach out to me now and they want to be mentored. And you know what? The folks where I just get an email like, “Hey, John, can I get on your calendar? I’d love to pick your brain.” I probably get two or three or four of those a day sometimes. But how about, “Hey, John, I’ve done a lot of research on you. And this is something you said really specifically that really resonated with me. Thank you for doing that. I appreciate it. Hey, if I can ever do anything for you, let me know.” But let’s just say you do get a conversation with Rob or me or that person that you’d love to talk to. It’s your responsibility – because this is how I always saw it – if someone’s going to give me the time to be mentored, I have to take what they give me and put it into action. I also need to give them feedback. You get to say, “You know what, John? You need to go study this, or go have this difficult conversation, or here’s something you need to work on with how you’re kind of showing up with your team.” You can say, “You know what? I had a bad day today, Rob, I messed up,” or, “Hey, Rob, guess what? I had that same thing happened today and I handled it the best I ever have. Thank you so much for your advice.” So, I think that accountability and taking action if somebody is willing to sow into you is how you’re going to build a relationship. So, start with adding value, build a real connection, and then guess what? Just ask. What I’ll tell you right now, Horst didn’t build a Ritz Carlton Hotel empire. He started out as a low income in a small town in Germany. His first job was as a busboy at a hotel, and he just loved the industry. He didn’t come from any money at all. And he had mentors all the way along the road. So, when you ask these folks to help you, guess what? You’ve got to connect in a way because they’ve also had help from other people. There is no such thing as a self-made successful person. That is just ego talking. That literally does not exist. 

Rob Shallenberger: Oh, man. That’s such great advice, John. And when you think about it, my wife and I were just on a walk this morning and we were talking about our kids, and how important so and so is, and what we can do to help them be successful. And we were talking about their friend group and how important their friend group is to what, ultimately, they will end up doing, and becoming, and so on. And it’s really no different with us as adults. I mean, you used the example that we’re all familiar with; “You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” or, “You become the lowest common denominator.” There are multiple ways to say that. But the point is if we look very closely at our inner circle of people, we can usually infer where we’re at emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, financially. The other part to that that’s interesting is there’s the other quote you alluded to, and that is, “You’ll be the same person five years as you are today except for two things: the books we read and the people we meet,” or who we invite into our lives or go out of our way to meet. And if we make a conscious effort to really make reading a part of our lives, and to go out and meet people who inspire us, who make us want to be better, it’s amazing what happens. You shared the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. My dad paid me $50 to read that book when I was 16 years old and write a three-page book summary on it. And that was the beginning of what changed my life. And it’s amazing what happens when we start implementing those habits. And so, I would encourage any of us out there, think about who are the people in your lives right now. If there’s someone that you feel could be a good mentor to you — my wife has someone. She’s a part of their coaching group. It’s this lady, very spiritually focused, that helps people work through thoughts and emotions. And she’s developed a pretty large following. But I just thought, “Awesome!” She’s taken her as basically a virtual online mentor or coach, and it’s had a big impact. So, anyway, I thought you just hear great advice right there. That’s almost something worth to be whining and listening to. 

John Ramstead: And let me share this with you, too. Guess what? Be a giver first, and then you will receive. So, if you’re in an online group — let’s just say you want to build a side business at home and you’re in somebody’s group — and you’d love to connect to some of the people that are clearly having success. Guess what? If you’re in the group, and you are engaging, and maybe you’re trying to answer questions, you’re actually making comments to the best you can, or maybe somebody does a presentation, and you actually take notes, and you turn it into something really accessible, and then you post it for the group with no thought of getting back because you want to have kind of the servant focus. If you truly have a servant heart, every time I’ve done that, or people do that in my groups, those are the people that I notice and I’m like, “Wow! This person is such a giver. I want to give back. I want to do reciprocity.” And I have developed some of the best relationships I’ve had with just trying to serve people in the community of like-minded people that are ahead of me, and I know that I’m the newbie here. But in doing that, all of a sudden, I started, “Hey, John, we’re gonna do a little breakout group, you want to join us?” “Oh, man, can I be a fly on the wall? I’d love that.” So, it just starts, honestly, with that servant attitude; I’m not owed anything. I don’t deserve their time because they’re successful. I have to earn it by adding value to who they are, their life, and maybe the mission and purpose they’re on. You approach finding a mentorship with that attitude, I will guarantee you within a few months, you’re going to have some amazing people in your life. 

Rob Shallenberger: Yes, amen to that. There was a guy… We probably get two to three podcast requests per day, people wanted to be on this podcast. I’m sure you do as well. And it’s not that there’s any ill intent, but usually, those emails are ignored after you read one or two paragraphs, and it’s talking all about them and how great they are. 

John Ramstead: And you can tell it was cut and paste and they’ve never listened to your podcast. Somebody is just trying to get their client booked. 

Rob Shallenberger: That’s exactly it. And so, nothing against that person, I’m sure they’re great. But you’re exactly right. I’ve seen this a thousand times. And I remember it was my father who did that particular interview, but there was this guy who sent us an email, reached out to us on different social media sites, he put together this three or four-minute YouTube clip of him standing on his balcony talking about all the podcasts and how each one has impacted him in a different way, and now he’s perfect for this Becoming Your Best because of his background and experience. It was awesome. He was talking about how he wants to share our podcast on all of his different channels, and which episodes impacted him deeply, and how he could add value. I mean, it just was so different because it caught our attention; he wanted to add value, he wanted to be a part of it. And of course, we had him on the podcast. And so I’m just thinking, that’s a great starting point to think about, John, is how can we add value to others first rather than just asking and making it about “I, I, I,” “Us, us, us,” and, “We, we, we.” So, I want to ask you one last question with the remaining time that we have. We only have a couple of minutes left, John – it goes by so fast every time here. I want to come back to this adversity question. You had your accident, and maybe if you can take one minute to share what actually happened in that accident? Because you haven’t said that yet, and I’d love to hear, I think people would like that if that’s all right. But you’ve been through all of this adversity in your life, and how did you not only overcome those things – and you’ve alluded to different parts of that – but what have been some of your biggest lessons learned? In other words, how do you use those to help others and what has been maybe your one or two biggest lessons learned from all of your adversity and your experience? And I think you’ve touched on that, I’m just asking a little bit more directly that question of, maybe take a minute or so to share what the accident actually was, and then maybe one or two minutes to share a lesson learned or maybe a second lesson learned as well that came from everything. 

John Ramstead: So, nine years ago, I got invited up to a retreat for a nonprofit. I flew from Denver, where I lived up to Montana, on a Thursday and Friday. We were going to go horseback riding for lunch. It was only 14-15 of us. And I was on a horse. And Rob, all of a sudden my horse just bolts and he takes off and I’m lying flat on my back. His rump is pounding me in the shoulder blades. I thought I was going to flip off the back of this horse and get kicked in the head. I thought that would kill me, so I started squeezing with my legs as hard as I can. Now, I’m a dude, so I did not read the owner’s manual. I’m not a horse guy. 

Rob Shallenberger: Which means that you wanted to go faster. For those who don’t ride horses, that means go faster. 

John Ramstead: Dude, this guy hit the full afterburner, I’m telling you, because he found another gear. And I get my way back up on the horse and I look ahead about 50 yards in front of us and I’m staring at a steel beam corral fence, and I can’t get him to turn, and he won’t turn, and he won’t slow down, and I start panicking. My brain spins out of control. You and I have both flown in combat, we’ve been shot out. Nothing had prepared me for that moment when I just saw doom coming at me and there was nothing I could do. And right in front of the fence, I remember the last thought I had was thinking, “This is not gonna end well.” And thank goodness, I don’t remember what happened next, but he bucked so hard at a full gallop. People who were watching this, they could not believe it. At a full gallop, he bucked so hard, he flipped over, landed on the ground on the side, and slammed in the fence, and when he did that, he launched me Superman, face-first, into that three-inch steel beam. I crushed the entire left side of my skull, I broke my neck, I shattered my shoulder. The next bar down crushed my rib cage, one of the broken ribs punctured my left lung. I woke up on the ground into more pain than I could ever describe. You know that saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle”? Rob, it’s not true. I’m just telling you that. I was beyond, literally, anything I could handle. And I was yelling and screaming, and I didn’t know I was even doing that. But people were holding me down, thank goodness, because of what happened to my neck. I had no spinal cord damage afterwards.  

John Ramstead: So, just to put things in context, what we found out… I was in ICU for five weeks and then in a specialty hospital here in Denver for a severe traumatic brain injury. We heard from multiple doctors, just the amount of brain damage is literally not survivable. I had over 30% of my brain that had no blood flow. That is when all of a sudden I was in God’s presence, and he spoke to me. He took away all the pain that I was in, it was completely taken away. And he told me that he was going to heal me. But that first thing he said to me is, “All things work together for good.” And I gotta tell you, that’s what I hung my hope on that I had to believe that. Now, the recovery was not what I expected. I was told I was going to be healed. I mean, it was two years, 23 surgeries. And some of these were major reconstructive surgeries. I mean, I was either in recovery or about to go into another surgery that entire next two years. It was brutal, there were really bad days. And when you have a head injury like I did, I had no social filters, I had no emotional control. It’s called executive functions – everything compromised. So, for my kids, I was not myself. I was this raging, irrational person who looked like their dad kind of used to look. So, this whole thing was really really hard.  

John Ramstead: Now, in that, my left eye is completely blind from the accident, all the bones shattered and severed the optic nerve to my brain. But I think here’s what I learned, in that. Here’s something that really stands out to me is when I was at Craig Hospital with the brain injury, there were other people there, and I watched their mental attitude. I think all of this reading that I’ve been doing for 20 years helped me shift — if guys haven’t read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, read that book about a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It’s more seeing the world from a place of possibility, it had served me really well because staying in that place for me was hard but critical because I watched other people start to focus on what happened to them, and it defined them, and they were victims of something. And I watched them spiral down, Rob, in just such a dark place, it scared me. I’m like, “I don’t want to go there.” And I’ve had some other huge ups and downs even prior to this but this is probably one of the biggest ones. And I just had to believe that tomorrow could be better. I mean, there were times recovering, like, they’d give me morphine and it would last for about two and a half hours because the pain was so bad. And I couldn’t take the next dose till four hours in. And getting through that next 90 minutes was literally this exercise of willpower. And I would look at the clock and I would just try to get through the next five minutes. And I knew that each successive five minutes was going to be worse until I could get to the four-hour mark. I’m like, “I don’t know if I can do this, literally, should I just check out of this whole thing?” It was hard, but I’m like, “Maybe tomorrow could be better.”  

John Ramstead: And I look back, though, in that, all the difficult times in my life, you know what? There was a time where I came out of the storm, and the sea is calm, and you can see the blue skies again. I’m like, I’ll get there again, even though if it doesn’t feel like it. That’s what I had to hold on to. That and having people around you that love you, a community, friends, neighbors, colleagues, my wife, my family, my pastor, just having that community. Sometimes they’d come in the room and just sit there and be company and not say a word. And you know what happened in the accident, too, for me, Rob? Faith was a big part of this recovery, but that’s not who I was 10-15 years ago, but I still got through some big things. So, I would just tell people, “This has been hard, the last couple of years, and it doesn’t feel like it’s letting up sometimes. And sometimes that can just weigh on us. And guess what? Just figure out what that next small step you can take today is in the present, focus on improving who you are, and maybe, how you think, and start doing the best you can do to surround yourself with people that give life versus suck the life out of you.” Because I’ve had some people like that in my life that I had to kind of limit access to. 

Rob Shallenberger: Well, John, first of all, thank you for being a guest on the podcast – amazing story. I hope people will get your book and read it: On Purpose With Purpose. I love your background and sense your sincerity, your transparency, the vulnerable things that you’re sharing. I’m hoping that everyone can relate to this. I’m hoping that people look internally at our own lives, including myself, and ask, “Where are we at with these? What is our purpose? Who are we becoming while we’re here?” So, you’ve just provided so many things that we can think about. And that’s the whole point in doing this podcast is to give people ideas – seeds can come in the form of ideas, and when you plant certain seeds, they can grow. So, I hope this has been able to plant a few seeds in people’s minds. And as we wrap up, John, do you have a website or any place someone can go to find you if they would like to – social media or a website? 

John Ramstead: Yeah, absolutely. John Ramstead on all the social media sites. And the website is And if you go to, we’ve got some special offers there for the BYB audience. So, I’d love to have you part of anything. Anything we can do to serve and support you for becoming your best, let me know.  

Rob Shallenberger: Perfect. So, say the website one more time, 

John Ramstead:  

Rob Shallenberger: Perfect. And then John Ramstead. So, John, again, thank you for being here. To all our guests, we love, we appreciate you. We hope you have a wonderful day and a great rest of your week. Thanks.  

John Ramstead: You too, Rob. 

Rob Shallenberger

CEO, Becoming Your Best

Leading authority on leadership and execution, F-16 Fighter Pilot, and father

John Ramstead

Executive Coach at the Ramstead Group, LLC

John is a former Navy Combat Fighter Pilot, Fortune 500 manager, Podcast Host and entrepreneur.

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