Episode 427: Life Lived Well: How To Live Not a Great Life, But Your BEST Life

Episode Summary

In today’s episode, Dr. Jeremy Zoch joins me to share his inspiring story of how he went from dealing with personal struggles to becoming a passionate advocate for health and life lived well. Throughout this episode, Dr. Zoch shares practical tips on embracing change, setting intentions, and cultivating gratitude you can start implementing in your life today. You’ll also gain insights on navigating challenges, setting inspirational goals, managing anxiety, and more.  

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. I am so excited about this podcast and grateful that you would join in today. This is going to be, I think, a treat. You’re going to get some real inspiration about living and health. We have one of the world’s experts with us today. He’s an executive, teacher, ultra-athlete, musician, father, husband, and spiritual person whose life journey has made him a relentless advocate for health and life. He attended Iowa State University—there are some roots right there—for Business Administration, and Washington University in St. Louis for graduate school, and received his PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University. Welcome, Dr. Jeremy Zoch.

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: Thank you for having me. Welcome.

Steve Shallenberger: Before we get started today, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Dr. Zoch. He has worked at leading healthcare institutions, including Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Health Systems, University of Maryland BJC Health Systems, and Dignity Health, and he is the CEO of Providence St. Joseph’s Hospital. He is a former adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California. Jeremy has completed the Boston Marathon, an Ironman, a 100-mile road race, and 40 marathons in 36 states. He plays rhythm guitar, travels, water skis, wakeboards, and snowboards, and knows all about Park City. So, when we started talking about Utah, we had fun talking about the snow here. Man, we’ve had great snow the last two years. He downhill skis regularly. He’s originally from Minnesota, and he currently resides in Orange, California, with his wife and two children, which we just talked about, and it’s fun to hear about him. Let’s jump right into this, Jeremy. Tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you.

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: I think, for me, I was fortunate to grow up in a loving family and to really grow up with a younger brother and then a much younger sister who we adopted. The opportunity for us to grow up in a small town, Fairmont, Minnesota, where we were able to do so much. But as I was growing up, what I didn’t appreciate was I didn’t really hear a lot of advice on eating the right amount and the right type of foods. So, by the time I was in seventh or eighth grade, I was close to 200 pounds, a very large middle school kid. As the oldest child, I felt like I was on my way to being a pro athlete, but as I started playing kids that were my own age and at a more competitive level, it got real in a hurry. So, we came back from a basketball tournament, and our basketball coach, in front of the whole team, and not in an appropriate way, let me know that I was overweight and that I needed to lose weight. As I think back on it, that’s not the way that it needed to happen in front of the team, but it was the reality that I needed to do things differently. I didn’t handle it well. A couple of weeks later, I quit the basketball team and decided to put my energy into pursuing music instead. But as I got into high school, I had a health teacher in particular that made a difference. She started talking about eating right. Then, my tennis coach was really the one who made that difference for me as he started talking about the mental game of tennis, being at your best physically, and thinking strategically. At the time, I didn’t appreciate what a master coach he was at the high school level. But Mr. Dunham really made a difference and really brought that full circle from an event. Within four years as I finished high school, to be able to take those learnings from those particular teachers in high school and be able to leave feeling like I had better control of my body and more informed, and being able to take that with me was something that I’m grateful to those teachers. As I was putting my story together of my journey, those teachers and the impacts that they made in those subtle and intentional ways really did help set me up for a level of success and being able to be at my best.

Steve Shallenberger: There are so many things that Dr. Zoch just talked about that are so powerful. One is thanks to all of our teachers; sometimes they’re in school, and sometimes we find them in other walks of life, but they teach us nonetheless and inspire us. Also, the fact that one of the things that our listeners—that Jeremy and I were talking about before—that we have in common is we’re working on becoming our best. Never forget that you have the opportunity to bring out the best in other people; that’s one of the real gifts that you can give people in your life and in our world. What a difference it makes. So, thanks for the inspiration and reminding us of that. Speaking of our best, to be at our best, we have to know ourselves. You discussed a life map in your book. Can you describe what that is? How do you get one? And why is it important?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: The nice thing about a life map is that it is incredibly inexpensive—it can be free if you’d like it to be. A life map was an opportunity that I had over 20 years ago when we were part of a group Bible study. It wasn’t particularly because of that Bible study, but it was the opportunity that we had to come around and spend two to three hours on our own, with time to reflect and to think about if it was our last days and you’re looking back at this one life that all of us have, how do you want to spend it? Who are you? What are those words that come to mind that you gain energy from and you get excited about? And then, what are some of those things that only you can do? You think about those relationships, whether it’s as a husband-wife, whether it’s father-son—those relationships, those impacts that we have, that we can make a difference with, and then thinking about the gifts, talents, passions we have. So, that’s what we had an opportunity to do. For me, I was probably coming up on age 25 to 30, in that range, and I kind of dabbled in running. I had run, I think, a marathon at the time. But as I sat there and had time to reflect, to me, that was where I really committed that day that I wanted to be the best executive I could. I didn’t want to just show up at work, but I wanted to be doing my very best. The same that day to really push it and say if I tried my best, and I understood my body and what it took to be at the best level, could I complete the Boston Marathon? That’s where that goal came from. And then the third one was, as I really enjoyed being part of book clubs, and I enjoyed the mentorship and the facilitating and the research, I said, “I’m going to get my PhD.” So, those were the key parts. That’s what really set me on a mission to go forward with that life map. I’ve come back to those words in time. What I added, probably about a decade later, was that I wanted to be a health advocate, not only to try to be a healthy person on my own, but I wanted to try to share it because I think taking care of our health is so important that it really enables us to do so many of those other things that are important to us as well.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you, and how powerful. There’s so much that we’re going to be able to talk about today. I just love your accomplishments in health and your marathons—40 marathons, the Ironman, which is a 100-mile race. What a high mark of accomplishment athletically, and being able to do that. One of the things that Dr. Zoch is just talking about here, and it’s something, Jeremy, that I’ve been thinking about a lot. As you know, in “Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders,” we’ve observed 12 principles that create excellence. You’re just talking about them: lead with a vision, your life map that we’ve been describing, having annual goals that refresh yourself, and what does my best look like? One of the things I’ve been thinking about more recently is what an enormous impact an idea can have in our lives. For example, you came up with the idea of running marathons, and you came up with the idea of getting your PhD. Just that one idea is so transformational, and we’re going to talk more about it. How have you found the best way to just take time and come up with an idea that’s inspirational, that’s right for you and really contributes to this life map? That’s a big deal. I’m still working on it as well; every day and every week, I want to come up with the right ideas that help me maintain real growth and realize my best is yet to be. How do you do it?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: One of the challenges in today’s society, as we get going, as busy people, it’s hard to find time to be by ourselves. Some of it shows up in conversations. Over the last several years, I’ve been trying intentionally to engage in asking questions that really get at things that I brought up in the book and also push me to really see what drives other people, what they are passionate about, and to go beyond the surface conversations. I think that’s one so that it’s in a community. To me, what’s worked is setting time aside for myself, whether that’s some time in the backyard or if it’s going to a park or the beach—whatever that may be—but really taking the time. Because when I’ve asked people, “When was the last time you had a couple of hours where you could just make some notes on your phone or on paper?” It’s usually very seldom. If you do a quick search for meditation retreats and types of retreats, they have become very popular. I think it’s hard to find that time to just give yourself time to think. So, that was one of the things I brought up in the book: this concept that my health coach had talked to me about was whitespace. She asked me, “When are you doing nothing?” I was like, “What do you mean, nothing?” It was just this time when you could just give yourself a chance to catch up with the rest of the day and process. So, we started out trying just 15-minute increments and to just give ourselves time to think, and even that seemed like a challenge at the beginning. But now it’s something that I’ve built into where I enjoy it. Then, I do try at least on an every-other-week basis to give myself just two hours. I just call it focus time. It’s a little time to look back at what’s working well and what seems a little out of step, a little chance to look forward at what’s on the horizon, and then a chance to really work towards what’s going to be looking over the next few months and few years, and really to continue that journey along the life map.

Steve Shallenbeger: I’m curious, Jeremy. Thanks for that perspective. Do you have a notebook or a place where you capture these ideas and write them down? Or how do you develop them?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: My simple way is just on my phone. I just have my 2024 goals. I have my focus on 50 goals as I’m coming up on that; those were goals that I’d actually put together when I turned 40, at a decade look. What I like about annual goals is it’s something you can see and you can tell when the year starts, like, “We’re gonna be able to do that this year.” My brother and I run all our marathons together. We know we’re going to find a way to run three more marathons in three more different states this year. That’s our goal. But when you look over a decade, that gives you a chance to do some new things. That’s frankly where it was where I said, when I turned 40, “I want to teach at a university.” That was something that took time as I started out guest lecturing, and to be able to teach, and then to say, “I want to play guitar again in our band at church.” That took time because I was a rusty bucket, and to be able to get the skills back and be able to do that. So, I think in some ways, those little larger terms, if you give yourself 10 years, as we learn and grow, we can do a lot of different things when you set goals that are over a little longer period of time.

Steve Shallenberger: Tell us about your book. You’ve written a book recently. Why did you write it? Can you give us some highlights of what’s in it?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: My book is called “Life Lived Well,” and it’s available everywhere. Amazon is the easy place, which everybody seems to know. It’s also on audiobook, which I know a lot of people, including myself, love. I took the time to record it to share the stories. As I was sitting next to someone on an airplane, we were just sharing stories, learnings, and takeaways, and he said, “You should write a book.” And I took him up on it. It’s a book that I put together, where it shares stories. As I started out at the beginning of this episode, sharing the gratitude that I had for my teachers. I had a chance when we came back from a long trip in South Africa to just start writing. That was my only goal; I just wanted to do more writing when I came back from Africa. I started putting together the stories, and what I noticed were two things: one, the people in my life who have made a difference and an impact, and that their stories, which they had shared with me, could also be shared with others. So, I really wanted to share those stories that have made such a difference from my mentors. Two, as I was writing my story, and noticed that some of the most challenging things that I went through in my life, some of the hardest things, as I looked back at my whole journey, were also where the most growth occurred, and then years later, would be some of the things that I would cherish the most. So, I think it was that adversity and knowing the potential and not seeing the whole picture right when you’re in it, but to believe and to have that faith that as you work through it, it will make a difference. So, I put together the book, but I really wanted it to be more for people. So, as you go through it, there’s a series of exercises, and they’re very simple, usually two to three questions that just help you reflect. I shared the story just to link to that reflection. It really is a book to take a broader look at your overall health and relationships, and help set you up for success today, but also as you head towards retirement and towards enjoying all the days we have.

Steve Shallenberger: One of the things you write about is a life gauge. How does it connect to the life map? How can it be helpful?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: So, a life gauge is just a series of categories or topics, and you can customize it any way you would like. Then, it’s simple: zero is the tank is empty, there’s none, and ten is the best you can imagine. It’s just your scale. There isn’t anything about the life gauge that, if you get all 10s, then everything turns bright light, and it’s the best day ever. But it’s a gauge that helps you connect. Think about the words, and I’ll just share a few of them. Like I said, you can add, but when you hear the word “joy,” and you think about where you’re at today on a zero to ten scale, if it’s a ten, and it’s the best day you can imagine, great. But then, think about your health and your body, your mind, and your spirit. For me, in particular, when somebody asked in my mid-30s, “How is your health?” To me, I didn’t know my health. But it really pushed me on a journey to get to know my health better. I just did some relatively inexpensive, simple DNA tests, and it really showed that, for my body, I was at a much higher risk for heart disease and also for diabetes. That woke me up because it showed the importance that if I wasn’t careful, and I wasn’t eating the right foods, and I wasn’t exercising, I was really going to be at risk for some chronic and some major health conditions. Getting the data, knowing what a difference it can make, has made it, to me, a lot more fun, almost like chasing the stock market and companies and financial information where then you have those metrics, and you can really push to pursue it. Another one on the list is relationships. I think as you look, especially as people look towards retirement, having those healthy relationships at all parts of our life. I loved, in a book I was just reading recently, how they were sharing that no one person has to be everything. When you put that all on your spouse or all on your best friend, that’s a lot of pressure. But to have several relationships and enjoy doing– I know I have some friends who love going to college football games in the fall. My brother and I love running, but my son and I, as much as we love snowboarding, he doesn’t want to run a marathon with me.

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: It’s good to have those different relationships that come into balance. So, I’m sharing just a few of those words. But another one that, for people, caught my attention was when you hear “finance.” For me, this was something my wife and I were both working on, and it felt like we were doing fine. But if you really ask, “Are we really making the best use of our resources?” The answer was no. So, I was familiar with this kind of life gauge and looking at these different words probably six or seven years ago, and it called out to me that I need to call a financial advisor, and I need to get more intentional about how we are using our resources and to be more mindful of it. So, that’s really what the life gauge is designed to be, for things that maybe go to the back burner or maybe aren’t even on your horizon, such as your spiritual growth, for people as we go through our lives, and we may be settled into it, but if it’s something that calls out to us that you want to get better at, then to be able to use these metrics to be able to do that.

Steve Shallenberger: I love it. So, the life gauge isn’t just a subjective gauge needle, if you will, but it’s also objective. Is there some way to measure it? Is that what you’re saying?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: Absolutely, and that’s really what it should be for your body. Say, today, when I woke up if you had asked me, I’d probably give it about a six out of ten. From flying this weekend, everything feels a little tight. So, if I’d say it’s a six out of ten today, it’s like, “Yeah, I could really use some yoga, some good stretching, probably a little run just to get a lot of the stiffness out of it.” But it’s also something where you’re not judging it on an objective scale, where your body has to feel like it did when it was 18 years old; it probably won’t. But that’s okay. It’s for where you are today and for what you best could imagine it to be. Then, how do you work to make those improvements? That’s something that I’ve come to appreciate about the process. It’s actually a quote by Muhammad Ali: “The person that thinks the same at 50 as they did at 20, they wasted 30 years of their life.” To me, that excites me because, for me, as a person who didn’t grow up necessarily thinking change was a great thing, it gave me this free pass that it’s okay to think that change and trying something new and just appreciating where you are today—that’s okay.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, here we are today with Dr. Jeremy Zoch, having a great time talking about Becoming Your Best. As I was just thinking about this, becoming your best is not becoming your neighbor’s best or somebody else’s best; it’s becoming your best. It’s not competitive against another person. We can learn from others, but it’s looking at yourself and saying, “How can I be the very best I can be in this life?” That’s what Jeremy is talking about—I love this—and having a life map, this reflective vision of what can be, and then having a gauge where you’re just stepping back saying, “How am I doing?” This gauge can bless you every day, every month, every year. You take time to step back and say, “How is it?” And then, how do you make the adjustments? Let’s say you’re off course a little bit, and you look at your gauge and say, “Oh my goodness, look at that relationship,” or “I’m eating too much sugar.” I’d give myself a four out of ten in that area. So, how do you make these course corrections and actually make progress in becoming your best?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: I do think there’s something on a monthly basis to check-in. I think that’s about the right amount of time. Certainly, you can check in for some of this even more. At the beginning of a month, it’s beneficial to take a look back at the previous month and also to look down the road for the next month and the time that’s coming up. I always think of this, especially as the summer approaches, which has a different energy about it. There’s a different feeling to it; how do you want to feel at the end of the summer? Sometimes, you can feel like it’s a time when you break, relax, and enjoy, and there’s so much good food and good drinks. But at the end of the day, how do you want to feel? How do you want to be at the end of the summer? Then, to be able to check in as you’re going through those months. I know, for me, as I hit the holiday periods in November and December, how do I want to feel on January 2? That matters. So, from that perspective, if it is something where, to me, learning something new and a new activity is important—and I know for some, gardening is something that people love to do, yet for others, it’s like a foreign language trying to have something that can grow. But it’s trying a new hobby. That’s for you, like the Boston Marathon; for somebody else, that’s learning to garden or a new craft, whatever that may be. But being able to try it, if you give yourself a goal at the beginning of the month and say, “I’m going to take a step towards that,” reach out. There are so many resources available, whether it’s starting out with a podcast or whatever it may be and then coming back to it and really focusing on what you can do to make it better and not being so hard on yourself. Giving it the grace to say, “Okay, this is where it’s at today. Do better this week, do better next week,” and come up with something that’s quantifiable. I know for one person they were aware, they’d read the book and heard about how much I struggled to swim and how I swim like a tugboat. It took a lot of lessons to change that. They said, “I really want to start getting into triathlons. What should I do?” And I said, “You should go swimming this week.” That’s what they had to do—get in the water once to start trending toward that; otherwise, three, six months later, they’re still going to be talking about wanting to do a triathlon. But that first step of getting in the water was the hardest for them, and then signing up for the race, and then the next step, and the next step, and you’re on your way.

Steve Shallenberger: Jeremy, what can a person do to reduce anxiety, to be able to have good rest at night, and not let anxiety reign in your life, and replace it with peace, focus, and joy? What’s your experience been with that?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: I am a lifelong practitioner of how to reduce anxiety. At times, I wake up at night, and my body and mind just seem to love to think in the middle of the night. I’ve actually come to find and appreciate that when I do wake up, and all those thoughts start, if I just say, “It’s okay. Let those thoughts come in. Don’t beat yourself up for it,” that’s when I usually fall asleep much quicker. But I think a couple of things help, especially giving your body time at the beginning of the day. I do have a practice, again, from my health coach, Pamela Malo, who shared with me the importance of really setting your intentions. So, I like to go out, especially this time of year, just into my backyard for a few minutes to center myself with a few moments of gratitude. What I’ve noticed, especially as a healthcare executive, is that there were days when I could look at the schedule and knew it was going to be stressful—there were going to be those difficult, challenging meetings. But when I came from a perspective of, “I get the opportunity to be around the table, to have those conversations, to try to help the physicians through the challenges that they’re having in their businesses, trying to help our hospital through the pandemic and all the challenges with that,” when you get this feeling of “get to,” it is very different than when you feel you “have to.” So, at the beginning of the day, when I’m setting the intentions, it involves looking back and being grateful for the things that have happened, but also looking forward and trying as hard as you can to get yourself in this perspective of “I get to.” There are going to be things that you know you have to do. But I think some of it, even if it’s something we don’t like or desire, it’s still something that, with an attitude of “get to,” it’s a different way of doing it. I know for me, I like to feel like I did my best and I love that value of excellence. So, when I “get to,” that’s when my best shows up. When I “have to,” that’s when usually marginal work shows up. So I think for people trying to reduce anxiety, that perspective of “I get to do this”—and for many of us, the things that stress us out are things that we dearly wanted and we dearly love, and it’s all that comes together—but that feeling of “it doesn’t have to be perfection, but we get to” can really help.

Steve Shallenberger: I love that perspective—how we think about something can have a huge impact on the outcome. On our mental health, for heaven’s sakes. Just think about this: you get to do it. I’m alive. I’ve got two arms, I’ve got eyes, and I can smell, talk, and walk. I’ve got health. I get to do this. That is really amazing. So, let me get into it while I can. Well, things go so fast; we’re at the end of our interview. I do want to have you just quickly touch on what you’ve found is the best way to cultivate and feel gratitude.

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: It is just part of that intention. I try each day to have at least three things that I’m thankful and grateful for. I try to be as specific as I can about whether it’s with people, in particular, that come to mind that I call out, whether it’s things throughout the day. Today, when I was in the backyard, and I was looking up, I could see the sun was coming up over the beautiful spring, and you could hear the birds. That was something that before I had this practice, it was just around me. But to slow down and just appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and to take those little steps with us. One of the sisters that I had a chance to work with said, “I try to find something beautiful each day.” I think that perspective, starting with that, and you take that through the day, it’s hard not to feel that blessing with you throughout the day. 

Steve Shallenberger: It’s been a great visit. How can people find out about what you’re doing?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: The easiest way is my website, When you go there, it has links to the book “Life Lived Well” and also a monthly newsletter. I’ve been trying just each month to send a—it only takes one minute to read—just a quick inspiration. So, “Life Lived Well” on Instagram and Facebook. The audiobook is on Audible and Spotify. It should be just about everywhere. So, I’ve tried to make it easy and would love for people to reach out and connect as I’m still learning and growing every day as well and just enjoying all the conversations about how we can all be at our best, not only for ourselves but right to then be able to help others, which is really the goal. Be at your best, take care of yourself, and then be able to help others with the gifts you have.

Steve Shallenberger: It’s been a delight, Jeremy. Thanks for being with us today.

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: You’re very welcome. Thank you.

Steve Shallenberger: We wish you all the best. To our listeners, we’re honored and privileged that you could join us. We know that you’re out there as you’re working on these things, becoming your best. Stephen Covey was a close associate for decades. I used to laugh; he was so complimentary. He would say, “It’s really hard to fault Steve Shallenberger because he’s always learning, and he’s always trying to do better.” So, how do you judge that?

Dr. Jeremy Zoch: I like that.

Steve Shallenberger: I do, too. That’s what we’re working on. So, we wish each one of you a great day. Thanks for being with us. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, Entrepreneur, and Community Leader

Dr. Jeremy Zoch


Executive, Teacher, Ultra-athlete, Musician, Author

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