Having survived a near-death experience myself (or maybe two of them?), I am pleased to bring you today’s guest Dr. Richard Shuster, who walked away from a near-death experience that forever changed his life’s journey – and led him to become the neuroscientist and altruist he is today.
After Jon Berghoff’s recent appearance on Richard’s podcast, The Daily Helping, Richard joins us to teach you how to Face YOUR Fears and Find Your Mission, sharing his inspiring true story – and the unexpected twists and turns that brought him into alignment with his mission.
- How a devastating accident became Richard’s spark for major personal and professional growth.
- Why we’re motivated by the need to feel significant – and how it affects everything we do.
- What altruism really means – and the importance of not expecting anything in return.
- How to listen to the world in order to align what you do with what you care about.
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Dr. Richard: If I think back to my upbringing, I grew up in Michigan to two really wonderful down-to-earth parents. My mom was a school teacher initially. Dad was a dentist and did things like giving away procedures or discount, did things to families that couldn’t afford it. So, I always have these really nice, as I look back an adult, influences in my life and role model so to speak. But something kind of changed in me when I got out of college and I don’t know what that switch was that flipped but it wasn’t a good switch. It was essentially I got into the rat race so to speak and my first job was in IT sales and I became very, very focused on accumulating as much wealth as humanly possible. And I’m not, as I’ve said on a number of shows, I’m not anti-capitalism. I’m not anti-entrepreneurship. In fact, quite the opposite but I think I wanted stuff for the purposes of having stuff, to have a really expensive car for the purposes of saying, “Look what I can drive.”
And one day and this was back in 2001, it was just kind of an ordinary day for me. I got in the car and I was driving to go have dinner with one of my cousins and I was kind of sitting at the base of a hill where it was 5 o’clock and the sun was in my eyes and this silver BMW just came flying. I flat out didn’t see it. I got the ticket. Sure. I deserve to get the ticket. I rehashed that scene a million times in my mind since then but essentially, as I’m in the middle of this left-hand turn I see a car screaming at me and what’s really interesting what we know about the brain and this research goes back literally there are accounts of this over hundreds of years, civil war, revolutionary war, notes from soldiers and such. People who are in a near-death experience oftentimes experience what is essentially a slowing down of time, almost to nothing. Like if you think about the Matrix and Neo’s kind of moving and these bullets are wheezing by him in slow motion. That’s what I was experiencing. I could see as this car was just about to slam into me, I knew I was going to die like I was just so sure. And as I can see my windshield shatter and there are little shards of glass floating everywhere, and I see that center console crushing into my side, my thoughts immediately and I didn’t have my life flash before my eyes like people say that happens, but I was reflecting on what I have accomplished in my life. What was I proud of?
And when my parents got that call because I was single like that’s who is going to get that call from the police that their son was dead was going to be my mom and dad and I’m thinking through myself, well, what are they going to be proud of that I’ve done in this world? And the answer was not much. Yeah, I got a degree, big deal. Anybody can go to college and get a degree. It’s not that challenging. But I really just was into thinking, “God, I’ve done nothing.” And as literally like my airbag deployed, I’m spinning back into oncoming traffic and what stopped me was a telephone pole that my car ricocheted into.
So, as a result of that, I’m conscious for all this but I did break my back, suffered some severe internal injuries, did some significant damage to my neck and I was in pretty bad shape and it wasn’t like an Uncle Scrooge moment like I was visited by the Ghost of Richard Past and how can I change but it was about what kind of things can I do to make my life more meaningful in a way that’s helpful for others? And that really kind of the catalyst for me that started me on this long road that I’m on today where ultimately, I’m a clinical psychologist. I have The Daily Helping and I’m launching a nonprofit for kids here in the near future as well but that was really the spark.
Jon: Wow. Well, thank you for sharing that story and a few things that I find personally interesting is you talk about how at the time that you had this accident that you wanted to own stuff in your life for the sake of owning that stuff and I think there’s a quote from the Fight Club, isn’t there? It’s something like, “Careful of the things you own for they will own you,” or something like that. But what I think about when I think about that story and I feel like there’s a great question in here for all of us to consider which is, what is our fundamental motivation that’s driving what we do? That’s a question that I am so passionate about because I feel like as individuals if we can get connected to what is motivating us and become aware of that, we can then realize how certain motivations are actually creating or not creating different byproducts in our life that we may have been unaware of.
So, some people would suggest that what you’re talking about is you were driven by, motivated by the need to feel significant, a sense of status, uniqueness or importance based on the things that you owned. And I really think that if we can start to get conscious about what’s motivating us, that can unlock, and it did for you because we’re about to hear about your story of what happened since then and I’d encourage every listener to think, what is truly motivating me? What is really driving the things that I do? I’m a fan of a psychologist from the 60s, a guy named Ian Marshall who developed a model that he calls the Scale of Motivations. We’re all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Tony Robbins really helped to popularize the concept that were driven by certain emotional needs.
But when you look at these different models, they’re all saying the same thing or Barrett Values Index. Anybody can go take that assessment for free and you can see what kind of motivations are driving you. But they’re all saying the same thing which is, can you become aware of at the deepest level why you’re doing what you’re doing? And my personal belief, Dr. Richard, and I don’t know, it’s not truth, it’s not reality, it’s just what I feel so it’s my truth I guess is that the more we can shift our motivations from being more self-focused to more others focused, to be more service-oriented and the Barrett Values Assessment is literally a way of measuring that, I feel like that can absolutely transform the scale and the size of the opportunities that the world puts in front of us because people know whether it’s conscious or unconscious, the opportunities and the people connected to those opportunities will resonate based on the actual motivations that are driving what we’re doing.
So, I just wanted to stop and call attention to that because it’s such a big deal. And so, tell us since that car accident, since you started asking what was important, how did that change? What happened next in your life and how you decided to dedicate your life and your career? And tell us more about what that has led to.
Dr. Richard: So, the timing of that accident was really interesting for me because I had started an IT consulting company at that time. We had already won our first bid with the government which was pretty wild, so we were in the process of doing this and one of the things that I had done was I had talked to everybody and anybody about this. I used to refer to this as the Shuster Empire like again I think back how arrogant and obnoxious of me, but I was going to build this massive IT company and do all these great things. And so, I convalesced but I went back to work. Jon, it was kind of like everything was just a bit of a shade of gray for me like nothing was the same. I went to work, and I did my thing and I think I was lying to myself for a while because I just I felt like if I walked away from it at the time at least that’s what I was telling myself. I was going to let so many people down and I stuck with that and I stayed in that role almost for two years and two years too long.
Each day I got more miserable. Each day I knew I wasn’t in alignment with who I’m supposed to be, but I was scared. And I think so many people for them fear is what stops them, fear of the unknown, but I knew I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing but I had no clue at all what I was going to do next. Eventually, I just really was honest with myself and just I’m not happy. I’m not fulfilled. I need to do more. And I walked away from that company, flat-out walked away and I went from working 60 to 80 to working zero in terms of hours and just had all of this time by myself and I, just kind of sitting there thinking about what was next, some regrets, I wasted this time, I worked in technology for these years. I’m not interested in technology. A lot of these should have, could have sort of scenarios in my mind.
And then one day I find myself at a grocery store and I heard two women talking about their daughters in social media. This was back when Myspace was a thing, not Facebook. “Have you heard of this Myspace? What is this? And then they’re posting these pictures,” and I just kind of interject and I don’t usually do that. I don’t usually butt into other people’s conversations, but I just said, “Hey, excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear. I’ve got a bit of a background in technology and security and I could share some things with you.” So, one of them wanted me to come talk to their school. And so, now all of a sudden, I’m talking to some parents and I’m starting to do some speaking about internet safety and that got me closer because now I’m helping others and the time I spent to technology didn’t seem like it was so wasted to me because I was actually using it in a way that’s helpful.
Then at one of these talks I gave, there is a gentleman in the audience that was on the local police’s cybercrime unit. I don’t know why that guy wasn’t giving the speech, but he wanted me to team up with him and now all of a sudden, I’m kind of on this circuit tour with the police doing these big talks. And the big talks with one audience it was well over a thousand people which was really cool. And I’m helping people on a grander scale and at one of these things a school, I can’t remember if it was a counselor or principal, somebody came up to me and asked me if I’d be willing to mentor that there were a lot of women that were signed up, but they didn’t really have any male mentors and they had a need and I said, “Sure.”
So, they gave me this young man who is at the time the seventh grade and we started doing this thing together and mentoring for a lot of people. It’s like therapy but not really but it kind of gives you a taste of having a direct impact in somebody’s life. And over time, the problems that this young man was having started to change and I’m not going to be so arrogant just to say, “Well, I’m the reason that everything changed for him.” However, it was really cool to be a part of that process and so I learned of a local social work program, a master’s in social work program that was opening up and I went down there and talked to them, applied to that program and that was a very powerful experience. This was around the time of Hurricane Katrina, so I got to work directly with some of those families that lost everything from New Orleans and then moved westward to Texas where I saw them.
And then things just kind of started falling into place, Jon, and then having accomplished the master’s but wanting to do more. I sought out a doctorate in clinical psychology and was able to do my dissertation on the impact of social media on personality functions. So, there again, the technology comes back. Everything was kind of full circle and I love what I do day-to-day and it lets me help people directly, but I wanted to do this podcast as a way of whereas the direct clinical work is the micro, the podcast is more of the macro where hopefully, I could have more of a societal impact which is why I started that.
Jon: Yeah. So, I want to ask you about some of the things you just brought up. I also have a note here and forgive me if this feels out of order, but I want to hear from you about what you call the neuroscience of altruism. I want to hear from you about what is that, what can we learn from that, and how can we apply that in our everyday lives.
Dr. Richard: Well, that’s really a central tenet of my show and it’s not something that I talk about episode by episode because the show is essentially me interviewing people about their expertise to help people. But one of my show’s objectives is to get a million people in a single day to commit acts of kindness for others. And to pull it into the neuroscience, that’s important, is that we are particularly in the United States a very we-focused society. Everything we see is it’s me, me, me and we’re in a really awesome time scientifically to where we can actually see what’s going on in the brain in real-time. And what the research has shown is that if somebody were to give you $1,000, that would be cool for you, but what’s also really exciting is that in terms of hormones that get released in our brain like oxytocin and dopamine, we get the same experience whether or not we’re helping or giving. So, why not give?
So, I try and really implore people to spend some time every day and I end every show with this. I tell people to go out there and do something nice for somebody else. And it’s interesting, I had a discussion with somebody on one of my episodes about altruism. Altruism does not mean you go hold the door for somebody or give somebody $20 thinking that karmically you’re going to get paid back 200. That’s not altruism. Altruism is truly giving, expecting nothing in return, and that’s what I want to encourage people to do.
Jon: That’s awesome. Well, tell us about this nonprofit that is in the process of being approved that launches when? In the next few months?
Dr. Richard: That’s the goal. So, we are simply waiting for the IRS to grant us 501(c)(3) status and my lawyer told me last week that I’m in that 90-day review so if all the documents are in a row, then we’re going to be collecting money really soon which is so exciting for me. This is a passion project for me. I talk about miracles. Certainly, I think my car accident was a miracle that I survived. I still don’t know how I did.
The other miracle on my life involved my firstborn son and it was the inspiration for this nonprofit. When we were at 31 weeks, my wife collapses at work so I’m on my residency so I’m seeing patients doing my thing and I get a call for my wife’s place of work that she has collapsed. She can’t move and so, of course, we’re fearing the worst thinking it’s the baby. We rushed her to the hospital and they do all of the tests that one would expect them to do and the doctor came out and he says, “Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the reason you’ve been experiencing this pain is because your kid’s been kind of doing a little tap dance on your sciatic nerve and that’s really painful. But the bad news and we wouldn’t have known this otherwise is that your amniotic fluid, you’ve had a leak in your cervix probably so insidious you would’ve never known. And your amniotic fluid levels are so low that if we can’t raise them in the next 12 hours, we have to take the baby today because he would suffocate and be dead, without question he would die.”
So, my wife’s at pediatric occupational therapy. I, in my residency, am working a lot with kids because we were connected to Joe DiMaggio Hospital and I’m seeing kids with severe developmental disabilities, so we are seeing the worst every day like the worst-case scenarios and so what the literature shows is that a kid born at 31 weeks, not great, not great outcomes most of the time. So, we’re freaking out. So, they stick her with an IV full of fluids and 12 hours goes by and the levels go up just enough to give it some more time and 12 hours becomes 24 becomes 36, become 6 weeks. And so, she was on bed rest, my wife, for the rest of this pregnancy and he cooked to 37 weeks which is great but because the fluid levels were high enough for him to live but not enough for him to move and he spent the last six weeks he’s wedged completely just kind of like cranked all the way to the left.
So, if you turn your head as far as it could go to where it’s painful, that’s where he sat under my wife’s rib cage for the rest of that pregnancy. So, when he had to be taken during emergency C-section, his head was pretty misshapen, and he had so many problems, so many problems, and what people don’t realize that when a child develops, an infant develops, everything is connected. So, the sensory input they get from crawling, things they hear in their environment in terms of what they see, what they hear, it all comes together. My son had no idea. When other kids were walking, my son didn’t know he had a right side of his body. He needed speech and PT and OT and a helmet that we couldn’t afford but we really overextended ourselves to get him the help that he needed. And what was really remarkable over time is that because of the people in our life particularly at his school that went so above and beyond to help him, he eventually caught up and exploded. When the OT would say my son needs more sensory input, his teacher would text my wife pictures that they then putting shaving cream on his feet which was really important.
And so, we were so touched by that and as I was kind of moving through to jump into the future a little bit with this podcast, I had interviewed Bob Burg who is at the time my first published author, big guest. I was really optimistic, and I just said to my wife that night, “God, I’d really like to when this takes off cut a check back to his old school for $10,000 and earmark that money just for speech, PT, and OT.” And then the little cartoon light bulb went out and freaked out and ran downstairs and went to GoDaddy and saw that EveryKidRocks.org was available and I bought it and emailed my lawyer. So, that was the inspiration. I have a perfectly wonderful, happy, healthy five-year-old boy. And even now like we go to birthday parties on the weekends we’ve got young kids like I see them on the playground and he’s climbing monkey bars or something and I almost cry like I’m so grateful and it’s so amazing to me that he can do these things that a lot of people would just take for granted.
So, when we’re able to take money, what we’re going to be doing is helping kids just like my son because there’s a lot of foundations and charities out there for kids that have severe disabilities. There’s really nobody playing in the space for those kids that just need a little push, those kids that just need a boost to reach their true potential and that’s where we’re going to be. So, schools will have the ability to apply, we’ll vet them, and then the funds will be distributed directly to the school so that they can go out into their community and bring in treating professionals to help these kids that just need a little time, limited push to get back on track and ride their ship.
Jon: Dr. Richard, what an incredible story and thank you for sharing that to hear how personal it is for you and I can relate as a parent. One of the things I invite everyone who’s listening to think about and this will be my next question for you is I love any kind of final thoughts you have that can help all of us on the idea of how to continually keep figuring out what our mission is and aligning what we do with that. And I hope that when others hear your story, they are not only inspired but they are inspired not just by the story itself but by the idea that one of the things you are exemplifying is you’re constantly listening to what is the world telling you, what are the opportunities that the world is giving you to align what you’re doing with what you really care about.
And I love what you said earlier that in your career, you would stay in a role maybe for too long but I think all of us can relate to in our lives as entrepreneurs or otherwise, we all have decisions that we’re facing and many of us have decisions that we put off or we rationalize not making a decision and that makes us feel good about this in the short term but what none of us want is to look back and think, “Oh my gosh, should I have made a different decision?”
So, I love that your story embodies really listening to your passion, your mission and being willing to follow that and I encourage anyone who’s listening to think about maybe where has fear held you back for making a critical decision to doing something that may be more closely aligns whether it’s a little or a lot with what you really care about, with what you really value because life is so precious. This whole ride is such a short ride. So, Dr. Richard, any final thoughts from your journey, any lessons you’ve learned about just aligning everything you do with what matters most?
Dr. Richard: It’s a great question, Jon, and I’m actually in the process of writing my first book which is going to delve into this very specifically. One of the things that I think is so neat to do is to step back and talk about those things you’re passionate about. Many people if you’re an accountant or in sales and maybe you love helping others, but what do we really enjoy? Like, if you strip away the need for money and to pay the mortgage and tuition or whatever fiscal responsibilities one might have in your life, ask yourself what it is that you really love to do? And as you’re asking that, I mean, probably everybody who’s read the Miracle Morning and then the Miracle Morning Community is very committed to achieving goals and being very introspective so find out what you love to do and identify what your values are. And values are different than strengths. The values are different than passion. It is who you are as a core person.
My mission is value-driven and for me, my mission is to be of service to others even if it is no benefit to myself. So, for me, every action that I take drills down from there. And that’s really the first thing because if you can identify who you are and how you want to make an impact in this world and then find activities which bring you passion, you will kind of stumbled into as I did ways to tie those two things together and be able to provide abundance for your family and your loved ones.
Jon: Wow. I love how clearly you’re able to share that and I also love, Dr. Richard, that for anyone in here who’s been a listener for a long time, we have some folks listening to this podcast who they’ve heard me for the past year and they may or may not realize that I’m just standing in for my buddy, Hal, who started this podcast. And for anybody in this community who knows Hal, a lot of what you just shared resonates with how he has shown up in the world for so many years. I can’t help but hear your mission and think that is so much a part of who Hal is and how he has grown his global community. And I have seen because I’ve known him for a long time and I’m just getting to know you, but I’ve seen for Hal going back 10 plus years, he’s been living out his own mission so similar to yours which for such a long time he is so authentically being committed to he calls it Selflessly Adding Value Every Day, the SAVER model. Interesting because his Life SAVERS is part of his Miracle Morning framework, but I love that personal mission that you have, Dr. Richard. And one more time before we part ways here, where can people follow you? Learn from you? And stay up-to-date with what you’ve got going on?
Dr. Richard: Best way to do that is to go to TheDailyHelping.com which is kind of the mothership for everything that we’re doing. As the nonprofit launches, we will certainly post everything that’s there. That’s going to be EveryKidRocks.org but like I said, can’t take money yet and then podcast is available on all the usual places, iTunes, Google Play. We’ve got our app in the App Store so that’s kind of where everything connects to I should say.
Jon: Awesome. Dr. Richard, good to be with you, buddy. Take care.
Dr. Richard: Likewise. You too.
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