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As He Lay Waiting for a Trauma Helicopter to Save His Life, Michael O'Brien Made a Promise. Here's How He's Keeping It.

That was his 'Last Bad Day.'
As He Lay Waiting for a Trauma Helicopter to Save His Life, Michael O'Brien Made a Promise. Here's How He's Keeping It.
Image credit: John DeMato
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In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Michael O’Brien, founder and Chief Shift Officer at Peloton Coaching and Consulting. It was condensed by The Oracles.

Who are you?
Michael O’Brien: Before what I call my “Last Bad Day,” I was a successful sales professional and marketing director. On July 11, 2001, I was in New Mexico for a meeting. I brought my travel bicycle because I was training for a race a few days later — but I didn’t make it. During my morning ride, an SUV crossed the centerline in the road and hit me head-on at nearly 40 miles per hour. As I lay there waiting for the trauma helicopter, I told myself that my life would be different if I survived.

Thanks to that near-death experience, I realized that I had to change my mindset if I was going to become the best husband, father, leader, and version of myself. I needed to shift my perspective from a victim to a victor. The desire and drive to get better had to come from within.

Since then, I’ve demonstrated to those fighting the corporate grind and demands of everyday life that regardless of your age, you can write a different script — one that amplifies your career and happiness. The reason I survived wasn’t clear to me at first. Now I know that my purpose is to help others lead and live with more awareness, resilience, connection, and gratitude so they can have the energy for what matters most.

What is one of your proudest moments?
Michael O’Brien: My proudest moments always involve my daughters, especially when others see what I see in them. There are times when you worry about your kids’ futures and whether you’re doing it right, so I’m incredibly proud when someone tells me that I have wonderful daughters.

My most important job is being a parent, so seeing them making a difference in the world at ages 19 and 22 is an indescribable feeling. I don’t know what they will do with their careers, but I do know they have the drive, resilience, gratitude, empathy, kindness, and voice to succeed at whatever they choose.

How did your business get started?
Michael O’Brien: When I was in the intensive care unit recovering from my accident, I told my wife to “find David” because he would show us the way. I don’t remember anything from that time, but when she told me what I said, I knew it was the seed of my business. David was my first leadership coach. I could have mumbled many names, but his was the only one. I saw that as a sign that I would follow in his footsteps to elevate other leaders.

Instead of leaving my corporate job when I regained my health, I worked my way up to the executive suite. But when my values couldn’t be honored, I knew it was time to start my company and harvest the seed that was planted years earlier.

What’s your favorite quote?
Michael O’Brien: When I was 10 years old, my little league coach, Ron Brown, told our team that we would compete with this mantra: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” In fifth grade, I didn’t know anything about resilience, grit, tenacity, or perseverance, but this felt powerful. It’s been my favorite quote ever since.

It has helped me through my recovery, challenging moments in my career and personal life, and times when I didn’t think I could keep going. It always makes me grateful for the challenge in front of me and the opportunity to demonstrate that I’m tough.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Michael O’Brien: When I started my career, I thought I had to control it all. When I became a leader, I felt that I had to have all the answers to stay in control or risk weakening my job security and ability to provide for my family. Until my Last Bad Day, I held a great deal of stress inside because I didn’t want others to see that I wasn’t in control.

Looking back, I would tell my younger self to breathe, ease up on my grip, and be comfortable with not having all the answers. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t change a thing, because those white-knuckle moments led me to this one and a chance to help others.

How do you define great leadership?
Michael O’Brien: Leadership isn’t complicated. It’s about knowing your purpose, painting an aspirational future, connecting with others, and making it about their success.

Many leaders make things about them. They lead with their ego and believe they have all the answers. Great leaders know that their value isn’t in having the right answer — it’s asking the right questions.

How do you hire top talent?
Michael O’Brien: When recruiting talent, I looked for the candidate’s self-awareness of their strengths and areas for improvement, as well as how they developed and applied new skills. I examined their mindset, emotional and conversational intelligence, whether they could shift their perspective, and how they reacted when the going gets tough.

Which single habit gives you 80 percent of your results?
Michael O’Brien: Habits are the infrastructure of success. I created my morning ritual while recovering in the hospital. I drink 20 ounces of water, set my intentions for 10 minutes, meditate for another 10 minutes, and move to wake up my body. The whole process focuses on firing up my mind-body connection.

But gratitude is what creates 80 percent of my success. It’s my daily spark that helps me create a better tomorrow. I practice gratitude every night before my head hits the pillow, which serves as a daily bookend that shifts my perspective and helps me see what’s working. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on my challenges and appreciate them — because they help me grow more than anything else.

What are you working on right now?
Michael O’Brien: During my recovery, a friend told me that all the events in your life are neutral until you label them. I realized that I was in charge of my response to what happened and that I could choose how it would define me.

Now I have a goal of helping over 1 million people experience their Last Bad Day. That’s the day you realize that you get to choose your labels, write your script, and prevent bad moments from turning into a bad day. A recent study found that people have 60 Bad Days a year. Imagine how much more we could accomplish if we experienced fewer of them.

What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Michael O’Brien: I would like for people to say that I helped them see things differently and shifted their perspective in every aspect of their lives. That would be an awesome legacy because changing one person’s perspective can change lives everywhere.

I survived my Last Bad Day so others can realize that another way is possible. I hope to be the inspiration that helps you take your first pedal stroke forward.

Connect with Michael O’Brien on Facebook and LinkedIn, or visit his website.

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