Hope isn’t just a feeling; it’s a weapon we wield against life’s challenges, forging resilience in the fires of adversity. Join us in this episode as we dive into an impactful conversation about mental health, resilience, and the power of hope. Our guest, Tom Campbell, former Army Sergeant Major and founding member of the US Army Drill Sergeant Association, shares his deeply personal journey through the challenges of PTSD, burnout, and the path to healing. Through his story, he reveals the pressures of maintaining a façade of invincibility while grappling with the burden of trauma. Tom highlights the pivotal moments and lessons he learned along the way such as finding resilience amidst adversity, using hope as a weapon, and shifting the narrative. Tune in and get inspired to view mental health, hope, and resilience in a new light.
How do we leverage continuous uncertainty to thrive in this unprecedented new world?
The answer is to build the resilience we need to power us through the challenges we face so that we become “Change Proof.” Prepare to tackle the future with confidence by reading Adam’s latest book Change Proof: Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Hope Is A Weapon: Building Resilience In The Face Of Crisis With Tom Campbell
I’ve got a wonderful conversation ahead with a gentleman I’m going to introduce to you, but you’re going to want to make a moment to sit, read this, and think about it hard, easily, and in a holistic way. It may be an episode that you’re going to want to share with some people that you know who may be dealing with some of the same stuff.
I’ve got a guest. He is Sergeant Major Tom Campbell. After suffering from survivor guilt, TBI, PTSD, and a plethora of other issues all at the same time, Tom went into a very dark place and attempted to take his life. A friend who would later become his wife intervened at the last minute and saved him from himself. In this episode, Tom speaks about these experiences publicly and even started doing standup comedy as a way to get the word out to help people through humor and his story. It is a profound conversation ahead. Sit back and enjoy my discussion today with Tom Campbell.
Tom, your introduction and bio say some part of your history and experience. That’s what those things are for. When I hear my own bio read, it’s encapsulating some chunk of my life in an interesting, funny thing, but my question to you at the outset of this conversation is what is one thing that is not part of your introduction and bio that you would love for people to know about you? One thing that’s not in there and not written in all that. What’s one thing you’d love for people to know about you at the start of our conversation?
The bio focuses a lot on my military career and now that I’m retired, I’m finding out there’s more to life than an Army. One thing that’s not covered in there is that life is a great place and it took me a while to find that out, unfortunately. I do standup comedy. The reason I do that standup comedy is I strive to make not just my place better, but everybody around me. That’s where the comedy drove in. If I can make you laugh for ten seconds, you could have the crappiest day of your life. That’s ten seconds I took you out of that crap and put you in somewhere good.
For somebody that came out of a career in the military and the kinds of things that you are trained to face, and I don’t know how much of that you were put in the middle of, I know we trained for the worst often and we don’t always experience those things, but did you see combat? Were you in harm’s way?
Yes, quite a few times. In reality, I cheated death quite a few times. I was an infantry paratrooper in the Army. I grew up as a sniper. We didn’t start deploying though until I was a platoon sergeant and immediately after I was the first sergeant. I wasn’t a young guy we started deploying. I’d already been in the Army for a good span, but I ended up 1 trip to Iraq and 4 trips to Afghanistan almost back to back. That’s five-plus years I spent in combat.
Deployed for five years.
Deployed, but not all at one time. I’d be gone 1 year, come back 1 year, and gone 1 year.
This is a question I didn’t expect to ask but it’s coming to me I’m going to fire away. Looking back now, what was scarier, the first time you jumped out of a plane or the first time you stood up in front of an audience to be a comic?
I would probably say the first time I tried to do comedy because of the airplane part, everything happened fast. You don’t have enough time to get scared but trying to get up in front of a room full of strangers and then try to captivate their attention and then hold their attention was intimidating when I first started this.
Are there parallels between those two things? Before this interview, one of the things Tom and I said was, “We’re going to follow the breadcrumbs wherever they lead us.”
There are not a lot of parallels, outside of jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft in flight, in which some people died is idiocracy by itself, but in my military career as in hold, that did feed into the comedy and back to trying to make lemon laid out of lemons. For 32 years of being in the Army, I saw some funny stuff.
I remember growing up watching, and I’m maybe 1 minute or 2 older than you, but the show that I remember as a kid on Tuesday nights was M*A*S*H, a sitcom comedy show. It is a situational comedy about life in the Army in Korea in the ‘50s. in the middle of any war, pick a war, it doesn’t matter what, a conflict, or whatever you want to call it, where people’s lives are threatened, where people die, and are being killed, there’s not a lot that you could say is funny. Yet that show ran for a long time based on a book and all that. There are funny things that occur even in the midst of that absurdity and tragedy. You have a lot to draw on.
It’s sometimes ironic. You’d asked earlier if I’d written a book and I said I hadn’t. There was a book that was written about me, and it’s written in French though. It’s called OP3 Road by Hubert Picard. I can’t read it to you because I don’t speak French. Hubert Picard is a phenomenal guy. Ever since he wrote that book, we’ve been friends, but he had got embedded in my company in Iraq the day that a very traumatic event happened to the company. He wrote about that in particular.
One thing that was captivating was as stressful as the environment was and especially, at that time, we were having 5 to 7 firefighters a day, 7 days a week in a little town called Karma up in the Fallujah province. Even in that though, whenever the guys would get together, they would do the funniest stuff to make laughter and everybody says laughter is the best medicine. Whenever we’d lose a soldier, we’re a family, it hurts the family, but then somebody would do something completely off the wall to break the mood, get our minds off, and then we’d go back to work.
I’m curious if there’s a mindset when I was asking earlier about if there’s a parallel between the comedy and the combat, maybe we can keep it to two C words. I’m a public speaker myself and I stand in front of audiences all the time and have for many years. I remember the first time I got up in front of a large group of people. They didn’t have guns and they weren’t pointing at me, but they had their eyes, which when somebody’s looking at you, you feel like they’ve got an assault weapon right there and their arms are crossed. They’re looking at you like, “Who in the world is this person?” That’s a hostile audience right there, but is there something you could say about maybe the comparison or the mindset for combat and for being a standup comedian?
This might sound a little bit strange, but part of when you’re in war especially when you’re in direct contact with the enemy, there’s a level of a sign that’s always going on. You’ve got to try to get in the enemy’s head and try to get the enemy to do what you want the enemy to do. That doesn’t always happen. The same goes for when you’re in front of an audience. You’ve got to read the audience. You got to try to plan your set. You got to try to estimate what the audience is going to be. Friday night crowds going to be different from a Saturday night crowd and the first show is going to be different from the late-night show.
You got to tailor your sets accordingly, even public speaking. When I go out and tell my story, I got to figure out, “Is it a group of veterans? Is it an active-duty unit that I’m talking to? Is it a school?” It’s all a different audience. I come in with a game plan, but then in the middle of executing that plan, the audience has a vote in how the outcome comes. You’ve got to try to adapt your speaking or comedy set with what the audience gives you as you read them. That’s probably the biggest parallel between the two. You can’t take it for face value. You got to come in with a plan, but then you’ve got to be able to tweak that plan in flight.
I’m holding up a book that I’m fortunate to have been a part of a couple of years ago, this book Pivot. That’s this concept, agility, adaptability, however you want to call it, this flexibility on the one hand, and the capacity to read the situation, the room, and what we’re talking about, and then be able to adjust on the fly. I would imagine it’s the same out in the field when there’s a plan of war and strategy, and you’ve got to read what’s happening that maybe changes that plan pretty dramatically.
A great plan is only good to the moment of execution, then it turns into a good plan.A great plan is only good up to the moment of execution. Click To Tweet
Is that somebody’s quote that you remember? Is that your quote?
I’d heard that somewhere years ago and I cannot remember where I heard that. It was one of my leaders that said it and I cannot remember who it was that said that. Once at the point of execution though, everything’s out the window.
I’ve heard that Churchill said some things like that. We know Mike Tyson in a very different context said something similar to that, “Everybody’s courageous or something once they get hit in the nose. Their plan is completely out the window. Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched or the bullets fly or what have you.” We’ve all heard similar things. I haven’t heard it quite that way before, that’s why I wrote that down. That capacity or mindset that is not fixed, the fluid mindset, the mindset that can pivot is vitally important in life.
I often talk to business audiences so I’m putting things in a business context, but it doesn’t matter what the context, whether it’s that, comedy, public speaking, or military situations. I want to get into your story, keep in mind, or at least put out there this thread that the mindset and whether we have a fixed mindset or an open mindset, where on Earth does that fit in the place sometimes that we find ourselves where we are in pain mentally and feel as though we don’t have options, where we lose hope, where we feel as there’s not a lot we can do to change our situation. If you could share a little bit about your story and lead into the things you talk about and the work that you’re doing, that would be great. Thank you for your service. You are extended.
I appreciate it. I get started in those five deployments that I talked about. All of them were very volatile deployments but these two were very significant. One was while we were in Iraq. Even though I was a first sergeant, normally the first sergeant wouldn’t be the company sniper, but it was a unique situation. I was a senior sniper in the brigade. I was a company sniper. Every time the guys were out, I was in hindsight, then my spotter was also the company medic Sergeant Brian Baum. Hands down, he is the best spotter I’ve ever had over the years. We were always together. They brought in three Syrian snipers to kill me. Two of them were marksmen. They weren’t good snipers. They met their fate fairly quickly.
One though was good. I had hunted that guy down. He had shot a few of my guys. I didn’t kill him but wounded him. Long story short, I was out on a hasty patrol. He got to drop on us and killed Sergeant Baum. That irritated me a lot. Not only because he was the closest soldier to me, not that he was any more or less important than any of the other ones, but the other part was that he got the best of me.
I went on a ten-day manhunt trying to find him. We ended up getting him, but the things that bothered me were starting to fall into this. This is what I found later. One of many survivor-guilt issues that I would dig on. He was going on leave that night because they were waiting for him to get back to Alaska to induce labor to his wife for their first child. My children are well enough to have lifelong memories of their dad, whereas his daughter would never know her dad.
I was at a point in my career, I had met all the goals I wanted to in my career, and where Sergeant Baum had a lot of goals he hadn’t met yet. He was a future sergeant. He is one of the most professional non-commissioned officers I’ve ever worked with in the Army. I was at a point in my life I could have died happy and he still had a lot of life left in.
He wasn’t supposed to be out there. He talked me into letting him go at the last minute. It was a hasty patrol that I had spun up as a reaction to enemy harassing fire. I lived with that for many years. You fast forward a little bit, a few deployments later, and I had some head injuries that never got looked at. We didn’t know a lot about head injuries at the time, but while I was in Afghanistan and got selected to be a sergeant mate when I redeployed, I had two weeks to get from Alaska to Fort Bliss, Texas.
When I redeployed, I found out that a twenty-year marriage went down the drain while I was gone. I don’t have enough time to process it because I only have two weeks to get from Anchorage, Alaska down to Fort Bliss, Texas. When I get down to Fort Bliss, me and my little travel trailer that I towed down there, and I’m by myself. For a very long time, I’ve been by myself. I wasn’t in charge of nobody. Nobody’s in charge of me. It was me, my little trailer, my motorcycle, and my truck, that was it to the Tom Campbell clan. The old saying, “I don’t mind if is the devil’s playground,” it is, and I have nothing to do but think about all the survivor guilt that I had and about decisions that I made that cost people’s lives.
I thought about the family that I used to have that I don’t have anymore. I have a great relationship with my kids now, but at the time, I had an estranged relationship. On top of that, I was having these migraine headaches. I didn’t know what was causing them, but my head would hurt badly. I couldn’t move. I started self-medicating. I started drinking. I’d get feel a headache come on. I and Jim Beam would start having doctor sessions. I would find out Jim Beam is not a good doctor, contrary to popular belief, but I would drink myself to sleep every night. I would hear stories from other students that were staying in the campground where of riding wheelies out of the trailer park in the middle of the night on my motorcycle and had no recollection of even riding a crap motorcycle.
I started doing crap stuff and not knowing about it. What I tell people is I had gotten to the point where I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was very angry. I hated myself, God, and everybody around me. If you meet anybody that graduated from Class 61 and saw Major Academy and ask them if they know Tom Campbell, they’ll say, “I know him,” They won’t have anything good to say about me unfortunately. I was suicidal before I knew I was suicidal. I didn’t care if I lived or died. I did crap stuff like riding my motorcycle at 100 miles an hour and gridlock traffic on I-10 that turns into a parking lot at I-10 in the afternoons because I didn’t care for my health and your health or anybody else’s health around me.
I still like rock climbing, but I would go out to Hueco Tanks. I would climb to get away from the world. I climbed a couple of hundred feet up in the air with no anchors and no ropes because I didn’t care if I fell or not because I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was suicidal before I knew I was suicidal. What broke the camel’s back was I had an episode in class and then I was forced to go to mental health. When I went to mental health, I had a chip on my shoulder and I got approved. I don’t have PTSD and I made such a spectacle out of myself that the poor little old lady that I saw in there refused to be in the same room with me because she feared for her health.
I went and see the commandant and I thought I was going to get kicked on the summer major academy. Instead, he had my enlisted records brief, which shows everything, all your awards, deployments, assignments, and everything that you’ve done in your career. He asked me a question, “Out of all these deployments, how many NCOs or Non-Commissioned Officers did you force to get help? That rang a bell because I’d always preached to my leaders to lead by example, “If you can’t live by your own preaching, I don’t want you on the team. In fact, if you got to tell me how good a leader you are, I don’t want you on the team. If your actions show me how good a leader you are, I do want you on the team.” That rang a bell because I had forced people to get help.
Some of those are alive because I forced them to get help, but somehow I was above getting help. I’m going to try to live my own preaching. I’m going to give this mental health an honest effort. I go back to mental health. My next psychologist was a big guy. He’s not much taller than me but had hands big enough to look like he had bananas for fingers. I had a few sessions with him. He was leaving, then they sent me to another little old lady, bless her heart, Ms. Pierce. She picked up on this thing called TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, and asked if I’d ever been screened, “No, I don’t have any holes in my head and I don’t have lost any marbles. She sends me over to the TBI clinic on Fort Bliss and they do the MRIs, CAT scans, muscle motor or skill tests, and memory tests.
They say, “Your front left lobe where your brain is bruised,” which explains a few months before I redeployed and Afghanistan, I fell off a cliff and a rock smashed me on the head that I had my helmet on, but it knocked me unconscious. That was explained and the doc said that the bruise will heal itself over time. He said, “You got something else going on that same low about the size of a $0.50 piece of dead tissue. You evidently had an aneurysm during one of your brain injuries and that would never heal. We’ll get you better than you’re now but like Toby Keith sings, ‘You won’t be as good as you once were.’” That’s what broke the camel’s back.
On top of the failed marriage, relationship, survivor guilt, questioning my decisions, and everything else, now my brain’s not right. I could not fathom how would they promote me to sergeant major. How would they keep me in the Army? I know nothing but the Army. I don’t know what I’m going to do outside. That’s what broke the camel’s back.
There was one common denominator in all my problems, and it was me. In my mind, if I removed that common denominator, everybody around me’s world would be better. That’s when I started making a plan to end everything. I don’t want to hang myself or shoot myself for a couple of reasons. I didn’t want to jeopardize my kids getting the benefits from survivor benefits and life insurance. I didn’t want to be a statistic. I wanted to stage an accident and I found the perfect place to stage an accident on Transmountain Road there in El Paso, which goes up into the mountains.
I had the perfect place, a little sharp left curve coming down the hill. There’s a rock wall right there in that curve, looks like I missed it with my motorcycle and hit that rock wall and that’d be the end of it, but I can’t execute it because I got to get my fares for my kids. While I’m getting my fares in order, I rehearsed that plan I can’t tell you how many times. I go to the top of the mountain. I race that motorcycle down and slowed down before I got to that curve. Now once I got my fares in order, then it became time for the plan of execution. I went up the mountain. When I drove by that spot, I looked at that wall and I went up to the top, turned the motorcycle around, and I was screaming down.
The time it took me to go to the top, back down, somebody parked a car between that wall and that curve. I was well over 100 miles an hour. I got the motorcycle under control. I went around the curve sideways, tires smoking, I don’t know how I did not wreck. I went back up and pulled over on the side of the road and I waited for that car to leave. While I’m waiting for that car to leave, my phone rings in my pocket, which I don’t answer because I’m on a mission and I let it go to voicemail. It rings again. This keeps going on. Finally, I answer the stupid phone to see who this persistent person is. That persistent person was a little girl that I’d met not too long before.
We were friends somehow. As ornery as I was, she couldn’t believe I was as bitter as I put on to be, that there was a good person in there. She kept talking to me even though I was a bitter butthole. She had this weird feeling that she needed to call and check. That little girl is my wife now. I asked her later, “How long would you have called me?” Her answer was, “When you answered the phone, I was getting in my car and I was going to keep calling until either I found you or you answered the phone.” She had no idea she was about to intervene in a suicide attempt, but she talked me off the mountain that day.
I start giving mental health another effort. In the TBI clinic, they gave me a bunch of medicine, which I wasn’t taking because I didn’t want to get hooked on medicines. They make me feel loopy and drool on myself. I never took it, which means it didn’t do any good. I go back to Ms. Pierce. She asked about how the medication’s due. I told her I didn’t take it so she refused to talk to me. She said, “If you’re not going to get your chemical balances right, it’s pointless in me. You leave my office now.”
I thought, “I need this lady. I try to sort through this stuff.” I start taking my stupid medicine. I still take it now, but it got my chemical balances in right. It made me quit bouncing around. If I didn’t take it, I’d be bouncing around. Another medicine to help my anxiety, control my emotions, and get to sleep. I have problem pills I take every night, unfortunately, but once I got my chemical balances right, now we can start trying to sort through and try to build coping mechanisms and what have you to try to deal with the stresses.
Not that the stresses went away, but I had somebody to help me try to cope and build my mechanisms and what have you. For years, I never talked about it even after I was getting treatment because I was ashamed of it. Theresa, my wife, was the one that got me to start talking about it because she kept saying, “If you shared your story, how many people or lives can you touch?” At that time, I was still a star major. I found out that there are a lot of myths over the years that we’ve gained on suicide. They promoted me to sergeant major. I got to keep my security clearance. I mean all the stuff that everybody says will happen didn’t happen if you go get mental health. I started sharing my story to be able to maybe talk somebody else off the ledge.
That’s therapy all in itself. Every time I share my story, it’s like another brick is taken out of the pile on my back. It’s emotional, especially when I do my presentation. Anywhere from one hour and a half or more, depending on how engaged the audience is, when I’m done, I’m emotionally and mentally drained. I’ll take myself back down memory lane. Life is a good place and I’m in a good place now. I’m not out of the weeds. I still have my moments and days. Bless Theresa’s heart. She’s been my rock. 2023 will be our 10th year of being married. That’s the abbreviated version of my story.
I want to pick up on something you said there at the end about the myths. I would imagine whether it’s military or it’s otherwise, the feelings are the same. I had something not remote. Pain is pain. It doesn’t matter what the cause of the pain is. We all have different thresholds for pain. We get that. What pain feels like is the same. The mental strain of it, the feeling of being out of solutions, options, and plans, that is not a good place to be. When there’s a solution or at least the promise of a solution that feels at odds with our ego, it’s a challenge because a great part of what we’re able to do as human beings has a great deal to do with how we see ourselves in the world with our identity.
I won’t speak for your identity. My identity at various points in my life is a bit of a warrior as somebody who could do difficult things, maybe be tenacious, be the last person standing, be vigilant, be very good at being on guard for my clients, my family, or whatever it might be. When that’s the identity, to be vulnerable, weak, in need of help, or unable to help yourself, there’s a real conflict there, that reality and your identity at that moment.
One of the reasons that I didn’t get help was exactly that. I had a persona that I was invincible and a lot of people looked up to me. whenever we get in stressful situations, they are always, “First Sergeant Major Campbell a leader deployments was the guy that never got deterred. He was the level-headed in the more stressful way.” Those reasons were somehow I thought, “It wasn’t me.”
I don’t know if it was because I was ashamed that I wasn’t as invincible as everybody thought I was. You spark something, “The last thing that a person loses before they lose everything is hope.” Napoleon III made two comments. He said, “If I had enough cloth, I could conquer the world. Leaders are dealers in hope.” What he means by those two statements is his leaders have got to be able to maintain and instill hope in their soldiers to be able to conquer the world.The last thing that a person loses before they lose everything is hope. Click To Tweet
Part of that hope was being given something as minuscule as a piece of cloth for doing something good, which is where the military got the idea of metals and ribbons for their uniform. You give them little pieces of cloth. It’s not the cloth. It’s the recognition of doing good. Now you’re boasting that hope that you as the leader instilled, put it in outside of a military’s term. Leaders aren’t military, skilled, or the boss of the organization. I mean there are natural-born leaders out there in the world. As humans, we’ve got to reinstill hope in those that lose hope if we want to save them.
I can identify with the word shame because when I was in a position where I felt like my identity and my reality were different in that moment of realization, then I felt shame, self-loathing, and you used the word hate earlier. That’s a fairly low watermark for all of us because I believe that most people have felt this at some point and maybe it was fleeting, passing and now it’s a distant memory and they don’t want to go back there. I want to think about that again. Maybe some people had it over a prolonged period of time. Maybe some people are dealing with it right now and none of us know what the future will hold.
Any or all of us feel that way. What is important is the awareness that you’ve brought through your story for people that may be thinking somehow again that there’s some shame in acknowledging the need for that help. I felt great that the military did not penalize or punish you for taking steps to get yourself better and to put you in a state of equilibrium. The chemical things going on in the body are well-known. Our bodies are almost like a little bit of a science experiment on some levels. Your food, what you drink, the things that you take for supplementation purposes or even the medicines, things that we’ve got that help us to get to that equilibrium, somebody might call balance. That homeostasis.
That’s required. That’s what we have to have. We all have to sleep. We have to have a clear head. We can’t be walking around and feeling in pain because, in those states, we can’t think rightly and make the right decisions. Certainly, anybody that somehow either is questioning whether they should get help or there are people in their lives, whether they’re members of their team, that they can see the signs of burnout that that they are not actively checking on or family members or friends they know are struggling that they’re not checking in on, this conversation is super helpful in that regard. Theresa must have had some instinct. She was led somehow to check in on you. It turned out with divine intervention. She got you.
That’s why I share my story. A couple of things happened at the point of execution. This goes back to a good plan of what we talked about with plans earlier.
I was thinking the same exact thing.
Why did those people park that car in that place at that time? Who knows? It could have been divine intervention or whatever, but that was the disruption to the plan. The intervention happened with Theresa acting on her intuition. Had she not acted on that intuition and persistent in acting with it, I wouldn’t be here. Even now, if somebody starts weighing on my mind, I’m going to pick up the phone and I’m going to call because you don’t know what’s on the other end of that phone.
Sometimes a simple hello goes a very long way. I want to talk real quick. I want to bring this to light when we talk about getting mental health. Society, as a whole, looks at mental health as a reaction to a crisis and nobody goes to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist unless there’s a crisis that’s happened that forced them to go get help. Very few go on their own cognitive, but why is that?
In the military, we have our physical health examination. Every year, we get our ears, eyes, and teeth checked. Why are we not checking on our cognitive wellness? I drag race. That’s how I get my adrenaline fixed. In drag racing, I’ve blown up more motors than I can count, unfortunately. Whenever I make a pass and the motor goes out, when I get back to the shop, I pull that motor out of the car, I take it apart, I find out what went wrong and how can I prevent that from going wrong again. I’ll rebuild a motor and put it back in the car and then off to the next weekend’s race.
If I don’t maintain that motor, I’m not going to get very many races out of it and I’m going to be right back, pulling it back out, tearing it apart, and figuring out what went wrong. I use that analogy for our mental health. When we reuse it as a reaction to a crisis, that’s what they’re doing. They’re pulling out our motor, not physically, but they’re going to help figure out what went wrong and then put everything back together. If we don’t maintain that, we’re going to be going right back down there to get rebuilt again. In the Army right now, in particular, I couldn’t just retire. I went back to work for the Army. I worked for the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness Director. There are five domains of the Army. I wish they had this when I was young so I wouldn’t hurt badly now.
There is a physical domain, fitness physical, or nutritional domain. We got to eat right to maintain our fitness. Sleep domain, which is a tremendous amount of sleep science out there that we didn’t know about early on. In the Army I grew up in, if you sleep was a crutch and if you fell asleep, you were weak. We were dumb. There are two domains that are hard to get across. One is our spiritual domain, not religion. There’s something that drives us to do what we do and how we optimize that. The other one is our mental wellness domain.
What we’re trying to drive now is quit looking at this as a reaction to a crisis. Let’s look at how we can maintain our mental wellness and not just maintain it, but how we can optimize our holistic health. People say, “I sacrifice my health for my family or my soldiers,” or whatever. Every time I hear that, I cringe because if you’re not right, you can’t take care of your loved one. Your mental wellness is as important as your loved ones, probably more because you need to be mentally fit to be able to assist others. When that comes up, I had to share it.If you're not right, you can't take care of your loved ones. Your mental wellness is just as important as your loved ones’. Click To Tweet
I’m glad you did. It’s wonderful to know that we’re zoning in or when you’re trying to get your sights to hit something, you’ve got to adjust your sights so that you can recalibrate. We’re all recalibrating it in very similar ways. I’ve had a great fortune, and I’ll share this. The Navy and Marines have had me come to Camp Pendleton, which is very near where I live half the year, and speak with both enlisted men and officers about what you’re talking about, that holistic resilience. We use the term resiliency as a catchall for that mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual well-being. It’s a big deal to see it as not one single thing like how physically capable you are.
It’s such a small piece by itself. It’s an important piece of the puzzle in its entirety, but by itself, it won’t win the day. There’s a lot there that we don’t yet understand about the mind-body connection for one thing and certainly what drives us and the best word to describe what it is we can’t understand about what drives us from the inside out, that word spirit or spiritual. I couldn’t agree more.
My final question to you is about this. You said life is a great place. That’s the first thing you said. I did a TED Talk some years ago where my thought line was about, “I love my life.” When I went through my period where I was the darkest and the darkest for me was having trouble getting to sleep at night or getting back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night, trouble waking up in the morning, and feeling good at the start of the day.
I started to do this very simple, maybe even robotic thing at the start of my days after that period. I would put my feet on the floor, take a breath, and feel something at the moment I feel grateful for and then say out loud, “No matter what, I love my life.” I thought when you said, “Life is a great place,” I thought maybe again you and I have something in common. Is that a mantra? Is that something you say you remind yourself or other people about?
I say it a lot. I’ve got a good friend, David Bartley. A lot of people know him by Woody. He does a lot of speaking engagements as well. Me and him have similar stories other than he didn’t serve in the Army. His older brother, General Bartley, did. He grew up in his brother’s shadow. I love that guy like a play cousin. I love that guy to death. The first time I met him, we did a joint presentation up in Washington DC and he said something I’d never heard before, “Hope is a weapon.” In the context that he said that was, “Suicide is not the target.” When he said that, I said, “I’ve never heard that before, but I’m still it.”
It’s part of my defense. I don’t go back into that deep dark place that I went to that I don’t ever want to go again and I don’t want anybody else to go. I use hope as a weapon. I tell myself all the time, “If one hunts the good stuff, life is good.” Every time something good happens, I remind myself that my life got better. An example, now that I’m retired from the Army and now I’m back to work at the same organization I retired from as a sergeant major. We’re going to stay in Virginia. We’re trying to find a place to buy it. A picture’s worth 1,000 lives when it comes to real estate.
We find a place we liked and we total a bid in where they accepted a bid before ours got through or we get outbidding. It started getting frustrating. I had to keep reminding myself to, “Keep going.” We found a house. We went out and looked at it. When we pulled into the driveway, my wife said, “I love this house. This is where we do everything.” I got immediately started setting everything up. Anyhow, we bid on the house. We close on the 13th. We’re happy. That’s an example. I told myself, “Life’s good. We’re finally going to have a house to call our own instead of paying somebody else’s mortgage. We’re finally going to get to settle down instead of moving every other year.”
I have enjoyed the time we had together. I loved our conversation. I will echo the crowd of people who’ve said it to you before. People say, “You should write a book.” There’s a good book there. There’s a great TED Talk there as well if you ever want to work your way onto that crazy stage or whatever. I know that. That was a harrowing experience for me. TED experience will maybe rival the first time you stood up and did comedy for a time, maybe you jumped out of a plane or something. I would love to stay in contact. I appreciate you. Thank you so much for being on the show.
I appreciate you as well. Thank you.
Tom Campbell is a remarkable man. He’s done some things that many of us will never do, things that we will never experience, dream of experiencing, or want to experience either. He is on the other side of many of those experiences now and working not only on making his life as great as it can be like we all are, but he’s actively helping others to deal with their own challenges in the arena of mental health.
His story is remarkable. I don’t know that I’ve sat and listened to an interview with someone tell their story and felt as if I couldn’t interrupt even to say yes because it was a sacred space as I was listening to him. That’s how I felt as Tom was talking about survivor guilt, his work in the military, his role as a leader, and his view of leadership, speaking in particular about his own mental health and vulnerably sharing what he was going through at a period of time about many years ago in his life when he was thinking and planning very seriously to take his life and was in the process of doing so when fate, good fortune, divine intervention, or whatever you want to call it disrupted that plan.
It’s a remarkable story. As Tom said, “A great plan is only good to the point of its execution.” At the point of execution of his plan to take his life, it was disrupted, fortunately. We talked about hope as a weapon, leaders as dealers in hope, and how it is important that we help people to feel that there is hope, that we acknowledge them, see them, and help them to understand that their cognitive health, brain health, and mental health is not something that we need to feel odd about or ashamed of, but instead that we need to seek before there’s a crisis. Too often we look at mental health as a reaction to a crisis, and by that point in time, it’s harder than it needs to be.
I know when I speak in this area of mental health, in a resiliency context, often, the lesson I share is that it’s far easier to prevent our fatigue in the first place than to recover from it afterward. In this same vein, it is easier to prevent our mental dis-ease if we are preventing it beforehand. It’s easier to prevent ourselves from getting to that place where we are burned out even, if we are developing or working on proactively creating our resilience before. That’s in the context of work and leading others in a work scenario and work environment. It’s equally as important as Tom says in the military, our family lives, and our personal lives. It was wonderful to read him talk about how important it’s that we take care of our mental health so that we have the capacity to also look out for others.
How can we have other people’s backs? How can we be of service to others if we are putting ourselves, our health, and well-being mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually in the back, behind taking care of other people? It’s a riddle. The answer as Tom shared with us is to not do that and put ourselves first and not see it as being selfish. It’s quite the opposite. Probably the most selfless thing that we can do is to be our best so that we can be there for other people.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tom’s presence and his contribution to this episode. I hope that you’ll share this episode with other people that you may see as in need of it, or people that you see either at work or at home, or are struggling in some way. We would love for you to rate this episode too as if you feel like this was a valuable conversation. You could leave a five-star review on whatever platform you consume this show from.
That would be helpful because it helps the algorithm to let more people know about it. More people will read it and be given access to it. That’s helpful to us, and hopefully, it has a greater ripple effect in helping others. Thank you for doing that. You can also go to AdamMarkel.com/Podcast to leave a comment for Tom or myself and we’ll be the ones to answer that.
If you want to check in with your own mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual resiliency, it’s as simple as going to RankMyResilience.com. In three minutes time, answering sixteen very quick simple questions, you’re going to get an immediate baseline score. It’s free. It’s our contribution and hopefully, you will take advantage of it.
A snapshot in time of how resilient you are, as well as what you can do to raise those numbers and your score by taking better care of yourself and the ways, the granular details of what that can look like. Thank you so much for your participation and for being involved in the way that you are and for all that you do to support this conversation and this community. I hope you’re having a blessed and beautiful day wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
About Tom Campbell
After suffering from survivor guilt, TBI, PTSD, and a pleather of other issues all at the same time, I went to a very dark place and attempted to take my life to end the pain. A friend, who would later become my wife, intervened at the last minute and saved me from myself. Now I do public speaking engagements and perform standup comedy around the country and share my story and my road to recovery.