Scott Mann: “Scott, I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to move forward after the army.” This was a conversation I had not that long ago with a very senior enlisted Special Forces officer. He was really struggling with a whole host of things everything from substance abuse, to identity, to purpose, and a lot of that had to do with leaving a career in Special Forces. A lot of it had to do with the issues and baggage that he had developed through multiple tours of combat and riding hard. He and I were having a very frank conversation about just moving on, moving forward, and having the resilience to do that. It’s something that I see more, and more, and more as I travel around the country today not just with our veterans but with a whole host of people. People struggling to stay in the game, to thrive and keep battling back when life kicks us in the junk as it often seems to do. That is actually the topic for today’s Man Up Report. Hello everybody this is Scott Mann, your trusted source of leadership issues that matter to you especially in the world of impact. That’s what we talk about here on the Man Up Podcast. We talk about things that affect impact, we talk about things that leaders are doing in the United States and around the world that are having an impact bigger than themselves. Why? Because all the other leaders with titles are not doing that, and maybe that’s a little bit of a generalization, but not much. Whether it’s in the senior political world, the bureaucratic world, high corporations, it just seems like so many of our leaders who we have institutionally trusted for years are not getting it done. So we focus on leaders who are out there, even leaders without titles who are getting things done and have big impacts, bigger than themselves, leaving tracks as my dad Rex Man says, and we give them a voice and a platform right here. Today is absolutely no exception to that. I’m absolutely thrilled and ecstatic to have on a podcast with me a brother, a dear friend, a fellow traveler, and probably one of the most decent, next to my dad, maybe the most decent man I’ve ever met. Eric Hodgdon. He’s so many things. When I asked him, “Eric how do you want me to introduce you?” He said, “Leader without a title.” That just speaks volumes to who he is as a man, but the work that Eric has done in resilience, especially in the realm of moving on through grief and not just surviving just thriving. The work Eric has done there and he is doing is just immeasurable. It is just off the hook. So without any further ado, Eric, welcome to the Man Up Report my friend.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you very much, Scott. I’m very grateful to be here with you.
Scott Mann: You are such an easy guy to talk about and such an easy guy to introduce. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a series of Man Up Reports that you and I chat to cover the ground that we need to cover, but I’m just going to start with okay you’ve got a lot of projects in the works and we’re going to get to those, but you heard my intro man. We’re all about impact here. We’re all about making a difference bigger than yourself and leaving tracks, and you definitely do that. Your work in the realm of resilience is probably the most impactful I’ve ever seen, the most selfless I’ve ever seen so I was wondering if … Let’s just get right to it. Your work in resilience and a lot of our listeners, they’ve come through some tough times and they’re going through some tough times and your voice and your leadership in the realm of resilience is so solid, and I wondered if you could just take a few minutes and tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to take up the mantel, the banner of helping people cope with resilience because it’s certainly not theory, you’ve lived it.
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you, Scott. About four years ago, I was stuck in a custody battle for my 15 year old daughter, Zoi. She was working her hardest to work through that, but she was struggling, and so much so that she was living in a halfway house, but she was able to come home and see us on weekends which was awesome. This one particular weekend though, I picked her up and I brought her back to the house. I had planned for us to go to breakfast the next morning, watch a movie. She went upstairs to her room and she was listening to some music and burning some incense, playing her ukulele, doing teen stuff. Talking to her friends on Facebook, and trying on different outfits usually like teen girls do. She was applying this really cool henna tattoo on her hand with a sun design on it. I wanted to do something with her that night so I said, “Hey do you want to do something? Do you want to watch a movie or make some kale chips or something like that?” She said, “Yeah let’s make some kale chips.” So afterwards we were cleaning up, and she told me she was tired and she wanted to go to bed. As usual, I said, “I love you pumpkins,” and she said, “I love you too, Dad.” I was doing some work on my computer and went back up a little while to say goodnight, and when I opened her bedroom door, I could hear John Frusciante’s guitar playing on the stereo. I saw a string of Christmas lights that were lit around her room as the only light in her room, but she wasn’t in her bed. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her standing in her closet, and I thought she was going to jump out and scare me. I said, “Zoi, what are you doing?” She didn’t answer me though because she really wasn’t standing in her closet. I called 9-1-1. About five days later, over 900 people came to Zoi’s wake. 900 people. Her friend Kelly came over to me and she was just sobbing, and all I could do was just put my arm around her and say, “It’s going to be okay, sweetie. Zoi would want you to remember all of those good times that you had together, right?” Then another friend, Sarah, came up to me, and she was crying too, but she managed to say that she was so sorry for my loss, and that Zoi was always smiling and she was so nice to her. A lot of people came up to me to tell me how much Zoi impacted them, inspired them, and gave them hope. As more people came up to share their stories of Zoi and to tell me that they were sorry for my loss, I was sorry for their loss because I knew what we were all going to be missing: her voice, her smile, her energy, and honestly her philosophy of life to just be. For me, it took me many, many months before I started to feel somewhat normal. I wasn’t eating well, I stopped exercising, and my head wasn’t in the right place at all. It took a long time for it to sink in that Zoi would be so pissed off at me if she knew that I was letting all those good memories from her life stop me from living mine. It was then that I vowed to fight for myself, my family, and all of her friends so that we could all find our pathway back to better days.
Scott Mann: Eric that is man. Wow. I cut you off. Keep going man.
Eric Hodgdon: No that’s okay. I started to experience Zoi kind of all around me. Maybe it was a song on the radio that she used to sing along to, maybe it was seeing someone with the same color hair she had, maybe it was someone wearing a black pair of Chuck T’s because that was her favorite shoe. In reality, and in Greek, the name Zoi means life, and the greatest lesson that my daughter taught me is that we have to raise our frequency to see the beauty in it, and when it knocks you down, you get back up every single time.
Scott Mann: Wow. Eric I’ve heard you tell that story a couple of times, and every time it just moves me more each time. First of all, I am sorry for your loss-
Eric Hodgdon: Thank you.
Scott Mann: And for everything that you and your family have been though, but at the same time, I almost have to transition immediately to the fact that almost right away you found a way to serve. Like you said, it was when you realized that Zoi would be pissed at you for feeling the way that you have, but I’ve worked so closely with you in all kinds of leadership retreats and leadership exercises with Bo Eason and I always see you’re always out there looking out for other people, and I just wonder where did you find the strength, the resilience, to do that? Because you definitely practice what you preach. Where do you find it on a daily basis and how do you leverage that to be so just of use to everyone around you?
Eric Hodgdon: That’s a great question, Scott. I think initially while you’re working through grief, you’re trying to find your way through the fog, and you need those beacons of light to kind of help you, guide you through those chasm of unknowns. What I saw mostly was Zoi’s friends and my family, my step-daughter, they were struggling like looking at me like what do we do now? What do we do now? This is nuts. Zoi was just here, she was healthy, what’s going on? I just realized that we all need to have some sort of guidance out of this, and I know that there are better days ahead. It was interesting I was in a therapy session and I had thought about what it was going to be like to be stuck and maybe not a bad place but just a tough place, and if you’ve ever been in a depression or felt really bad or down, it’s like a pit. It’s a comfortable pit, but this time when I looked down, the pit was the size of an ant hole and I couldn’t fit into it so I’m not going down in it. So I decided to keep myself up above ground.
Scott Mann: And you do. I have seen you help so many people man. You’re like a vapor trail. If you see someone is hurting or if someone is going through it, you’re on them like that. I know that some of the people who are listening to this podcast are in a bad place. They’re gone through loss, they’ve gone through grief, or they’re still going through those things.
Eric Hodgdon: Right.
Scott Mann: What is your message, Eric, to people who are in that place right now where there doesn’t seem like there’s a way out of it? Like you said one minute they’re here … Monty just lost her dad. God that’s just a couple of days from now that it’ll be a year, and it still seems like he’s here. It still seems like Ben is here, and then sometimes you get so pissed off because he’s gone. I know Monty and her mom are going through that so deeply so what do you see to them in those moments when it just seems like the grief is so heavy?
Eric Hodgdon: That’s another great question because I hear that a lot. What do I do now? Where do I go? My philosophy, or at least what my philosophy has been for the last couple of years has been that death can take your loved one’s life, but it doesn’t have to take yours so fighting for your better days, it’s not going to come at you. No one is coming to save you in that regard. You have to kind of work to at least know that that light is there, those better days are there, but everybody has the capacity to be resilient. Everybody has the capacity to come back, and I think with the right support and the right guidance and the right direction and doing the things that you love to do, finding the beauty in your day, even if it’s one thing, finding gratitude in your life is just an amazing aspect of just changing your whole outlook on the incident of losing somebody. Making peace with what happened. I remember for awhile, I was kind of angry and upset, and I think until I made peace with what was, I couldn’t become grateful for what is, you know?
Scott Mann: Wow. That’s really good. So there’s three things that you’re doing, that you’ve done, that I want to bring out that I think are so compelling and so noteworthy because you’re all about moving forward. You’re all about resilience and like you said not having your life taken as well and finding the light wherever you can find it. Three things that you’ve done that really stick out to me that I’m just so impressed with. One is your story, two is Option B, and three is this book that you’re working on that I’m so excited about. The first thing I want to talk about is the work that you’ve done, you and I have done a lot of work together, we’re done a lot of work with Bo Eason, and you’re a storyteller. You and I both are. We both love storytelling, and you more than anyone I know, you leveraged story to heal, Eric. You know Dr. Joan Rosenberg who you know well-
Eric Hodgdon: Yes.
Scott Mann: Mental health professional out in LA, she says that stories heal the brain, and I go on to say I think they heal the soul. I’d like to know your thoughts on how story has served you in making peace with Zoi’s passing and moving on with your life, with your message.
Eric Hodgdon: Just thinking about that question it made me smile because whenever I think of telling stories of Zoi, it warms my heart. It doesn’t make me sad. I think initially when you’re going through grief after you lose somebody or you’re struggling with someone else that might have lost somebody, you want to help, and I find that story has been that connective tissue between myself and other people. If you can tell a small story in the service of somebody else, it can change their life.
Scott Mann: Right.
Eric Hodgdon: Just one simple example, we work with another gentleman David Caugen and we were talking about story work a few weeks ago and David is also working through the loss of his wife, and I commend that man for his strength through this process. It’s not easy because everybody has a different journey to take when they lose somebody, but he’s fighting every single day to just put one foot in front of the other, and sometimes that’s all you can do. He’s trying to write his story about that, and he’s finding himself I think connecting with other stories related to his wife, and the more stories that you can kind of not create but that you can recall and write and tell, it really becomes a powerful connective tool in so many ways.
Scott Mann: It’s so true, man. It’s so true. I’ve done a lot of story work for my own trauma, my own grief, survivor’s guilt whatever you want to call it, and it’s not to the level of loss that you’ve had, but I’ve found it to be very healing. I believe whether you’re a veteran or a civilian, if you’ve had loss or grief in your life, story is a very, very powerful tool, and the power of narrative, logging those stories down, writing them, telling them, and you know Eric we all pass from this world don’t we? We’re all on borrowed time, and we’re all going to pass. Isn’t it true that what connects you to this world after you’re gone to the tracks that you’ve left behind, as my dad says, are the stories that people tell about you? In fact, my friend David Martin gave me a quote. It’s not his quote, but he was kind enough to share it with me, he said, and I’ll paraphrase it a little bit, but we die two deaths. We die the first death when we take our last breath, and we die the second death when someone tells our story for the last time. I just think that’s such a powerful comment.
Eric Hodgdon: Wow. Very powerful. THat’s very powerful. It’s just an amazing way to honor somebody as well, and that’s something that I think more people want to do but maybe they don’t know how to tell their story, how to create, practice, and tell their story so that I can be not only healing for themselves, but also healing for other people as well.
Scott Mann: Okay Eric listen we’re going to leave it right there because I believe this is such a compelling, compelling topic, I’d like to end it right here, and then we’re going to come back and we’re going to pick back up with the second half of this interview, and I want to continue to ask some more questions. I want to look deeper at some of the work that you’ve done to address resilience and really put it into action so that people can get started immediately on that path toward finding a light in their lives. Can we get you to join us again?
Eric Hodgdon: Absolutely.
Scott Mann: Alright great.