Hello everyone! This is Dr. Trish Murray – physician, author, and the Health Catalyst Speaker. I am over the top excited today to be interviewing Michael Peterson. If you remember from the 1990s, he is an amazing country music singer and songwriter. Michael, thank you so much for being on here with me today.
You kidding me? Thank you so much! It’s such a pleasure to be with you. Your energy is so infectious and you’re such a beautiful person. I just love spending time with you.
Thank you, Michael. Michael before we get going with this title today on “How I Serve” I’m going to read your bio.
It blows me away, and I’m sure it’s going to blow everyone else away. So here we go! Michael Peterson. With over 2,500 performances in nineteen countries during a unique career that spans over thirty years, Michael Peterson has had the good fortune to be a number of things:
- A million selling country music artist whose songs have hit #1 on the charts thirteen times around the globe including the timeless country wedding song “From Here to Eternity” and the iconic “Drink, Swear, Steal & Lie.”
- He’s been a songwriter for the stars with the unusual good fortune to have had his compositions recorded by Hall of Famers and Grammy winners in multiple genres (Country, Rock, Pop, Gospel and even Latin) including people like Travis Tritt, Timothy Schmitt of The Eagles, Pop Superstar Deniece Williams, The Imperials, and Bacilos.
- He’s been a contributing author to as many as eight different books, including the #1 New York Times best-selling “Chicken Soup for The Soul” series.
- He’s been the recipient of numerous distinguished public service awards including the prestigious Bob Hope “Spirit of Hope” medal from the USO following his eleven tours and over 150 performances for servicemen and women deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Korea.
I assume that’s possibly how he met his wife. His wife, Jill, and he live in Las Vegas. Together they have three daughters, five grandchildren, and a dream life. Michael, that’s just amazing!
Thank you for reading that and I think anytime that someone is flattering you, it’s best not to interrupt them.
Absolutely. We all learn to do that somehow!
Also, you don’t inhale when someone is flattering you. You don’t inhale.
Yup, you just hold your breath!
The number one question I always love to ask guests on my show here, and definitely on this show “How I Serve,” is what brought you to the life of service that you obviously led?
Well, considering that question before the interview began, I realize there’s been different seasons in my life as there are different seasons in all of our lives. When you try to find an answer that’s comprehensive for the question, “What brought you to a life of service?” there are different elements that occurred in me that happened in different seasons. I probably could break it down into two or three elements. Really quickly I’ll hit them.
Number one. As a kid, there were people in my life as mentors, coaches, and teachers who had profound influence on my life. I’ll give you an example. I was seventeen years old, my stepfather committed suicide. In that time and space in my life at seventeen, about to graduate high school, teachers and coaches rallied around me, lifted me up in a time that was difficult for me. I was not sure what the future held. I remember going to the funeral home with my football coach JD Covington, who is now deceased, and he went to the funeral home with me to be with me so I could view my dad’s body. He sat out in the truck and he waited. When I got back out there to his truck I was crying, and he asked me if I wanted to talk about stuff. I remember telling him I wasn’t sure what I should do next. You know, should I take my college scholarship I got to go play football or should I stay home and support my mom? I didn’t know what to do. And he asked me, he said, “Have you prayed about it?” And that hadn’t really occurred to me at that moment because I was so distraught with what had gone on. And I said, “Well, yeah.”
I remember before my dad died, like three or four months before my dad took his life, my dad did something I had never remembered him ever doing before. We stood in the kitchen together and he asked me to pray with him about whether or not I would be able to go to school there. At that moment, I remember this prayer that I had with my dad because it was the only time I remember praying with my dad. I could go deeper into the story but just suffice it to say that’s a good example of a moment wherepeople went way out of their way to serve somebody else. That somebody else was me. That made a deep impression on me that they weren’t just teachers and coaches, they were human beings, and they were there to serve others. A lot of adults in my youth were good examples for meClick To Tweet at that.
I think the second piece of it for me is, in my early twenties I was asked to fill in for my boss. I was working as a member of a group of athletes who were going and speaking to public high schools during school assemblies. I was employed, I was one of the guys who blew up hot water bottles until they exploded, ripped phone books in half, and all that sort of strongman stuff. The boss was the guy that spoke, so I never really had to speak. I just did crazy stuff to get kids’ attention.
One day he asked me to speak because he was sick. I’d been preparing, and I went out there and I pulled the Wilma Rudolph story and the OJ Simpson story, which at that point was a good positive story. I told everybody else’s story and I bombed it. It was terrible. Kids were talking, they didn’t pay attention. Well, next day I came back, tried it again, did the same thing, and it didn’t work again. The next day it occurred to me that I was doing so terribly that maybe what I ought to do would be just to try and tell my own story. Of course, I wasn’t sure I had a story. But the little bit I had I thought, well I’ll try that.
It was a night and day difference. Kids really paid attention and it was a real learning point for me.When you think you don’t have anything to say, you don’t think your story is valuable. You underestimate the value of your own life. Because we all have a unique story and when you share your story from your heart with all the conviction of having lived it, it carries an invisible kind of weight that impacts people in a personal way that telling somebody else’s story never can.Click To Tweet
It was in the context of that that I had sort of my second big lesson around the value of serving, why I serve. After the program was over that day and so many young people came to me and said, “Well thank you for sharing your story because it helped me realize that I’m not the only one. I’m not alone. If you made it, so can it.” It just captured my heart that this thing I was doing that looked sort of like show business…show business we think about it as of as being the star and being like look at me. That’s kind of my paradigm before that moment. It was at that moment that I realized the feeling that I got knowing that these difficult things that I’d been through, that I would never want to share publicly but that I had the courage to share, actually made a difference for other people. That was such a better feeling for me personally.If I hadn’t been in the music business, I would have been a teacher or a coach because those are people who inspire.Click To Tweet And then there’s moments like that that I just described that so deeply inspired me; I felt like I was connected to a purpose. There’s a reason for what I’m doing. It’s not just about money, or notoriety, or security.
Then I think the third big lesson for me in regard to that was after 9/11. Fast forward a lot of years. It’s the day of 9/11 and I’m on the treadmill at the YMCA watching the TV monitors as the planes flew into the buildings. I remember thinking, I got to do something. At that point in my career, I had just had I think my third consecutive #1 hit. So, the great philosopher Kenny Rogers, I heard him say one time that there’s three things we all need. We all need something to do, somebody to love, and something to look forward to. At that point the answer for those three things in my life. Someone to love – that was me. If you’re an artist you love your life, you love your career. Something to do was to be successful. Something to look forward to was more hit records. It was pretty much my primary focus but that day, all of that seemed pretty shallow to me.
I remember going down and trying to apply to the military. They said I was too old. I thought, what am I going to do? It was about that time that I heard a quote from Teddy Roosevelt who said that everyone of us, regardless of our circumstances, situation, background, or skills, every one of us has an obligation as a human being to do what we can with what we have where we are. That quote showing up at that moment in my life was profound for me. I realized at that moment what I could do was something with what I have or what I am. I thought, maybe I could use my talents and abilities to encourage servicemembers. That led to me saying, “Yes,” when my agent said, “There’s a spring formal at Fort Campbell and they don’t have a budget. Would you go play?” “Yeah, okay I’ll go.” Which led to a lot of performances, pro bono performances a lot of them, most of them, for servicemembers. Every time I walked away from one of them, the privileged opportunities, I wasn’t thinking about money or fame. I was thinking about, was I able to help somebody laugh today? There we are in a little fort operating base in Afghanistan and there’s six people in the audience who just got in from a patrol where they were kicking down doors and wondering if they’re going to get shot. Their shoulders are up and they’re tense. You do a hundred performances of those kinds of audiences and you start to realize, my job isn’t to attract any attention to myself. Hopefully if I can get somebody to laugh, to relax and breathe a little deeper, to just smile a little bit, drop the shoulders a little bit – it’s a whole new definition of what’s successful in that moment.
I’d say that those three seasons in my life, though they were separated by many years, they all had an impact on my view, my world view, about the idea thatwhen we pass it’s not going to matter how much money we had or how famous we were. The only thing that’s really going to matter is what did we do with our life for others and how did we engage and dance in the world with others in a way and acknowledge that there is no “them,” there is only “us.”Click To Tweet We’re here together, what can I do to help? That’s where I come from. Those are three moments that profoundly affected my understanding and are commemorative of why I serve.
Michael that’s really just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing all of that. It just causes connection. We’re human beings and what drives us and empowers us and gives us energy is connection with another human being. Like you said we want to be loved and we want to love. As I listened to your story and you share all of that, each and every one of us can connect with our story. It reminded me for example, that I was the fifth of six children, at first, and one of my brothers drowned. I was only two. In my childhood my mom was there physically, but emotionally was kind of lost. She had had a death of one of my siblings. Later in my life, my partner’s husband had passed, and I helped raise these amazing young people. Then her brother also committed suicide. Each and every one of us has our story of our difficulties, our struggles in our lives that are different as you said like the seasons of our lives. When I get up on stage as a speaker it’s to educate but it’s really to connect and to have people connect with maybe when they’re not feeling well what may have caused that or what’s difficult in their lives emotionally so that they can feel that they’re not alone, that they can share it with other people. The idea that we’re all just people walking on this earth, and we all have our story. Sometimes they are good and sometimes aren’t so good, but when we connect with each other and we empower each other through that connection, love, and service, we get tenfold back.Click To Tweet
Yeah. Yeah, it’s not something they teach you at the Wharton School of Business which is not to put down Wharton. Whatever business school you want to talk about, it’s not about capitalism and it’s not about profits, which seems to get so much attention. But in the end, I think that’s one of the lessons of living through this season of the pandemic. I think it’s alerting us all. In case we’ve been really caught up in the pursuit of wealth that, that’s a very fragile thing!
It sure is.
What we really have that’s of value is our relationships.
I remember hearing a story one time about…it’s probably a generalized story but if you go to countries where people are really poverty-stricken and sort of a head scratcher for a Western very privileged perspective when people say, “Well you know they were the most generous people I’ve ever met. They don’t have anything, but they’d give you whatever they had.” Somebody was talking about sort of why that is, what are the dynamics behind it. One of the things they said was, “When you don’t have much you really become aware of community and how much you need each other in the community.” Even though if I give you my last penny today, you gave me your last penny a week ago, and next week somebody else will give their last penny because we’re here for each other. We’re not living in fear of not having enough, so much so that we cannot be generous because we realize there will be a day when I need it too. Because I have given, others recognize that I am part of the community with them, so we all share together because we all recognize we are in the boat together. When I read that I thought that was really interesting because when you don’t have a lot why is it that we hoard, we protect, we get afraid we’re not going to have enough? I can’t share with you because I won’t have enough. It’s just a totally way of looking at it. It’s inspiring.
Absolutely. Again, getting into a conversation like this is why we do these podcasts and the idea is we just start going off with other ideas. There are people that have lost everything business-wise. They pick themselves up and rebuild if they know how to do it. It can be done again. They didn’t go away from it; they didn’t not survive it. The other thing is also a nurse I know has gone to Haiti for many, many years. After one of the big storms that hit that country one of the things she said every year is, “I love going there every year because they are such happy people.” After one of the biggest hurricanes and after going there they were just as happy, the ones that survived and everything. She was just like, “They don’t have anything but they’re happy!” It’s always for her, and all of us, a lesson and the idea of like you’re talking about. You don’t need to have material things to have happiness; we just need each other and to love and to be of service to each other.Click To Tweet That’s really what is going to feed us and give us joy.
Yeah. Well said.
Thank you. So, family is obviously something that helps us too along the way, and you had mentioned some about your grandma’s influence on your journey.
Yeah, there’s a great quote and I can’t remember who said it. Essentially when I was a kid growing up there were a lot of times in my life where I felt like a blind man in a dark room searching for something that wasn’t there. She just seemed to know where the light switch was. When my father was murdered when I was fifteen, when my stepdad committed suicide when I was seventeen, prior to that there was a lot of upheaval in my home. I know a lot of your viewers can relate to that.
I didn’t feel like my home was a very safe place. Let’s say that, leave it at that. But when I was with my grandma, I felt safe. She didn’t care how long my hair was or how short my shorts were. She just cared about me. Here’s a good example. One day I came home from school and I loved music, I always loved music, so I had a record collection. Well my mom had gotten pretty religious, so she was hearing a lot from her friends at church that the music that I was listening to was the devil’s music, and she didn’t want it in the house. So, one day I came home from school and all my records were broken, thrown in the garbage.
And I never really understood that until I had kids of my own. Then I had more empathy for how my mom felt because you can be concerned about your kids, you know? My mom was doing the best that she knew how to do. If your kids had poison, you’d try to take it away from them. That’s how she looked at it.
At the time it was difficult for me. My grandma called and she said, “I heard your mom took your records.” I said, “Yeah.” And she said, “From now on just bring them over here.” You know how grandparents are, they can do that! About six months went by and I had more lawnmower money and I went to the store and bought some albums, showed up at my grandma’s apartment, knocked on her door, and she had a little two bedroom apartment, walked in her house, I’m standing with my records under my arms (big LPs), and she said, “Come in. Let’s see what your mom’s so upset about.” I walked over to her closet where she kept her record player. Some of your viewers might remember what a record player is! I pulled out my favorite album. The record player was in her closet because she lived in a small apartment. It was one of those record players that was like an old suitcase, speakers would be attached on the side and the lid would come up. You could kind of carry it as one piece, but you could separate it out. I pulled out my favorite album, Led Zeppelin IV. I put it on the turntable, I’m kneeling in the closet looking up over my shoulder and my grandma’s there. She’s trying to see what I’m doing, I put the record on, and it starts to play. It was pretty loud, and I said, “Grandma, is it too loud?” She did something I never forgot. She reached right over my shoulder, she reached out and she cranked it way up, all the way up! I couldn’t believe it. When that song got over with, she said, “Let me play you one.” I sat on the couch, and she put on a record by an artist I’d never heard of before, a woman named Patsy Cline.
We started this kind of tradition for her and I where I’d come to her house, I’d play a record, she’d play a record, I’d play a record, she’d play a record. We just shared a lot of space together where it was about common ground.
I remember one day in my late twenties, and I was talking with her at her apartment and she was just a great lady. She grew up with a father who was incredibly wealthy during the Great Depression. Overnight she was disowned. She eloped with my grandfather, so she got disowned from the will. She went from living in the middle of the Depression with incredible wealth to having nothing really. He was a pro football player; they didn’t have a lot of money. She’s seen it all. She was dancer, she was a skydiver, she was a hunter, she was a painter, she was an incredible woman. I remember leaning underneath the cabinets on the countertop in this tiny kitchenette. She kind of leaned under, she cracked open a Coke, she’d light a cigarette, just remember I loved my grandma so much and she said, “What’s going on?” I said, “Well, I want to make it in the music business.” She asked me two questions, “How long do you think it’ll take you to make it?”
At that moment, anytime you have a dream, and somebody starts to ask you for specifics about whether or not you’re going to…I had a little knot in my stomach, and I didn’t know what to say really. Then she asked me a second question, “If it takes you ten or twenty years of having to deal with all the people who don’t believe you can do it, all of the discouragement the rejection.” She said, “How old will you be in ten or twenty years if you never try?” Then I never forgot that. it’s just one story of my grandma. So, I did. I tried. It just got great influence in my life. When my family was falling apart because of my parents’ marriages and the deaths of my fathers, I was really grateful and very fortunate to have somebody in my life like her.
Wow it sounds like you had a number of very important people in your life to stabilize you at very difficult times. Your grandma was one and as you said coaches and teachers. That’s the message that everyone out there needs to hear. There are people to help you whether they be a family member or not. It doesn’t have to be. But your grandma sounds like an amazing woman! She reminds me of the character on the Titanic. The young girl was going to jump off the ship and the guy saved her.
That woman! She sounds like a ball of fire. That’s awesome!
Yeah. Anybody watching or listening to this podcast right now, if you never stopped and looked at the stories of your life. If you ever do, just stop and ask yourself who has been there for me? You’ll find out you have some great stories to tell. A teacher, a coach, a neighbor, a stranger. We’re all so blessed.
Absolutely. You also said your grandma asked you that question, “How old are you going to be whether you try or not?”
And I didn’t go to medical school until I was thirty-five. People were like, “What are you doing?!” I was a teacher. I left a teaching career to go to medical school at the age of thirty-five. People were saying to me, “What are you doing? You’re so old!” I was like, “Look, I’m going to be forty whether I go to medical school or not. What the heck? I don’t want to live my life every day just wondering whether I should have, would have, could have. I’m going to go do it!”
There’s a great quote by Satchel Paige, a great historic figure. Satchel Paige was a great baseball player before the Major League Baseball has been integrated. Apparently, he didn’t have a birth certificate because he’d been born in a pretty difficult situation. There’s a great quote from him that says, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” Right? Just choose what you want to be!
There’s something powerful about that.
Absolutely! Don’t even worry about it! The clock’s ticking on all of us. It’s just a matter of what are you going to do today?
Today’s the only day that we have really.
Also, your dreams matter. What keeps us going is our dreams and our passions. You had this dream about music, and obviously your grandmother was feeding you and she introduced you to country music it sounds like.
We then also face, it’s not like we just wake up one morning and we’ve made it. It’s a long journey. We just need to keep on swimming. Obviously, you’ve hit times where you’ve been on a flow and other times where maybe it wasn’t a flow.
Talk to us about moments when you had tough times in your music career. You’ve mentioned a time when you almost gave up as a musician.
Yeah. In college I had a football scholarship and a music scholarship. My freshman year I realized that the choir rehearsals at the same time as the football practice. As a freshman in college I realized it was going to be difficult to do both. I made a decision to not pursue music in college. At that age, football seemed like the more exciting and fun thing to do.Ironically, my decision to not pursue music actually led to me being in the music business.Click To Tweet The decision to turn away from music actually led me to being in the music business because the guy that was my quarterback on the football team who I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t made that decision ended up marrying the popstar Deniece Williams. You know, “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and lots of other big hits. This was the door that opened for me to be in the music business. So, if I hadn’t said, “No,” to music I probably would never be in the music business.
That’s one of the great lessons in life for me is you can’t always see down the road more than the distance of your headlights as you’re driving, metaphorically speaking. You just make the best decisions that you can, and you trust that there’s a plan out there. First of all, the decision to not pursue music led to me being in the music business. I ended up getting signed by Deniece Williams to her first major production company. She had just had “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” a #1 smash on the charts all over the world. She just one a bunch of Grammys, been to the Grammy Awards. In the middle of all of that, the season in her great career, she started a production company. They signed me as their first artist and as their first songwriter and managed me. I basically went from undiscovered and unknown to having a major production deal and management deal with one of the biggest stars in the world. I thought, here we go.
I wrote a number of songs with her that ended up being recorded by her and ended up on the charts. Here I thought, I’m off to the races. Then they got me a record deal with a gospel label, and I put my record out. It just all looked like it was going to be incredible. It wasn’t a commercial success. My record wasn’t a commercial success. I lost that record deal, I lost that production deal, and I lost that management deal. I had a lot of people that said to me, “Well, you should just be grateful that you had that opportunity. Now you need to go make a living.” Like give up your dreams.
This unfolded in about a year and a half period where I just realized this wasn’t working financially. I was trying everything I knew how to do. I had decided that maybe I didn’t have a teaching certificate, maybe what I could do…there used to be a program at police departments called the D.A.R.E. Program and it was keeping kids off drugs basically. I thought, maybe I could be a police officer and be a D.A.R.E. officer. Go work in schools. I applied for a job with the Seattle Police Department. I passed the physical test and I was getting ready to take the written test.
In the middle of that, a song that I’d written ten years prior…I got a phone call one day from a major publisher who said, “We’ve got this song of yours. The Imperials want to record your song.” The Imperials were the biggest gospel group in the world! They’d won all these Grammys. I was like, “How did they get my song?” I never knew anybody knew even that song but me and a handful of people. They didn’t know the answer, they just said, “We don’t know how we got it, we just got it, and we want it.” They recorded it and then it was their first single and it went to #1.
It was kind of in this window where it looked like everything was falling apart. This same kind of scenario. A check showed up in my mailbox from ASCAP. For those that don’t know what ASCAP is, it’s a performing rights organization that collects radio royalties from artists and makes sure they get some money distributed to them for their performances. I’d had five records on the gospel charts, but I’d never seen a dime. Right in this window when I was applying to the police department, I was basically about to give up my dream and this hit record shows up and this check shows up.
The check is enough to get me through. It was like two weeks before Christmas, and I didn’t know how I was going to buy presents for my kids. It was kind of down to the nubbins. This check showed up and allowed us to get through Christmas. Then into January I got two phone calls from two different individuals who said, “Hey! Do you want to come on the road and do some work with me?” They filled up almost my entire year! You’re ready to give up, you just have enough headlight down the road another fifty feet. You go the fifty feet and as you go that next fifty feet you get another fifty feet. You just move on down the road. It takes courage to go through life that way, but we do it all the time in a car without thinking about it. You’re on a dark road you have some headlights. You drive a little bit slower, you’re more mindful, but you know you’re going to be okay. You can’t see five miles ahead of you, and you don’t need to see five miles ahead of you. I just could see fifty feet and it was enough.
I’ve gone through my life that way. It’s part of our best laid plans. Somebody said one time, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Sidetracked a lot of different stories there, but essential that’s in a nutshell kind of compressed a bunch of stories. When this song that I told you went to #1, I was like a lot of people. I was looking for external validation. When this song went to #1 I realized something, I’d been a hit song writer for ten years because the song was ten years old. I’d been a hit song writer for ten years; I just didn’t know it!
There you go.
Right? Some your viewers today may be wondering if their work is worth anything. I just want to say to you –you may have already done your best work; it just hasn’t been acknowledged yet. Be careful that you don’t evaluate the work that you’ve believed in as being worthless or less than just because you haven’t gotten external validation.Click To Tweet I wrote a #1 hit song, but it sat there for ten years before it went to #1. It was always good even though other people rejected it or ignored it. It was always good. It just wasn’t time for it yet.
That’s an amazing story. So many people especially in the entrepreneurial world or it doesn’t matter what world. Whether it’s your personal life or your business life or your career. Again, there’s good times and bad times but if you’re doing what you’re passionate about…I emphasize to people to do what you are passionate about. You lose the sense of time when you’re doing it. That’s what’s going to sustain you during the good times and the bad times. You’re not doing it just for external validation, you’re doing it because you love to do it. You lose time while you’re doing. That’s just amazing! We all just keep swimming and just keep doing what you’re doing because you’re going to be ten years older ten years from now…
There’s a great author named Og Mandino, I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work, but he’s an inspirational author who sold millions and millions of books. He’s passed away now, but he wrote a book called The Greatest Secret in the World. One of the lines that I love in The Greatest Secret in the World is this, basically is says that every obstacle is really an opportunity in disguise. That sounds a little Pollyanna and pie in the sky when you’re just having conversations, but it’s true. If whatever we look for tends to show up, if we see everything as an obstacle then all we ever see is obstacles. Whenever there’s a difficult time, if you look for opportunity when most people are looking for obstacles you find opportunity.
That’s one of those things I wish I’d learned a lot younger in my life, but I’m learning it now. Look beyond that cloth of how something is dressed up and don’t be fooled by that. Look for the opportunity. Those challenges are there to help us grow. When you’re in the middle of it, it isn’t easy. It’s easy to philosophize about it when you’re on a podcast with a famous doctor like you. As you get a little older, that’s one of the things you start to learn. Maybe they call that wisdom. You get to look back and you go, Huh. Yeah, I’ve seen this before. I’m not going to let myself get so upset because that generally speaking things tend to turn out better than I ever imagined.
That’s so true. The more difficult times sometimes we think back on those were the biggest open doors for us. I’ve had my injuries in my life, I’ve had my losses in athletic endeavors, I’ve had my diagnoses I didn’t want to have just like anyone else. You know what? Those are the times I remember the most and those are the times when I came out on top because I didn’t allow the obstacle to stop me.
Yeah. It makes me think of a great quote. I love that you shared that because it made me think of this quote.“The things that are difficult to endure are often the sweetest to remember.”Click To Tweet
Yeah. Michael, I have to just ask about how did you get into the performing for the troops and how did that open opportunities? How did that help you be of service and how has that served you?
Thank you for asking. When 9/11 happened, I told my agent if there’s any opportunities to serve troops please let me know. He called me one day and said, “Yeah, Fort Campbell they’re having a spring formal. There’s about 1,200 servicemen and women that are getting ready to deploy.” This is probably 2004. I went to this event and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army was there, General Cody. We met and I did my performance. It was a good solid performance. I didn’t get an hour-long standing ovation, but it was good. It wasn’t anything particularly memorable about it other than the event itself was memorable. The reason I say that is because sometimes special things are happening, but you don’t feel it. You don’t know there’s special stuff happening. It didn’t feel like it was a special performance for me, I wasn’t standing that night which was good. It was a little surprise when afterwards General Cody’s Executive Officer came up to me and asked me for my card. I didn’t have a card. I gave them a songwriter’s card which is you grab a napkin from the bartender! I gave him my “card” and about a week later I got a call from some guy who said he was calling from D.C. from the Pentagon. He said that his boss who worked for General Cody had told him to call me and that they thought I was good for the Army and we should do something together. “Okay, what do we do?” He said, “I don’t know. I was hoping you would have some ideas.” I said, “The truth is, I don’t really know much about military culture. I don’t know enough to know how I can really help. I don’t need another stage to stand on. I have plenty of those. I want to make a difference. Where can I really help? Do you need someone to go speak?” He said, “Why don’t you fly to D.C. and we’ll talk about it.”
I flew into Baltimore and they picked me up. I think it was Fort Mead, can’t remember the fort, but it’s where the Army Field Band is stationed. I think their plan was to have me meet the Army Field Band and spend the day with them, have lunch, and maybe we could talk about stuff. While that was going on, the guy that had called me was a contractor and he worked for this woman who was the Head of Strategic Communications for the Department of the Army, which was a big deal. Colonel. She’s charged with helping the Army communicate their messages in strategic ways. That happened to be Colonel Jill W. Chambers.
For a variety of reasons (which she can tell the story better than me), she had decided that she didn’t want anything to do with meeting me because there’d been some other contracts that had happened with country singers that had turned into a real problem and some generals had been fired over it! She didn’t want anything to do with it. The night before I flew in, she got to thinking, if General Cody asks me, “How was Michael Peterson.” And I tell him that I didn’t go – that wouldn’t be a good thing. She got in her car that day and drove down there, saw me come in the building, saw me engage with everybody, and hang out all day. Then around lunchtime she introduced herself and took me back to the Pentagon that afternoon and I got a chance to meet chief staff of the Army. We just sort of spent the day together. She said to me, “What do you want to do?” And I said kind of what I’d said to the contractor which was, “I don’t have enough experience to answer the question. I don’t know enough about your culture, but I’ll make you this commitment. If you’ll let me hang out and give me a chance to learn then maybe I’ll be able to tell you what it is that I can do to help and we can figure that out together.”
For quite a long time, whenever they called and said, “Can you go sing here” or “can you go speak here,” I just said, “Yes.” They’d pay for my flight ticket, my hotel, and I said, “Yes.” Jill said years later that the thing that really struck her…working in the Pentagon, everyone who shows up there is looking for money. I wasn’t trying to be unique. I was trying to serve. I wasn’t thinking about, this is a payday for me. I had plenty of money, and I had a good career. I just started showing up and this is her story not mine but it’s my reflection of it. I was just trying to help. She said the fact that I wasn’t looking for money caught the attention of a lot of senior officers because there were so few people that were showing up that way. They began to funnel more and more opportunities to me, not because they were trying to take advantage of me not asking for money, but because they just saw the heart.
Fifty feet of headlight, I just went down the road. Opportunity after opportunity led to the chance to meet significant senior leaders which led to more opportunities. Then you look back one day and fifteen years later and you say 150 or more performances in warzones across the world. When you started out you just said, “Yes.” You said, “Yes,” to the next thing and the next thing. You try to follow your intuition and that led me to loving this woman, Jill, and us now sharing this time of my life which I’ve said has been the sweetest most beautiful part of my life has been the last ten years or so I’ve been with Jill.
Michael, that’s such a wonderful story. It comes back to what we’ve been talking about. Just be of service from your heart and from your passion. You were talking in the very beginning of this interview about when 9/11 happened you were on the treadmill and the idea of you wanted to be of service. You meant it, and you meant that from the passion of your heart as all of us did when we watched those planes fly into those twin towers. It was just, Oh my God! What can I do to help? I thought about enlisting myself at the time. I was in residency. It’s just – follow your passion, follow your heart, and be of service. You’re going to get so much back in return. In the energy world, it’s shhhhh. It’s a secret, meaning our futures like you were talking about earlier. If you give God all your plans they’re just going to laugh at you. That’s the point. Shhhhh. You have dreams, you have passions. Just keep walking the walk, just keep swimming. Where you go, you’re going to just be surprised and beholden just about every single time.
Yeah. Beautiful. I love what you just said. You were saying it not just with your speech but with your whole self. I love that. I can tell the deep commitment that you’ve made to how you live your life. It’s just so beautiful to spend time with you.
Michael, you as well! I met you at CEO Space. I sat down at one of your tables where you were a leader for a Mastermind and you and your wife were both there. We just connected and kept talking and talking and talking!
It’s just amazing. It’s such an honor to be connected to you and Jill. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me. It feels to me like we could just keep talking and talking and talking! One question I love to finish up with, with everybody I interview, is with all of the things we’ve talked about – what would you say is your number one secret to living a healthy life, if you had to pick one?
Find a Jill! Find a partner who is healthy emotionally, spiritually, and physically. As I say those words, I recognize that probably a lot of people might feel excluded when I say that because they say, I have a partner but they’re not healthy physically. I’m not suggesting that that means they are less than. I guess what I was sort of trying to say is sort of tongue in cheek. Jill has been a tremendous blessing in my life. Having someone in my life as a partner who is healthy and working on their health. That’s the thing.If you have a partner that’s caring about their health and working on their health, boy, it’s sure inspiring. It sure makes it easier for you.Click To Tweet Jill is the most industrious woman I’ve ever known who has a big smile on her face. It’s not a grind for her. She gets up every day, and she does every day what needs to be done. She doesn’t talk about it. She’s not boasting, she just does it. It’s so inspiring to me. I’m like, you need to get your lazy butt off the couch because look at your wife! I think all of that being said, taken tongue in cheek, the truth is that it matters who you surround yourself withClick To Tweet. I’ve been fortunate over the years, in spite of one step forward and two steps back. We’ve all had that kind of stuff in our lives. I’ve been fortunate to have met and been acquainted with and surrounded myself with in certain seasons more than others, really great people who really help me in ways that I didn’t know that I needed to be helped. I think that’s probably been the secret for me. Who are you hanging out with? Chances are if your life isn’t going well, one of the first places that you can look to find some answers is look at who you’re hanging out with.
Yeah, that’s so true. Who are you surrounding yourself with, what emotions are you surrounding yourself with? If you want to hear Jill speak, I did a podcast with her not too long ago and you can hear about her story and her amazing background in the military and the awards she’s earned, and her perspective on life and health. She’s actually used her GI bill to go back and get more master’s degrees in the comprehensive and integrative health field. I had a wonderful interview with Jill as well!
She loved her time talking with you! I just have had several people over the years since I’ve known Jill say to me, “Hey, where can I find one of those?!” Because they recognize that people who knew me before Jill and after Jill recognize the health that’s in my life and the joy that’s in my life and the ease in my life.
I think the second thing, if I can leave you just one last thought, is six and a half years ago I went to see Dr. Amen at the Amen Clinics. I went to support Jill because she was trying to find out about this new modality around brain health that Dr. Amen was talking about. She wanted to see if it was something she could learn about so she could help servicemembers. I just went along to support her and help her.
In the process of doing that, I discovered that I had an undiagnosed brain injury. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office with Dr. Amen and him asking me, “Have you been having this struggle and this struggle and this struggle?” And I started getting tears in my eyes and said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’d be shocked if you weren’t.” He said, “Look at your chart,” and he showed me my brain scan. He said, “The troubles that you’re having are pretty typical of people that have these kinds of brain scan.” He said, “Some of the judgements that you’ve put on yourself and the shame or whatever that you feel about certain things, I just want you to know yeah, we’re all responsible for our decisions, but if you have a broken leg and you walk with a limp nobody shames you. If your brain isn’t functioning to its full capacity, a lot of time we blame ourselves. There’s a way to get help.” I did. I began to follow these protocols that he gave me. He didn’t give me much as far as pharmaceuticals. He gave me some plan of action around my sleep, my diet, and activity/exercise. I dedicated myself to that. it was so important at that moment to have Jill because she was there as a partner with me and times where I didn’t feel like it, she helped me and challenged me and encouraged me.
Three and a half years later, I went back for a revisit with the doctor. I could have told you without having seen the scan that I’d improved, but I was stunned when I saw the brain scan and saw how much my brain had improved. I knew because my joy had returned, I was sleeping better, I lost weight, I had that extra ten seconds of forethought before I acted on things. I want to say for people that are struggling, you want to know what the secret to success is? We have all these great conversations about these great authors and inspirational speakers. I had all of those tools, but I was struggling in my life in a lot of ways because I had a problem that I didn’t know that I didn’t have a problem with. My brain just wasn’t working right. I had a brain injury I didn’t know that I had. Finding out what’s going on with your brain. Get that book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr. Daniel Amen. Read that book and see if it doesn’t make sense to you. A lot of people have undiagnosed challenges with their brain and I’m telling you, you could be all dressed up and ready to go but if your brain isn’t functioning right, you’re going to have a harder time being successful and feeling the joy of it.
Absolutely! There are so many systems in the body but of course the brain and the nervous system is one of the major ones. Again, like you’re saying, if you’re brain’s not functioning – you can’t see it! We feel maybe the limping in something we’re not responding well or we’re sort of aware but maybe not aware. There are many ways to scan the brain. There are MRIs and CAT scans but there is also a neurofeedback electroencephalogram scan that can look at the function of someone’s brain.
There’s a lot to learn from that. There may be viewers of your podcast that sometimes in the quiet moments when they’re by themselves in the mirrors of the morning when they are just waking up and they say to themselves, that’s not like me. Why am I acting like that? What’s wrong with me? I never used to be that way. That’s a clue, right? You don’t have to stay stuck there. If there are things that are showing up in your life behaviorally that make you go, that’s not me, it’s an indication that maybe you have to ask the deeper question, is there something going on in my brain that I can get a little help with? I know there’s stigma around mental health. People don’t want to go see a shrink or whatever. I understand that. I feel hesitant sometimes even now when I talk about this. I wonder if I’m going to be judged or whatever. I realize the stigma is part of the crippling effect.
So many times, Michael, it’s about lifestyle that has led a problem to inflammation or toxicity.
Honestly, if you go to a regularly practicing conventional traditional medical doctor, they’re not going to maybe find these things because they’re not looking for the disfunction. They’re looking for disease.
The idea that coming to someone who does functional medicine, we’re going to talk about diet, we’re going to talk about exercise, we’re going to talk about nutrition, we’re going to talk about stress! One of the top neuroscientists today, Dr. Dale Bredesen, has written a book called Ending Alzheimer’s. He talks about it as if you have thirty holes in your roof and you only patch one of them, it’s not going to fix the problem. We have to come at it from a holistic perspective. There are ways for people to take control of their health, empower themselves like you’re talking about, and have someone to support them like how Jill supported you during that time to get you to where you are today. You support each other because you’re a team!
Yeah, it’s beautiful. You don’t have to stay stuck! That’s the thing.
You don’t have to stay stuck. If there’s something that isn’t quite working right and it’s there consistently you can hide, you can feel guilty or ashamed or whatever. Get some help, ask for some help.
There are always answers, you just have to either ask or keep seeking. Just keep looking because there are answers out there. You can’t just close the door. You have to look for the opportunity.
Yeah. I love what you said about holistic. It’s our health. Every thought is attached to a biological activity in our bodies, right? We are wholesome beings. You know that way better than I do. Thank you for the work you’re doing.
Thank you, Michael. Thank you so much for being on this interview with me. It’s just been such a pleasure. Thank you so much!
Take care everyone and we’ll see you on our next podcast. Take control your health and transform your life! There’s been so many amazing things that Michael Peterson has shared with us today. Listen to this and listen to this again! Tell people to listen to it. Understand that how you served is really going to serve you back. Thank you again, Michael. Take care everybody.
- Michael Peterson’s website: http://www.michaelpetersononline.com
- Discover Health Podcast episode featuring Michael Peterson’s wife, (R) Colonel Jill W. Chambers
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Want to be our next guest? Send us an email at [email protected]
Join the Discover Health Community today!
- Discover Health Facebook
- Discover Health Facebook Group
- Discover Health YouTube
- Discover Health LinkedIn
- Discover Health Instagram
- Discover Health Twitter