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John Livesay, 62: Resilience and Storytelling

After losing his job due to digital disruption, John Livesay put into practice skills he learned as a competitive swimmer, flexibility and calm under pressure, to carve a new path. Now, as a speaker, author, and course leader, he teaches resilience, the art of storytelling, and how to be the “lifeguard of your own life.”

What happens when one goes from being a stand-out performer at work to suddenly being laid off and told to immediately vacate the premises? How is it possible to hold a positive, helpful mindset in the face of something like this? With the right point of view, one can not only recover but grow to whole new levels of achievement and satisfaction. This is what I learned from John Livesay.

Resilience is defined as the ability to quickly recover from difficulties. Disruption in the workplace due to ever-advancing technology is something that is now the norm. There are no more forever-careers. It can be terrifying and, fair enough, no one looks forward to being made redundant. However, with the right point of view, there is a flip side to that coin: learning, engagement, and re-invention leading to entirely new, unimagined places of fulfillment.

I was first on a call with John a few weeks ago and was astonished at his ability to connect through his storytelling — not just his story. He was spontaneously connecting via telling vivid stories around the journey of the others on the call. It was a tour de force that left me slack-jawed. His having a positive mindset, being open and creative in the moment with the intention of making connections was something that I had never seen done at this level before.

This interview is now bookmarked in my browser so that I can reference it.  I recommend everyone who reads this to share it widely. Your friends will thank you. John’s story of pragmatic resilience, of calmly overcoming fear, holding self-esteem independent of externals, and growing far beyond what we were thinking was possible is one for the ages.

You were laid off from a long, successful career due to digital disruption, which must have felt horrible. How did you maintain your self-esteem?
Getting laid off felt like a kick to the gut. As if that was not bad enough, I was asked to clean out my office that same day. After being there for over 10 years, there was a lot to do. Luckily, I was able to get friends to help me so I could get it all done on time.

Despite the deadline, I did offer to do a status report of where ads should run after I left. This surprised my boss because everyone else that was laid off in other cities was storming out in anger.

“I realized that I had lost my job, but not my identity”

Little did I know that one decision to offer to do a status report would have a huge impact on me later. I realized that I had lost my job, but not my identity. I felt scared, sad and angry as I closed the door. I realized I had left on a high note which helped my self-esteem.

That decision to leave a status report led to me being rehired two years later and winning salesperson of the year for all of Condé Nast. That is when I realized we can all get off the self-esteem roller coaster of only feeling good if our numbers are up and bad if our numbers are down, when we remember the truth of who we are and that we are bigger than any one thing good or bad happening to us and we are free of the ups and downs.

Your background as a lifeguard gave you some great training about how to stay calm under pressure. What advice do you have for others who may not have had that training?
My advice for how to stay calm under pressure is to zoom out of the current situation. I call it the 5 5 5 method. Will this be important in 5 minutes? Will this be important in 5 days? Will this be important in 5 weeks? When we zoom out and get perspective it helps us get out of panic mode.

The concepts of flexibility and spontaneity, that there are always options, are so important to your story. Were you always so flexible and open or did this come to you later in life?
The first time I learned the value of being flexible was when I was a competitive swimmer. We were taught we need to stretch before a big race in order to be relaxed and flexible to perform. This concept is one I took into my selling career and realized that the key to success is to be able to change lanes, and even strokes, at a moment’s notice depending on what is happening. If you only have one story to share, it may not always be the right story. That is why I tell people to think of their brain like a playlist where, instead of different songs, you have different stories to share to the right person at the right time.

“When we are willing to constantly push ourselves outside our comfort zone, the fear of the unknown decreases”

How would you explain the way fear can recede if we are open to new things? Or perhaps the conversation, being closed to new things is linked to being fearful?
We can’t feel fear and gratitude at the same time. We are either worried about the future or being in the present moment and focusing on gratitude. For example, do you worry about money not coming in or are you focusing on gratitude for what you have now? When we are willing to constantly push ourselves outside our comfort zone, the fear of the unknown decreases. We don’t have to go it alone and can always ask for help. When you sell yourself or any product or service, you are asking others to take a chance on you and try something new. If you are comfortable with risk, then you can help others do the same.

Tell us a bit about your point of view on self-responsibility or, as you say, “Nobody is coming to rescue you in your own life.”
We often see in a hurricane that some people ignore the evacuation orders and stay behind. Then they end up needing a helicopter to come to rescue them. In our career, nobody is coming to rescue us. That is why I created my TEDx talk, “Be the Lifeguard of Your Own Life.” We have to take responsibility for learning new skills and trying new ways of doing things.

What was the hardest part for you in having to learn about digital vs print? How did you overcome it?
The hardest part in learning how to go from selling print to selling digital was to learn the digital language. The mindset I had to overcome it was to remember certain silent movie actors made it to be in talkies and some did not. The choice was: Which one was I going to be? All of us have to decide whether we want to embrace new technology and learn new things to stay relevant.

Integrity, Passion, and Joy

You have been through a lot: successful long-term career, then being laid off in the digital disruption, then more success after learning a new skill, then starting your own business. You are a study in resilience. How do you view yourself now vs in 2004 when that first career was in full bloom? Are you measuring yourself differently?
The way I define success is by my 3 brand attributes. (Yes, I think we all need to think of ourselves as a brand that stands for things.) My 3 things are integrity, passion, and joy. If all 3 are there, then I know it is the right next step for me.

Recently, I had to learn how to go from giving live talks to ballrooms full of hundreds of people to speaking to hundreds of people on a Zoom call. It required a new home office set up as well as learning special effects that make my virtual speaking engaging and fun. It fit all 3 of my brand attributes.

Now I bring my concept of getting the butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation (to get hold of your nerves) to life by making butterflies fly across the screen, watch this to see it in action.

“You realize your life gets smaller and smaller unless you are pushing the boundaries of what you can do differently every day”

What is it that keeps people in their comfort zone to their own detriment, and how do you advise they overcome it?
People have the false belief that if they stay in their comfort zone, things will be easy. The mistake they make is not realizing a comfort zone is either expanding or shrinking. There is no such thing as staying in a comfort zone that stays the same size. You realize your life gets smaller and smaller unless you are pushing the boundaries of what you can do differently every day.

One of the greatest handicaps people have is not being able to succinctly and compellingly tell their own story — the 30-second elevator pitch that causes others to want to know more. Having witnessed your truly incredible ability to harness the power of story, (you wrote a book on it), what could people do to improve the telling of their own story?
The checklist for any story is to make sure it is clear, concise, and compelling. The confused mind always says no. Intrigue people to ask you to tell more instead of talking too much. The secret to making your story compelling is to use emotion in it and have the stakes be high.

How do you hook people’s imagination so that they can see their own needs in what the speaker is providing?
The key to getting people to use their imagination is to start with “What if…?” That gets people to start picturing a new way to seeing or doing something. Instead of a boring case study, tell a case story. When you tell a great story, people see themselves in it. Then they want to go on a journey with you.

“When you tell a great story, people see themselves in it. Then they want to go on a journey with you”

How is your podcast going? What goes on in there?
My podcast The Successful Pitch has over 300 episodes and 10 of those episodes were turned into a book by the same name. That got me on TV multiple times and helps me build my network and knowledge. On the podcast, I interview thought leaders and experts in pitching, entrepreneurship, and storytelling.

What are you reading these days?
Future Proofing You, Deep Kindness and Risk Forward are three of the recent books I am reading. They are all from my recent podcast guests.

How do you provide value to clients who hire you to speak?
My keynote talk “Better Selling Through Storytelling” also comes with an online course experience where the audience can learn how to become black belts in storytelling. Olympus Medical created a repository map of all their salespeople stories after my talk and course which not only helps them win new business but breaks down silos between divisions.

How do you help coaches and consultants grow their business?
Many coaches and consultants hate selling and feeling pushy when they try to get new clients. After they take my online course and get my storytelling coaching, they become magnetic to their ideal clients. They learn how to tell stories that tug at people’s heartstrings so they open their purse strings.

You just moved to Austin. What most surprised you about it?
The most surprising thing about Austin is how many lakes and parks there are here!  Barton Springs Pool is filled with natural spring water and wonderfully refreshing.

How would people connect with you?
People can connect with me at my website Johnlivesay.com or search for The Pitch Whisperer to find my content.

1 COMMENT

  1. What a great read and I just subscribed to his podcast.

    In early 2009, I was laid off from my position as art director for a well-known conference organizer. I had been there for nearly 10 years and then I wasn’t there after a quick meeting…

    As I said good bye to my colleagues and grabbed my coat, someone asked me, “what are you going to do?!?!” I said over my shoulder, as I continued walking to the elevator, “I’m going to become an assasin.”

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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