mental health podcast - madness2magic

(Ep 17) When the strongest fall apart: Learning to find yourself again

What do you do when you fall apart? When the strongest among us needs a little help, is it okay for them to ask for it? This episode shares some powerful insights from self-made man, entrepreneur, corporate executive, caregiver Thom Brodeur. He’s been my “baby daddy” fantasy for a looonnnngggg time (JK sorta), and he’s been a friend and a mentor for even longer. Thom is the kind of leader you want to work for. He is “Mr. Congeniality” – so kind and giving. He empowers people. He gives his all. And he does it all. He is the guy you go to for answers

But everyone has their breaking point. This episode talks about falling apart and not feeling as if you can ask for help. This offers wisdom on so many topics, including the definition of success and the shame of failure, the cost of caring for everyone else before yourself, and the process of climbing back up out of the depths of depression. It underscores the perils of identifying yourself with the work you do, and the price one may pay for it. It’s okay to not be okay. Being vulnerable, asking for help, surrendering: These aren’t weaknesses, they’re growth.

Don’t miss listening in to this episode. Key takeaways and full transcript below.



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Key Takeaways:

  • You are greater than your circumstances


  • Caregivers are under a lot of pressure — especially caregiver kids — always trying to take care of others, fix things, and control what sometimes can’t be. I the process, we neglect ourselves


  • Keeping secrets becomes a tool for survival; those same secrets, however, can suffocate


  • I had this nickname “Teflon Tom” and that was that bright smile, always having a shiny coat and my armor on. Whatever hit me, it would just bounce off and slide down. That was people’s perception because that’s the perception I wanted them to have. Because then that meant they wouldn’t ask. That meant there would be no prying in, and less chance of getting hurt.


  • Climbing that ladder, taking care of everybody else and then something happens. You get to a certain level and you kind of look around and you’re like, are we the fuck there yet? Or you’re like, okay, I’m doing this. I’m doing this. It’s coming to fruition. And then bam, unexpected things happen. You know you’re good at your job, and you think that everything else may fall apart, but that, no, dammit, I can do that. Until it falls apart. Sometimes, the very strongest among us are those who need the most help, but nobody’s even paying attention. Nobody knows, and we don’t let them know, but they’re not even looking for it. And they don’t really want to look for it because if they know that we are struggling, Holy Toledo, what does that mean for them?


  • I was for the first time in my life afraid because I had no plan B, there was no what’s next, there was no answer to, there was no ability to go back to where I’d come from. So the fear was almost immobilizing and then came the, I can’t disappoint my husband and my kid and my family. Like I got to figure something out really, really fast. So I went from being completely afraid, which was a foreign object to me in general to feeling like I was a disappointment because I failed at my first CEO job. I failed at it. Somebody said not good enough for whatever the reasons. And then I struggled with the, should I have been morally ambivalent? Should I have not taken such a stand in such a position on a matter that it cost my family, their lifestyle, that it cost us that income. Then I moved to where do you go to try to get help for this to try to feel your way through it.


  • One of the biggest lessons that I would learn through that process was for the first time in my life to allow myself to feel my way, all the way through all of the emotions, all of the layers of the failure. It really wasn’t my failure, but the failure of the thing. But I still hadn’t learned the lesson that there are people there that you should reach out to. You should unlock your armor. We should allow people to see us as a vulnerable person, not as the person who always must find a way.


  • It’s really important to be okay with the gray area of not knowing, and being willing to surrender. Surrender is a word that has come to me a lot over the last two years. Surrender and know that what is best comes next, if you surrender and don’t get in the way


  • While you are loving through your life, the work that you do, the people that you’re with, the experiences that you’re privileged to have, don’t forget yourself in the process. I spent a lifetime of loving and caring for other people, places and things to my own detriment. I’m finally awake and recognize that there is a reason why on an airplane they ask you to secure your own oxygen mask first, ’cause you’re really a worthless pile to the little kid next to you, the old lady next to you or the able-bodied person next to you if you’re not breathing oxygen yourself. So don’t forget yourself. Don’t lose yourself in the will to achieve. Don’t lose yourself in the want to be the best husband, wife, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, father, mother. Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget to take some time to appreciate that. Don’t forget to take time to ask other people to help you do better when you need it, and you’ll be more worthwhile and more valuable to anybody else or anything else that you apply yourself to. And that’s been a huge, I know it sounds so cliche and we always say it, but I’m living it now.



Paolina: Hi everybody, we are back. Thank you so much for joining us. This is Paolina, from Madness to Magic, and my podcast: I’m with crazy, a love story. Today, I am definitely with someone who has been part of my love story, ever since we met. I am here with Thom Brodeur, if you want to say a quick hello everybody.

Thom: Hey everybody.

Paolina: Isn’t that an awesome voice? And if you saw him, he is gorgeous. I used to call him my baby daddy. Sadly that’s not to be so, and that’s a whole ‘nother podcast. But Thom is actually, really one of the people who I consider not only a friend but a mentor, someone I have learned so much from. Ironically, he used to work for me way back when, which boy that turned around pretty quickly, and he has really built his own kind of empires multiple times over in his own businesses.

He has built brands for companies worldwide. He is now the founder and CEO of a global beauty and fashion company. He actually is the leader of an international beauty competition that has really taken off. He works in e-commerce with fashion brands and beauty brands and really if there is a phrase to describe him, I like to call him the Beauty Boss. That is really what he is. He is just an awesome guy and, yes, I’m going on and on and on because dammit, he’s not my baby daddy.

Anyway, today why we are talking to Thom, and I’m really thrilled about this podcast, is because Thom is very unique. As you know, this podcast “I’m with crazy: A love story: is all about navigating madness and, finding the magic within specifically for people who have found themselves in roles of caregivers.

It also has to do with those of us who are seen by the outside world as those who can take care of others, those who do it all, those who don’t need help.

Thom fits into both of these kinds of buckets and one of them, I want Thom to kind of start out and talk with us about that. He was a caregiver kid. I’ll let him kind of explain what that means. It was just he and his mom, and then he grew up and continued to be caregiver to everyone, people he worked with friends, etc. That’s the first part we’re going to talk about. Then I’m going to ask Thom to move into another much more personal aspect of when madness kind of comes home and when it takes root in yourself and what to do about that when you are such a strong person. So I will stop talking. You know, how hard that is for me. (Tom, you can stop laughing now then you have to actually say so. So, Tom, hello again. And if you would kind of just give a little bit of background as the caregiver kid and really how you kind of rose and came out of that, and a little bit of all the things that you have climbed the ladder to succeed in. And we’ll go from there. How’s that?

Thom: Sure. Thank you. Thanks to everybody for I guess tuning into this and listening to a little bit of my story. This is an honor. It’s a privilege to get to share parts of who you are and parts of where you’ve been with complete strangers. In the hope that maybe some of what you hear, if even one of you, hears something that’s useful to you, I hope that will be the case.

Thom: For me, I was born outside of Miami, Florida, to a single mom. My mother and father met in the military. They were both in the air force. They served during the Vietnam War at Pearl Harbor, at Hickam Air Force base in Hawaii. My mother was a sergeant; my father was a personnel and staff major, because he was flatfooted and nearsighted. Thanks dad for all that. Appreciate it. I have both problems.

Thom: And now, my father decided after two years of marriage, and about two months before I was born that he did not want to be a dad and he did not want to be married. And so my mother and my life started off, sort of as she would describe it later, “me and you against the world”.

Thom: I was born blue, not breathing with the cord around my neck. My mother had had a really difficult birth. She had only dilated the size of a nickel, and I was born six minutes later. So there’s a lot of tearing, breaking, fracturing that happened. My mother was in traction for a year, could not walk for a year. The first year that I was born, I had a bruise from the base of my skull to the tip of my tailbone, because I compressed in the birth canal and sprung sort of open, like not the way babies are normally born. So I made some grand entrance, I guess you can say a little faster than certain bodies were able to allow for.

Thom: My mother was a single mom until I was five. She met my stepfather. We had moved to Northeast Ohio from Southeast Florida so that my mother could find work. Along the way, and during that path, we were on welfare and food stamps and no babysitters, no caregivers. My mom was working in a bar downstairs, me putting myself to sleep and all of that as a one to three year old, above the bar. At about two years old, I had a bad experience with a respiratory issue called at the time croupy cough, and I was hospitalized for three weeks in a plastic tent for oxygen purposes. So if any of you have ever seen the movie, the boy in the bubble, I was one of the inspirations for that movie.

Thom: I’m a two and a half weeks in, as the nurses in the hospital would declare later, “Mr. Independent” decided he was all done living in plastic. I began taking the bubble down because, you know, I thought it was nice to organize these things at two years old and find my way free.

Thom: My mother got remarried when I was five. They were married until I was nine. My stepfather was persona non grata. He was really not around and worked a lot. He and my mother had a business together. My mother was the brains and he was the brawn I’d like to say. At nine years old that divorce was final, and it was me and her against the world again. So I learned at a very early age from eight and a half to nine years old, how to care for myself cause my mother worked multiple jobs to take care of us or me and her.

Thom: No other siblings, at the time, nobody else but the two of us. So there was a lot of time where I can remember my mother going to bed hungry. But I did not. I remember there were a lot of times growing up through my double digit birthdays, from 10 years old to about 15 years old where every odd job that I could do, whether it was cutting grass or hedge trimming for the neighbors or raking leaves or babysitting kids, would be rolled up in penny, nickel and quarter papers and they would be used along with my mother’s paychecks to pay our bills.

Thom: So at a very early age, I learned the value of hard work. I also had a parent who tried her best to create opportunities for me to still be a kid. She would break me out of school, and we would play hooky together on those rare times where she had time off. Because I didn’t get to do a lot of that. I didn’t do a lot of the things my peers and my contemporaries did when I was in grade school, middle school and high school because I was working and work was a means of survival I would learn throughout the course of my life. That work became survival for me in a lot of ways. And I guess we’ll talk a little bit about what it feels like when you’re not sure if you can survive when that whole work scenario changes.

Paolina: So knowing you, I know there’s even more to this story, right? Even before we get to when the work scenario kind of changes. I want to just touch base a little bit on, first of all, thank you for kind of the early years, little Tommy, the early years and the stories of your mom and what your mom did try to do, because everybody’s trying to do the best they can in any scenario, and we all know that. I’m wondering for you, did you ever, when you were really kind of growing up, realize, wait a minute, this isn’t how everybody else kind of seems to live or did you ever have that, well, this isn’t fair. Why me?

Thom: You know, it’s a good question. I never, you know, I guess I just was raised and maybe it’s just my personality. Maybe it’s even more than that, maybe it’s my nature more than my nurture. I’ve never been a person who’s been particularly self-pity oriented or how come this or why that. I just, I’ve always had this perspective that what is at this moment is what is, and if I’m supposed to learn something from it, I will. Even if it’s not an obvious lesson at the moment, it’ll come to me at some point. If I’m supposed to grow from it, I’ll grow. If I’m supposed to look back at it later at some other time in the future and reflect on it for something, I will. So I never grew up with this idea of which one of these is not like the other and how come I am not and how come there is no dad and how come my situation has financial struggle in it and how come I have to work it.

Thom: I became a person who at a very early age just recognized that we’re here to lift others, I believe. And in this particular case, through my childhood, my mother was part of that journey. I was there to lift her and maybe by doing so, set an example for other people, whether they were my age, older or otherwise. So I never felt like a victim. I never felt like I didn’t have a dad. And woe is me or mom’s always struggling, woe is us. Or I don’t get to do the things the cool kids do because we can’t afford it. What was me, again, it we are where we are. We’ll do the best with what we have, but we won’t always be here. So I, I was raised, this is definitely nurture, not nature because I would, I will later say that as I grew in my life, I learned to be a learned optimist and pragmatist about a lot of things.

Thom: My mother would say to me all the time, whatever the goal was that I wanted to set for myself, whether that was to achieve something as an athlete or to achieve academically or student council or something else relative to the school years, she would always say to me, you are greater than your circumstances, Thomas Michael. So go be great. And I took that to heart, and really did try to apply myself in many, many ways.

Thom: I would later learn as you get older, how much pressure that is to operate under how much you then internalize those encouraging words in certain ways that may or may not be healthy for you, as you grow up. And I would hit that, that mountain and that wall. When I’m 47 years old, which is just three short years ago. It seems like so long ago. And yet so much has been learned since that time.

Paolina: Well, so much has been learned throughout your entire life, right? And I do love, I mean, one of the things that I remember you taught me was “you are greater than your circumstances”. So that definitely is a pay it forward that I have used even with others. So thank you for that. Thank your mother. But I wanted to talk to you a bit about just staying in that moment of caregiver kid, right? The child who, you know, before you even get to what happens in college, et cetera. You who knew, like, you know, one of the things for myself, one of the things, even with the Casa kid that I have – the court appointed special advocate kids in foster care – One of the things that really has kind of come up for me is kids who are in these roles as caregivers, right? Of the adults or themselves or you know, often are keeping it all secret. Right? And the question I have for you is when you were going through all of this, I mean for goodness sakes, you were a toddler living above a bar, right? If I remember correctly, you even fell down the stairs at one point, broke your leg.

Thom: Yep. Correct. Yep. So that was, that was a year of great health challenges. We had croupy cough when I was two and a broken leg when I was two. But you know, good news is no head injuries after 18 steps. Well that’s stupid.

Paolina: That’s debatable. It’s chapter two now. That’s the next podcast from, you have to do a couple of parts on this one. Cause seriously, like the life you have lived really would have taken down, let’s call them, lesser people, right? People who just didn’t have that foundational core spirit or whatever we’re talking has really driven you through, which makes you very remarkable. Even though at times we don’t feel remarkable, right? There are things that kind of do take us down. Well we’ll talk about that. But in terms of childhood and who knew like that all this was going on, right? Nobody.

Thom: No. One of the things that we didn’t talk about is I’m also a survivor of child abuse. I had a family member, not my mother, but a very close family member, who violently raped and molested me from the age of six to eight and a half years old and that was a secret that I kept along with the, I have to be strong because others will be hurt if they hear this news. And I think when you’re in those, you know, psychologists say the most formative years, when you go through things as traumatic as what I experienced, from six to nine years old, they are also quite formative in many, many ways. And so I figured if I could keep that secret, and it was a horrific secret to keep and an even more horrifying story to tell. And I finally was able to open my mouth and speak the words. I could keep any secret no matter what the pressure was. No matter how hard things felt, no matter how difficult the times were, it was okay. And so there were times even with my mom where the short tempered fuse that became a single parent under enormous pressure to do all the things and make sure the kid was okay and she was okay. And all of those things where she was rough. She was unfairly heavy handed when they came to discipline. And my mother and I have grown a lot through that with one another and talked a lot through those things over the years. But, all of those become secret keeping for me, became a tool, the ability to survive. What might be next was that I could tuck it away and I could organize it in a place where I only had to look at it. If there was someone in front of me who needed the help and I could pull that tool out. And that’s legitimately how I always looked at. The secrets that I kept was that they were meant to be tools used for others. It wouldn’t be until many, many decades later that I realized how much I needed those tools to have been exposed to help me, my own self. But you know, you condition yourself right for certain things.

Paolina: You eluded to the fact that you, while you just kind of went along and made the best of things, so in my words, making magic out of all the madness, were you ever like, did you ever feel I’m completely alone? Or did you have others around you and how important were they? Whether they’re like physical people or other things, speak to those forces that actually perhaps really did make a difference and how important those are.

Thom: So this may sound woo-woo to some of you listening to this podcast, but I grew up with a very, very deep faith in God, not in universe, not in divine, not in power, not in special life, in God, God that we’ve learned about in the Bible and we’re taught about and all those things. And for me, He was my best friend and so, I did have a couple of good friends but maybe only one who really knew all the things and knew all the depth of what I’d been through. His name was Sergio. I lost him 11 years ago to cancer. He was my very best friend and basically the closest thing to a brother. And friends, Scott and Brandy we were very close but not even as deeply close as I was to Sergio. Those were the three human beings. But I felt like I could talk about most things with Sergio. I could talk to about anything.

Thom: I spent a lot of time talking to God cause it kind of felt like he was my dad cause I didn’t have one of those. And so I really didn’t share a lot. Most of my life from probably junior high school and beyond, I had this nickname “Teflon Tom”. And that was that, you know, that bright smile, always had a shiny coat and armor on. And that if, if it hit me, it would just bounce off and slide down. That was people’s perception because that’s the perception I wanted them to have. Because then that meant they wouldn’t ask. That meant there would be no prying in, in truth outside of Sergio.

Thom: Paolina is the first friend I ever met who I think the investigative reporter in you, the prier, the person who digs for, let’s go further. Let’s go further. Let’s go further. Do you know why you do that? Do you know why you think that? Do you know why you say that? Like being interrogated, taught me my true story. That’s the brand, this “Powerlina” thing. Maybe different interrogator might be the real thing. But, um, I do think that, I relished in that description because it kept me safe and it made me feel powerful and my power was my ability to deflect honestly.

Paolina: Right. Yup. All right. Because if you have that armor on, there is less of a chance of getting hurt right? Until you can’t hold onto it anymore. Right? We can’t keep that up anymore. So, let’s kind of just talk a little bit, kind of fast forward.

Thom: Sure.

Paolina: So a lot of madness swirling around you from a young age, and really keeping so many secrets and keeping it together and keeping this facade of, you know, powerful Thom, if we just call it that and you have excelled, like you have done things professionally that people just wish to do. Can you just take us a little bit on the companies you’ve built? Like that whole kind of trajectory of how you were climbing that ladder to, I don’t know, maybe, you knowthe ladder was against some mountain that really wasn’t your mountain or … let’s talk a little bit about that and your progress in the working world.

Thom: I like to say that my career was accidentally on purpose.

Paolina: What do you mean by that?

Thom: Well, on purpose because, growing up I excelled academically. I did very well in school. It was a good outlet for me. It was a place to be responsible. It was a place to kind of own my own thing. So my grades, you know, I graduated and you know, I think seventh or eighth out of just a couple of hundred, high school kids and that was good. It’s national honor society. Scholarship to go to college, and I would later go through school and then earn several master’s degrees, paid for by companies, thankfully because I couldn’t afford to pay. After I got out, I was in debt until I was in my mid-thirties.

Thom: I think sometimes I would accidentally show up at things or in places or circumstances and then see what was there and then purposefully drive toward it.

Paolina: So, the ability to actually see kind of the opportunities, like see how it can unfold, make those connections. That has always been you ever since I’ve known you.

Thom: And I think that’s always been me in general. I just have always believed that if you’re willing to say yes to more things than you’re willing to say no to, you may just be surprised. And I’ve been surprised a couple of times because of that and my career. Go Daddy is a great example of that. I was working in the beauty business way back in the early nineties, and was recruited after I left a sales job in a little technology company. I was recruited by a man named Bob Parsons, who was the founder of GoDaddy to a company that was not yet named Go Daddy. The company was a company called Jomax Technologies. That was the founding company of GoDaddy. I think I was the seventh or eighth employee, and I was hired to run marketing and I could barely spell marketing. I had no idea what that meant. But because I had some other previous experience that felt like it was aligned, I met Bob and a woman named Barb Rechterman, two very pivotal people in my career, at a bar of all places. A bar was my first interview, true story. And Bob was always a bit of a renegade, a little bit maverick, like anyways, than anybody’s ever heard any of the old Go Daddy radio commercials or now even the PXG golf club commercials. And you hear his voice. He’s, I always say, he’s equal parts Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn, just that deep booming voice. Very powerful, very whatever. And he looked at me after we had had a drink and a half and mine was seltzer water cause I was trying to be really cool and his was not. And Barb’s was not either. And they looked at me, he goes, you’re hired cause you’re gonna do it. But I don’t know what it is and what that means. And I would spend the next number of years there, helping figure out what it was and Go Daddy became it. And I was the first chief marketing officer in my late twenties at a company called Go Daddy that put that brand on the map. And even though nobody understood what we did in our Super Bowl commercials, nobody knew what GoDaddy was, everybody remembered the Super Bowl commercials. And so that was a, a privilege and an honor. But it was one of those moments where I accidentally was brought into an opportunity and I thought, wow, this might be a place where I can go do something, even though I don’t know what the job actually means, I’m going to try really, really hard to figure it out. And by the time I left Go Daddy, I was running marketing. I also had product development under me and I was one of the officers of the CEO strategists that helped sort of shape the future of that business. And we’d go from there to a number of other things including, but not limited to Marketwire which is where we met.

Paolina: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I still remember that day.

Thom: I still remember being terrified at the time I was running the PR team from an agency that was going through a review process and you were coming in to replace the head of marketing. And I thought, Oh my God, we’re gonna lose our jobs. We’re going to get fired because this woman doesn’t seem like she’s going to want to keep anything her predecessor put in place. That’s exactly what I thought.

Paolina: In other words, he thought I was a beyotch and then we met, I remember, and it was totally like, Oh my God, I love him. I’m not sure about anybody else, but he gets to stay.

Thom: That was awesome. Yeah, it was fun. It was fun. It was, it was really fun for a number of years until it wasn’t. I will leave it at that.

Paolina: So, clearly someone who has overcome a great deal and a lot of things you even left out, right?

Thon: Yeah. Dyslexia, speech and all those.

Paolina: There were quite a few things since you’re speaking. There’s a good PR and marketing, right? They have dyslexia and speech impediments when they’re a kid, I guess I’d say not only goes into it, but excels at it. Right? And then just keeps going kind of reinventing himself, right? Climbing that ladder, taking care of everybody else along for the ride really. And then something happens, you get to a certain level and you know, I like to harken it where you get to a certain level where you’re, you kind of look around and you’re like, are we the fuck there yet? Right? And you’re like, okay, I’m doing this. I’m doing this. It’s, it’s coming to fruition. It’s coming. And then bam, unexpected things happen. When your professional role is something that you are incredibly good at, no question about it. It is often the thing that we kind of expect will always be there, right? Everything else may fall apart, but that, no, dammit, I can do that. Until it falls apart. And so one of the things of this podcast that I really have kind of explored, has to do with the very strongest among us are oftentimes those of us who need the most help, but nobody’s even paid attention. Nobody knows, nobody knows. We don’t let them know, but they’re not even looking for it. Right. And they don’t really want to look for it because if you are struggling, Holy Toledo, what about me? Right? So talk a little bit about what kind of happened to you and you can go in as much detail as you want or not, where you found yourself in terms of your own madness and maybe how you kind of have had to pull yourself out or still are pulling yourself out. Right?

Thom: Sure. So I mean, you know, when I think about it, the real trajectory of my career started in 1999 right when I joined the team at Jomax Technologies that would later become Go Daddy. And then it continued from there. I mean, by the time I was in my early thirties, I was in charge of marketing, corporate development, mergers and acquisitions and product development at Marketwire, which we would build together into the third largest Newswire in the world, which was quite a steep climb, with every kind of political nonsense you could imagine. Um, and then from there, went on and sort of did a number of other really fun, exciting and remarkable things, always with an eye on the prize for me, always one day knowing I’m not going to be number two or three. I’m going to be number one. One day it will be my turn. And I remembered thinking to myself, I was patient with whatever the process would be until it was my turn. And then when it was my turn, I’d get to do my own thing. I’d get to put my own stamp on stuff and all of that. And that time would come 18 years later, right? In 2017, I had been recruited for almost a year to a large eCommerce company that competed with the likes of Victoria’s Secret and other swim and lingerie brands. I had been recruited literally for almost a year to become their CEO. For me, it was the pinnacle of all of the things. I’d been a head of marketing. I’d been head of sales and business development. I’ve been a head of corporate development. I’ve been a vice president, a senior vice president and executive vice president. All of the things you’re supposed to do to check the boxes in your career. I’d become a chief marketing officer, a chief operating officer. I’d become all the C’s, but the one that I wanted the most, the brass ring, and I finally, after being courted, courted, courted, and I was working as a president and chief operating officer of another company that I loved. I had a blast doing what I was doing. I got to go to San Diego once a month for lots of meetings, which was great, especially in the summer in Phoenix because everybody gets out of here, gets out of hell so they can go to somewhere with a slightly better climate and more water.

Thom: So I was excited about this opportunity, but I was also thoughtful and cautious. The pursuit had been so aggressive. I was curious as to why. I dug as far as I could and as deep as I could in the diligence process. And then I put together a strategic plan for the private equity firm that owned that company. And I said, one condition of my employment with you and taking this role is that we review the strategic plan and that you approve it before I come on board. And they reviewed it and they approved it. And one of the board members of the company was the company’s founder who I would replace as the CEO. And so then I felt really good. Like, okay, my fear, my worry, my concerns were allayed at least a little bit. And seven days into starting my job at the beginning of 2017, my CFO calls me into the office and says, we have a problem. And I’m thinking, well, what possibly could it be? Do you have an inventory shortage of something? Did the website break? And he said, we tripped a financial covenant with our largest debt holder before you got here. This was a material financial fact about the company’s financial situation that I was not made aware of before I signed my employment agreement with the private equity firm and the board of directors that hired me. It was the best thing I can describe it as was like walking into a propeller of an airplane while the propeller was on. Because the two things I was faced with in that meeting were the company can go into receivership, bankruptcy, they can foreclose on it, the debt holder can foreclose. I immediately picked up the phone after collecting all of the data and information from my CFO and determining how many expletives I wanted to use with the board member that I would call, who was my quote, sponsor, my direct pipeline with our board.

Thom: I said, what in the entire fuck is this was exactly how I opened the phone call. And he said, Oh, you know, don’t worry about it. We have a great relationship with the bank. We’re going to do this, that and the other. It’s all going to be okay. Less than 90 days, everything will be fine. Great. Not trusting that, I hung up the phone and I picked up the phone and called bankers that I knew and said, here’s what I’m dealing with. Here’s what the problem is. Here’s how I need to try to solve it. Can you help me? Those bankers came back with a deal within a week and a half of my arrival and that deal was a better deal than the one that we had with our current bankers, but it was not one that my board was supportive of because it would have required what’s called a backstop or a guarantee, which is more equity has to go against the debt.

Thom: They would have to dilute themselves and their ownership in the business in order to make good on that debt, should that debt default. Their answer was no thank you. We’ll work on this. We hired another banker, very big brand name investment bank as a favor to our board and we start going through a process to try to refinance this debt. So now I’m managing a banking relationship that I inherited that was broken, unhealthy and angry because of something done before I got there that was not disclosed to me and I had to fix it because, well, I was the CEO. I have to take care of all 212 of these employees and any decisions I make will or will not have a direct impact. And by the way, I was aware I had in-house staff of 102 people, 75% of them were single mothers with children who sometimes the only meal they would eat during the day where the peanut butter and jelly lunches that we served in our cafeteria so that they could feed their children.

Thom: So now young Tommy comes back into this. Now I’m the CEO of a company. I’m reflecting back on single mothers raising their kids, eating one meal a day so their kids can be fed. My whole life comes full circle to me at 46 and a half years old in a company that I’m now worried about. What do I do? How do I keep all these people afloat? How do I make sure that each one goes home today with a paycheck? So there was a lot of pressure.

Thom: Fast forward, we did some really cool things. I was brought there to reinvigorate the brand. I was there to do a number of different things. We became the official swim partner for Miss USA and active wear partner for Miss Teen USA. We launched New York Fashion Week fashion shows with our swim brand. There were a lot of things that we did really, really well, but the bankers could never get a deal done because the next deal that was brought to our board of directors required the same exact thing is the deal that I brought to them, which was a backstop or a guarantee.

Thom: The board said no a second time. The third deal that was brought to the board didn’t require a backstop or a guarantee. It just required the board to write another multimillion dollar check to make up the difference between what the new bankers would pay off in the old debt versus the new banker. What was the difference between what was owed? That was the third vote off the Island? So my last board meeting was in October of 2017. It was right before my birthday. I would turn 47 years old, I’m sorry, 48 years old. And I knew it was going to be a contentious board meeting because I made it very clear to my board: We’re not going to go through an operational review. We’re not going to go through a financial review. If you’ve all paid attention to any of the reports that I send you on a monthly basis, you know what the condition of the business is in. We’re growing very, very, very, very, very slowly and very, not, not as steeply as we should, but we are. But the only problem we’re here to solve as the capital table issue that you have to fix because you’re the ones that allowed it to happen. You’re the ones that created it. I’m the one that walked in and inherited it. I’ve now brought you, not one, not two, but three deals. You’ve said no, and now it’s your problem to solve.

Thom: I finally had a moment in my life where I said, no. You can solve the problem. And so one of the ways they thought they were going to solve the problem was in their marketing genius minds that we should take out advertising on porn sites. Now, as Paolina knows, as having been a woman that I worked for and that later who reported to me, one of the things that has been a hallmark of my career is building strong leadership, teams with women and with strong women, women that others would call bitches that I always respected.

Thom: As you have a voice, you have to use it. Have a spine stand, steely. It doesn’t matter what that boy says. If you know it’s right, you do it. It doesn’t matter what the other girl says. If you know it’s right, you do it. And so half of my management team that I had built in the 10 months I’d been there were women, and they were sitting at that table listening to this offensive dialogue coming from men. And I’m not a #metoo where I’m like, you know, pick up your panties and move it forward ladies, cause we’ve got shit to do. But as a gay man, I had a unique, I think in PR, a unique perspective on how to be respectful and thoughtful about gender-related, objectification, whether it’s through marketing or otherwise. And so I looked at one of the board members who was a minority shareholder of the business and I said, well, I’m pretty much open to anything, but that will happen over my dead body.

Thom: I think were my exact words in this board meeting. I said, because that is number one, not where our customers go to buy lingerie and swimwear. If there is a woman who is our customer and 92% of our customers are women, not men buying lingerie and swimwear for the women in their lives. Women, they’re not going to porn sites to find ways to close themselves. That’s not what they’re there for, so I’m failing to see the connect. It’s not going to happen with me because I’m not the guy that morally will sign up for that. At the end of that board meeting, the chairman of our board came over and put his hand on my shoulder and said, wow, that was a tough meeting. I appreciate your candor. I appreciate your clarity. I appreciate your conviction. The three C’s that I’ve been known for, and Paolina knows this my entire career, and he said, and you know what? You’re the right man to do this job because you stood up for what you believe is the right thing. Eight days later they handed me a separation agreement without a parachute and said, you’re all done here. That was the beginning of the unraveling of the one thing I’d worked my entire career to get to.

Paolina: And so a couple of things I’m going to say about you, Thom, and you are correct. You have always been the person where the buck stops here. You have always been the person who actually kind of builds the teams, builds the morale, does the thing that is right, not necessarily for yourself but for the organization. Right? You have built your own brand on being sort of, I know we joke about this, but Mr. Congeniality, right? You are always kind. You never berate, you never point fingers, you never blame. You have done, especially in this particular incident, everything that you could do, everything that was right to do. You stood the moral ground, you were helping the organization actually get itself out of the hole that you had nothing to do with putting them being in. And then you kinda got fucked, right?

Thom: Yeah. Okay. 100%. Yeah. I agree with that. So I never felt like a victim of something. Oddly enough, not even when I was a victim of abuse. Did I feel like a victim this time? I did.

Paolina: And this time, if I can relate, you feel as if you were blindsided, hoodwinked, taken advantage of and you didn’t see it coming.

Thom: And being that days before they said you’re the guy, right? Thank you for standing up for what you believe in. Yeah. And eight days later it was done.

Paolina: Even with all that, knowing that you had done everything, knowing that really they are the ones who are at fault because identity is so tied in to what we do. Right and all of those other people that you were taking care of right in the business. Then comes the points of self-doubt, the points of I should’ve done this or maybe okay wait what happened here? Or all those voices of chaos you went through that I watched you go through that which really honestly for somebody who knows you and somebody who’s been through it herself, I will say it was incredibly unnerving to see somebody who is strong, powerful time. Right. Always kind of knowing which was the next step to be lost in that. Remember how you said the clouds, they’re so nebulous you couldn’t piece them together. It’s like lost. Talk a little bit about that because I think that in this world we may offer assistance to people who clearly need it. The people who either mental health wise or otherwise financial wise, we do rally around. There is some support and it’s okay to say something like that that you need it at this level. And I don’t think there is either the support out there for it, nor is it okay to fall apart. You gotta still keep it together. So talk a little bit about falling into that madness and those feelings that you had and then maybe a little bit of what started the path on getting out of it.

Thom: Sure. So I think for me, the first thing I thought and felt the day this happened was: What am I going to do now? Anytime I’d ever felt any ripples in my personal life or my professional life before I was single, it was me and a couple of dogs. At this point, I have my mother living in my guest house. I have a husband, a stepson. I have in-laws living with us who are saving money to build their home. The roof over our head now is no longer just my own. There’s not just a couch I can crash on if something bad happens here. There’s a lot of people in my personal life that are affected by this, including me. And so the first thing I felt was what, what am I going to do? And I’m not a fearful person. I’m not a person who’s really operated much of his life, afraid of things. But I was for the first time in my life afraid because I had no plan B, there was no what’s next, there was no answer to, there was no ability to go back to where I’d come from.

Thom: So the fear was almost immobilizing and then came the, I can’t disappoint my husband and my kid and my family. Like I got to figure something out really, really fast. So I went from being completely afraid, which was a foreign object to me in general to feeling like I was a disappointment because I failed at my first CEO job. I failed at it. Somebody said not good enough for whatever the reasons. And then I struggled with the, should I have been morally ambivalent? Should I have not taken such a stand in such a position on a matter that it cost my family, their lifestyle, that it cost us that income. Then I moved to where do you go to try to get help for this to try to feel your way through it. And, I recognize that my husband at the time was someone who had been through so much of his own struggle before I had gotten come into his life. Even as single father, like my mother, was doing it on his own, trying to find his way, trying to figure things out. I didn’t feel like I could go to him and ask for his help because I felt like I’m supposed to be here to relieve his pressure. That’s what I’m here for. I couldn’t certainly go to my mother, right. Because my mother was part of my care taking basket. I didn’t feel like I could go to my in-laws, because part of my family was living in our home. I felt completely alone. This is when, not when I was a little Tommy, not when I was preteen Tommy, not when I was teenage Tommy, not when I was young man. Thomas, this was the first time I felt completely by myself on a limb, on a ledge with no more questions than answers and no clear path ahead, which is the worst thing for a type A control freak who’s planned his entire life out and finally got to where he wanted to go.

Thom: It is the worst kind of gripping fear you can experience. And yeah, somehow I knew I could get through it because I had been through, I kind of looked at it and I thought, I survived rape and molestation. I survived in an oxygen tent. I survived a traumatic birth. I survived. No father. I survived a mother who worked so hard that the disconnect sometimes between being mom and being caretaker and caregiver was huge. I survived this meteoric climb and a career that wasn’t supposed to happen. I survived dyslexia. I survived speech impediments and pathology. I’ll be fine. This will be fine.

Thom: But what if it isn’t? And that what if it isn’t part? So the first time in my life I ever allowed myself, I’m now 48 years old asking myself, but what if it isn’t okay? What if there isn’t an answer? What if the path ahead is nothing but a dead end? Then what? What will I do? And so began a spiraling and I think the first time I ever identified and recognized for myself a depression, I’d never felt depressed before. I never felt like I couldn’t get out of bed before. I never felt every muscle in my body ache before. I never felt emotionally unstable before and yet I felt like I couldn’t cry at the drop of the hat and that was not me. I felt like I just wanted to scream as loud as I could and as loud as big of an open space as I could so nobody else could hear it, but I could feel it coming out of my body.

Thom: Those were the kinds of things that I didn’t recognize them in myself at all. I was like, who’s this guy? Cause I don’t even know him. And where did he come from and why is he here and can you please go fast cause I need the old Thom back. Cause that guy knows the answers. That guy knows the way ahead. That guy knows the path forward. That guy knows how to get out of every dark spot and find the light. That guy will get there and he’ll get there fast. Whereas he, I completely did not recognize myself for the next six months and yet I had to consult and go to work every day to try to make sure that the ends were met, make sure the bills were paid, understanding that I had created now a lifestyle for an entire family that was incredibly expensive because it was based on the earnings that I was earning and my entire life changed where I went from making X in the high six figures to making Y and the low five figures.

Thom: But nobody else’s life was allowed to change just mine is what I felt. And so I didn’t open up to my husband. I didn’t open up to other adults in my life because it was my problem to solve. The way I was raised by my mother was, if you’ve got the problem, you go fix it. And I didn’t have the sibling. Let’s go be a team and figure it out together. Let’s rake the leaves together. We’ll get the yard done faster. It was never that way. It was always Thom had to do. And so Thom went to work trying to do. So shame, embarrassment, not knowing. Well, I mean, look, I was, you know, I just been for that same company. I was nominated to be CEO of the year by the largest business awards in the state of Arizona. I had been listed as one of the most admired business leaders the year before, you know, and to go through this.
So, so the public shame of it was not as bad as I thought that I would feel. But the personal shame was enormous because I, I just felt like, how could I work so hard for so long and be so good to so many on my journey? I was not a politician that ever stood on other people’s shoulders to get to where I wanted to go. I never stepped on knuckles. I never tried to de-position coworkers to curry favor. I was one of the good guys, you know, like you talked about Mr. Congeniality. I was one of those good people. How could this happen to me?

Thom: I had a lot of personal disappointment that I didn’t see it coming. It’s, I imagine it’s like the way we feel when we’re in a bad relationship. Right? And we miss that. Oh wait, how did I not know he or she was like that? How could I have not seen this is what that was about? And I felt that, so I felt duped. I think you used that word earlier. I felt after the fact that there were disingenuous intentions and motivations for bringing me there to begin with. That there was always a plan. And when an intelligent person who wouldn’t go along to get along, who had his own mind and his own thoughts about what ought to be spoke about, what ought to be, that was not part of that agenda. That was not part of the other plan. But I was dubious too and did not understand existed. And so the shame comes from the losing the job. I’m going to disappoint my family. I climbed so far, I worked so hard for the first time I really went into not just the deep depression, but a self-pity trip.

Thom: That was probably the ugliest kind of version of me there could be because I’d never done it ever in my life. My marriage suffered. I would tell you I was probably a mediocre stepdad to my stepson. At best I was a terrible son cause I just ignored my mom for this period of time because I just felt like I need to have my own dramatic moment for a fucking change. Everybody else put your shit on park. It’s my turn to be good and fucking pissed. And sad and mad and angry and all that. And I did all of that, but I never asked for help ever.

Thom: And so one of the biggest lessons that I would learn through that process was for the first time in my life to allow myself to feel my way, all the way through all of the emotions, all of the layers of the failure. It really wasn’t my failure, but the failure of the thing. But I still hadn’t learned the lesson that there are people there that you should reach out to. You should unlock your armor, Thom. We should allow people to see you as a vulnerable person, not as the person who always must find a way. And that was not a lesson that I would learn until just very recently, probably the last five or six months because of another life change.

Paolina: If you want to share that with us, you can, if we want to talk in generalities regarding this kind of learning of lesson, and again, you know, when you had said you basically, you gave it your all, right? and it just didn’t fucking matter. You still got fucked. Right? And both in professional and personal, right? And you do turn it inward because you wonder what an idiot I am for trusting. Right? I should have been smarter. I should have, could have, would have, we play all those kinds of games because somewhere inside we still think we can control it all. We still think we’re supposed to be able to handle it. So when we’re talking about everything that has happened to you, what are like really the greatest lessons and how did you pull yourself out? I know you’re still kind of pulling yourself out, right? Especially because of the most recent thing, but how does one, what’s the advice for, how do you get back to the magic versus swirling in that madness?

Thom: Well, I mean, I guess for anybody who’s listening to this that is an entrepreneur or a busy business person or someone who has an enormous pressure on them to do well because others rely on you for it, or because you yourself demanded it yourself, right? Perfection or whatever you think is as close to that as possible. Right? I mean, let’s just, you know, call the elephant out in the room. My marriage fell apart as a result of this, and he was the most important male relationship maybe outside of my best friendship with Sergio that I’d ever had. And so, that marriage dissolving, both has taught me what a privilege it was to have that love in my life and to be the step father to our son. But also probably even more devastating than the loss of the C suite position I always wanted.

Thom: So I guess just to put that out there, there are probably others of you listening to this podcast that can relate to what’s the old saying? Um, when your personal life is falling apart, you’re about to get a promotion, right? Or when your professional life’s falling apart, you’re about to fall in love. It’s one of those kinds of, you know, moments. And I had both of them within a two year span of time, two and a half year span of time. And so I think what, for me, the lessons were or are really allowing yourself to feel the feelings. I never did that before. So one lesson I learned was it was okay to do that. It was okay to feel the shame. It was okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be pissed off. It was okay to point at the other guy finally for a change and say, no, actually you’re the asshole. You did it. This was not my fault because I always had been a person who grew up with what did you do? Not what happened. So I always was self-reflective and very inner focused on, I could’ve fixed it. I could’ve made it better in this case. I had to admit I couldn’t. Um, so it’s important to admit it’s important to feel your feelings. Feel them however ugly they get, they will get better. You will feel better at some point.

Thom: The other lesson is ask for help. Reach out whether that’s a counselor, a psychologist, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a best friend, a network of friends. Ask. Don’t think you are the only person capable of containing the stuff. You are not a container that’s meant to expand and contract at the whim of how life happens. You’re supposed to let it out. You’re supposed to reach out, not just to give, but sometimes to get. I had never done that. I was not a person who I always felt the obligation went the other way. I’m here to do for you. You are not here to do for me. And so I think you have to change your mindset is another piece of advice. Be willing and able to accept help when you need it is not because you’re weak. It’s not because you’re wrong. It may not be because you’re broken. It may just be because you need it. Like, can I borrow a cup of sugar? I could do that with a neighbor and be totally okay with it, but not ask for, I need you, my significant other to just give me more. I don’t even know what more is, but I need more of it. Whatever you see, come to me first. Bring it to me ‘cause I don’t even know how to ask. I think it’s really important to be okay with the gray area of not knowing, um, and being willing to, being willing to surrender and maybe think it’s, surrender is a word that has come to me a lot over the last two years. Surrender and know that what is best comes next if you surrender and don’t get in the way. And I think for a lot of my life I stood in the way of the obstacle. I stood in the way of that problem or what I thought was, and in some cases I probably stood in the way of the opportunity to learn lessons earlier.

Paolina: Truth be told because surprise you’re human.

Thom: Don’t tell anybody. Don’t tell them they don’t know that. Now I know I, in fact, I think describe me once as a emotionless, lifeless robot. And, you know, I’m as offended as I was to hear those words. There was a time going through this, but I was that because I barely recognized myself honestly. And it was, it was in the moment of hearing those very stinging words that I remember thinking to myself, Oh my God, what a terrible thing for someone to feel when it’s the person they love the most because I was so unwilling to unlock. I don’t even know that it was a willful thing though. I don’t think I knew how well I think self-preservation, right. And we think to ourselves, well, wait a minute, this me from yesteryear, we’re pretty damn well, let me go back there. Right. Exactly. Instead of, Oh my God, wait, what’s the next step? Why? What’s the next step? Right. And that’s pretty fricking scary, right? Especially when you have so many people depending on you. Right. And even in your head.

Paolina: I had the great fortune of doing a podcast with my shrink of over 10 years and, and asked her what she remembered of our time together. I mean spending over 10 years with somebody, especially when she saw me for so long for free because I was so fucked up, I wanted to hear her side. She said no one had ever even asked her that. Like no one has come back and asked that. What is fascinating is that she actually kind of spoke to resiliency. She spoke to what she saw in terms of going down a bunny hole. And honestly she said what she also saw was a bit of arrogance or ego in that you thought you were so great that you had to take care of it all.

Thom: Isn’t that fascinating? Like it’s a whole different way of looking at something. Well, it’s true, right? I mean, yeah, no, go, wait till I agree with you everybody. Everybody just let’s track down right there for the record. It didn’t happen. I think that’s true in so many ways because when you think about achievement, when you think about someone who’s life is wrapped up in that, you have to have a strong ego, a tough ego, because you do go through a lot of rejection even on the climb. You, you know, you hear plenty of things. I mean you heard nasty things said about me as a gay man at the company that we worked at, right? Things that I never could have guessed were being talked about behind closed doors, things like that. Like that we were petulant, petulant children. Yeah. God bless. Anyway, that cruise was awful. So that’s all I’m going to say. Cause it was terrible. It was the company that’s always the company and so as a company other than you anyway. Um, but it was all kinds of fun. I think for, for me the ego part was, it was actually less about arrogance than it was again, about preservation. Like I had to do it, I had to, I had to be right. I had to have the answer. Couldn’t be wrong. Not about this because now other people were gonna suffer if I was wrong. And that’s really, really hard to get your brain wrapped around when it’s just you. You kind of get to sort that laundry on your own and have that argument with yourself when it’s other people, you’re not allowed to be wrong. That can’t happen. And in this case I was, I think the pulling out of it comes or you know, starts to come from, at least for me anyways, you know, at six months into that mother, you know, necessity is the mother of invention, right?

Thom: I was like, you know what beauty has been in my blood for since I was in middle school when I was the gay middle schooler that didn’t know he was gay yet. And I’m playing Barbie dolls with the girls in the neighborhood and we’re having beauty pageants with their Barbie dolls. There’s something there. And so after all of these decades of having a technology industry, career, and a media and marketing industry career, I thought, what the hell, this company that I was at that I just had the rug pulled out from underneath me royally is in the fashion and apparel business. I’m one step closer. Why not go back to it? Why not go back to a thing I’d always been passionate about. And so began the journey of creating, you know, Broder Kazanjian beauty and fashion and working through buying, you know, a domestic license to a U S beauty competition.

Thom: Ultimately buying a whole international competition, launching an eCommerce company that showcases cosmetics, beauty, skin care, and apparel brands, and building this thing that was finally, uniquely something I had always loved. And so I began to pour myself into that in a way where I worked more hours than I’ve ever worked. And yet they say, when you’re doing what it is, that is your passion, you’re never working an hour a day or a day in your life. Right? And so to me, it didn’t feel, it was exhausting. It was grueling, but it didn’t feel like work. It felt like doing the stuff that I love. But while I was doing that, I was very, very deeply engaged in the building of it because my self-righteous perspective about it was I’m building something for my family and nobody will ever be able to pull the rug out from under us again. Dammit. That will never happen. And if there’s going to be failure this next time, it’s entirely an exclusively mine. And I know I’m not a failure, so it will be okay. And the outcome of that was I lost my marriage. So I wound up failing anyhow at actually a much more important thing to me, which was being a husband and a dad.

Thom: And so the most life changing, reshaping and reimagination of Thomas Michael Broder, who for a period of years became Thomas brooder. Kazanjian is going back to Thomas Michael Broder new and improved 2.0 or 3.0 from some version of something and recognizing that he’s allowed, he’s allowed to not know. He’s allowed to be sad. He’s allowed to ask for help. He’s allowed to let other people lift stuff around him. He’s allowed to be the guy that somebody else carries the baggage for on occasion. I’d like to say I wished I’d learned that sooner, but being a student of life that I’ve been for 50 years now, we learn what we learned. When we learn it, we learn what we learn, how we learn it. Sometimes we learn quickly, sometimes we learn intelligently. Sometimes we learn at dramatic and significant expense to ourselves and sometimes to others.

Thom: And I guess anybody listening to this who, who has a parent who has a spouse, who’s in a relationship, who values others in your life, ask, reach out, show the vulnerability. Say you feel broken. Say you feel worn out. Say you feel run down. Ask the other person what can you put in the tank cause I don’t have anything else to give. And I’m sad to tell you that and I hate to admit it and I’m shame ashamed that I did or that I am or that I feel like this. But do that because you may be surprised at what the other person is capable of. You may be surprised at where your well can be filled and how, and from what perspective you might not be expecting. And I feel like that’s the biggest lesson for me and I’m still learning that part and I’m going through that part now. So, what I have found is by you doing that, perhaps you were purposely put into this position to serve as a teacher for the other person to step up.

Paolina: Right, right, right, right. So the more that we think we gotta handle it all, the more we’re not giving them the opportunity to actually rise. Right. Fair enough. I will also add one more thing or two more things. You have been given an opportunity, in my opinion, to redefine that word failure, right? Because you know, there has been a story, the woman who created, the shape wear Spanx, I believe it was her, I hope to God, I’m not getting this wrong, but she said that her father, at the dinner table would ask them all at the end of every day the question, so what did you fail at today? And they would celebrate it because unless you’re failing, you’re not trying, you’re not learning anything. I thought that was totally cool. Right? So, and for you, learning that Tom Brodeur can actually just be you. I loved that you said it’s okay not to know, right? Because whenever I know that whenever I got stuck, I was like first person in my head who will know the answer is Thom, right? He’ll know the next step to take. Right? So the fact that you, you are embracing this kind of surrender and being my friend, it makes my heart sing. I am very happy for you on that. The other thing too that I will say is, that Maya Angelou quote about, we did what we knew how to do right now we know better and we do better. And so while I know you say there is no plan, right, of what is coming, et cetera, if we were to fast forward, not in terms of specifics of what you’d be doing, but in terms of what do you want to feel? What, if everything’s open to you, which I believe it is and you have, and now God is able to finally be like, well, finally got out of my fucking way doofus right now, I can work magic. Right? What is it?

Thom: Going back to the conversation about, and maybe we didn’t have it on this podcast, maybe this was in our private discussion. I think many of us, maybe not all of us, maybe all of us, I don’t know. I won’t be the judge of that, but we, we hang portraits above our mantle. And that portrait is one that shape-shifts over time in our lives when we’re young. That portrait has visions of our future when we’re in our future, that that portrait has the shapes and sizes and designs of the people, places and things that are in our lives that we may expect to be there forever. I think the biggest lesson that I’m learning in the way I see the future is it’s that old Natasha Bedingfield. The rest is still unwritten and it’s O K that it is unwritten. It’s okay that you don’t know what the next chapter fully looks like. All you have to know is the first word in the next chapter. And, and at least when I’m learning through this process, for me, going back to that portrait, you just need the first brush stroke and the rest will happen as they’re meant to happen. The colors, the canvas, the kaleidoscope, the people, the places, the things will show up as they’re supposed to. So the best thing you can do is disabuse yourself of what the picture should be and allow the picture to become what it’s meant to be. And for me, I think that starting point is start with a fundamental belief in your O K whether yes is the answer, no is the answer or there is no answer to be had right now and that is the biggest life lesson I think I’ve learned both professionally starting and then personally afterwards through this last two and a half, two years of the journey that I’ve been on.

Paolina: You are my friend and we’ll close with this, but you are to me the epitome of the Japanese art where a vase is broken and then they fill in the cracks with the gold, right? Because it makes it stronger, it makes it more beautiful. So I know what you have been when you have been the guy of all the answers, et cetera. I really, I cannot wait to just see what now happens that you are allowing these greater forces to actually kind of come in and take over and you don’t have to do it all yourself.

Thom: Well, I sure as hell hope we don’t have a shortage of gold. I mean a lot of it for this busted up mass right now, but thank you for that.

Paolina: Is there anything left that you want to actually say? Not that this will be the only podcast we have. I have a feeling you’ve got many more in you, but anything that you want to?

Thom: Yeah, I mean, again, this is probably not going to sound terribly corporate or professional, but while you are loving through your life, the work that you do, the people that you’re with, the experiences that you’re privileged to have, don’t forget yourself in the process. I spent a lifetime of loving and caring for other people, places and things to my own detriment. I’m finally awake and recognize that there is a reason why on an airplane they ask you to secure your own oxygen mask first cause you’re really a worthless pile to the little kid next to you, the old lady next to you or the able bodied person next to you if you’re not breathing oxygen yourself. And so don’t forget yourself. Don’t lose yourself in the, the will to achieve. Don’t lose yourself. In the want to be the best husband, wife, brothers, sisters, not daughter, father, mother. Don’t forget who you are. Um, and don’t forget to take some time to appreciate that. Don’t forget to take time to ask other people to help you do better when you need it. Um, and you’ll be more worthwhile and more valuable to anybody else or anything else that you apply yourself to. And that’s been a huge, I know it sounds so cliche and we always say it, but I’m living it now.

Paolina: I think what you have shared today, it’s going to help so many people. Definitely. On so many different levels. And can’t wait until your book comes out and then the movie. Gosh, I’ve got plans. Thom, thank you so very much. We definitely would love to have you back when the time is right for you and when there are other things that we want to discuss or when I’m back in Phoenix, or you in LA? But to our listeners, thank you so much for joining us. This is another episode of I’m with crazy, a love story and I welcome anyone to share your own stories. Comment below. And thank you again for being with us until we meet again.


A storyteller at heart who built a career in writing, media & marketing, Paolina Milana is grateful for the magic AND the madness she’s experienced. Her roots are entangled with mental illness and taking on caregiving roles — something she has come to realize is not unique to her; rather, it seems to be common on several levels among others, especially the high-functioning women who from the outside looking in seem to have it all together.

Madness To Magic brings to listeners stories of real world encounters with what we all experience and yet feel shamed to keep silent. Embracing ALL of us is key to tapping into our own power to make all things possible.

Special thanks to the creators of the beautiful instrumental you hear during this podcast – Philippa Dowding & Allister Thompson – Original song “Sarah Tiptoes” from their album BIRCHES. Also love to the guy who’s the master behind this podcast’s production and audio engineering — Joseph Dean Edwards.


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