Tonya Twitchell | How to Recover from a Family Tragedy – and Emerge Stronger

John Corcoran 8:18

What’s really interesting about this story is that you’re someone who has been in a coaching capacity. You’ve done work on yourself, I imagine personal development. So you’re not someone who ignored elements of your personality, and then how did it all come crashing to the forefront when you suffered these tragedies? So just reflect on that for me a little bit. what that was like in that, you know, on the one hand, you’d worked as a coach, you probably knew many of these things, but they’re so difficult in life. to, you know, walk the walk of what we know what we learned when we trained that, that for you. It was a struggle, and it was something that you know it took this tragedy for these changes to be implemented in your life.

Tonya Twitchell 9:18

Yeah is that they’re one of my all time most devoted champions and mentors used to phrase Gosh, almost two decades ago where she would say and has said over and over again, casualness breeds casualties. And sometimes the fact that we know and we’re so in the groove of teaching or training or coaching other people, we can become casual or or think that we’ve got it covered. We can check it off the list. We don’t have to be vigilant or alert or watch for moments where our blinders may or may be on or we may start slipping into a habit that just isn’t working. MIT isn’t in alignment with what we want or who we want to be going forward. And as I have taken stock on that period of my life, I was really good at championing a lot of people in a lot of places. I just was inconsistent. I am part of what I believe contributed to me being inconsistent is I didn’t hold myself to some of the same standards that I would have been would have been coaching all of my clients around in terms of how you are evaluating. Where are you reviewing what’s your checkpoint? What’s your, your checklist, where and when are you pausing to take inventory? Where I was really good at taking inventory was on the tasks and the do’s and the process. However, I wasn’t consistent in that point at taking inventory on the bees on how I was showing up and thinking about the ripples that I may not have been consciously aware of at that moment. Yet I might have seen a day or a week or a month later if I had paused and allowed myself to simply reflect,

John Corcoran 11:11

Hmm, yeah, what we’re talking about here is it, it strikes me that it’s kind of the lines that are blurred between how we show up personally and professionally, right? They’re all interrelated. You know, if our personal life is going to pieces, and it’s going to affect our professional life, it’s going to affect our career or our business. How do you work with clients given what you’ve been through? Maybe you see a client who is not living a life in alignment as you put it, and you want to broach that with them and you want to, you want to help them to avoid the mistakes that you did, but that’s such a, it’s such a challenge to to get someone to realize that for themselves without them being defensive. So how do you work with clients when you want to get them to, you know, an act of change of that sort.

Tonya Twitchell 12:07

Yeah. So what I’ve settled into it after a couple of decades of doing this is the client has to be ready edit is, the less that I have judgment or expectation or attachment to how far or how fast a particular individual moves or steps, the more I can meet them where they are, and be curious with them, and hold space and possibility so that I’m inviting and encouraging them versus You have to do it because I say so or because I somehow know something that you don’t write it none of us like to be told what to do. None of us like more things added to our list. And so a lot of how I work with clients, particularly if they’re not Comfortable yet or are not as, as familiar or practiced at seen their leadership across their lives versus in one area or one domain or one moment is to simply do some translation to to gently observe, to ask questions to invite them to consider where or how they might start taking something that they want to get better at, or nuance differently in one area and allow themselves to also practice that differently in other areas of their life. So as an example, whenever I have a corporate client who is is challenged with or has identified something that they want to improve in their communication, one of the things that we often will talk about and that I’ll encourage them to consider is the the ability to practice They want to be as a communicator, in the other spaces and times of their lives that are outside the walls of that company or outside the walls of their traditional workday. There’s, I think it was the Power of Habit, or there are a couple of great books that talk about here that 20,000 hours or whatever that number was the bit essentially, the more you practice, the better you get. And until you practice a lot, if we’re unrealistic in our expectations to think that we’re going to become a rock star at it overnight.

John Corcoran 14:28

So just to give like, a An example of this is what you’re talking about, like, if you’re having trouble being honest with your executive team, or with your employees or your boss or whatever, then, you know, when you’re at church, being honest with someone at church or being honest with your family members are kind of practicing in that way.

Tonya Twitchell 14:51

Yeah, so I like to think about whatever I’m wanting to improve on as a leader, how and where can I practice it and I love listening stakes practice, because I think of it as a muscle, the more I practice, the stronger that muscle gets. And the stronger that muscle is, in wherever it is in my life that I’m practicing, the better prepared I’ll be when the stakes are higher. Got it? Right. So yeah.

John Corcoran 15:16

The example I know, someone who gives a great example of a way to get outside of your comfort zone is just when you’re ordering a coffee at a coffee shop, ask for 10% off not for any particular reason, just because, you know, it’s facing the fear of potentially facing rejection.

Tonya Twitchell 15:31

Exactly. It’s, it’s getting outside of ourselves. And one of the ways that I equate it often is we all have these stories or these perceptions of who we are and what we can do. And often those stories are based off of the evidence that we’re accustomed to seeing and carrying. So sometimes the fastest way for us to realize I’m actually better at that thing that I’m giving myself credit for, is to simply focus on gathering different evidence. So that We have a more balanced, complete view, right? I’m probably really good at speaking up in certain areas of my life, and just less good at speaking up in certain specific types of scenarios. So rather than focusing on the place where it feels hard, and having additional anxiety and things that I have to overcome, let me just get really good at remembering I’m already good and in momentum and have energy and evidence that I can do it. And then think about how do I bridge that or just nuance or adjust it so that it feels more authentically comfortably me in this place where I haven’t quite found my stride.

John Corcoran 16:43

Right, right. And do you find that people are able to bridge that gap or is it sometimes too far of a gap for them to come? Or is it just simply a matter of time?

Tonya Twitchell 16:54

Sometimes it’s a simple matter of a matter of time. Sometimes it’s as simple as a letter yourself to look at it differently hmm

John Corcoran 17:04

looking differently like seeing like, like you said, like realizing that you can do it in this part of your life you just are struggling to do it in this other part of your life.

Tonya Twitchell 17:12

Yeah, we are all incomplete storytellers. Yeah, and it’s just from neuroscience there’s only so much information that can get in and that we can grab on to and pay attention to at any particular time. So some of this is like tuning our antenna. What am I allowing myself to focus on? And what are the things that I default to notice first, how can I invite and allow myself to start noticing other things too, so that you know sometimes the we get in our own way because we’re trying to push things away, or pushing things away is a whole lot harder than just opening the door a little bit wider to allow one more thing to walk in with the things that we already expect or accustomed to seeing in the next I’m a, I’m all about efficiency and all about how do I move forward and leapfrog and move fast for the minimum amount of work and effort. So I know that the places that I love to tinker and that I get most excited about with my clients are when we can just make subtle shifts, things that are very easy for them to say, Yeah, I could do that, and then get into action. And then once we’re in action, it becomes easier to go, Okay, I can do that too. Or I can do something a little bigger or that thing that wasn’t as hard or as challenging as I thought. So maybe I’ll say yes to this other thing that, you know, a previously back in time or two days ago, a month ago, a year ago, I never would have even given myself the opportunity to think about because it was so big and scary in relation to where I am now.

John Corcoran 18:50

Hmm. I’m curious. You know, we were talking beforehand. You said you think I think you said you’re a natural born coach or you feel natural. Let’s be who you are. And looking at your career trajectory, you, you worked for these psi seminars, you know, early on in your career. And so you’re doing coaching but is this something you realized at a young age? Like were you like seven years old and you’re like coaching other kids on the schoolyard? Like when did you realize like, I’m a coach?

Tonya Twitchell 19:20

Yeah, I’ve always been rolling up my sleeves and depending on which relative you would ask some of them would say that I, I like to be the lead or like to be the spotlight or, you know, want the attention or just think I know the answer. So it in some way, shape or form, I have always found my way to it, where I would say I really started to settle into and discover and have awareness around, okay, that there might be something to this. And this might be something that I really ought to pursue was when I was in high school. I was in high school in the 90s, HIV AIDS education was sort of this new thing that wasn’t really being done well. In the state where I happen to be going to school with At the time, and I am fortunate that I have a number of educators who are across different levels of education in Southern California. And I got it in my head that I could go and be the one to help bring education to my fellow students. And with their support and in partnering with some local associations and organizations in our community. I got myself trained up, I actually became the first ever HIV AIDS certified instructor through the American Red Cross back at that time. Fast forward a year or so later. And I actually received a paycheck from the state, California State Department of Education for some, like consulting training for this project that I did with some other teams around this area. And so, it was kind of in that lane that I discovered I have a voice. And when I asked questions, and I raised my hand and I helped other people to ask questions, we were able to move things forward. So I would say for me, that was where it all began. And then as I got into college, I thought I’d go left and then I thought I could write and then I thought I’d you know, do this or that. And the first couple of jobs I had right out of college, didn’t matter what the title or position was, within about 90 days, I was training and educating and coaching and doing things in that space. Because someone other than just me thought that that would be a fit and opened up the door. So you know, 20 1520 ish years ago now, I finally said, I guess I’ll just settle into this can be my real gig. I don’t need something else with this as the side thing and haven’t looked back since.

John Corcoran 21:46

I’m curious. You know, I have an 18 month old daughter and three boys before that. So I had seven years of boys and boy testosterone before my daughter came along. And you mentioned when you were a kid, you know, the kind of way that people reacted. And I want to explore that a little bit further because I feel like with me to movement, there has been more awareness of the way that girls are treated in this society. And what do you think? Or did you experience it, you were treated any differently? Because, you know, in some families, you know, a budding daughter might be treated differently, or it might be looked down upon or characterized in a more negative light versus the way that a budding coach, seven year old coach boy would be, did you experience that at all?

Tonya Twitchell 22:34

You know, I did insert it at certain moments. Although right alongside those moments, I had some amazing champions in my life. You know, my mom and my aunt were the bravest woman I’ve ever met. You know, they work their way up through corporate America. They were some of the women among seas of men and trying to figure it out and figure out how do we balance it into Do this and can we have families and careers? And so I was very lucky that the majority of the influence that I was around day to day came from people who, whose basic attitude and approach was, if you want to do it, let’s figure it out. Is that that more than anything shaped my story? And that makes it easier when I start to get in my own way and start to doubt. Can I do this? Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes you Why me versus somebody else? I hear their voices in my head. And so that’s you know, I’m in the process of working on a book right now. And I’ve been thinking really specifically about who am I going to champion and who are the right readers for this book? And yes, some of the people that this book is aimed at are people who are in leadership seats. I mean, they are rocking it as the leaders of their organization. These types of CEOs are gathered around my Vistage groups and that you’ve certainly encountered in YPO Nia and some of these other amazing organizations around the globe. There is a lane in which and and a way in which this book is also for people who are just starting to raise their hand. And the group that I think I’m secretly most excited to talk to you and incorporate is the group that is championing the leaders that we are raising up that are championing our kids that are championing the people that are going in and and leading teams that are on the sidelines, being standing as the belief that we all borrow, and the people that we look to, for confirmation and to keep our stories in check. So that on the day is when the going is hard. We dig down, we reach in and we remind ourselves that I can take a breath, I can center myself, and yeah, I really can step forward. It’s going to be Okay,

John Corcoran 25:01

How was or how is what you do today, the work that you do today informed by the fact that you went from going to college in a small town in Minnesota to studying Chinese language in China? What was that experience like and how has it influenced the work you do today?

Tonya Twitchell 25:23

I think that it, you know what? So to answer that question I got to tell you about how I ended up going to China in the first place, right. So I went to this fantastic liberal arts school in Minnesota, shout out to Carleton College grads, and in registration and lining registration for my freshman year. Part of what attracted me to school was everyone’s studied language, and you study until you get a certain degree of proficiency. And so I stood there and I thought, all right, I’m likely to land in a large city on the other side of these college years. So if I ever decide I want to learn Spanish, French Italian German, odds are I can learn those pretty easily. So how am I going to stretch? What am I going to study here that I’m probably not going to study somewhere else down the line. And for me at the time, it was Chinese or Japanese, I literally flipped a coin. I just heard that Chinese classes spent the next 10 weeks beating my head against the wall, because it was the hardest thing I ever tried to learn. God bless my instructor, my team, my who kept saying to me, hang in here, there’s going to be a moment when it just starts to click, but you have to. It’s like that practice, you got it, you got to do the work. You got to show up, you got to trust that eventually you’ll get enough context that you’re gonna see things that you don’t see today. And it finally clicked in. And I said to her, how do I fast track this? This is great. And she said, You sign yourself up and you go study in China for a term. And so that’s how I ended up in China. And because I did that. Now when I come up against moments where I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what is going on. look like and I start to go into doubt of do I really want to raise my hand? The touch point and the reference I have is raising my hand for that was one of the most exciting challenging Yes, however exciting eye opening things. So of course I’ll raise my hand for this now.

John Corcoran 27:17

Yeah, and was like just being there experiencing it and did you feel like you’ve got a comfort level then having experienced it?

Tonya Twitchell 27:26

I did. So I was on a specific language study program. And so at the time that I left China, I was functionally fluent in China or in Chinese. I actually considered relocating to China for a period right out of college and for a couple of other reasons, decided not to go that direction. However, to this day, it was one of the most eye opening perspective shifting periods and I was 19. So it was the right time to be stretching my wings, looking around. and discovering differently that there’s more to the world than what I had always seen or gotten comfortable thinking of first,

John Corcoran 28:08

hmm. You have this interesting kind of career trajectory where you worked, you know, in a coaching training capacity. And then you got recruited by some of your prior clients to go into the corporate world and help with management and and being a CEO, higher level executive at a couple of different companies. And then you came back to the world of coaching and training and mentorship and stuff like that. So what was that shift like going into the corporate world after many years of coaching which seems to be your true love?

Tonya Twitchell 28:47

Yeah, I never would have anticipated that I was going to be stepping in and leading a couple of companies at different points and when the first ironically, when the first former client of mine, broached this topic, and Essentially, he said, I want to expand to another market. And so for that to happen, his belief was he needed to relocate to the new market. And he wanted to make sure that he had someone firmly in place to anchor the team and help with processes and systems and all the transition. And when he first approached me and said, I think you should do this, I laughed. I said, I only know as much about your industry, as you and I have talked about in our coaching, I’ve never, I haven’t even actually been on site at your facility. I have met no one on your team. Like, I think that you’re crazy. And I actually recommended a couple of other people that I thought he should hire instead of me. And he said, Okay, we’ll talk again. And he came back and he said, You know, I really think that this is something that you can do, and here’s why. And as we started unpacking it, what I discovered is it was all about moving people forward. Yes, there was a business. Yes, there were widgets. Yes, there were revenue lines and profitability and overhead and expenses and things that we’re going to be paying attention to. However, at the end of the day, the biggest issue or opportunity in the mix was how do we bring his team together differently and more cohesively in an interesting timeline, where the are timeframe where the leader that they were used to go into and most connected with was about to relocate to a different state. So how do we do that? And how do we figure out what is possible for this team? And as soon as we started talking about it in that lane, I went, What do I like to do most? I like to champion possibilities. I like to champion people. I like to roll up my sleeves and move things forward in an interesting, meaningful way. And, you know, I said to him, Do you care how it looks? He said, Nope. Do you trust me? Yep. And to his credit, he gave me tremendous latitude. He was a tremendous champion of mine, and that team came together. I mean, we did some interesting things while I was with that team for a little less than a year and got them to a place where it felt like they didn’t need me with them in the same way. And, you know, as fate would have it, and another former client had been paying attention, invited me to what I thought was a holiday lunch and slid an employment contract offer across the table and said, What do you think? I’ve been watching what you did there, and we’re poised for growth. What do you think about coming to play here, so I stayed a little longer with that team. And same thing, he’s one I call my foxhole buddy. He’s one of my To this day, one of my closest friends and fiercest champions. He actually was the one who introduced me to Vistage ironically, he had been a member of this church for about 10 years before I joined his team. And shortly when I came in the door I think it was within my first month. So he said, you know, at some point, you’re gonna look around and realize that you need somebody at the same level, who is not in this world who you can talk to and get perspective on and help check your blind spots. And he said, you know, I’d prefer not for it not to be me, because I’d like to fish more. And that’s why you’re here. So when that day comes, let me know I’ve got a group that would be worth checking out. And it didn’t take me long to get myself to a Vistage table. And I knew pretty early on that that might be an interesting place that I would want to play at some future point. And so, you know, as the face would have it, an opportunity opened up at the time that it was appropriate, appropriate for me to be stepping out of the day to day where I’ve been so

John Corcoran 32:47

I want to ask more about that about what Vistage is for those who haven’t heard the community before and how it how it serves the members of the groups. But before we do that, this is such an interesting thing. To go from a coach coachee relationship to all of a sudden, the person you’re coaching is now writing your checks. How do you prevent that from being a bad dynamic? How do you preserve the relationship? Going into that type of scenario?

Tonya Twitchell 33:16

Yeah. So I would say the biggest piece that was critical for us to negotiate and be clear about upfront, was the distinction between agreements and expectations. And to be very clear around what I was agreeing to what he was agreeing to, what it what expectations or assumptions we may have in the mix, how we were defining winning how we were going to evaluate if we were on track or off track. And fortunately, he and I had been friends and had been in this coach-coachee relationship and dynamic for about five or six years. And so we really had to talk about we’re shifting what that looks like. So our Are we going to be okay with the moment? And it turned out to be many moments when we don’t see eye to eye? How are we going to remind each other, that we are both doing our job by talking honestly and candidly about our perspectives, our observations, our fears, all of these things. And he and I had a similar agreement to what I had with my mom, which was, we’re going to have some moments where our conversation or approach or our styles don’t quite work as smoothly as they could. So how and when are we going to come back to it? How are we going to reset? How are we going to clear that off? How are we going to be vigilant about making sure that the stories we’re telling about our combined possibilities are stories that move us forward? Not stories that pull us apart?

John Corcoran 34:52

Hmm. That’s great. All right. So let’s wrap things up with more of a discussion around Vistage for those who have heard of it before? And you know, it’s been around for about 70 years or so originally from San Diego. It’s a peer to peer group for CEOs and executives and business owners. Tell us a little about it.

Tonya Twitchell 35:12

Yeah, so Vistage has been around for over 60 years. We’re in 20 ish countries and over 22,000 members right now, they are home offices in San Diego today, although it actually started in the Midwest, a business owner said, I need some perspective. And I’m not going to get it from people in my industry and certainly not in my company, nor would it be appropriate for me to ask so he started reaching out to business owners in non competing industries, and said, What do you think about coming together once a month, let’s dive into the things that are keeping us up at night. Let’s feel less lonely in this lonely isolating role that we each find ourselves in. Let’s leverage best practices. Let’s figure out how we can help each other to be better and move forward as a group. So here we are today, I have the privilege of leading three groups here in Las Vegas. And the average member in the group has revenues, 2 million ish all the way up to 500. Plus and anywhere from 10 employees to 1000 employees. What’s common about all of the members in my groups is they are committed to taking on their leadership, they are committed to telling the truth about the days when I’m great. I have days when I mess up, and the game that I choose to be in is how do I keep getting myself up, looking around checking my blind spots, learning from people who are smarter or have different perspectives that I may think to bring first and keep challenging myself to finding new different ways to not get stuck in my story. And, oh, by the way, we’re also going to find ways to be more efficient. We’re going to find ways to be more profitable. We’re going to do all the nuts and bolts of business and growth and revenues and we dive into all of that. However, the bigger game is, am I willing to hold up the mirror and pay close attention to how I’m leading and living my life?

John Corcoran 37:10

Hmm, that’s great. Well, Tonya, this has been really interesting, really insightful. Thank you for sharing your stories here today. I want to round wrap up with the question that I was asked, which is, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars of the Emmys and you’re receiving an award for lifetime achievement for everything you’ve done up until this point. And what we all want to know is who do you think in addition to of course, family and friends, that sort of thing, but who are the mentors who are the peers were the coaches, the champions to use your word that you would acknowledge in your remarks?

Tonya Twitchell 37:42

So my biggest champion my my truest champion for almost 20 years now is a woman here locally by the name of Teresa Corbett. Teresa was my boss and mentor and friend went back in the days when I worked at Sai seminars, and she continues to be the belief that I borrow And the person that can put me in check faster than anybody else. And you know the voice I hear in my head so she more she along with my mom, my on some of the other folks I’ve mentioned. Those are the ones that that have certainly shaped who I am and remind me of who I can be.

John Corcoran 38:18

That’s great. All right. And where can people learn more about you or connect with you, Tonya?

Tonya Twitchell 38:22

Yeah, they can visit my website which is I’m thinking you’ll put it in the show notes. LinkedIn, they can also find me there. Those are the easiest, fastest ways to connect with me. Most days of the week.

Unknown Speaker 38:35

All right, great. All right. Thanks, Tonya. Thank you.

Outtro 38:37

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