In his mid-40s, Shawn Faessler was celebrating his 20th service anniversary at General Electric when he found himself in somewhat of an early midlife crisis. He was unsure of what the next chapter of his life was looking like, and he was thinking already about what he’d do when retired. That would have been at least 20 years down the line, and he didn’t want to wait for all that time before living life to the fullest. That’s when he decided to quit and focus on three main areas: his kids, volunteering, and personal development. He’s now on a mission to raise the universal standard of care for those with limb loss and limb difference with ROMP.
From Amputee to Fulfilled & Contributing Man
To have a better understanding of Shawn’s way of thinking, we have to go back to when he was 29 years old. He was riding his motorbike, heading home from work on a Friday evening, when he was hit by a car. The accident severely damaged his left leg, and he was faced with a choice: either keep the leg without really being able to use it or remove it. That seems like a very difficult choice, but at the time Shawn already had a young kid, and his thoughts immediately went there. He wanted to be a great father, capable of going on bike rides, hikes, and adventures with his son. That’s why he took the decision to have his left leg amputee below the knee.
Many people would have considered this the end of their life, but not Shawn. From that day he decided that he would have started living life at its fullest, no matter the limitations: he’s become a boy scout leader at the highest level, climbed mountains, explored Antarctica, run marathons, just to mention a few. He is now on the Board of Directors of ROMP, a non-profit, for-impact healthcare organization dedicated to providing prosthetic care to those without access to these services.
And now here’s Shawn Faessler.
Full transcript below
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Podcast with Shawn Faessler. Living Life to the Fullest No Matter the Limitations.
people, antarctica, life, amputation, prosthesis, shawn, thinking, triathlon, running, injury, scouting, couple, months, leg, camping, decision, question, happened, walk, felt, living life to the fullest
Mike Malatesta, Shawn Faessler
Mike Malatesta 00:19
Shawn Welcome to the show.
Shawn Faessler 04:35
Thanks. It’s good to be here, Mike.
Mike Malatesta 04:36
Yeah, I’m glad we got introduced by Chad Bolliger I think I’m pretty sure and Chad mutual connection of Shawn and eyes. He’s a Northwestern Mutual Life agent that I don’t think either one of us work with but we’ve connected and networked with with Chad I know I have, um, he’s a really really good guy just like a really genuine guy who gets out and meets a lot of people and every so often he, you know, sends me an email that says hey you know I know this person and I think they’d be a good person for you to meet that meal maybe for the podcast maybe for something else. And in this case, he put Shawn and I together and we had a little conversation I think you’re gonna be really happy with, with what you learn from Shawn today So Shawn. I’m sorry I started every podcast with the same simple question. How did happen for you.
Shawn Faessler 05:35
Right. So for me, how did that happen, was I became very intentional about what I want my life to be. And so then the question is, well, what is the end. So what happened is when I was in my mid 40s I decided to take a career break or employment break or personal leave. I basically quit my job and quit working to work on other things. And just to give you a little bit of context. I was in the middle of my career, I had just celebrated my 20th service anniversary with General Electric, and I was looking at what’s next in my career. And it wasn’t just like, what’s the next job, it’s what are the next two jobs, where am I going. And based on where it was in my life and looking at my time horizon and thinking will do I just work for another 20 years at the same company do I want to try something different. When do I retire, do I still retire early, at 60 Like I had hoped. And the more I reflected on this, the more I ask some bigger and bigger questions like, What is life going to be like at 60 and 65 and thinking of my family members and loved ones, where would they be some won’t be alive. Some will may have passed away from cancer. I had three relatives have passed away at cancer at 50. And then I asked the question, okay, if I’m 6865 retired. What the heck am I going to do. Right, I mean, I may lose some of my mobility, kids are going to be out of the house. who knows how mobile my parents will be random rambler’s may have passed away. So after a lot of reflection I decided, I’m ready to quit working to focus on three other priorities, and really what those priorities are is first of all, it was my kids. The second priority was volunteering. And the third priority was personal development.
Mike Malatesta 07:40
Okay, so let me just paint the picture here, I think, if I make sure I got it right, so you’ve got, you’ve got a no successful career 2021 years with GE Healthcare and as I look through your resume, it’s, you know, seems like it’s, you know, a couple years at this than a promotion couple years of this and a promotion, you get into your 40s and you start thinking about this what I want to do for the rest of my life was. There’s something about the company’s approach to you that changed or anything Shawn I’m just what or was it just the sort of maybe people would refer to that as a midlife crisis but in your 40s that’s hopefully too young to be midlife, but was there something yeah what was the dynamics of what was going on in your head or your life or whatever besides what you mentioned about you know what I be here for, because even most people aren’t thinking about retiring. Sick well maybe they’re thinking about retiring at 60 but they don’t really see that as a possibility or a lot of folks don’t, and then there’s other people like news like, why would I ever retire I’m gonna do this and I’m gonna do that I’m gonna do this, do that so I’m interested in your perspective.
Shawn Faessler 09:00
Yeah, so, I wish I had an easy answer for that. There’s a lot of factors that really contributed to this, so I really focus on the key things that were really the, the major decision points. First of all when I turned 40 You know, I started to sense the reality of my own mortality. I have known. Three relatives that have passed away from cancer at 50. So here I am at 40 thinking, you know, I could have another 50 years left I could have another 10 years left. You know I could have, like another life threatening injury like I had several years prior, and that would be it. And so that was really one of the, one of the things that really got my mind thinking about what I want my life to be. And then when I reach that. Maybe your point in my career, you know things are actually going pretty well you know I had a pretty strong start to my career, about five to seven years in I had some career struggles, and really needed some personal growth to get to that next level. But when I got my last job at GE things are great, it was a very easy transition, a much bigger role. I did well on the role. Enjoyed it found it successful, but got kind of bored of that and thinking well I should do something this is a little bit more exciting. And what else is there. And then yeah just thinking about retiring I looked at people that had retired. And they spent years 3040 years focusing in retirement. And then they go off and retire they buy a boat, they travel, and some of them came back here later and started working for GE as a contractor. And I’m thinking, well, am I gonna do that, am I gonna work for 40 years for this big retirement, and then come back here later and continue to work just because I’m bored or didn’t know what else to do. So part of was trying to figure out, you know, how can I take advantage of a time that I have my kids right now while they’re still in high school at the time, my oldest was 16, and also trying to figure out like what are their passions, do I have, what are the things do I want to do before that my life ends, or I’m on my deathbed. So, those are only the things that precipitated this decision.
Mike Malatesta 11:30
And those three priorities that you mentioned your kids volunteering and personal development were they, did you have those constructed or idealized prior to making it, making the decision or did those come after afterwards.
Shawn Faessler 11:48
Those are really part of the decision. Okay, those were forming before the decision. So, you know, it made sound like I just one day walked into work and said I quit because it couldn’t be further from the truth, especially for anyone that knows me. I really started formulating this idea, probably about seven or eight months before I actually left and started formulating what am I going to do is you know I talked to someone about this, just to get some advice of like does this even make sense to do this. And her response was, Well, first of all you’re smiling when you talk about this so this is probably a good thing. And the other thing that she said was, it sounds like you’re going to something you’re not running away from something. So it was important to me to validate that I’m not trying to leave something that’s bad, I’m trying to move to something that’s good. So yeah I really developed these priorities about four to five months then I actually told my manager about this for months before I actually quit my job. So I had plenty of time to transition to this new phase of my life.
Mike Malatesta 12:56
How about your family, how are they feeling about about this thought or decision of yours. Was it a family discussion I’m curious how you, how you navigated it from that perspective,
Shawn Faessler 13:12
yeah it was it my wife had a lot of concerns, you know I was the primary breadwinner as I was working full time and she was working part time, we had decent insurance through work. So, this discussion with my wife was can we handle this financially, and how I answer that was really two different ways one is okay here’s the assets that we have. Here’s how long they can last. And the other pieces, I felt confident that if I had to go back and get a job. I had the skills and experience to go and find a job, whether it’s at GE, whether it’s at another company. I really felt like I had a lot of portable skills so employment really wasn’t a concern.
Mike Malatesta 13:56
What about your kids so I’m thinking, you know that one they probably love having you around. On the one hand and on the other hand, they, you know, their friends might be saying, Hey man, what’s you know what’s happening with your when your dad, you know, the I don’t know what, what. Yeah, so
Shawn Faessler 14:18
my kids were a little unsure at first. You know my daughter was, I would say almost as nervous as my wife was like data we’re gonna be okay, like, Am I still gonna be able to go to college for a couple of those questions. Right I think a lot of it was by boys especially thought it was neat. We could go on Scout camp outs together we could do things together. And over the first year they really learned to appreciate not only the things that I could do with them, they actually saw the things that I was doing with my time, and we’re really excited about seeing that sharing that as well.
Mike Malatesta 14:55
And you mentioned, while you were explaining your decision making process. So, a life threatening injury what what’s that about Shawn. Yeah.
Shawn Faessler 15:06
in 2002, I had lost my lower left leg, due to an injury was a motor vehicle injury. So basically had a pretty severe life threatening injury, and ended up having my left leg amputated below the knee.
Mike Malatesta 15:23
Okay, so that’s a change. Yeah, big, big change, were you, I guess were you hospitalized for a long period of time was it it was it something that automatically. Like one day you know you have the accident and the next day that are the same day the physician says Hey Shawn, this is what needs to happen or what was the progression, like for you there.
Shawn Faessler 15:49
I was in the hospital for about two weeks, I mean in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot of time but for me for a 29 year old with a one year old at home. It seemed like an eternity to be in the hospital. So when I got to the hospital. From the ambulance. The leg was stabilized, so you know the the leg was still quote unquote and catched I had blood flow, the bone that was missing was replaced by a titanium rod. And so when I woke up from surgery, you know, I could see my foot was there. I also saw a lot of injury to the muscles, the bones, and really the biggest challenge was I lost a lot of nerve function so I couldn’t feel the bottom of my foot. I couldn’t curl my toes. So at that point it was really a decision it was a decision of where I want to try to salvage this limb that may or may not function, and may take a lot of surgeries and time to recover, Or do I want to go through with an amputation, get out of the hospital and get back on with my life. And, you know, it was. It’s one of those decisions that seems difficult. I had a feeling that the physicians were leading me towards the amputation, but really the deciding factor is, I looked at my limb and and saw how much I lost in terms of function. And then I looked at my son, my son was a year and a half. And I tried to think well how can I be the best father to him, and really my goals were just to keep up with him so when he started to walk, I wanted to be able to walk again, when he was riding a bike. I wanted to ride bikes with him. You know if he was, I didn’t really think about scouts at the time but if he was going to be in scouts going hiking, canoeing, I wanted to be able to do that stuff with him. And so that’s what really led to the decision of the amputation. Okay,
Mike Malatesta 17:47
so the, so post accident, doctors were able to keep your leg attached with the titanium rod or whatever else they did. But then it became a matter of am I just going to have it, and not be able to use it have function with it, or would I be better off. Yeah, okay, but you say that’s not a very, it’s not that hard of a decision that seems that seems like an incredibly hard decision, even if intellectually you’re like okay this, you know, I’m not going to have full use look at my muscles look at my, you know, all that still is, intellectually, okay, but pulling the trigger seems like a big deal, Shawn.
Shawn Faessler 18:31
It is a big deal, depending on the context. So I’ll show you my context, and then share some of the context of other people that I’ve met with. Alright, it was a visit them. So, you know I was hit by a car, I saw the injury, I was basically laying in someone’s driveway bleeding to death. I saw how bad the leg was injured, and I expect that I was going to lose it anyway. I was fortunate that I was hit, near a physician’s house. So there were a couple of doctors on the scene right away. The local EMT station was, like, a couple 100 feet away. And I got a very cheap ride to a level one trauma center. So up until that point, I had felt very fortunate that I was alive. I was healthy from the knee up. So, in that context, it was a pretty easy decision. But things got challenging a lot later on. So again it goes back to context and I, the reason I share that is I meet with a lot of people that are going through amputation. And you know I’ve met people that are young, healthy, they lose a couple of fingertips and it’s just the end of the world is devastating to them that I meet someone that is living with an injury for 1015 years and they’re constantly fighting infection. They’re in a wheelchair. And when it comes to have an amputation to move on with their life, they’re ecstatic they can’t wait to get rid of this limb. So I think my key takeaway it’s more your frame of reference that really, really gives you your perspective.
Mike Malatesta 20:10
Okay, so by framing men frame of reference, I read that as mindset is that what would you say it’s the same, same thing or different.
Shawn Faessler 20:21
I mean say there’s a subtle difference between your mindset and frame of reference. I picked your mindset is where you’re going and frame of references where are you starting from. So I shared my personal story, for the first nine months, and things were going great, it was more difficult for my wife than it was for me you know I lost a leg, she had lost the husband. Now her, her children and almost lost the Father. And it was very difficult for her. And so, for me, things were fine until about nine months in, I had one on a trip. It was like one of my early trips after my amputation. I was walking by them, I think I had a cane with me. And I saw three people in public that were amputees. Unfortunately, all three of them were panhandling. They were on the street, on the ground, begging for money. And so that became my frame of reference of this is what it’s like to be an amputee. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know anyone with amputation. Like, I knew I could walk but I didn’t know am I gonna have all these underlying health issues. How long is this prosthesis gonna work for what is my disability going to be like, I really have no idea where this is going. And so that was my frame of reference, and I became depressed because of that. And it really took a couple of years of working with therapists, and getting experience, and just understanding that, okay, you know, I had this injury. But like most of the injuries, I can recover from it. And I can go back to being myself, and I got to a point where four years after my injury I wasn’t shown the MBT, I was sawn people are talking about me they want to talk about my leg or my thesis, right, they would talk about me as a person. And so, once it became a whole person, I felt like I was fully recovered from my injury.
Mike Malatesta 22:27
So that’s so interesting because you were talking about frame of reference, you, you had a frame of reference sort of out of the gate, it sounds like. And then you had this experience where you saw these. This panhandlers who happen to be amputees as well and you’re in your frame of reference, changed, maybe dramatically, it sounds like. And and why I wonder when you were talking about other people’s frame of reference that you deal with now you know some people who are devastated by the loss of a few fingertips for example and others who are like, hey, life goes on, you know, let’s just keep moving forward. It’s really, It’s just really interesting to me how your mind can can not only change but change in such a dramatic way that you yourself are, you know, like you say here you go into depression after you felt for nine months you were like okay this happened and that’s really, it’s really interesting to me because it strikes me as a little bit like and I don’t mean to put these spots of mine into your experience, they probably are, but it’s, it seems a little bit like how we’re always comparing ourselves to other people. And for some people that can be debilitating right like, I’ll never be as good as Shawn or you name, whoever it is, and for other people it can be inspirational like, oh I want to be more like Shawn and here’s what I have to do in order to get there, this is it just my just my.
Shawn Faessler 24:08
Yes, I think, I think comparing yourself to other people can have a huge impact. And it can be detrimental because you only see them from the outside in, you see yourself from the inside. You know, someone can look at me and think, Boy am I, healthy I’m dead I’m really active, yet they don’t see me when my nerve plane flares up, or I’m dealing with having to take care of my limb when I’m out camping and and to know not having running water or not dealing with tripping over stuff. So yeah, definitely comparing yourselves can be misleading because you don’t know what the situation is there’s so many factors that go into that.
Mike Malatesta 24:51
Yeah. What did you say you can’t see what’s inside, right, something along those lines is that what you said right.
Shawn Faessler 24:58
Yep. Yeah, you can’t see what’s in front of other people you’re only looking from the outside. Whereas your perspective of yourself from the inside looking out can be much different.
Mike Malatesta 25:09
So the, the, I don’t know if this happened in your neighborhood or happened at work or whatever but I guess I just think Did you know the person that that hit you.
Shawn Faessler 25:22
I did not occur. A couple of months. So I was just heading home from work and on Friday evening, happen to pick my motorcycle that way, they. And so yeah, they, they were in the theory, but I didn’t know what this person at all, okay,
Mike Malatesta 25:37
because I was just thinking, I wasn’t sure if you were walking or on a motorcycle, I wasn’t sure exactly what, but I, you know, I’ve had two other people on my show. And it’s interesting you said how fortunate you were that a physician live nearby because Brian Berger was on my show he lost his arm. By getting run over by a vehicle, but he was in like a Walmart parking lot or something and there just happened to be a nurse coming out to go to her car, who, you know, essentially, directed the scene got someone to get a cooler got someone to get ice placed his arm in there and of course the ambulance was coming and they were able to reach his arm and and not perfect but fortunately for him, it, you know, it works and then I had a I had Sam Schmidt on my show, Sam was an IndyCar driver who was in a very, you know, tragic accident during qualifying and is a quadriplegic. But again. And like you, he’s now an advocate for quadriplegics and spinal injury, you know, folks, but like, again he happened to be on a track that was, you know, had a lot of medical attendant help and a private. You know where to get him from there to a right facility in very quick time which, which is similar to what happened to you, what happened to Brian and it’s, there’s so many people that I’m sure have had similar things happening, didn’t have those other things. You know available to them like health and like getting somewhere fast and so it’s a, it’s, it’s, I think you sort of intimated this but, you know, having to have something horrible happen but be in a place where help is nearby as as super fortunate, Super fortunate. So what about the, the, when you made the decision was your mindset, then that or your frame of reference that you would get a press, press thesis, and, or were you unsure what we, because I know that’s a big problem for a lot of people is you know you, you get the amputation and maybe like these people you saw panhandling they can’t, they can’t afford or they can’t get I don’t know what the process is but what what was your thinking about that. Where were you when you made the decision on that part.
Shawn Faessler 28:17
Yeah, so, so at the time. I mean, looking back I was pretty naive at the time, I would say clueless. I was told I would be able to get a prosthesis and I would be able to walk. And, you know, at that time. No, that was really the only resolution of the information I needed is okay, will I be able to walk again. And that was sort of a binary yes or no question with a yes answer. You know, looking back at it now, Our mobility is not just a binary thing, it’s there’s different levels of mobility, the different levels of being able to walk medica actually has a scale that they use as a five point scale that measures your ability and helps you determine what type of prosthesis to get. So, yeah, at the time I thought okay, I’d be able to walk and be able to have a forum for normal life. Didn’t know like what pain would be like what my building would be like, didn’t know how often I would be able to wear the prosthesis how functional I would be. But if I could raise a child, raise a family spend time with them. That to me was the important factor at the time. Okay.
Mike Malatesta 29:34
And what, what ended up being the process that you had to go through in order to get the appropriate press prosthesis, and I don’t know is that a one and done thing Shawn or is it something that keeps changing over time.
Shawn Faessler 29:50
It’s a pretty complicated and convoluted process. So there’s actually a lot of things you have to go through, there’s about six or seven steps now just kind of summarize them. So first of all you need to be healed I had to go through several surgeries just to get my wound cleaned. Remove any debris move, remove any necrotic or dead tissue. It took a couple of days, several surgeries before the road was actually sealed. It was, it was, this is actually, it’s kind of morbid but cool. So because I had a lot of soft tissue, tissue damage, like in an open injury, there was open bone and skin that was missing. So what the doctors did is they took my muscles, and they sort of wrap my calf around the side of my leg, and then they harvested this skin for my foot that was amputated, like I’m not going to need this anymore. They actually took the skin and graft that are stapled onto my limb. So I had a couple of months of recovery of just letting this new skin grow on my lap. So I have the head posing of the runes. I had a lot of recovery, physical therapy, lots of stretching lots of exercises, lots of strength training, lots of endurance training of my arms and I had a couple of delays due to the skin graft in the skin, take me a while to, I’d say heal but the skin literally had to grow from, from scratch. And then once that completed then I got to the phase of getting fit for a prosthesis, evolving process. We go into get measured, you have a doctor that actually writes for a prescription might be right for medication. And then you have someone called prosthetist who’s, you know, part clinician, and part craftsmen craft person, and they go they pick this mold of your leg, and then they make this temporary tests act, we’ll see how it fits in visit checkout is a comfortable. Is it the right alignment, and then they make another socket, which is the part that fits on your leg, and then you pick out a foot, and you try to stand, and then you try to balance, and then you start walking. And once you get the prosthesis set up, and designed, then you have to go through physical therapy again to learn to stand to learn to balance, get up and down from the floor. Get up from a chair, go up and down stairs is my mom said it’s basically like watching her son learn to walk again. So it’s a quite involved process.
Mike Malatesta 32:33
And when you initially made the decision did the did your physicians or your team think that the likelihood that you’d be able to get fitted and, you know have a quote unquote normal life be able to do all the things that you could do before mostly did they did, they think that was a reasonable possibility Sean.
Shawn Faessler 33:01
You know, I wish I can answer that question. That was so long ago, it’s been 19 years. Again my head said was, well I’m just going to recover from this and live a somewhat normal life with with limitations, right so there’s people that have bad knees bad ankles. But I’d be able to walk and probably bike. And so to me that seemed fine like that was a pretty normal life for most people and typically what I was doing anyways so it was good enough for me at the time. Okay.
Mike Malatesta 33:33
And the, the amount of time that it took from you know the injury to where you were, went through all that process to get fitted and get the right device. And then felt comfortable in the, in it, working with it living with it. How long was that give or take.
Shawn Faessler 33:56
So it was roughly about eight months from when I first had the injury when I was walking back to work without a cane. Okay now traveling.
Mike Malatesta 34:09
That sounds really fast,
Shawn Faessler 34:11
it well. It actually happens faster, some people that happens in four to six months. And granted, you’re not going out and doing five mile hikes at that point but I was going to work, I could be employed I could spend time with my family, I could do the things that really mattered to me. There was another milestone. It’s actually a couple of milestones, but at least in this context, a major milestone was four year milestone. And that was important because that’s what I felt like I was fully recovered. I was off of medication, off of medication for the nerve pain, you know, off of antidepressants. I had gotten a permanent prosthesis, which meant my leg was stable, and I could work pretty much anywhere. And this funny thing happened. That’s when I really noticed that people appreciated me acknowledge me for who I am. And this really stuck out in the class union I went to so if you imagine, I went to high school had a graduating class of about 75. So we, we all know each other. And it’s a small town so we all know our families. So I went to this classroom, and had seen people most of them for the first time since my amputation. And I noticed that not a single person, even asked about my amputation, they didn’t ask about my leg. They didn’t ask to see my prosthesis. They just wanted to know about me as a person. And that was really a lightbulb moment for me, that you know I fully recovered for this because I’m, I’m Whole Again, I’m, I’m me. I’m not a person with this thing. And that really it really helps me appreciate the, the notion of, like, disability, and identity, and why you would say that someone uses a wheelchair versus someone who is confined to a wheelchair. You know I’m someone with an amputation, I’m not an amputee, like I don’t walk around with a hat that says, I am an amputee. Sure, sure. It just happens to be one of the many things and experiences that have happened in my life.
Mike Malatesta 36:26
I like that. Yeah. That’s weird. It’s, it’s, it’s, as you were saying that I was thinking myself Okay How many times have I did I call you an amputee did I, you know, because people tend to label right they, that’s just what you tend to do are confined to a wheelchair instead of use a wheelchair. And I don’t know if that comes out of the medical community at first you know like you went to an insane asylum, you didn’t have a, you know, you didn’t have a mental health trauma you were crazy or whatever you know and we’ve sort of evolved to hey just, you know, these are conditions that people have, and that doesn’t define them as a person, which is kind of what you want, you
Shawn Faessler 37:08
know, you can see that I’m disabled. I have the Parkin tag to prove it. I’m not completely disabled is I can work, but like when people look at me. Definitely don’t see a disabled person right in either even other events that I’ve attended I’ve seen people that are missing four limbs, right, no hands, no feet. And I’ve learned to appreciate that. They’re not a disabled person they’re an individual, yeah, they have a lot of challenges, and, you know, some very extreme challenges. Yeah, they also have fulfilling aspects of their life, it is different, but the put a label on it I think is categorizing people, which isn’t really how people are.
Mike Malatesta 37:57
Okay, so you when you, let’s get back to when you made the decision to to leave GE. GE Healthcare, and you told me that your three priorities were your, your kids, volunteering and personal development. So I’d like to get into all three of those and see how the, how those priorities have sort of, you know, worked out for you what they mean to you now what you’ve done, because, because it’s, it’s sort of like, you decided not that you were going to early retire. That’s not how I see it. And then I don’t think that’s how you see it, you’re basically looking at how am I going to reprioritize my life. In order for me to feel successful in everything that that I want to do.
Shawn Faessler 38:51
Yeah. Yeah, so when I reflected on those priorities. The answer was kind of obvious, the answer was focus on things that helps me achieve all three. And so, I mean really from the get go, one of my priorities was to become a scout leader, literally the day after my last day at GE. My younger son had crossed over into a Boy Scout troop. So here I have my two sons, in the same boy scout troop. What a great way to spend time with them, and do activities with them, and also a great opportunity to volunteer, and also a great opportunity to develop personally, you know, there’s definitely ways to develop as a leader in scouting. And I actually went to a pretty good leadership course towards the end of that first year, in which he really focused on servant leadership and spent a lot of time reflecting, and journaling, working with other adults with some really challenging leadership situations and role playing situations. So yeah, it was scouting was one area where he focused on three. Another area was robotics they spent about two years, volunteering with my son’s robotics team. I also explored a few other things as well, that we can get into. But that’s really where I started is started with scouting and robotics, and then really grew from there.
Mike Malatesta 40:23
And the leadership training that you got, as part of your scouting thing can you dig, dig a little deeper on, you said it was pretty extensive so what I’m curious because I’m always looking for, you know, ways to become a better leader and to help others become better leaders what, what would you go through what actually. Yeah, what happened.
Shawn Faessler 40:47
Yeah, so I took this course called The Philmont Leadership Challenge Philmont is a very well known scouting ranch in New Mexico it’s like hundreds of 1000s of, acres, and the leadership challenge it’s probably the highest level of leadership course you can get as an adult in scouting. And it really focused on servant leadership. So it really focused on trying to answer How can you become a leader that supports other people. How can you be someone that someone that is appropriate for the people that you’re serving. So it’s not about me, it’s not about what I can do. it’s how can you be a leader that helps coaches other people develop other people and help other people grow. The capacity is way beyond what you’re capable of doing. So I’ll give you one example. We did this simulations where you had to do first aid. And the rule was that you had to take turns playing different roles, and we had one leader that she was very experienced in first stage she like led a troop of boys in this event where they’re, they’re basically the first responders, and she could not but help the jump in every single simulation and do the activity. No so she did it once. The first time she stood back within 30 seconds he was jumping around and doing the activity. Third time, it was about a minute before she jumped in and someone said, now really the purpose of this exercise isn’t to treat the victim. It’s really to be able to stand back to observe, to learn how to coach and guide others, and the way that they need, the situation. And so that was a profound change for her it was pretty profound for me to see that in action. Now the other example is just thinking about your job as a leader is really not to help people get to where you are. It’s to help people get to be, you are in your life as a leader. So it was a lot of reflection, a lot of journaling, as well as a lot of practical exercises, it was really just a wonderful experience and really helped me develop a question that I would ask on a regular basis. So five times a day on ask this question, how can I best serve others right now.
Mike Malatesta 43:15
And was that something that came out of it or is that something you, you came up with on your own.
Shawn Faessler 43:19
Yeah, that was one of the things that we had to write down what are we going to do to implement what we learn how do we practically do this in our day to day lives and so I wrote a bunch of notes I had a couple of things. And that was one of the things I took away from that course is, here’s my action I’m going to ask this question. When I get up every meal at the evening, how can I best serve others right now.
Mike Malatesta 43:45
I like that. The woman you describe, sort of, when I was listening to I thought to myself, that’s a very common that’s like a competency paradox right i Yes, I see what’s happening. I know how to fix it. I’m going to fix it. And that’s a lot of us, you know, right a lot of us, We became leaders because we are competent in doing things and so when you see something that you know you can resolve, we get, we get a little hung up on our ability to resolve it, rather than our ability to help others recognize that the way that we do and be able to solve it themselves or maybe better than we do because we didn’t write, it’s kind of like a trap. Written,
Shawn Faessler 44:33
yes I catch myself doing that, you know, I definitely got to my point in my career where I was doing competence. But then I’m caught myself, realizing hey I need to take a step back, And the solutions that others come up with much better than what I could come up with, which is really servant leadership. And you really see this, particularly in scouting. We have a lot of parents of 10 year olds, they joined boy scouting, they joined the troop. And they used to being like the grandmother, the person that’s right there correcting the behavior. And we try to teach the parents setback, it’s really the, this, this oldest scout the older scouts, that shouldn’t be setting the example. Now, myself as the scout Lee’s Scoutmaster. I’m the one that’s coaching the older scouts and how to address the IRS, and then the parents are there to observe, to support, to be my eyes and ears, if they see anything, let me know. I’ll let the scout leader now, or the oldest Scout know, and they can really manage that. So it’s really giving them a sense of ownership and building their competencies. You know, that’s, that’s why a Scouting is a seven year program is sometimes it takes seven years for a lot of youth to get there, but they do. And so again that’s just the, the magic in the power of servant leadership.
Mike Malatesta 45:59
And where are your sons in the process now have they gotten to the Eagle Scout, that’s the the top right or the scout.
Shawn Faessler 46:06
Yep, my oldest son is. He is an Eagle Scout. So that was a very proud moment in our life for him to achieve that. My younger son is two steps away from being an Eagle Scout he’s in high school right now. He’s well on his way. And yes i i There were two boys, there was one of the boy that was the same age as my son. And just to see the mature from these first graders running around and causing chaos to very, you know, independent young adults has been very impressive. You know I I’m on these Facebook groups with college parents, and just can’t believe the questions. These parents are asking of other parents. I’m thinking to myself, my son can figure this out, like, he has the knowledge and the skills, and he doesn’t have the knowledge, he knows how to go find it.
Mike Malatesta 47:04
So you’re saying this is actual parents asking people to help them solve problems that are solvable. Okay.
Shawn Faessler 47:10
Some parents are asking other parents how to solve these problems. And I’m thinking, Well, my son has the skills to solve these you, even if he doesn’t know the answer he knows how to find the answer.
Mike Malatesta 47:22
So, so I’m one of the good things about doing zoom podcasts is I get to see, you know the other person’s environment, not like in the studio where you people come to me and it’s all about my stuff and you’ve got a banner on your wall, it says Rob aro MP Range of Motion project it’s looks like it’s signed by a bunch of looks like it has a lot of signatures on it so I have to ask what what is what is Rob and what’s that all about,
Shawn Faessler 47:52
okay so great, great question very relevant to my personal focus right now. So Rob stands for range of motion projects. It’s an international nonprofit that provides quality of prosthetic care to underserved populations. So route provides prostheses and more specifically prosthetic care to people in the US, Ecuador in Guatemala. People that don’t have access to prosthetic care people that weren’t as fortunate as I was to have health insurance, and that just the insurance just access medical providers that understand this and know how to, to help patients gain their mobility. So, boy, there’s, There’s probably an hour long podcast we can do just on my involvement with round but I’ll try to give you the short story, and then you can, you know, tell me what what you think is most interesting and relevant. So about two months after I stopped working and it wasn’t a break. I asked my prosthetist if he had any ideas for volunteering because, like that was my number two priority, seeing what’s out there. And he said well yeah, he volunteered for this organization called Rob, he went to this clinic in Guatemala, I never thought I would actually follow through on this. So I emailed Rob and said hey I’m thinking about volunteering maybe in like five or six months. And that day I get an email back said Hey Shawn we have an opening in our clinic in Guatemala in three weeks. We’d love to see down here. So in three weeks, I found myself in Guatemala, at a prosthetic clinic, volunteering, and just fell in love with the organization. And it’s not that just the providing prosthetic Claire, it’s the way they treat the individuals, they really, really respect human dignity, really tricky boss visual trying to build community. So I’ve been more involved involved with them over the, over the past several years, I went from a volunteer to a fundraiser to an ambassador to a board member, and currently president of the board, general picture, but but this flag has a special story behind it.
Shawn Faessler 50:17
when I was going to Guatemala in parallel, I was planning this, this crazy trip, and I literally spent a load to try to find, like what’s the craziest place I could go to I had thought I was going to go to the North Pole. When I finally realized that I had looked at the bottom of the globe. So I decided I’m gonna go to Antarctica, and my goal was, I was going to go camping Antarctica that was my big dream.
Mike Malatesta 50:49
Shawn Faessler 50:51
Yeah, just said adventurer and I do all this camping with scouts, like a camp 20, or 30 next year so I’m gonna go camping and I turned to God. But there’s, there’s a spinny thing, They offered camping and kayaking and hiking and photography, but they also offered mountaineering, and I thought, This seemed kind of dangerous like I’ve got this I didn’t know how well I would do. What if something breaks. So, I was literally like at the airport, on my way to Guatemala and I just booked this trip to Antarctica for six months later, I’d signed up for all the activities except for mountaineering. So that’s in the back of my mind. And then I go to this rock Clinic, and I’m meeting the executive director and the program officer and having this incredible experience. For the first time I actually met peers, people have had gone through amputation before the executive director was of a similar aims had almost the same amputation, a different cause but left below knee amputation. That’s the first time I’d actually bonded with someone with a similar injury. So I’m going through this process and and one of the days, the executive director stands up and he talks about your big fundraiser the climbing for up event. Any suits all these amputees that are climbing this volcano in Ecuador. And I’m thinking to myself, like maybe I could do that. And then he’s talking about how big this event is. He says, yes, we’ve had people climbing every continent except Antarctica. And I had this lightbulb moment, I thought okay this is my goal for the year I’m going to go mountain climbing in Antarctica, I can actually get it was a pretty incredible experience. I had a pretty significant fundraiser, a lot of friends and family were on board with that. So that flag was actually with me in Antarctica in 2017
Mike Malatesta 52:54
thing there were that many people with you then so it was a group of.
Shawn Faessler 52:57
So, these people are saying the flag, we’re all people that had fundraised.
Mike Malatesta 53:03
Shawn Faessler 53:04
yeah so I went there as part of a, I call it a cruise, I mean it’s basically it’s like a cruise, it’s not quite a cruise ship, it’s a little bit smaller, but there was about 120 passengers, all very adventure minded folks from different parts of the world that all wanted to see Antarctica for a lot of them that was on their bucket list, or for a handful of them all seven continents were on that bucket list. So that was just a very, you know, intense and unique experience.
Mike Malatesta 53:33
Was your wife with you or your anyone from your family and you just go along.
Shawn Faessler 53:38
So my wife did not go with me she had no interest in going to air to Antarctica. Someone tried to convince her to talk me out of it just because it’s so remote, and you know like you’re days away from a hospital, there’s a doctor on the ship and that’s about it. My wife knew that she could convince me to not go. And it was gonna be this solo journey. But then my one day my dad calls me up out of the blue, says Hey Shawn is the room on that boat for me,
Mike Malatesta 54:08
Shawn Faessler 54:10
it was just someone like my dad. My dad’s a farmer, and he’s, he’s been on the fire for most of his life as a child and then most of his adult life. You know, he has traveled. He’s been around, but he had had cancer, a couple years prior, and he hadn’t told my mom that he really doesn’t like to travel, like he likes to see new things and explore things, but he can I had enough traveling so that’s why it was such a surprise for him to call me up and say, Hey, is there room on the boat for me. So I got to go with my dad, it was an incredible experience to spend 18 days with your father, deliberately to the end of the year Earth, in, in two new continents in South America. So we flew to South America and then took a boat across the Drake Passage to Antarctica.
Mike Malatesta 55:04
Shawn Faessler 55:05
Yeah, he did. Nice. Yep. So he was in the more intermediate group. But yeah, he got the experience. He didn’t get the full like Blizzard wiener experience that I got but yeah he he kayak for the first time. He wasn’t sure about kayaking, among icebergs, but we convinced him to go do that and, and he got to enjoy as much of the experience as I did.
Mike Malatesta 55:31
That’d be awesome. So you would you did you have like a base camp or did you, that you return to every evening or did you keep making different give us an experience, what is it like doing.
Shawn Faessler 55:44
So, most of the trip was on a ship, Antarctica has an incredible amount of environmental regulations.
Shawn Faessler 55:52
we basically would only go on land for four to six hours at the most, and everything that we had to bring back like you couldn’t even bring a granola bar with you, and you had to go to the bathroom, you had to bring that bag with you as well. So, so the camping experience wasn’t like roasting marshmallows and sitting by a campfire, it’s you set up your sleeping bag at 1130 at night. And, you know 430 are working, they’re waking you up to get back in the boat.
Mike Malatesta 56:21
Last year I read a book I can’t remember the name of it right now but this guy who essentially height, across Antarctica. And I remember. I remember a couple things about the book. One is that what you mentioned he, so he packed everything for this trip took a month, so he had everything in a sled that he pulled with him. But yeah but everything had to come back out within two so he described everything that went into that went into that, and wasn’t what also was interesting is there’s a company in Wisconsin in Palmyra Wisconsin. The name is escaping me right now but they made his protein, like his special protein bars that he ate to give them the calories he needed to get to get through, through the day and he hiked for, I don’t know 14 hours a day it was. It’s a really good book and I’m sorry I’m spacing on the name but you’re in good company I guess is my, my, my point. So, um, and you did I read that you had also done a triathlon or you’ve done triathlons as well so you’ve probably you have, you have a little bit of confidence.
Shawn Faessler 57:31
Yeah so, after going to Antarctica, that was a huge confidence booster. You know I went from thinking of my self as disabled. To, you know, going through a normal life to going to Antarctica in so I remember coming back from Antarctica. It was fun. Three weeks later I was at my mom and dad’s thinking of next year, and what my goals are. And so, Christmas Eve, I’m thinking to myself, You know what I’m gonna do a triathlon. And when I say do a triathlon, you know, I had one at all in 15 years, like I was physically not able to draw, I could jog for maybe 100 feets. Okay. So I, when I signed up for the triathlon, I had no idea if I would even be able to run. And I thought I could swim. I learned later, it wasn’t much of a swimmer. I invite before so I knew I could bike. And I figured, okay, I could at least get through this. So I signed up for the trash swamp triathlon at the end of December, January 1 5am I went into the gym, I know it sounds cheesy but I did it and I stuck with it. And I’ll, I’ll summarize where I got to at the end. At the end of the whole experienced. I was really successful actually I beat my, my goal time by about 15 minutes. I actually finished faster than half the people on the course. And for my age and gender group. I fit this 19 out of 30, which everyone else had two legs. A lot of the people had done triathlons before it was my first one. So I finished that experience. And I came to the conclusion that I’m not disabled. No I think of my abilities, and the medical care that I have, and the incredible team that I had supporting me. I listed about 20 people that helped me get to the point where I could be a better swimmer right can transition from swimming to walking in the beach to putting in another leg dog or biking and getting a running leg, and learning to run after not running at all for for 15 years. So, yeah after that point I convinced myself, I am really not disabled. I’m not only recovered from my injury, I’m actually thriving.
Mike Malatesta 1:00:14
That’s phenomenal. And that’s, so you do have different, different prosthetics for the different parts. So, swim you swim with one bike with one run with runners or swim, one of them the same on the swim I’m
Shawn Faessler 1:00:32
so, so, yeah it’s it’s pretty interesting wrong we dig into it. So, for biking I have my normal walking like for biking I have a couple of modifications that I’ve made, but they’re like, they’re very fairly minor for running either running blades so it’s a special foot that basically it provides a vertical motion. So, you’ve probably seen them on TV, they’re running blades, like they’re really bouncy and they’re good, they’re not great, they’re bad for walking but great for running around, jumping, and then for swimming. I actually built myself a swimming prosthesis to go scuba scuba diving, and this was like, early on in 2004. But then I realized after going to a paratriathlon cam that you’re actually not allowed to use a prosthesis. When you’re swimming, following paratriathlon rules. So I thought, You know what, I’ll just try this, I’ll just learn to swim without a prosthesis, and I learned for me, it really doesn’t make a difference. Swimming is mostly your arms anyway. And so I just kicked my legs, whether I’m wearing a prosthesis or not, it doesn’t make
Mike Malatesta 1:01:39
much of a difference. Okay, that’s interesting I wouldn’t have thought that. I remember my friend of mine, who ran or participated in multiple triathlons and at a high level, told me the story was being passed by, by an individual who had a running prosthetic like you described, and he said you know I’m running, I’m like, and then I hear this I can hear this behind me, and it’s getting closer and closer and closer. And then the guy runs past and he’s like well, and he was very like he thought that was the coolest thing. He wasn’t wasn’t like he was like, Oh man, you know, he was just like, that’s really cool that someone can participate at this level, you know, and run past me, you know he was, he thought it was really neat. So congratulation.
Shawn Faessler 1:02:36
I actually had that experience, you know, while I could take credit for it I really have to give credit to my team for this. So you think I have that right at all. I actually got my running blade, maybe four months prior to the race. And at that point, I could only run a mile at a time for my knees were sore, but I, other running course I was passing people, and you know it surely wasn’t me because my two legs I was a terrible runner, I was a terrible runner in high school, and my cross country team, but I went through a lot of physical therapy, a couple of running clinics and paratriathlon camps, a physical therapist. So yeah, here I am I’m doing this triathlon, and everyone is getting off their bikes and they’re like cramping over and really sorry, and they’re barely moving. I get off my bike, and I’m feeling great, I had done all the right things and done all the right training. So I’m running through the gates thinking, Why are these people running so slow like is it just etiquette to kind of walk or go slow through the gates, and the gates or get out of the gates. I’m like, well, the heck with it I’m just gonna start running and I just start going past people. And you know that, again, that was the training and I had done a prior practice run when I had gotten off the bike, I almost fell over, I couldn’t even sit on a chair I was cramped up and so sore, but through the training and through the coaching, it really helped me be able to transition from the bike to running, and that’s what really helped my time in that race.
Mike Malatesta 1:04:15
So in the spin so inspiring, and more than inspiring just flat out interesting to, to, you know, have you take us through a parcel journey of your, of your experiences, I, I know there’s a lot more, you intimated that you could go an hour just talking about, about Rob, I guess I’m. I mean, I’m also impressed by your definition of success and how you’ve defined success in your life because those are the stories that I’m trying to, to, to share, and not just success in business or just success in, you know, as a physician or a philanthropist or whatever I’m looking for people who are defining success and the way they want it and are actually making it happen those lessons I think resonate with me for sure and with, with most, most people who, you know, want to be the best that they can be doing what they want to do. So what So, so as we add here I guess I just asked, What’s your kids are growing up they were, they were one of your priorities and not while there will always be a priority, priority when they’re not around as much. They become their, you know, natural for them to become their own people. What do you what do you what are you thinking about for your priorities going forward.
Shawn Faessler 1:05:50
Well, that’s that’s a great question and something that I struggle with every day is what’s next year. It’s, it’s what’s the next, next thing you know I still want to maintain my relationship with my kids. When you talk about success, you know I was thinking you were to ask me what’s my most important success, and while that triathlon is up there well someone valent volunteering is up there. I just want to add that my most successful accomplishment is that my kids hug me. And when they say goodbye. And that was actually something that I worked on, you know, to conditioned my kids to know that when I say goodbye to them, like you know I care for them. And I’m going to give them affection and say goodbye to them, because you never know when it’s going to be the last hug goodbye.
Mike Malatesta 1:06:40
Shawn Faessler 1:06:42
my kids are still around, and in my daughter’s looking at what to do after graduation. After colleges. My son has a friend. So, to me there’s really two things that I would say would be successful in life. One is again for my kids, making sure they find their purpose, as my son graduate college, as my daughter graduates high school is my son, now it was now maturing we’ll be driving soon, helping him find some purpose and passions, a calling in their life. In terms of volunteering. I’m really focusing on roles, both in scouting, as well as with the range of motion projects. I’m trying to think of how do I move beyond, trying to impart my competencies to build the right organization that can survive whether I’m there or not, and the organization that can thrive. Whether I’m there or not.
Servant Leader stuff,
Shawn Faessler 1:07:43
which, which I learned as part of my personal development.
Mike Malatesta 1:07:48
That’s wonderful. So I’m thank you so much. This has been so much fun. I hope you enjoyed it, I know I did. I really do appreciate you coming on and, and sharing with with with me and with all of us it’s been, it’s been a lot of fun.
Shawn Faessler 1:08:02
Thanks Mike I enjoyed reflecting on a regular basis and this has really helped me reflect my life and think about what’s next as well. So yes, I appreciate you hosting me.
Mike Malatesta 1:08:11