page title icon 291: Aaron McHugh – Transforming Disengaged Leaders into Hopeful Leaders

Aaron McHugh Show Notes Page

Aaron McHugh was experiencing a lot of difficulties in his life, particularly with his career, his kids, and his daughter’s health. During that time, one of his buddies came and said to him, “You might not be able to change your circumstance but you can own your atmosphere.” It completely changed him and made him take this idea of taking ownership of the atmosphere of his life. Aaron learned that it’s about starting small and taking 2° changes that will eventually build up and lead to somewhere else.

Aaron grew up in Southern California, and in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. His dad was a pastor in a small church, and his grandfather worked at Disneyland.

Aaron’s the oldest of three, and early in his childhood, you could find him playing in the creek or chasing lightning bugs in the woods.

Early in his career, he was selling 60-second radio commercials to liquor stores and bars but was becoming elated with how ideas can change the world.

Later in his career in software and technology traveling the globe, he found himself in board rooms with executives not living his fullest and best life. After personal burnout in 2015, you found himself on the sidelines of life personally and professionally.

With one child in a drug recovery program and another who passed away, he and his wife and youngest daughter retreated to the mountains to volunteer at a young life camp for high school kids.

During that time of pause and reflection, they began to imagine what a life would look like it would get them out of bed every day.

Today after their big reboot of selling everything they owned and starting over now, Aaron is doing work he loves working with executives leading transformational reboots in the workplace.

Aaron is a writer, podcaster, adventurer, and author of the best-selling book, Fire Your Boss: Discover Work you Love Without Quitting Your Job. He is mastering the art of living a sustainable work-life balance that constantly interweaves rhythms of play and adventure.

That includes road trips in their 1974 VW Bus, aka The Joy Bus, catapulting them into many father-daughter adventures together.

Aaron works as an Affiliate Advisor to Aberkyn, a division of McKinsey & Co as a facilitator of transformation and executive coach.

He and his wife Leith live in Colorado Springs, CO. They are celebrating twenty-five years of marriage in December. Their marriage survived the death of their twelve-year-old daughter Hadley in 2011. And their twenty-two-year-old son Holden lives in Costa Mesa and is thriving in recovery three years clean and sober. Their youngest daughter lives at home still.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to @aarondmchugh get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShowClick to Tweet

“Heretics create a reality in a world they want to live in to. They move beyond conventional wisdom to architect a future and a place they want to go.” – Click to Tweet

“The base premise is how do we delight our customers? What does it look like for us to create and innovate with them in mind?” – Click to Tweet

“Oftentimes hardship is the assignment.” – Click to Tweet

“Every boss I’ve ever had has a lesson to teach me – the good ones, but especially the bad ones.” – Click to Tweet

“The problem with blamers is that they rarely take accountability and responsibility for their own actions. That blame is the projection and assignment of pain on someone else.” – Click to Tweet

“In the wilderness, if you adjust 2° and walk half a mile, it’s not a big deal, but if you walk 50 miles, 2° is a big deal.” – Click to Tweet

“Start with the life you have today. Don’t quit your job. Stay where you are and start the revolution with small increments of try and experimentation and 2 little degree adjustments.” – Click to Tweet

“Just try one thing this week that’s different and over time it will build up.” – Click to Tweet

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Click to Tweet

“If you can win the morning, you can win the day.” – Click to Tweet

“Once you take agency or ownership over what’s in front of you right now, then everything from there becomes much easier.” – Click to Tweet

Hump to Get Over

Aaron McHugh was experiencing a lot of difficulties in his life, particularly with his career, his kids, and his daughter’s health. During that time, one of his buddies came and said to him, “You might not be able to change your circumstance but you can own your atmosphere.” It completely changed him and made him take this idea of taking ownership of the atmosphere of his life. Aaron learned that it’s about starting small and taking 2° changes that will eventually build up and lead to somewhere else.

Advice for others

Your wife is right more than she’s wrong.

Holding him back from being an even better leader

I care too much about what other people think.

Best Leadership Advice

Say, “I’m sorry.”

Secret to Success

I believe in God.

Best tools in business or life

I’m eternally optimistic.

Recommended Reading

Fire Your Boss: Discover Work You Love Without Quitting Your Job

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Contacting Aaron McHugh

Aaron’s Twitter:

Aaron’s LinkedIn:

Aaron’s website:



Show Transcript

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Unedited Transcript

Jim Rembach (00:00):

Okay, fast leader Legion today. I’m excited because we have somebody on the show

Speaker 2 (00:03):

Day who will give you a little bit of a

Jim Rembach (00:05):

Different perspective on finding engagement and happiness at work. Aaron McHugh grew up in Southern California in the mountains of this year in Nevada. His dad was a pastor in a small church and his grandfather worked at Disneyland. Aaron’s the oldest of three and early in his childhood. He could be found playing in a Creek or chasing lightning bugs in the woods early in his career. He was selling 62nd radio commercials to liquor stores and bars, but became elated with how ideas can change the world. Later in his career in software and technology, traveling the globe, he found himself in board rooms with executives, not living their fullest and their best life. After personal burnout. In 2015, he found himself on the sidelines of life personally and professionally with one child in drug recovery program. And another hood passed away. He and his wife and youngest daughter retreated to the mountains to volunteer at a young life camp for high school kids.

Jim Rembach (01:08):

During that time of pause and reflection, they began to imagine what a life would look like if they had the opportunity to get out of bed with passion and fulfillment every single day today, after being after their big reboot of selling everything they owned and starting over now, Aaron’s doing work. He loves working with executives, leading transformational reboots in the workplace. Aaron McHugh is a writer, podcaster, adventurer, and author of the bestselling book. Fire your boss discover work. You love without quitting your job. He’s mastering an art of living a sustainable work life balance that constantly interweaves rhythms of play and adventure. That includes road trips in there. 74 VW bus, AKA the joy bus catapulting them into many father daughter adventures together. Aaron works as an affiliate advisor to African, a division of Mackenzie and company and facilitator of transformation and executive for executive coaching.

Jim Rembach (02:09):

He and his wife, Lief live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They are celebrating 25 years of marriage in December. Their marriage has survived the death of their 12 year old daughter Hadley in 2011, their 21 year old son Holden lives in Costa Mesa and is thriving and recovering three years clean and sober. Their youngest daughter lives at home Aaron McHugh. Are you ready to help us get over the hump? Yeah, man, that was quite quite the intro. I hope I can live up to it. Well, I know you will. Uh, and I’ve really enjoyed the book and I’m looking forward to our conversation because it is a little bit of a twist in thinking and mindset. Uh, but before we get into that, I’ve given my Legion a little bit about you, but can you share what your current passion is so that we can get to know you even better? I’m working on a life project climbing. I live

Aaron McHugh (03:00):

In Colorado, we have 58, 14,000 foot peaks and I’m down to 17 left. So I started in my twenties. Um, I’m knocking on the door of 50 and I’ve got a project to knock out a good handful of them this summer. So that’s been really fun, like just a, kind of a figurative like conquests of climbing mountains and literal as well

Jim Rembach (03:22):

As you’re saying that I have to think, is that you alone or is it you and others? Is it you and your daughter? Is it you and your wife is a family.

Aaron McHugh (03:28):

Great question. A lot of buddies, um, my family direct family. They don’t love climbing mountains. They think it’s just too hard. They to look at them. So I have some buddies that I do it with and a number of them. It’s kind of like a trophy, I guess, uh, of a conquest to they’re called the fourteeners and there’s the 58. So I have a couple of buddies who have completed them. So I’m on my last, you know, punch list of being able to knock all these out.

Jim Rembach (03:52):

Interesting. You say that and I can definitely see some parallels drawn with the stories that you share and the pathway and the journey that you have in the book, you know, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s a conquest, you know? Uh, and so when I started looking at the book, you know, in the beginning you talk about meaning a conquest that you’ve written this book three times,

Aaron McHugh (04:11):

What do you mean? Yeah, I intentionally, I was talking to my editor and I was trying to write the intro to the book. It was, the book had been written, but now we went to the very beginning to say, okay, now it’s time to write the introduction. And I told them on the phone. I said, you know, actually what I really want to say is, and I just rattled it off. I’m like, I’ve written this book three times. I’ve almost quit. I’m tired of it. So where that came from was about, I don’t even know, 15 years ago, roughly 12 years ago, I sat on my back patio and I started writing what I knew to be longer than a blog post, but shorter than a book at the time. And I basically wrote this kind of like manifesto this fire, your boss core idea.

Aaron McHugh (04:51):

And so I sat down and penned it. Well then a number of years later, I just turned that into like a little ebook number years later. I’m like, you know, I should really put that like in a, in a published self published version in a, uh, what would you call it? Leaflet like size. So I self published it second time I’d written it. And then what had happened is once I actually signed a contract with a publisher, then I’m embarking on the third time to write it. And actually it was really overwhelming when I sat down to write it. It was like, Oh my gosh, how many times am I going to tread over this same story? Which resulted in me writing a brand new book that I hadn’t written before?

Jim Rembach (05:28):

Well, and then I, you know, talking about that journey in that pathway, you know, lends me to believe, you know, and when I, when I, of course, without getting into the book, you look at the cover and the crack, the binding open, um, you start asking yourself the question. I mean, can I really, you know, fire my boss without quitting my job? I mean,

Aaron McHugh (05:48):

How can you do that? Yeah, yeah. In the beginning, what happened, Jim was actually was on a bike ride with a friend. Um, I was much and less wise and I really thought that the way forward was to arrange the circumstances of my life. And so in particular, I had this one boss that I found really challenging to work with, but I needed to keep the job. My family was in full tilt. Our suburban life costs a lot of money. And we had, you know, as you mentioned in the intro, I had a kid that had passed away and one in drug rehab. And so what we looked at was, man, I don’t see any other way around this. Other than I’m going to fire my boss. I just blurted it out on the bike ride to my buddy. And he giggled. And I was like, no, I’m serious. I don’t know how to, but I’m going to find a way to reduce the impact this person is having on me. And so it really began forcing me to then ask some inward questions versus circumstantial questions about the environment or that person’s decisions, whatever it may be.

Jim Rembach (06:53):

Well, I’m part of that leads into something. I think, um, I think all of us might even suffer from a, you talk about it in the book is that we can’t, or we have a very difficult time of articulating what’s inside. Can you provide some insight into that? Yeah.

Aaron McHugh (07:08):

What I find is that for, so, so many of us in life in work, we’re just, I won’t call it autopilot, but we’re just doing life. You know, you wake up, you do a Monday, you wake up and you do a Friday, you wake up, you do a Saturday and then we just rinse and repeat and very infrequently. Do we have the opportunity to, we use a phrase in the consulting work I do about taking a balcony perspective, like getting up on the balcony, looking down and actually, you know, getting an aerial view of what’s happening, what’s going on there. And so what we’ve found is that I realized like part of what my super power is, it’s being able to narrate a story like as a narrator, opens a film and says, here’s what’s happening. Um, I’m not a great character writer. I can’t do any of that, but I do a really good job of like narrating what’s happening in a scene or in a picture or in an environment.

Aaron McHugh (08:02):

And so I found myself like, Oh, okay, I’m going to try and narrate my own experience. And maybe this will help other people. And what I found is that so often it, you have all this churn, um, or mystery, but it’s really hard to get to the bottom of name. And I think there’s two things that compound, that one is very little margin in our life. We’re just always in a go mode. And then secondly is I think leading with questions versus demanding answers. And when we lead with questions with curiosity, then it opens up the possibility of, well, maybe, I don’t know, or maybe this isn’t just a linear equation to be solved. Maybe this is a bigger question to live into.

Jim Rembach (08:47):

Well, as you say that, I start thinking about somebody who talked about some of that issue of being able to articulate it is that oftentimes we’re asking the wrong question. And one of the things that he points out is that we should not be asking why, uh, instead we should be asking what, you know, what do I need to do versus why have I done this? And you know, that those kinds of things are, do you find that similar type of structure that seems to work?

Aaron McHugh (09:13):

Yeah, that’s a great frame. One of the frames that I use a lot is I find, oftentimes we ask destination-based questions, meaning like, um, here I am point X on the map right now where I stand today, but why is where I want to go this other place? And it’s very much, that’s finances, that’s health, that’s marriage, that’s relationships, that’s career. And I think instead that’s super unhelpful very often because the gap between where I am today and where I want to be a better question would be, what would it look like for me to become the kind of person who could thrive at that Y position on the map? And oftentimes I find like that five year plan question, where are you going to be five years from now? What are you going to do? I’ve always been horrible at that question because I’ve always like found by the time five years later, my life has changed. So massively my I’m different, my circumstances are different. The world’s different. So instead of what I’ve learned is like, how can I become an adaptive person where I can thrive in any and all situations. And that to me is a fundamentally different question, which is that kind of reframing is, um, you know, what can I do differently today?

Jim Rembach (10:26):

Well, and for me, what I jokingly say, when somebody says, how you doing or what you’re working on, I’m setting, I’m learning how to master becoming a pivot artist. Nice. I like that.

Aaron McHugh (10:37):

That’s great. Yeah. I often will you say I’m learning to master the art of living, which is an art it’s not a science

Jim Rembach (10:46):

Most definitely. Okay. So when, and I think this is kind of where you get into in the book where you start talking about the, the difference between conventional wisdom and, uh, revolutionary heritable, uh, wisdom. Tell us a little bit about that.

Aaron McHugh (11:04):

Well, it makes me smile, even just the word heretical. What I learned is early on in my life, I was always the person, the kid who asks, um, why do we do it that way? Or how can we, how come it’s this way or, well, who says I was always a challenger in that way and definitely with, uh, not a lot of maturity early on and how I asked those questions. But what I realized is that I was onto something, is that in conventional wisdom, conventional wisdom of our culture today, advertises as it relates to our career, get a good job, make as much money as you can, um, hold onto it for dear life, take two weeks vacations. And that should be enough. It doesn’t matter if you love what you do, you have responsibilities like on and on. So let’s just this. Now we may not be able to actually see them anywhere like a plaque in the office space, but they’re just these, um, conventional wisdom things in the, in the environment.

Aaron McHugh (12:00):

And when I found was that when you research heretics and heretics are revolutionaries, people who caused revolutions, why she just started like making a table of them. And I’m like, you know what? Joan of arc, I remember. Yeah, right. What did she do? Oh, well she’s like 16 years old. And women stay at home and make babies and nurse kids. And she goes to war. I’m like, Oh, look, we’ll Oprah. Like I watched this documentary on Oprah. Well, everyone told Oprah to change her name. And that talk shows are ruled by men back in the day of Phil Donahues. And so I’m like, Oh, heretics create a reality in a world. They want to live into, they, they move beyond conventional wisdom to architect a future and are in a place they want to go. And so I realized like, Oh, well, if you look at statistically right now in our workplace, two thirds of the American workforce, and it’s even worse, globally are disengaged.

Aaron McHugh (13:01):

That’s horrible. One third of the people listening to this actually enjoy what they do every day. So I looked at that and say, hold on, conventional wisdom says, hang tight. Gallup poll says, we’re working on it. We’ll get back to you. When we find a better solution in the meantime, two thirds of people. And we actually have stats that now say how it affects us physiologically our health. Also not only our emotional mental wellbeing, but physical wellbeing, our relationships, our communities we belong to. And so I’m like BS, I’m not, I can’t stand for this. We got to find a way to architect a future that we want to be part of.

Jim Rembach (13:37):

Well, and for me, you know, I come from the customer service and customer experience and contact center world. And, and one of the things that’s so important that talking about studies and the empirical evidence continues to prove out, but yet we still keep fighting it for some darn reason. Is that all of these issues internally affect the customer? Yes, yes, absolutely. It is a Tran it’s a transformative type of, um, and very relational and that if I’m having these issues internally, that they’re going to seep outside. So when you start talking about the work that you’re doing with a lot of these organizations and going through this transformation, how much is the customer in their mind?

Aaron McHugh (14:17):

Oh, I love that question. The work I do is in the context of what they call agile transformations and agile, this methodology rooted back in software. And what’s really cool is it’s super customer centric. It’s the base premise is how do we delight our clients, our customer? What does it look like for us to create and innovate with them in mind and great companies that come to mind like Spotify is one that was early on, real famous for that, um, in how they created their music software. And so there’s lots of that are using agile ideas. So customer is always at the core. And the other thing I think is really important is that the work that I get a chance to do every day is it’s this combination of doing and being. And so often in work, we’re so focused on doing accomplishing back to our conquests word we used earlier and what’s what’s missed.

Aaron McHugh (15:14):

And what I loved about the intro that you worked on together this morning was it’s about being also who am I at an identity level at a human level. And I remember my grandfather, he worked at Disneyland as a kid growing up and he used to say like that people would like leave their brains in their trunks when they would come into Disneyland, the park. And I used to think that was really funny. And so I think I, I just grew up with like a framing of like, you can actually leave parts of you at home. Like you could leave your heart at home. You bring your brain to work, believe your heart at home, leave your mess at home, like lock it up, but make sure when you come to work, you know, bring your brain, get some stuff done and compartmentalize. And when we’ve learned now is that widely that both the human is the human wherever we are. And so it’s learning to bring your whole self to work and which is cool because it unlocks more and unleashes more potential that we can bring with creativity to the solutions that we’re we’re solving for at work.

Jim Rembach (16:20):

Well, and even, um, I don’t know if you’ve followed the work of Susan Fowler, she’s been on the fast leader show a couple of times, and she has really closely followed him, become a domain expert in the science of motivation. And so some of the things that you’re talking about there that’s that that is absolutely true from a scientific perspective and what engages us. So now in the book though, we, when you start talking about this whole boss thing, um, is that worse than you say we’re stuck in a binary way of thinking, what does that mean? Yeah, there’s this great

Aaron McHugh (16:52):

Author that I love, um, Richard Rohr. And he talked about how binary thinking is, um, if then thinking, um, it’s very like, uh, so for instance, for me, when I was looking at some big career changes, when my wife and I, we moved to the mountains and kind of rebooted our life, it was like, well, if I quit my job, I’ll probably be unemployable forever. You know, like, uh, uh, if I, um, let’s see, I don’t think this way anymore. So it’s harder for me to find good examples. There’s some great ones in the book.

Jim Rembach (17:26):

Look you talk specifically about and what I’m referring to, as you say, you know, good boss versus lousy boss, and you’re saying the binary thinking in that is damaged.

Aaron McHugh (17:35):

Yes, that’s great. Um, yeah, in that chapter, thanks Jim, for that, that prompt, um, in that chapter, what I was talking about and it’s called the lessons from the layer, um, and this idea of the hero’s journey of actually going down into where the dragons live so often, um, as it relates to bosses, people put bosses in the category of good and bad. And I did forever until I went to go visit a mentor of mine. And I called him up and said, Hey, can I fly down? It was a business mentor. He was just older, but I asked him, would you be willing to give me some advice? And he was probably 25 years ahead of me on the, uh, you know, on the journey. So I flew down to see him and he was telling me the story about earlier in his career, he had this bad boss. And he told me what he learned was that oftentimes hardship is the assignment. I was like, what, what are you talking about? He’s like, I learned so much from working for this lousy person that now as a CEO in his story, then he’s like, now I lead so differently. And so it really helped me reframe like, Oh, you mean everybody

Jim Rembach (18:47):

I’ve ever had to have

Aaron McHugh (18:49):

To teach me. And he goes, aha. The good ones, but especially the bad ones. So it really helped me say, Oh, so even in my current life today, I work with lots of humans, uh, ones that are, you know, in, uh, side-by-side as colleagues, uh, some that are up, you know, you know, vertically in terms of, uh, where they are in their seniority. And then others are, you know, across the landscaping clients. And I’ve just learned, uh, okay. Everyone has an important lesson to teach me here. Now with that comes my choice. And that was a big piece too, is to learn that I, um, my response and that it’s not, they, if you ever hear the phrase, Oh, they made me feel, or they made me like, Oh, that’s a, that’s a bell ringer, you know, like, Oh yeah, red, red alert. That’s not, Oh, they made me. Oh, interesting. Okay. I used to think that way to you. So learning to become what I talk about learning to lead ourselves. So it’s really taking back the agency and ownership and especially of reframing those stories as it relates to

Jim Rembach (19:53):

Well, and talking about that self component, you talk about your four by five self. What is your four by five? So, yeah, actually I have him

Aaron McHugh (20:01):

Sitting here right next to me. Um, so when I,

Jim Rembach (20:04):

Right, I got out of college, I had this

Aaron McHugh (20:07):

Big dream, like wide-eyed, you know, the world’s my oyster. And we moved to Colorado and I worked for a camp. My wife and I are newly married. We lived in this little, a 10 by 10 log cabin that was built in the twenties. And, you know, it was, uh, it was really, I drove his cattle truck and the cattle truck we use to drop high school kids off at, um, at trailheads to go backpacking. And I, I found this picture a number of years ago and I’m hanging out of the side of the truck. And what was really cool was I looked at him, my younger 21, 22 year old self.

Jim Rembach (20:44):

And I started to have some dialogue with him of like,

Aaron McHugh (20:48):

Hey, can you remind me, what did we intend when we intended our career, like our life? What did, what were we setting out to do here? Like, because in the beginning before the road got steep and Rocky and complicated and complex with 401ks and college savings and braces and all that kind of stuff and mortgage payments,

Jim Rembach (21:09):

There was a through line

Aaron McHugh (21:11):

Of like passion and purpose and impact and people. And I just feel like I needed that four by five version of myself to be friend him again, and to ask him to come back into my life. Like, can we do this together? Cause I feel a little in over my head right now, and this is, uh, less so today, but it’s still, we still have some dialogue. So we have made friends again and I’ve reclaimed a lot of those original, like original design of what we were intending to do.

Jim Rembach (21:43):

And I think this probably links into, um, what you had referenced as being the hardest chapter you wrote in the book. Um, so tell us a little bit about why w which one it was and why it was so difficult.

Aaron McHugh (21:56):

Yeah, probably is. I think about it. I’ll be curious if it’s the one that you’re thinking of too. I wrote a chapter on blame and as I wrote the chapter, I don’t remember at the top of my head, which number it is right now, but it basically is titled what’s wrong with the world. And I didn’t want to write it. I kept attempting to take it out of the outline of the book. And the bottom line is I’m not very proud of this, but I find that I can quickly go to blaming others. And Bernay Brown used this phrase. I actually just found this like in a really small little, like two minute video that she used, what she said, the problem with blamers is that we rarely take accountability and responsibility for our own actions. And that blame is the projection of pain is the projection and assignment of pain on someone else.

Aaron McHugh (22:50):

When I read that, listen to her, say that, I thought, Oh gosh, man. Talk about guilty, like guilty. Yes. I raised my hand that’s me. So the reason it was hard for me to write was not only, I didn’t, I didn’t want to admit it and I didn’t want to be seen as a blamer, but I recognized in vulnerability, like that’s the honest truth that had really gotten me in a lot of pickles in my life and stuck places of my own doing secondly, to that, I really wanted to believe that 99% of the people listening to us right now and watching this don’t struggle with it at all. So I was like, why, why drag ever, you know, the 1% of the people who are, blamers why drag them through it, if it’s an unnecessary chapter for them. And what’s really funny is now I’ve found like, Oh, there’s a lot more blamers than the one that I, I, I thought might be out there. So I’d love to hear from you your thoughts on it.

Jim Rembach (23:50):

First of all, it was your lucky number seven chapter. And I mean, for me, I found that I have some that tendency, but then I also started looking at quite frankly, a struggle that I have with that with my oldest son, um, where he wants to do exactly that it’s, you know, everybody else’s problem. And one of the things that you also talk about it in that particular chapter that I think I see, you know, him and maybe others see this too, is that is their way of actually maintaining control. Um, so if I’m blaming everybody else for the things that aren’t going, right, it’s not my issue, man. Cause I’ve got my stuff under control. Well, so the reality is that you spent three days doing something that should’ve lasted 30 minutes, and now you missed your assignment and you’re late, right? It’s like, why did you lower grade? I mean, it was all your fault, man,

Aaron McHugh (24:38):

Which is, you just proved in that little example, that’s, Bernay Brown’s quote is that rarely do blamers take accountability and responsibility for their actions. And that was me. That was a, I was the, uh, okay,

Jim Rembach (24:51):

Well, and the reality is that when you start talking about this, um, you know, people call it VUCA world, right. You know, volatile, unpredictable, and all of that is that, you know, there’s more unpredictability. That’s going to increase at an ever increasing rate. And so therefore, if I am a blamer, what are you really going to control nothing.

Aaron McHugh (25:08):

Right. And I love that question of control is that, to me, it became really helpful when I retired the blame card, then enabled me to do two things is for one, it enabled for me to look inward and look at what is, what is possibly my contribution to this circumstance, this relationship, this story, this career upset, this personal relationship thing. Secondly, it also enabled me to, once I had greater ownership over my own actions, behaviors, and choices, then it was much easier to be clear about what other people’s choices and actions are. And I can say, listen, there can be a line of delineation between me and them or me in the circumstances or me in this outcome. And so I became much more neutral and much less emotionally charged, um, and much less fixed on outcomes. And more back to that, those kind of small, like we, we call it in my hula hoop. Like if you stay on with inside of hula hoop, like this is mine and this is what I can control. And there’s all kinds of stuff outside of my hula hoop. I don’t have a lot of control over and I can influence it though. So being clear about what’s the difference between control and influence.

Jim Rembach (26:24):

Well, and so I think part of that is also, um, you did it as an experiment and you shared your experiment and you talked about eight magnificent people. So tell us a little bit about that.

Aaron McHugh (26:36):

Yeah. I’d come back from a training in Europe and number of the people that I was there with colleagues, they all these individual coaching practices and they were talking about how much they learned from these coaches coaching clients. And so I’m like, Oh, that’s easy. I think I’ll just, I’m going to fire up and an experiment. I’m going to try something. So I sent out this email, I wrote it in the morning and I just had these like three or four questions. Like, do you think there’s something really important that you’re here to do? And with your life, you don’t know what it is or you know what it is and you get stuck. You really aren’t sure what to do next and how to take the next step. And you’d like help and a guide. And like, it was just super simple. Like that wrote, it, sent it, send it to, you know, 1500 people or something.

Aaron McHugh (27:23):

And I couldn’t believe it was like by far, still the most responded to email I’ve ever sent. And I had all these people coming in. So I said, I’m looking for eight people and I’m going to run an experiment. It’s going to be six weeks long. And we’re going to have some conversations about these kinds of topics. So I ended up through application process selecting these magic eight, magnificent eight. And we embarked on this journey of, uh, you know, I said, it wasn’t, it wasn’t counseling or therapy, but at moments we got deep, you know, it was, but it was asking big questions like, well, how do you know what it is you’re here to do? And we go back to that four by five, you know, the picture of myself, like in the beginning, what did you believe? Because I, what I find is like part of the tragedy for me, and this is like just a human condition.

Aaron McHugh (28:13):

I can’t stand the idea like at a soulful heart level, that 70% of people go to work every day in some degree of despair or apathy. And so to me, it’s like, I’m going to make, I’m going to take a swing at engaging more people. Well, let’s start with, what, what do you love? What do you care about? What do you think the difference is here to make? If we put aside like the cultural, conventional wisdom, like buy as much stuff as you can buy as big a house, you know, like binge watch every TV show, like, hold on, time out, let’s pin those aside. Let’s go back to the beginning. And so it was really cool. We got to do this journey together. And then what I was able to do is then distill back to that narration. I could go back and like narrate, Oh, now here’s eight people, their experiences.

Aaron McHugh (29:03):

And they were everything from like screenwriters in Hollywood to, um, multibillion dollar, um, sales executives in terms of portfolios that they manage in tech to a local, like a local, um, how an executive coach to it was real myriad to a yoga teacher. So it was really cool, like holistic view of these different people’s lives. And I curated that on purpose. And the biggest thing I was looking for was like, who are people are going to be all in? Like they’re going to be authentic, real, transparent, vulnerable. And then how can we then like journey together to like pick our way through this? So it became super fascinating. And for me, it deepened my conviction to see that here’s a sample size of eight, and this is from exact to, you know, a low level engineer. The, everybody wants to actually do better. They want to get out of bed.

Aaron McHugh (30:01):

They want to feel like what they do matters. They want to feel like who they are like with confidence in, you know, from an identity standpoint. And then all of them had some sort of like spiritual life too. They had something that connected them to a deeper purpose, a deeper, you know, I, I just asked the question, like, where do you go when you need help? Um, and I found that these people, they had an answer to that. Oftentimes people when they don’t have an answer to that, I find that that just adds to their struggle.

Jim Rembach (30:34):

Well, even as you’re talking, I’m thinking to myself, we need to do a better job of trying to help our younger generation to accomplish what you were just talking about, you know, and have that discovery and to learn places to go and to be able to understand that they need to find a purpose because if not, then it becomes the whole self absorption knows in a device thing. Um, that’s what they struggle with. But you, so you talk about actually living by degrees and tri what does that mean?

Aaron McHugh (31:02):

Yeah. So Jim, I spend a lot of time in the wilderness, like I mentioned, and a compass is to me is like a literal tool I use. And then it’s a, an analogy based tool. So what’s cool about a compass is that when you adjust it by a degree, so it’s, you know, 180 degrees would be in the opposite direction. Two degrees. I went to this, um, this week long program in a place called, uh, onsite workshops in Nashville years ago. And one of the directors talked about, we’re not attempting to make 90 degree turns 180 degree turns. All we’re trying to do is do two degree adjustments. And I remember thinking like, well, what good would that do? Like that’s so nonsensically small. But then I realized like, Oh, but in the wilderness, if I actually adjust two degrees, now, if I walk half a mile, it’s not a big deal, but you walk 50 miles and two degrees a long way.

Aaron McHugh (32:02):

So I have this friend who was a FedEx pilot during his life, a career life. And he was telling me about, Oh, two degrees is a big deal. As a pilot, you fly from LA to Hawaii. And two degrees. You will miss. If you’re off by two degrees, you will miss the Hawaiian islands by 80 miles. You will be lost at sea. So to me, it was like, Oh, okay. That really helps me shrink back to what can I do every day? What are the micro adjustments? The micro habits, the small tilts in the direction I want to head. And then that try is experimentation. It’s just, you gotta to try something new. Um, there’s a great book out that I’ve been reading, it’s called, uh, designing your work life. And it’s a SQL to designing your life. And these two Stanford professors, they talk a lot about design thinking.

Aaron McHugh (32:58):

And one of the big things is you have to try new things. You have to experiment, you have to prototype. And so for me, like today, I just, before I got on with you, um, one thing I started, I think it’s 105 days ago was running one mile every day as just an eight minute miniature experiment. It’s one mile, it’s a super low bar and it’s something I can do every day. And it’s not 10 miles. It’s not three miles every other day. It’s one mile every day. And my goal is to just sequence this. Like, let’s see how far I can take this. And I don’t have a destination in mind, but what I know is like, I want to be fit. And when I hit 50 years old, like couple of years from now, like, I want to feel like I’m 36. So like, those are the small little incremental things I can do. So that’s that degrees and try.

Jim Rembach (33:44):

Well, and the, I think that the two degrees shift is a heck of a lot easier than, you know, something that’s more significant by far. Um, uh, cause I think also too, one of the issues associated, especially if you go into, you know, backpacking and orienteering is if you increase that you ended up going in circles, right? Yes. Yeah. Yeah. That’s good.

Aaron McHugh (34:04):

Even though those, yeah, those are exactly. And the big thing is that what I want people to feel is I want people to feel empowered, to start with the life that you have today, the career that you have today, the place that you stand today, which is why I say don’t quit your job, stay where you are and start the revolution with small increments of try and experimentation and two little degree adjustments. The same thing you always do, just try one thing this week, that’s different. And over time I can attest and many others can how that builds over time.

Jim Rembach (34:41):

Well, but then you also talk about giving your loyal soldier, the boots. So how does that fit in?

Aaron McHugh (34:46):

Yeah. I love that you have the loyal soldier was another Richard Rohr reference is he told a story about when soldiers, Japanese soldiers came back from world war II. And one of the things that they did culturally was actually had a ceremony and they, they actually said, okay, welcome back. Thank you so much for what you’ve done in your service when you were away at war. And now we’re asking you to retire your loyal soldier. Thank him. Her bless him, her for all the great work they did. And now it’s time for you to take your seat back in your life here with us in our community. So as a school teacher, as a surgeon, as a husband, as a son, as a daughter, and I found that of like, Whoa, so what do you talked about is the challenge is when we have, for each of us, their stories that were installed in, in us along the way that are part of our operating system.

Aaron McHugh (35:51):

So for me, an example is, uh, my parents split up when I was 12 years old. I’m the oldest of three and this really well-intended family friend was at our house. And he put his arm around me and said, you’re the man of the house. Now when I was 12. And what I did with that over the course of my life was I owned that and that became, um, distorted. So that story became no help is coming you’re on your own. And if it’s to be, then it’s up to you. So what I found was that loyal soldier, part of me who was really beautiful, worked really hard, got a lot of stuff done, made a big impact. And it gotten me this far was also contributing to being tired, exhausted, frustrated, alone. So what I realized was, uh, so some people that use the framing of false self and true self there’s, lots of frames that go with this, but the loyal soldier is I actually sat down and wrote a letter to my loyal soldier and included it in the book.

Aaron McHugh (37:00):

And again, very vulnerably of saying like, this is what my loyal soldier has told me in the past to be true. And what I loved was the pivot was, and now I’m going to be led by love. And that was a fundamental different like versus scarcity scarcity is what led a lot of my story, a lot of the way and versus abundance, love, possibility, creativity. So that was where I really just kind of have like a, yeah. A ceremony of thank you very much for your service. Thank you for giving me this, getting me this far and now I’m going to take it from here and it’s going to be great.

Jim Rembach (37:38):

Oh, without a doubt. I mean, you’ve poured a lot of inspiration, you know, even into this episode and it’s all loaded in your book through all these stories and, you know, you’ve found more inspiration as you’ve gone on your journey. And one of the things that we look at on the show to help us hold onto and grab and garner some of that inspiration, our quotes, is there a quote or two that you’d like to

Aaron McHugh (37:56):

Did you can share? Oh yeah, I would love that. Grab it. So one of my favorites is from a author Ann Lamont and she wrote a book, a chicken noodle soup for the soul, I think is what her book is. So she wrote almost everything will work again, if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. So that’s definitely one of my favorites. Um, yeah, that’s the one that’s probably top of mind for me right now.

Jim Rembach (38:32):

Well, thanks for sharing that. Um, uh, there’s so many different to that. That’s what I have.

Aaron McHugh (38:38):

Um, so w w you know, you shared even just hear a whole lot of stories when we talk about getting over the hump on the show, cause people can learn from those. But if you could, if you can just give us some detail on one, uh, instance where you’ve gotten over the hump so that we can learn from it. Yeah. That’s a good question. I think one of the biggest pivots in the beginning, a buddy of mine came over to my house. Um, things were difficult in my career. Things were difficult in our marriage. Things were difficult with our kids, our daughter’s health at the time, and she was still alive. And he said, you know what? You might not be able to change your circumstance, but you can own your atmosphere because yeah, like the atmosphere, the atmosphere of your home, like the atmosphere of you, like your emotional, physical, spiritual, mental health wellness.

Aaron McHugh (39:32):

And that really was perplexing to me because I had no idea what he was talking about at first. And he actually just dropped off some CDs back in, it was a CD era. Uh, the made me some music. He’s like, I really encourage you to marinate, like put these on, listen to these and wake up in the morning, put in the little earphones and start with this. And it really changed everything for me of this idea of what if I own the atmosphere of my life, like my physical, emotional, spiritual wellbeing, um, my attitude, my outlooks. Um, and then how do I expand that into my domain? My areas of influence. So I would say that for me, like getting start small two degree tries, like I meditate. Most days I use Headspace app, you know, it’s 10 minutes. Um, I start my day in quiet, um, prayer and meditation every day I run like, but these are small little things like these don’t take a lot of time. So I just found that if, if I can start there, I think Tim Ferriss uses the phrase. If you can win the morning, you can win the day. So anything like that, where you can take agency ownership over what’s in front of you right now, then everything else from there becomes much easier. So most definitely the fast leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now, before we move on, let’s get a quick word from our sponsor. And even better place

Jim Rembach (41:00):

Is an easy solution that gives you a continuous diagnostic on employee engagement, along with integrated activities that will improve employee engagement and leadership skills in everyone. Using this award winning solutions guaranteed to create motivated, productive, and loyal employees who have great work relationships with our colleagues and your customers to learn more about an even better place to work visit [inaudible] dot com forward slash better. Alright, here we go. Fastly to Legion. It’s time for the home. Oh, now, okay. Erin, the hub they hold on is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us a robust, you have rapid responses that are gonna help us move onward and upward faster. Aaron McHugh. Are you ready to go down? Let’s do it. Alright. So what is holding you back from being an even better leader today?

Aaron McHugh (41:45):

I care too much about whether people think,

Jim Rembach (41:47):

What is the best leadership advice I’ve ever received

Aaron McHugh (41:51):

Say, I’m sorry.

Jim Rembach (41:52):

What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?

Aaron McHugh (41:57):

I believe in God.

Jim Rembach (41:58):

And what do you believe is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?

Aaron McHugh (42:03):

I mean, eternally optimistic

Jim Rembach (42:05):

And what is one book that you’d recommend to our Legion? It could be from any genre. Of course, we’re going to put a link to fire your boss on your show notes page as well,

Aaron McHugh (42:13):

Essentialism by Greg McKeown, disciplined pursuit of less.

Jim Rembach (42:16):

Okay. Fastly Allegion. You can find links to that. And other bonus information from today’s show by going to fast and that’s AA McHugh. And that’s M C H U G H. Okay. Aaron, this is my last hook down. Hope they hold on question. Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you can take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you, but you can’t take it all. You can only take one. So what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why

Aaron McHugh (42:44):

From today? I get to transport back to 25 and what’s the wisdom I would take. Yep. Great question. I think something about that. My wife is right more than she’s wrong. I think I just believe that like that 25 year old guy didn’t believe it.

Jim Rembach (43:03):

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. How can the fast leader Legion get in touch with you?

Aaron McHugh (43:08):

Yeah. All things. You can grab a free chapter of my book there. It’s under keep going as a way to pace yourself and yeah, there’ll be podcasts there and guides, all that good stuff.

Jim Rembach (43:22):

Thank you for sharing that knowledge and wisdom, and we’ll continue to stay in contact with you. And thank you for helping us all get over the hump.