My Raw Story
I’m Sean Smith. I’m a father and husband first, speaker and coach second.
I am thoroughly flawed, cracked and mired with as many internal blocks and challenges as the rest of us. I’m a recovering perfectionist, I have a PhD in procrastination, and I sabotage myself on a daily basis.
But, I am completely fascinated with figuring out this game of life, how the human mind works, why we hold ourselves back, and teaching other people what I learn along the way.
My main business obsession is helping entrepreneurs get rid of their fears, values conflicts, limiting beliefs and sabotaging patterns so they can live life with passion, presence and purpose.
But I never planned on doing what I’m doing now.
In fact, I just wanted to be a stay-at-home dad, while my wife, Cybil made all the money to pay the bills.
Obviously, that’s not how it worked out. If you’re interested at all, saddle up and let me tell you the short version of my story…
As a kid, I just wanted to play baseball. I started playing when I was 8-years-old and I was pretty damn good in little league. In fact, I was one of the best pitchers around. And right when I started to get REALLY good, I blew out my arm in pitching practice.
I had major tendonitis, most likely from throwing too many curveballs growing up before my elbow joints could handle the stress.
(Parents, if you have kids playing little league, don’t let them throw curve balls!!!)
However, as bad as that was for my playing career, it’s an ingredient in the recipe of events that would completely alter the course of my life and happiness for the best.
That was the summer of 1986. I was entering the 8th grade. Later that same year, after the accident, I would never be the same again.
December 17, 1986 was a day that changed my life forever.
It was a cool, cloudy winter morning in Union City, California, near the San Francisco Bay area. I was riding my bicycle to school for an early morning geometry class that I had to take at the high school because they didn’t offer it at the middle school. (I’ve always been really good at math.)
I was literally high on life. I was on top of the world.
My All-Star baseball team had just returned from the Little League World Series a few months before. I was a mini-celebrity in my hometown. I’d even gotten my picture on the front page of the local newspaper. Plus, the San Francisco 49ers were set to play their arch rivals, my beloved Los Angeles Rams, in two days. I was pumped. I had my blue Rams jacket on, ready to talk trash to all the silly 49ers fans at school.
And then, my world turned upside down.
I was riding my bicycle in the bike lane along a really heavily trafficked road. As I passed through the intersection, there was a lady approaching the stop sign to my right. She went through the white line and I realized she was about to hit me. In order to avoid being run over by her, I did the only thing my mind could think of at the moment – swerve left. And hard. What didn’t occur to me in that instant was I swerved directly into oncoming traffic.
Before I could even turn my head around to see what was about to happen…
I felt the crushing impact.
A bright yellow car, which police said was traveling at least 50 miles-per-hour, ran right through me, demolishing my bicycle and sending my 13-year old body flailing in the air.
My Rams jacket left a big blue smudge mark as my back collided with the roof. It seemed like all the air was knocked out of my body. I blacked out.
I don’t know how I landed on the pavement. I was momentarily unconscious. All I remember is time… going… so… slow…
And then I literally woke up in the slow lane with cars rushing toward me, getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
In a state of panic, I quickly jerked my body up to run out of the street. But instead, my left leg collapsed because my shin had been shattered by the car’s bumper.
My logical mind was suspended in time, but luckily my human instinct took over and I must have somehow army crawled my way onto the curb and out of further danger.
Soon, a small crowd of witnesses had gathered around me on the street corner. The lady who triggered the accident by driving through the stop sign was kneeling over me, praying to God to save my life.
That’s the moment I knew I was in serious trouble and then fear replaced the stillness.
All of a sudden, everything started going fast, and in no time at all, I was in the back of an ambulance, asking all the medical guys if I was going to be okay. Of course, they said yes, as they are supposed to, but the looks on their faces told me they weren’t so certain.
Next thing I knew, I was in the hospital on a gurney, with everyone talking fast and moving faster, rushing me through the halls.
They had to cut my pants off of my leg and I overheard that they were preparing me for some kind of emergency surgery. I still didn’t really understand what was happening as I seemed to have reverted back to this child-like state of awareness.
At some point during the chaos, I seized an opportunity to lean forward and look down at my wound. To this day, I don’t know how to describe what I saw. Sparing you the visual details, let’s just say that my leg was completely mangled.
I’m pretty sure God never intended us to see our own bones. Especially when they are exposed to the air and broken into bits and pieces.
My parents had now arrived at the hospital, looking as frantic as I’d ever seen them. The doctor told them something that made their faces turn white and their jaws drop. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned what that statement was.
“If the experimental surgery doesn’t work, his leg has to be amputated.”
Lucky for me, the surgery did work. They took the floating pieces of bone, mashed them up and basically made a little sandwich with what remained of my upper and lower tibia.
Rehab was long and difficult for me at that age, but in less than a year I was back on the baseball field, playing the game that I love.
I finished my career playing in three different World Series Tournaments, all at different age levels, which is almost unheard of. I even played my final game competing for the National Championship in college, losing in the late innings to a most improbable comeback.
Looking back, there could have been so many variables that could have made December 17, 1986 my final day on Earth, but it happened exactly the way it was meant to happen. I thank God every day for the lessons I learned and for my second chance.
I guess I wasn’t quite done yet.
That accident truly was the most positive experience of my childhood, because for the first time in my life, I looked at the world through a mortal set of lenses. I learned that no matter who you are, what you look like or where you are in life…
You are not promised your next breath.
So I made an agreement with myself that day. I decided that if we only have one go-around on this planet, one shot, and we never know when our time is up, I was going to give it my best.
I never wanted to have that “What if…” conversation with myself one day that too many people have toward the end of their lives. The one that sounds like…
“What if I would have done this?” and “What if I wouldn’t have done that?”
And the real kick in the gut, “What could I have become?”
I knew that that would be the most painful conversation I would ever be in. So, I vowed to myself to always strive for greatness and never settle for mediocrity. I started changing habits. I began obsessing about goal setting and achievement. I stopped hanging around many of the friends that were leading me down a path that I didn’t want to travel.
I stopped taking life for granted.
This promise doesn’t make me unique at all. If you are still reading these words, I bet you’ve made a similar vow to yourself at some point in your life too. Most people do.
What I learned over the next 19 years was that sacred promises made to ourselves don’t necessarily guarantee our success.
Even though I had all the talent to succeed, including a never-quit mentality and work ethic, I still struggled well into my adult years.
I desperately chased my dreams, but kept creating frustration and mediocrity instead as I tried to figure out what I was meant to do with my gift of life.
I lasted only a couple years as a juvenile probation officer before I quit, not feeling like I was making any difference at all.
I spent seven wonderful and amazing years in the classroom as a public school Math teacher but quit soon after my daughter, McKenna was born, determined to make a living as an entrepreneur so I wouldn’t have to continue peeling her off of me in the mornings when I went to work.
I joined a network marketing company, telling everyone I had “retired” and was running a business full-time.
In reality, “retired” meant I endlessly staggered around in fear, setting our life savings on fire.
I am pretty sure I finished my MLM career as the worst distributor in history, having earned just under $1,100 in 4 years.
Once I realized enough was enough and it was time to move on, I spent 6 months trying to sell internet advertising to attorneys. That was a dumb decision.
I invested $20,000 in a stock market system, where I learned how to trade options and I was convinced I would be a millionaire in just a few months. That didn’t work out.
I started a promotional products company with a college friend of mine who was also a huge failure in business. That was probably the dumbest business decision I ever made and a 6-figure loss.
One thing I give myself credit for is I never gave up trying. Remember, I made that promise to myself as a 13-year-old kid and I was determined to keep it.
As financially devastating as it was, the network marketing industry had introduced me to the world of personal development. Zig Ziglar. Jim Rohn. John Maxwell. The giants of the industry.
They gave me hope.
In August of 2005, with a young daughter, a pregnant wife, lots of battle scars, lots of fear, and several hundred thousand dollars of credit card debt, I attended Jack Canfield’s “Breakthrough to Success” seminar.
In that room, I received my life’s purpose. I learned how to deal with my anger and I admitted to myself for the first time that life wasn’t working for me.
Shortly thereafter, I mustered the courage to start a career as a speaker so I could share my message and my gifts with the people who needed them most.
A few months later I attended Melanie Benson’s “Ultimate Business Breakthrough” seminar, which turned out to be a PHENOMENAL decision.
After having a full blown emotional breakdown on day two while we were doing a simple 90-day goals exercise, one of the co-facilitators took me outside the room and into the middle of the crowded hotel lobby and had me sit down on a piano bench.
Those next 20 minutes changed my life again.
This guy Matt, who happened to be a life coach, proceeded to guide me through the most powerful and liberating visualization of my entire existence.
He helped me identify and eliminate the biggest, most painful internal obstacle I had. A nagging belief that I wasn’t enough.
When I went back home, my wife noticed a difference. My friends started asking me what happened. I couldn’t stop smiling.
A few months later, I emailed Matt back and asked,
“Man, what did you do to me? And where can I get it? I don’t care if it’s legal.”
He said, “It’s this thing called Neuro-linguistic programing (NLP).” Per his instruction, I got certified the following summer and began my obsession with human psychology and the unconscious mind. I started sharing what I learned with anyone who would listen.
I also started a journey into the self-help universe, one that would have me attending 10 seminars in the next 12 months, and many more in the years to come.
I became a bonified, unapologetic, fully addicted, card carrying seminar junkie.
To date, I have invested well over $200,000 into my own personal growth and development. Truthfully, I feel like I’ve gotten the bargain of the century.
The first two years of my new speaking career were amazing. My wife gave birth to our second child, Ecksley. I was traveling North America, hosting my own seminars, helping people erase their fears and limiting beliefs, and making uncomfortably large amounts of money.
Then, my ego decided that multiple six figures wasn’t enough. It was time to become a millionaire! So in a moment of ambitious ignorance, I changed my focus.
It was a painfully stupid decision.
Our business tanked, I had to fire my two employees (who were personal friends of mine), and we eventually surrendered to bankruptcy a year later.
Humiliated, embarrassed, and spiritually broken, I retreated. I found the darkest corner and I licked my wounds for months, scared to risk failing again.
But, I still didn’t quit.
Slowly, we turned the business around, became financially smarter than ever, and we righted the ship. For the next year, I coasted on autopilot, still scared to risk too much.
Then on September 29th, 2010, I got the call. Pancreatic Cancer.
Not my dad. It’s not fair. He’s too good of a guy. My mind was racing, I was scared. I was sad. I was pissed off. I didn’t know what to do.
This was the first time I had experienced cancer with anyone I was really close to. If you’re familiar with pancreatic cancer (I am sorry if you are), it’s almost always detected too late and it’s brutally painful.
After his health took a major dive while he was living on his own and not being able to take care of himself, we decided to move him down with us.
When we picked him up at his apartment, his neighbors told him to hang in there. They kept saying they would see him soon. But everyone was thinking the same thing, although no one wanted to say it out loud.
It would be the last time they saw my father alive.
The last 80 days of my father’s life weren’t easy for him as he quickly lost control of his body. He fell several times, bruised his chest badly one morning when he rolled himself off the new hospital bed in our living room and landed on a metal trash can.
But one night after a dinner out, he was feeling really good. So on the way back to the car, he decided to jump off the curb with my son. He didn’t quite stick the landing and as I turned around and tried to catch him, he fell through my arms. When he hit the ground, we heard his hip break.
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he lay helpless in that parking lot. It tore my heart out. I took him to the emergency room and they prepared him for surgery. As I was in the waiting room a few hours later, for the first time in my life, I started to get angry at my dad because I had to clean up his mess.
I was thinking, “He’s 67-years-old, he’s got pancreatic cancer, and his knees are shot. He doesn’t know how much longer he has to live and he jumps off a curb?”
But the more I started to think about it, I realized, yeah he did. He jumped.
Because as he was sitting on the curb, he’s thinking, “I’m 67-years old, I’ve got pancreatic cancer, my knees are shot. I don’t know how much longer I have to live. So one last time, I’m going to jump.”
That decision that night really epitomized the best and the worst of my dad. All in one moment. Yeah, he was impulsive and he didn’t stick the landing, but in that moment, he decided he was going to find out if he could.
I think that’s what the world needs more of – people who are willing to go for it. People who want to find out what they are made of, instead of going to their graves with unspent potential like most of us do.
Being with my dad for his last 80 days taught me a lot. First, after most of our friends were predicting how terrible everything was going to be, I realized that I had an opportunity to co-author the final chapter of my dad’s life and I’ll be damned if I was going to do it with pain and misery. So, we pre-decided it was all going to be beautiful. And it was because we said so.
We looked for it everywhere, and in life you will always find what you’re looking for.
Secondly, I noticed that as I was thinking of his diagnosis, I would only get sad when I was envisioning him already being in the ground. So I also decided that I wouldn’t experience his death while he was still alive.
Because of those two decisions, I know that my dad’s last 80 days were the best they possibly could have been. He was surrounded by love and joy and I was fully present with him, soaking up as much as I could before he punched his ticket out of here.
Towards the end, he was ready to go. He wanted to see his little sister and parents again in Heaven. He entered hospice care on a Friday and told them in no uncertain terms that he wanted to be medicated heavily until he passed away, pain free.
On Saturday, he was pain free, with two industrial strength pain patches on his shoulder, but he wasn’t my dad any more. He had slipped into this altered mental state, where he didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know where he was, he didn’t know he had cancer, and he kept trying to get up out of bed.
He was happy and pain free, but I wasn’t complete.
Deep down, I had a feeling that was very unsettling. I knew his death was close, but I hadn’t had my final talk with him. I had words that needed to come out.
So, I called the nurses in and asked if I could remove one of the pain patches in hopes that his awareness would return for just one final talk with my dad. They said yes, but I would have done it even if they had said no.
The next day was Super Bowl Sunday. After the game, my wife and kids said goodnight and left us alone downstairs. Just me and my dad. One last time.
I held his hand and told him that I loved him. I asked him if he was complete and he said yes. I asked if he needed to see or hear from anyone before he let go and he said no.
Then I asked him the scary question, the one I knew would be my final one. I said, “Dad, how can I honor your legacy once you’re gone?” He softly shook his head like I had asked a silly question. With no hesitation his next few words rocked my soul to the core. He said,
“BE who you can be. DO what you can do. And LIVE a good life.”
Those fifteen words are amazingly simple and immensely powerful.
After that I told him I had taken the pain patch off so I could have this one final talk with him and he said, “Thank you, Seanie. I love you son. Now put that patch back on.”
That’s my dad. He was funny as hell, right down to his last breath. He always knew how to make us laugh. No matter what.
He spent the following day in a hallucinogenic state, with his eyes wide open, sort of reliving his whole life right in front of us.
And then he took his last jump the next day. I miss him terribly but I celebrate his spirit every single day because he was the best dad anyone could have.
My last conversation with him was so profound that it took my breath away. He gave me this torch of wisdom that I feel is my obligation to carry forth.
I’ll do my best Dad.
Now, my relationship with my mom was a lot more complicated. My mom and dad argued a lot and they separated when I was 18-years-old. Growing up, she was the bad guy in my story. I hate to admit that but I had a lot of anger aimed at her and it was easier to blame her than to try to understand her.
I pushed her buttons every single day. I said things I regret that nobody should say, especially to their mom. Looking back with the awareness I have now, I see that I was trying to hurt her so I didn’t have to admit that I loved her and I was in pain. One of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced in my personal development career is the ability to heal my relationship with my mom.
She was always my biggest fan.
She would stalk me on social media, comment on all my posts, and she was genuinely interested in what I was learning and teaching. So one night, a little after I had released an audio program on parenting, we got into the longest conversation of our lives. She started telling me some of the things that she experienced and that she had no memories of her childhood before the age of eleven.
After years of therapy, she was still unable to access any of those memories. Her doctors suggested that she go through electric shock treatments in an attempt to burn the memories out of her mind because they said sometimes certain memories are not worth trying to recover.
But they warned her that she should say goodbye to my father and my sister, who was just a few years old at the time, because the doctors couldn’t predict how much of her memory would be destroyed and my mom might not know who her family is when the treatments were done.
I still can’t imagine the level of pain someone would have to be in to say yes to that kind of treatment, knowing the potential consequences. But, she said yes.
By that time, she had already had three of her seven miscarriages between my sister and myself. I can only imagine that she thought the pain of remaining the same was worse than the risk of literally losing her mind and all knowledge of her young family.
She ended up having 11 shock treatments before they decided it was enough. It never did solve the problem though. She continued having the emotional challenges and several more miscarriages before she got pregnant with me.
They had decided that regardless of the outcome,
I would be their last attempt.
I don’t know if it was my mom’s determination, mine, or probably a little bit of both, but she had a full pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
My childhood certainly didn’t cure her mental state. In fact, I’m positive I made it worse with who I was and the anger I threw at her in my teenage years. She stayed in therapy and after a couple decades she was able to access those memories that nobody wanted her to. And when she did, she wished she hadn’t.
I don’t want to share the specific details she told me that day, but I will say they were horrific.
Abuse, neglect, and molestation that I simply cannot comprehend.
When I heard her story, I saw her little girl inside, begging for love, and all of the anger I ever held toward her melted away. For the first time, I saw my mom through her pain and not my own. I had compassion. It was incredibly powerful for me and allowed me to heal our relationship seemingly overnight.
The next few years, we communicated so much better. I finally allowed her to love me, something I never did as a kid.
Around the same time of our conversation, she had been having a lot of health problems from smoking most of her life and would routinely check herself into the hospital so they could jumpstart her breathing. Then one day her doctor delivered the death sentence…
“Susan, your lungs are dying. They might give out tomorrow or a few years from now, but there’s no way you’re going to live beyond 5 more years.”
That statement caused her to finally stop smoking and she started taking a little better care of herself. But, in early 2012, near the end of the five year time period her doctor had predicted, she went to the hospital for what she thought would be another quick and simple procedure. This was a year and a few months after my dad had died.
In what had become a routine, the doctors would induce a coma so her lungs could take a rest. Then after a few hours, they would revive her, make sure she could breath on her own, and release her back home.
This time though, when they revived her, she couldn’t breathe.
And instead of letting her endure the panic of suffocating, they put her back to sleep, hoping that maybe her body needed just a little more time to recover.
A couple days went by and she was still not breathing on her own. On a Wednesday night, in a very somber conversation with myself and my sister, the doctor told us that she was effectively on life support.
We knew her wishes, she had been very clear. She didn’t want to live on life support. So after double and triple checking her signed agreement to make sure we were following her directions, we told the doctors it was time to pull the plug. And we would do it that weekend.
We told all of her family members and I drove up to Northern California a few days later. When I went to the hospital, I was surprised to walk in on a spur of the moment family reunion.
Everybody showed up at the same time, with my mom unconscious right there in her hospital room. We shared stories for hours and hours and we laughed hysterically until the time came to take her off the machine.
We didn’t know if her body was going to start gasping for air, if she would die instantly, or if she would miraculously start breathing on her own and be able to leave the hospital.
None of those things happened. She just kept breathing, still unconscious, while the rest of us held our breath.
As the hours continued to pass, one by one everybody said their goodbyes and started to leave. Both of my kids placed special pictures they had created for their “Paint Gramma” on her chest so she could keep them with her as she went to heaven.
Finally, at about 2am, everyone was gone. It was just me and her.
God’s plan, no doubt. And as I watched this woman peacefully breathing in and out, I saw her pure love. I saw her wisdom. I saw her strength. But, what I hadn’t yet seen was my own forgiveness. And as we shared this sacred space together, the bully and his only victim, my heart opened.
I apologized to her. I told her that I loved her and I begged for her forgiveness. At that moment, her spirit told me that there was nothing for her to forgive. She said a mother’s love is much bigger than a child’s pain and she would walk through hell all over again to show me how much she loves me.
And then she said, the only person I needed to forgive was me.
You see, several years ago, I had realized that she had done the best she could parenting me. And in that moment by her deathbed, I realized I did too. I broke. I cried. I trembled. And somewhere through it all, I fell asleep.
About an hour later, at roughly 3am, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked around but nobody else was there. Just me and my mom.
As I looked into her face, which was so calm and peaceful, I noticed her chest rise and fall. Rise and fall. And it never rose again. I’m positive that she tapped me on the shoulder so that we could share her final two breaths. Just me and my mom. But, not until I really understood what unconditional love is.
She didn’t die the way I wanted her to.
But she died the way I needed her to.
So that’s me. Sean Smith.
Father and husband first, teacher second. Broken, scarred, and scared. Powerful, determined, and courageous. And still working on myself every day. As my good friend Brennan says, “I’m perfectly flawed”.
Thank you for reading. I don’t know if you shed any tears along the way, but I sure as hell cried my eyes out writing all of this.
This journey with my dad is something I’ve told so many times, but never my mom’s. So thank you for reading that.
No matter what you’ve been through in life, know that you are valuable. You are loved. And you have a message to share. Share it.
BE who you can be. DO what you can do. LIVE a good life.
Forgive yourself and everyone for everything. Put down your burdens and walk lightly.
When times get tough, love harder.
And for God’s Sake…