I remember when I was 14 years old and I begged my father to take me skiing at Mt. Peter, a small ski mountain upstate New York in Warwick. I first started to ski when I was 13 and became obsessed with the slopes. I wanted to ski every chance I could get. Fast forward a few years, I became captain of the Suffern High School ski racing team my senior year. I had no fear. The steeper the mountain, the faster I wanted to go.

When my dad and I arrived that snowy morning at Mt. Peter, I was so proud to show off my new skiing skills to him. Then I convinced him to take a ski run with me on a more challenging slope. Dad did great until we hit the moguls, and then it happened. My father took the biggest wipe out of his life and his skies and poles went flying everywhere. This was 1983 and the word ski helmet was not in the sport’s vocabulary. Dad hit his head hard, which nearly knocked him out. When I turned him over, he was covered with snow. And then I saw his bloody nose. I remember going into shock feeling such fear that my dad was hurt, and that it was my fault because I had persuaded him to go down a more difficult slope. It was the first time that I saw my dad truly vulnerable. I will never forget that day on Mt. Peter with my father.

Jill and I had been planning our New Year’s week trip to Maui, Hawaii for months because my younger kids had been begging to go. Last minute, after we learned Anthony would be home in Colorado a few extra days from playing junior hockey in Canada, our plans changed. We decided to divide and conquer. I would take Caroline and Tate to Hawaii while Jill stayed home to spend quality time with Anthony. It was a perfect trip until I decided to give into my 11-year-old son Tate’s persistent request to go boogie boarding with him.

“Come on daddy. Come on daddy, let’s ride the waves,” Tate begged. Long story short, I got in a fight with a very large wave and spent New Year’s Eve afternoon at the hospital in Maui. After x-rays and a CAT scan, the doctor said I was fortunate that I did not have a serious neck injury. And, that she sees this all the time — folks thinking they can ride the waves of Hawaii only to learn that the Pacific Ocean waves are a lot stronger than they look. Funny that doctor used the word fortunate because I never thought I would feel fortunate to get a concussion, sprained neck, abrasions on my face and two cracked ribs!tommy spaulding post-accident

Tate was the one who pulled me out of the ocean after my crash. I was nearly unconscious and couldn’t breathe. Stars were everywhere and I was in tremendous pain. I kept telling my son that I was ok, knowing that he too was in shock. But I knew I wasn’t ok and that I needed to get to the hospital ASAP. The staff at the hotel could not have been more professional and empathetic. After a 45-minute ride to the closest hospital, I learned how “fortunate” I truly was.

What comes around, goes around. It’s funny how things that happen earlier in our lives come back and teach us greater lessons. I had learned then not to go skiing with your old man down black diamonds, and now not to go boogie boarding in the unforgiving Maui waves with your son.

The lesson is to trust your gut.

My father told me years later that he knew in his gut that he should have never agreed to hit the expert slope with me. And now as a father, I realize that swimming in the hotel pool with my kids was probably a better idea than acting like a 50-year-old Hawaii Five-O.

When I reflect back on my life and career, there are many instances where my gut told me one thing, but I acted another. Such as:

“There is something about this person that is preventing me from wanting to hire them.” But, I did anyway and it turned out to be a horrible hire.

“Perhaps getting into the sub shop business may not be the best use of my time and talents.” But I did and lost $560,000 in two years.

“There is something not right about my potential business partner’s authenticity and motives.” But I trusted them and it cost me a six-figure legal bill to unwind our partnership. 

The list goes on. 

I wrote in the Heart-Led Leader that it is, medically speaking, 18-inches from the human brain to the heart. And to become a heart-led leader, we must take the 18-inch journey and connect the head and the heart. But after fighting with a bad ass Maui wave, I learned that it is also 18-inches, not medically speaking, from the human heart to the gut. And we must also learn to not only listen and trust our guts, but to follow it.

If we learn to follow our gut, I believe we would have less divorces, less business partnership breakups, less bad hires, less businesses that turn south, less wounded relationships, and most importantly, less bloody noses on the ski slopes and trips to the hospital!

For the gut is our right vs. wrong compass. We must listen to our heads. We must lead from the heart. AND we must follow our gut.