Midlife Mentors – Tom Schwab | Interview Valet

On dying young, deciding to retire, and having fun with interesting people while writing it off as a business expense.

One thing about deciding to change your life: you never know who’ll become your champion. I’ve chronicled my reinvention in dozens of posts on this humble site, but today, we’re going to hear from one of my favourite people who helped me achieve it – Tom Schwab.

If you’ve been lurking here for a while, you might recall Tom was my very first guest on the Midlife Mastery podcast. Fresh out of Pat Flynn’s Powerup Podcasting course, I was keen (but terrified) to get my feet wet with interviews. Lucky for me, Tom put his hand up.

The reason I say ‘lucky’ is because Tom is one of podcasting’s leading practitioners. A podcaster himself, he founded Interview Valet, a concierge-level podcast guest marketing service that matches subject matter experts with relevant podcasts around the world. He knows everyone that’s anyone, and his coaching and support services are respected by the kinds of people I’ve sought to emulate in my own work.

I first reached out to Tom in August 2017 after seeing Pat Flynn do a walk-around at a podcasting conference called Podcast Movement. Like my recent outreach to another hero, Seth Godin, I threw caution to the wind (a lifelong skill) and asked him for help.

Podcast Guest Profits - Tom Schwab | Midlife TribeThe first thing I did was read his book, Podcast Guest Profits – one of the only books I’ve ever read in one sitting. I was already riveted by the possibilities that existed in the podcasting space, and his book amplified that to eleven.

So when I hatched the idea for Midlife Mentors, Tom was one of the first people I thought of to share his midlife journey. Tom is one of those people who really has his sh*t together. He lives a purpose-driven life that emphasises fun and adventure over fame and fortune (although he’s doing just fine on those, too). Like many of us, his life changed after a sudden, personal tragedy. From that moment, he set about living an intentional, purpose-driven life; one that he could embrace and be truly excited about every day.

So let’s discover what happened, and how Tom managed to design a life that would bring a smile to any crusty, jaded mid-lifer who might be thinking the best years are behind them.

Tom Schwab and Michael Port
Tom Schwab (right) and Michael Port (Steal the Show Podcast)

Tom's Views on Midlife

Do you consider yourself middle-aged, and how do you feel about this moniker?

I don't like the term middle-aged, because that means I'm on the downhill slide. I don't focus as much on age; to me, it's just a number, even though the number's getting bigger and bigger. I just look at what's still ahead, and the way I look at it is I don't have the decision on when I'm called home. How long my life lasts isn't necessarily up to me. I can influence things, but that's about all.

I had one of my dearest friends die when he was 45. I didn't know that when we were drinking those beers that he was middle-aged. I thought we were still young. So, I try not to put that term on it.

Is there something you loved to do when you were young that you've since ‘rediscovered' and embraced in later years?

When I was young, I used to love to run. I was born without depth perception, so sports were tough for me. But I always could run. I got away from that as life got busy, and then I rediscovered it just about the time my metabolism was slowing down, and I started to put on weight. To me, I love getting out there, clearing my head, being with myself and my thoughts, working up a good sweat, and running is something I hope to do 'til the day I die.

Do you believe middle age (say, 40-65) is different today than it was for your parents? If so, how?

Very much so, because I think the health changes so much. The life expectancy has changed, and also your access to different things changes. With us, I believe the world is getting exponentially better. With that, it opens us up to more things. With that, I think our best days are always still ahead of us, not behind us. And I don't know that for our parents and grandparents, that was necessarily the case.

Midlife Mentors - Tom Schwab | Midlife TribeAt the end of each year, I list the habits, practices and beliefs I'm going to say ‘yes' to and ‘no' to next year. As a mentor to other mid-lifers, what would be some of your ‘yeses' and ‘nos'?

To me, it starts with what Derek Sivers said – that there are two answers. ‘No' and ‘heck yes!' So, it's either a ‘heck yes' or a ‘no'. So, what I'm saying yes to is more fun things with interesting people. That's one of the filters that I put on it. I say yes to my family, I'm saying yes to health. I'm saying yes to learning. Because that's what's trying to keep me young.

What's a tactic you've used to gain more control over your life?

To me, it's putting everything through a filter. I believe I learned this through The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. It's that there are different criteria that things have to have in order for me to say yes to them. It's very structured so I'm not pulled into those things that should be nos that I make into yeses.

Those filters are the first three I said – is it a fun thing with interesting people, and can I make profits, writing it off? So, I look at those. The other thing is, how is this building my life? Is it building my skills? Is it building my relationships, or is it building my worth?

What's a limiting belief you've abandoned (or reframed) in the last 12 months?

That people's reactions are not about me. Jen Groover really taught me this, and it's that hurt people, hurt people. Happy people, don't hurt people. So, when somebody reacts, it says more about where they are than where you are. That took me a while to get over.

What is your dominant cause of anxiety or frustration, and how do you deal with it?

All emotional pain is self-inflicted. So, for me, most of it comes from a lack of patience. Patience is a virtue, but it's one that I don't have. I often pray to God, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me now.” He doesn't really respond to that, I don't know… I look at that, and for me, it starts with gratitude and looking back. Not looking forward with, ‘here are all the things that I still need to do', but looking back with, ‘here are the things that we've accomplished so far', and being grateful for those.

How different are your feelings about midlife today versus when you first considered yourself middle-aged?

When I realized that I was middle-aged, I was scared to death, and that was in my early 30s. 

My dad died when he was 62, and I would forever do the math in my head of where I was compared to 62. And then someone pointed out to me that our words and our thoughts have meanings. We can actually think this into existence. He said, “If you keep thinking this way, I guarantee you'll die at the same age as your dad.” So, he challenged me to find the oldest living relative that I could remember.

My maternal grandmother lived until she was 96. Adding an extra five years for medical advances, I decided to start thinking I'm gonna make it to 101.

And that's why I don't consider myself middle-aged, because I don't want to put that timeline on it that says, “Oh, geeze, now that I'm 53, I've only got 48 more years.” No, I'm gonna keep going like I'm gonna live forever.

Tom Schwab - Interview Valet | Midlife TribeDid you suffer a midlife crisis? How did it show up for you and what helped you to overcome it?

Yeah, for me it was my dad dying at 62. I was in my early 30s, and just thought I was mid-life. The biggest one is reframing what you think the end point is. Not putting a number on it, and just living every day the best you can. Knowing that it's God that decides when we get called home, not us. There are things that we can do to influence that, but putting some kind of artificial timeline on it doesn't help you.

After 40, what event, decision or perceived risk was pivotal for you? How did it manifest and how did you respond?

My childhood friend, we'd been best friends, almost like brothers since we were in high school. There wasn't a week that went by where we didn't talk, and then he died suddenly. He had liver cancer – the same thing that Walter Peyton died of. He got sick between Christmas and New Year's and was dead by St. Patrick's Day. We had always joked that when we retired we would drive our wives crazy (if we ever totally retired). We were gonna do fun things with interesting people, and write it all off as a business expense.

When he passed away, it shook me that we didn't have forever, and we must make the most of every day. With that, I decided at that time, I was retired. The only things I was gonna do were fun things with interesting people, and write it off as a business expense. Now, that was my late 40s, and with that, I'm living how I want as my retirement. I want to live like this for the rest of my life.

What book would you recommend to a person over 40 who wants to reinvent their life, and why?

For me, it's The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I just discovered that a few years ago, and I think reinventing, rediscovering your life, starts with you and the agreements that you make with the world. I probably listened to that audiobook two dozen times. I just wish I would've listened to it two decades earlier.

Many mid-lifers who write to me say they feel lost, unfulfilled, and shackled by circumstance. Usually, much of their own making. So, what kind of advice would you offer to those people who are feeling a bit lost and unfulfilled?

You control your destiny, now more than ever, with what you know, with where you are. If you have handcuffs on, you put them there, and you're the only person who can take them off. You can either look back and say the best days are behind me, and wallow your way into the grave, or you can say my best days are in front of me. It's all a perception thing, and it's all up to you. You control your future now more than ever.

Can you think of a way that you've surprised yourself at an age where many people are feeling set in their ways now?

I try to do something once a month that scares me. For example, I held a snake, I repelled off a cliff – and I've got a fear of heights! But doing something that scares me, and gets my heart pumping. My wife and I, when we do dates, we try to do something that's interesting. We did indoor rock climbing; we took a sailing course for the first time. I'd sailed earlier in my life, but I just always want to continue living and learning, and embracing my fears.

Every day is a gift, and not a given, and there are some days that are more challenging, but good Lord willing, I'll have more of them to try and improve.

Midlife Lessons

  • The world is getting exponentially better – our best days are still ahead of us.
  • Say YES to more fun things with interesting people.
  • Run all decisions through a simple filter so you always know how to respond to life's choices.
  • People's reactions usually say more about where they are than where we are.
  • Look back and be grateful instead of always looking forward and chasing the next thing.
  • If we want to live longer, we must EXPECT to live longer. We become what we think about.
  • Decide right now that you're already retired, then choose how you'll live, work and play.
  • Each day is a gift and not a given.

Also published on Medium.

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