To the Moon and Back – Lisa Kohn

“Even those worst parts of us are helpful in certain actions at certain times and therefore the idea is to be in choice with your response.” Lisa Kohn

A lot of what we become in life is largely determined by the environment we get exposed to and the experiences we get to encounter. Notably, there is no formula for success and this then means that we can always rise above our molded selves and use our experiences to better our lives and the lives of those around us. Our guest today, Lisa Kohn, was able to do exactly that despite her adverse experiences growing up and says that healing from past adverse events entails changing not only the individual’s behavior but their mental models as well.

Lisa Kohn is the award-winning author of to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence: and The Power of Thoughtful Leadership She says that the best seats she ever had at Madison Square Garden were at her mother’s mass wedding, and the best cocaine she ever had was from her father’s friend, the judge.

Lisa is an accomplished leadership consultant, executive coach, and keynote speaker with a strong business background and a creative approach. Lisa earned her BA in psychology from Cornell University and her MBA from Columbia University’s Executive Program. She has taught as an adjunct professor at Columbia University and New York University’s Stern School of Business, and she brings to others the tools, mind-shifts, and practices she’s found that have helped her heal and thrive, as well as the hope and forgiveness she’s been blessed to let into her life. Lisa will always tell you that she is a native New Yorker, but she currently lives in Pennsylvania.

In today’s episode, we will be learning about how our experiences shape our lives and behaviors, and why being aware of ourselves can make use of such experiences to propel us into leading more purposeful lives.

Listen in!

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  • I was a member of the Unification Church, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed Messiah from Korea and they did mass weddings where large numbers of people got married often to strangers. [4:22]
  • I grew up in Unification Church which my mum joined when I was ten years and it was my life and there is no more intoxicating drug than having a Messiah. It is the most powerful than I’ve ever felt. [4:43]
  • My mother left me and my nine-year-old brother with my grandfather who later fell into a nervous breakdown and then we went to live with my dad to New York City in the East Village. [5:12]
  • I had a Messiah but in my mind, I lived with my dad a life of sex, drugs, and squalor. [5:37]
  • I eventually pulled myself out of cults, and then tried to self-implode, explode, where I almost jumped off a bridge and got hugely anorexic. [5:50]
  • I did do a hell of a lot of cocaine, including with my dad and the judge who had a lot of amazing cocaine, got into abusive relationships, and finally hit a bottom and started to find help and heal. [6:04]
  • I did go to Cornell and got a degree in psychology because I like people and ended up working in entertainment advertising and later went to Columbia’s executive program and got my MBA. [6:20]
  • A couple of jobs later I hung out a shingle in 1995 to do leadership and I have been doing it ever since. [6:43]
  • We do leadership consulting including everything from a full day, multi-day, intern, interpersonal skills, customized programs, leadership programs, and management programs. [6:55]
  • I like to say I’m the executive coach running around the C suite of Fortune 50 companies talking about love. [7:19]
  • I knew my childhood was weird. When I was young my dad was in a bar fight where he got a tooth knocked out and he made it into an earring and hung it from his ear and my mom got married in Madison Square Garden with 4000 plus people but I didn’t realize It was bad. [9:38]
  • As I imploded and exploded and punished myself for living my bottom, I got engaged with someone who drank a lot and was mean. [10:03]
  • Someone in my family pointed me to Al-anon and I was in denial before I realized that you become your story and when you are damaged and broken it is a long path to get from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, to post-traumatic growth. [10:14]
  • I do think it is natural for human brains to blame themselves [11:01]
  • When you’re a child and have a complex, traumatic life like I did or just a regular normal life, when something doesn’t feel safe as a kid your brain knows that if you think the world is unsafe it becomes scarier and if you think that something is wrong with you, then it’s less scary. [11:08]
  • It is a very human response that leads us to learn some massive coping behaviors to manage the instability. [11:51]
  • The issue becomes how to let them be there, move past them and not let them force and push me in a certain direction, and that is the conversations I have with my clients. [12:29]
  • I firmly believe that people believe that those coping mechanisms did save them, and they still think when they are in danger the mechanisms will still save them. [15:45]
  • When we are talking about changing thought patterns that saved my life I get terrified because there are parts of me that still know that they’re necessary to survive. [16:26]
  • So it is not just changing behaviors but about changing thought patterns, assumptions beliefs, and things that I created and made up and were intentionally carved into my brain. [16:36]
  • Commercial Break. [17:29]
  • So many people came to me and said I need to write a book, you need to write a book. [19:30]
  • 20 years ago I sat down with a coach and decided that I was going to write a hybrid half self-help half memoir. [19:37]
  • I got wonderful glowing rejections from so many agents who said I couldn’t sell a hybrid book and that I was not famous enough. 19:53]
  • I got a call from an agent who said if I wrote a memoir they will represent me and so wrote the memoir and the book soon came out. [20:08]
  • I did it, and what it has done is that it has blown apart up my personal life, my view of life, my recovery, and my work. [20:52]
  • Before the book came out, I did not know the community of cult survivors but I have found people who went through the same thing as me and were born and raised in my situation. [21:06]
  • It has cracked open my healing into much deeper levels, which is hard and amazing. [21:50]
  • The book has touched people and now I go to meet new prospects that I’m trying to win business from and they Google me and they know I grew up in a cult. [22:04]
  • I share it and it allows me to use my experiences to help my clients and so it has completely cracked open and blown up wonderfully. [22:25]
  • The book has also reached people who are in pain. The story is unique but the themes are universal. [22:45]
  • I get Facebook messages, tweets, Instagram messages from strangers telling me their story, and my next-door neighbor who had no idea read it and she said thank you for giving us all the courage to tell our childhood stories.[22:53]
  • Three messages I share in the book are first, extremists situations exist, they are prevalent and are all over, they are highly intoxicating and it is a powerful feeling and they are therefore very dangerous. [23:25]
  • Two, for anyone who feels hopeless or damaged beyond repair there is hope and you are not damaged. [23:39]
  • Third, as a species, most of us are at least way too hard on ourselves and we need a huge dose of self-love and self-compassion [23:55]
  • There is the possibility that my experience will mildly control me for the rest of my life but it doesn’t have to control me anymore because I can make choices. [27:20]
  • I denied my story because the only way to almost survive was to pretend nothing happened to me and not look at it ever. [28:29]
  • Now I have gone back to every place and reconnected with almost every person and now it is me in a good way. [28:47]
  • I say to people that we are only as sick as our secrets and so I share just about everything as long as it’s not about my current immediate family. [29:04]
  • You never know what people have inside because we looked fine on the outside. [29:38]
  • Even those worst parts of us are helpful in certain actions at certain times and therefore the idea is to be in choice with your response. [31:21]
  • When I tell my story or hear someone else’s story and realize I’m not alone, they dissipate a little bit, or at least I have the courage to go through them with more strength and ease. [33:17]
  • Be nice and gentle with yourself. Love yourself first and more. Look for love in the world and find reasons to be happy and the rest of it after that falls into place or starts to fall into something. [34:35]
  • There’s no complete panacea but it makes all the hard things easier and a lot of things go better with work in life. [34:51]


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