by Brian Madden

Like every RLF graduate, after completing the program I received a one-year free membership in my local SIM chapter. There, I struggled at first to fit in, but eventually I came to find a new home and a great new network. You can too!

More than 10 years ago, I came to RLF in my third year of managing a seven-person IT department.  At work I felt I had an “impostor syndrome” due to my lack of experience managing people and all of human nature’s quirks. Hungry for advice on how to better lead and manage people, I listened to RLF graduates who described the program as “transformative,” “eye opening,” “emotional” and “incredibly useful.” They recommended RLF without hesitation, so I enrolled in the Boston RLF.

The RLF sessions were heavy on active participation from the students which opened the door to even more sharing, trust-building, and bonding. Together, we learned a new language to communicate and connect with others who not long ago were complete strangers.

After we graduated from RLF, we promised to stay in touch and to hold class reunions, but life goes on. Aside from one or two meetups and calls we mostly all went our separate ways. So, I looked to SIM Boston as the potential thread that could keep us connected. But sadly, I came to learn that most RLF grads don’t renew their SIM membership after the free year or if they do renew, they don’t stay engaged in SIM for long. 

I believe one explanation for why “RLFers” don’t stick around is that most SIM events do not engage grads in the exact same way as RLF. But I would argue that this is an unreasonable expectation. RLF immerses you in an experiential learning context where you are out of the office for two days, away from work, and where you’re surrounded by people who share the goal of becoming better versions of themselves. Contrast this with a typical SIM event that is held at the beginning / end of a regular working day, leaving little to no buffer between the ‘real world’ and the event itself. In my opinion, we RLF grads may expect too much of an RLF-type experience at SIM and therefore our engagement with our local chapters begins to wane for reasons more of our own making. 

So, what did I do differently? After RLF, in order to build my network, I started attending the quarterly Boston CIO roundtable, a really wonderful networking sub-group. Being an introvert, those meetings were hell for me.  Everyone seemed to already know each other, sharing warm hearty handshakes and hugs, having collegial conversations amid a whole scene that conveyed a sense of deep familiarity among the participants. And there I was, an introvert still wrestling with imposter syndrome in a room full of accomplished CIOs who all appeared to be good friends. Was this awkward and uncomfortable feeling the price I had to pay to build my network? I was determined to find out.

I challenged myself to continue attending these meetings on and off for a couple of years before I realized that the problem wasn’t the people in those rooms: the problem was me! I was too wrapped up in my own self-defeating story about how I didn’t really belong there, how these wonderful CIOs were all better than me and how I needed to find a way to impress them. The problem with this logic was that it was completely wrong. Nobody – not a single person – ever attended a CIO roundtable with the goal to be impressed by me. Duh! What was I thinking? Were we back in high school? In retrospect it's painfully obvious just how ridiculous my internal story was.

Once I realized this, from then on at every event I’d look around a room and remind myself that a lot of people there were feeling just like me. I didn’t need to impress anyone, I just needed to be myself and to have a real, genuine conversation with someone – anyone. It didn’t even matter what the topic was, as long as the conversation was authentic. Networking happens one person, one conversation at a time.

This epiphany completely changed my approach to, and my expectations for, attending SIM events (and all networking events.) And I encourage every RLF grad to similarly look at their SIM participation from a fresh new vantage point.

Today, I see each SIM event as a great opportunity to possibly meet somebody, to learn something new and to reconnect with those who I’ve come to know over the years. By changing the story I told myself about networking within SIM, I was able to completely change my experience and level of engagement. 

And you can too. 

So new RLF grads, I hope you learn from what I experienced and you truly make the most of your year of free SIM membership. Or, if it’s been a while since your year of SIM membership, I heartily encourage you to give SIM another try. Because SIM is a phenomenal opportunity to get involved, meet new colleagues in our technology industry and, most of all, continue the process of “stretching” yourself and your capabilities that began in RLF.

See you at an upcoming SIM event!

Brian Madden is a 2008 graduate of the Northeast-Boston RLF program and is COO / EVP of Lexington Solutions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boston Capital. He also currently co-chairs the CIO Roundtable committee of the SIM Boston chapter.


RLF grads ... revisit THE THEFT OF THE SPIRIT as changes occur in your life's journey


By Michael Garlich -- RLF Facilitator

RLF alumni … remember reading The Theft Of The Spirit during your RLF experience? Did you like it? Did it resonate with you? Well, whether it was your favorite book or perhaps one of your not-so-favorite books, I’m suggesting that RLF grads could benefit from taking the time to revisit this book  – or even read it again – particularly as our life’s circumstances and trajectories inevitably change. Let me explain.

Carl Hammerschlag’s The Theft Of The Spirit has long been a core RLF book, known for its introspective reflections interspersed with the author’s highly-personal stories of spiritual connections. This book is intended to be an introductory conduit toward the core competencies of self-awareness and self-discovery RLF participants ideally develop during the RLF experience.  That’s why it’s usually read and discussed during Session 1.

But perhaps you were like me when I initially picked up the book in preparation for my own first RLF session. I immediately judged the book by its cover, assuming it would simply be an anthology of stories and wondering why it was a required book for a leadership development program. However, within a few minutes I came to the final words of the Prologue … “When our history is written, let it not be said that we floundered because we allowed the theft of our spirit.” 

As I read those words, and then each succeeding page throughout the rest of the book, unexpected self-awareness suddenly washed over me – along with some tears. 


You see, early in our marriage my wife and I lost our 1-year-old son to bacterial meningitis.  Out of the blue, our son became desperately ill and a 107-degree fever overpowered him in a matter of hours – before the doctors could determine what was wrong. By then it was too late, and his ravaged body succumbed to the catastrophic damage from the fever.

In all the years afterward, I carefully avoided anything that evoked too much of the searing pain and overwhelming grief we felt – that any parent feels when holding their lifeless child – and the excruciating years-long journey my wife and I traveled toward eventual acceptance and a measure of healing.  Yet, because of RLF and the assignment of The Theft Of The Spirit, I suddenly found myself drawn deeply into page after page that forced me to confront again what my wife and I had experienced – and survived.

First, as I absorbed the Prologue’s final words that day, it hit me. That sentence encapsulated what my wife and I had experienced … we may have lost our son, but we ultimately refused to allow our spirit to also be stolen from us. Yes, we floundered. But somehow we managed to hang on, clinging sometimes only by our fingernails to the power of a life-sustaining spirit between us, our other children and our Creator.

All of these memories suddenly came flooding back as I began reading The Theft Of The Spirit … and as I continued to read.

I encountered a passage in chapter 2 describing the same realization that my wife and I eventually came to recognize … that we would never fully comprehend “why did this have to happen to us” and how life-changing moments are constant and inevitable. As Hammerschlag writes, “Our lives are not clear-cut paths to predetermined destinations. Things are always happening to us along the way. Our lives turn out to be a succession of surprises requiring mid-course corrections. We don’t know anything about the end, only that it comes.” 

Later, in chapter 7, I read words that similarly captured how my wife and I somehow found our way despite stumbling through our numbing tragedy, when we felt we couldn’t endure one more day or take one more step in the darkness. Hammerschlag writes, “I only saw the way it was, not the way it might be. This is the ultimate blindness. This kind of blindness has nothing to do with sight; it has to do with lack of vision, and vision is the stuff of dreams, hope, and possibilities … I learned to see in the dark.” 

Further on, in chapter 8, I pondered this passage: “It was only when he said, ‘Help me get through this day,’ that he knew he could survive the moment. It is in our choices that we shape our destiny – not in lamenting our fate. Events in life are neither good nor bad, they are both.” My wife and I experienced exactly that. In time, we came to realize that we had no option but to survive and therefore made the conscious choice to not be swallowed up by cursing our loss.

As I continued reading the book, I came across a section in chapter 11 that reminded me how my wife and I learned to lean into our beliefs and on each other to somehow believe we could get through another day; Hammerschlag writes, “it is not the certainty in our heads that will save us but the truth of our hearts. What we ultimately learn about life’s journey is nothing – what we believe is everything.”

Eventually I arrived at the final chapter. There, I found two passages reminding me how my wife and I traveled back to a hope-filled life … “The songs of our hearts – prayers – are what give lift to hope.” And, “Prayer gives lift to the wings of dreams.” We truly lived those words, continually turning to a higher power for hopefulness, courage and guidance.

Finally, in the book’s closing paragraph, I encountered three simple sentences which resonate with me to this day; helping me to draw a powerful arc to the story of all that my wife and I experienced … “No one can steal your spirit; you have to give it away. You can also take it back. Find yours.”

A few weeks later, I found myself sharing all of my new-found reflections with my RLF class when I led The Theft Of The Spirit book discussion in our first session. And in the years since first reading it, from time-to-time I’ve revisited this book’s passages as I’ve encountered new challenges and sought to continually understand and articulate my life’s journey. 

Looking back today, I recognize that reading The Theft Of The Spirit for RLF helped to crystallize four things within me. First, only we control how we deal with life’s challenges. It’s the way we carry ourselves – and those we love – through our burdens that defines us; not the experience itself. Second, only you control your spirit; and only you have the power to keep it or give it away.  Third, you always possess the power to find strength in yourself … a strength you may have forgotten or a strength you never knew you had.  And, fourth, I came to know that RLF and its components like The Theft Of The Spirit have been precious gifts in my life, helping me to find meaning in my journey and new ways to better acknowledge, work through and now share the darkest days of my life.

So, if you’re facing a new challenge or an unexpected obstacle, I encourage you to take another look at The Theft Of The Spirit. Maybe you’ll find a nugget that resonates with you more today than when you first read it because your life has changed since that time.

Finally, my hope for you is that your spirit helps you find the way forward as you face the latest development in your life’s journey. And, if you haven’t recognized your spirit recently, I encourage you to pick up The Theft Of The Spirit again … to help you “find yours.”

Michael Garlich is an RLF graduate and a Facilitator for the Southeast RLF program. He can be reached at magarlich@gmail.com