Today, I interview Jeff Davis. Unfortunately, Jeff’s childhood was filled with bullying. He was a late bloomer, so he was the little guy surrounded by other boys who were getting tall and growing up. Because of this, he didn’t have a girlfriend and he was teased a lot. He also had a lisp and a self-soothing habit of sucking his thumb, and people often beat him up, called him names, and told him he was worthless and stupid.
Jeff’s parents loved him and did the best they could, but they had not equipped him with the foundation necessary for surviving all the negativity of this world. They were kind, hardworking people, but their way of responding to Jeff was to use words they thought would solve problems but which were actually hurting him and making his life more difficult.
The bullying and lack of support from his parents in his childhood led to very difficult high school years for Jeff. In the spring of his senior year, after being diagnosed with clinical depression, Jeff went to the garage one day, grabbed a length of rope, and headed toward a tree in his backyard, where he planned to take his life.
Then, Jeff refers to a “spark of hope” which was present with him in that moment, telling him to put the rope down and go back to his room. He felt comforted for a brief moment. Later the spark of hope let him know that he would change lives by sharing his story about this rock-bottom time for him. This “intuitive knowing” told him that he was meant to live longer. He went up to his room and did a meditation, during which he had the most profound experience. He had the epiphany that our self worth has nothing to do with our circumstances. Today, Jeff reminds us that we can seek help, and that we have all the answers we need, deep down inside of us.
Jeff Davis is the award-winning author of three books, in addition to being a blogger, professional speaker, and consultant. He has done keynote speeches internationally and is a sought-after expert in mental health, authentic leadership, and resiliency. He’s also a TEDx speaker, Forbes contributor, and consistently featured on the top podcasts in the world. Jeff frequently speaks to and consults with schools, nonprofits, organizations, associations, conferences, and businesses. Nicknamed The Muhammad Ali of Mental Health, he’s known for his ability to shine light on challenging topics. He’s been to five different continents and has a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Originally from Connecticut, he currently lives abroad in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
For a free PDF copy of Jeff’s Amazon bestseller “The Power of Authentic Leadership”, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the episode:
Learn How to Speak Without Fear!
Also listen on…
Transcript of Interview
Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode # 96 Jeff Davis
“Your Self-Worth is Infinite”
(00:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing and I’m host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. I like to welcome everybody who’s listening today. I’m so excited about my guest. He’s a new friend to me. But I feel like every time we have conversations, my whole body just tingles and opens up. I learned just by listening to him. This is Jeff Davis. Hi Jeff.
(01:03) Jeff Davis
Dr. Downing. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to chatting with you today.
(01:08) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, and that’s exactly what we do. We chat. I don’t have specific questions that I have you prepared. It really is and this is what listeners are used to with my podcast is we just go wherever we need to go to say what needs to be said today right now right here. That’s all about being in the moment. So many people are afraid to dance in the moment with another human being, especially on video. Well, I’d like to read a bio you sent so people at least get some sense of what you’ve already done and what you are doing in this world. Okay, Jeff Davis is the award winning author of three books. In addition to being a blogger, professional speaker, and consultant. He has done keynote speeches internationally, and is a sought after expert in mental health, authentic leadership, and resiliency. He’s also a TEDx speaker, Forbes contributor, and consistently featured on the top podcast in the world. Hey, that’s me. I’m a top podcaster. Yay, you’re here. Jeff frequently speaks to and consults with schools, nonprofits, organizations, associations, conferences, and businesses. I like this one, nicknamed the Mohammed Ali of mental health. He’s known for his ability to shine light on challenging topics. I’m sure today, you will be shining light on some of these topics that have to do with finding your voice and finding what it means to be authentic and speak from a deeper sense of who you truly are.
(03:09) Jeff Davis
Yes. Pleasure to be here. I’m sure we will go deep today.
(03:14) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. Well, the first “going deep” question, if anything— I always like to have more of a sense of— because people don’t just pop out and say, “Hello world. Here I am. I’m going to change the world. I’m going to shine light on challenging problems.” You don’t really get that right away. Usually, it seems like those of us who’ve had challenging problems to face have learned something from that. I’m assuming that is your story, too. Anything you could say about that?
(03:52) Jeff Davis
Yes, absolutely. There’s a few things that come to mind. We’ll dive right in here. First off, I was the quintessential late bloomer. I’m six feet tall now, but I used to be very short. All my peers, my friends were going through adolescence, and in the meantime, I’m stunting to grow and not really having a girlfriend when all my friends do and it was really awkward and embarrassing. The reason I say this, Dr. Downing, is because I got endlessly bullied. This is something I wanted to share off the bat because I’ve been hearing a lot of research lately about how bullying is a root cause of suicide. This is a challenging topic for some but I was endlessly bullied. One is that people actually made fun of the way I spoke. They said, “Jeff, you have a lisp.” What happened was I had certain teeth not growing in properly. I actually used to suck my thumb when I was a child, and it continued. I’ve never shared this before. This is really cool. Sucking my thumb for whatever reason, maybe it was a coping mechanism. It continued into my early teens where most people stop that. At that point, I wanted to be done with it and I found my thumb would go into my mouth. At night, I had to wear gloves to finally break the habit. I say this because it got my teeth a little bit messed up and I spoke funny. Since then, I’ve worn Invisalign braces, but I got made fun of for the way I spoke, for being short. I got beat up. I got told I was worthless and stupid. I just did not have the self-esteem and self-confidence to stand up for myself. I wanted to bring up this topic of bullying because that is something I’ve experienced, not only in middle school, in high school, and in college, where my college baseball teammate punched me in the face, but also in the workplace. We have a very challenging world here. I wanted to come out with a Muhammad Ali swing and say, “We need to put an end to bullying because it’s unacceptable.”
(05:52) Dr. Doreen Downing
Thank you. Yes, I’m a sucker also. I had to have braces when I was 12 or 13. But I do know that, for me, it was comfort. That makes me think, “If it was for comfort for you, what was happening in the home?”
(06:14) Jeff Davis
Yes, so as far as what was happening in the home, so with my mom and dad, I found that they meant to be very loving, but with the way they were raised, there weren’t certain skills there. That made it very difficult for me to be able to build up the self-esteem, they were doing the best they could, and they supported me. My mom had a great attitude. My dad was a very hard worker. But I did find that based on all they knew it did not supply me with those skills I needed to go out into the world, and to be the person that I could be. Having a bit of a shaky foundation there and not really supported to be myself made it that much harder to deal with all of the bullying and all of the nonsense in the outer world.
(06:57) Dr. Doreen Downing
What would have looked like support though, and what was not supportive? Maybe a little specifics? Any examples?
(07:07) Jeff Davis
Yes. I would say when we’re talking about how someone supports you verbally, and there’s actually been a lot of research around this, there’s a book you may have heard of it by Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score. It’s all about trauma and healing from trauma and Bessel Vander Kolk, there talks about how verbal abuse is just as bad as physical abuse. Don’t get me wrong here. Physical abuse is absolutely horrible but so as verbal abuse. What I would say is that with specific examples: I was being myself, and they would put me down. That made it very difficult to feel safe being myself. That’s why I was so insecure going out into the world. Again, they meant well. The root causes were the way they were raised. They unfortunately didn’t resolve those root causes. That then got put onto me. I know they meant it loving me. They meant it lovingly in some warped way. But in fact, it led to very, very low self-esteem. That’s why I never really stood up for myself to the bullies because I just did not have that backbone to be myself.
(08:14) Dr. Doreen Downing
What I hear you doing is something that I hope people will really listen to, because what you’re modeling is both. Yes, there was a reality, there were limitations on what occurred in my childhood that didn’t make me feel as confident as I could but I can’t blame. I don’t hear you blaming and saying that they were all screwed up. I mean, they may have been screwed up. But you have a deeper understanding of their history and what they bring to parenting. That’s what I heard that I thought was really valuable that you have both the “Hey, it didn’t work so well for me but I understand that they were limited.”
(09:05) Jeff Davis
It’s a pleasure here to dance with you in a moment because I want to thank you for saying that. You hit the nail on the head. As you’re talking, it could feel like a calm energy flow going through my body. That’s exactly it, Dr. Downing. I have forgiven them. In fact, for anyone listening, forgiveness is a very long process by the way, so it can’t be forced. But what I want to share is since being able to forgive them, I now have an adult relationship with them. I see them as adults with both strengths and weaknesses. Being able to forgive them has actually freed myself. I can have an adult relationship with them at the level that they’re capable of. I can also go into the world and prevent people from dying by suicide, and impact millions of lives. That was very liberating to see that they really are people with feet of clay and all sorts of mistakes and they’ve had their own traumas. I’m going to forgive them for that and I’m going to move on with my life and go change the world.
(10:01) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, I hear this big “Yes” I want to say back to you. You mentioned suicide. it’s linked to bullying and of course, you’ve done research, but any personal experience that you can point to about what made you understand the link between bullying and suicide?
(10:21) Jeff Davis
Yes, I’m really glad you asked this question. Because if we go back 16 years ago to when I was 17 years old, this is my senior year of high school, this was after some really unexpected setbacks in sports, I was at this hyper competitive, dysfunctional, all boys high school. I mentioned the bullying. Then on top of that, I was also experiencing abuse in other areas of my life. If you combine all of that, I very nearly took my own life. It was the spring of my senior year, I had clinical depression, after a year I went to the garage, I remember the moment I picked up the rope, I just wanted to get out of the pain. It was so challenging to deal with. I actually started walking into the tree. Just before I was about to end my life, there was a spark of hope that came to me. I truly believe it was from a higher power. The spark of hope said, “Jeff, put down the rope. Go back to your room.” I had no social support. By the way, talking about research, and this also comes out in people I coach, because I also coach a lot of speakers to go out and change the world. A lot of these people who I hear of nearly dying by suicide do not have the social support. It’s exactly what I experienced. Instead of people supporting me, I had people bullying me. I’ll say this very quickly, my best friend, by the way, zero resentment. My best friend said to me, after I called him up, and I told him about my rock bottom moment, he said, “Jeff, I have to tell you, ‘No one cares.’”
(11:56) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh. Well, there’s truth there. I guess.
(12:06) Jeff Davis
We could call that a very challenging form of tough love. Yes, everyone is wrapped up in their own lives. I say that very respectfully. With all of these factors, the no social support, the bullying, and these other challenges. I very sadly almost took my life. But I had this spark of hope. It said, “Jeff, someday you’re going to change lives by sharing this story.” I went back to my room. It was a very long journey from there but now I’m finally impacting lives, and I’m having the impact in the world I always knew that I could have.
(12:39) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, there’s something about what you just said too that strikes me is that spark of hope. To me, that sounds like it was a voice of some sort.
(12:52) Jeff Davis
Yes. I’m actually curious what your thoughts are too. I’ll tell you how I experienced it. Here’s how I experienced it. It was a feeling, a knowing, and intuitive feeling inside of me. There was like this spark in the center of my soul, the very essence and core of Jeff. It went off and said, “Jeff, you’re meant to be on this planet longer.” Again, this is after clinical depression. This was very serious depression that I was experiencing. I did not yet seek help. I eventually did see a psychologist but at that point, I did not have help. It was a feeling that came to me, and I don’t know where this came from. This higher power in the center of my soul, gave me this feeling, “Jeff, put down the rope.” You could describe it as a voice. I also like to call it a feeling, an intuitive knowing. Even though I was clinically depressed, and even though I wanted to die by suicide to end my pain, there is some feeling that went off inside me. “Jeff, someday you’ll share this to help others,” and I laughed. I actually laughed. I was having an inner conversation like, “Oh, not me, I’m worthless. No one cares what I have to say”. But Dr. Downing that feeling was right because I’m now impacting many lives around the world.
(14:13) Dr. Doreen Downing
Right. Yes, well, we can talk about feeling and thoughts and the voices but you just represented one that says, “Hey, you’re not worth anything.” That to me is a voice. The other one is “Yes, I am worth something and not only am I worth something, but I’m also going to go out and change the world.” Maybe this is just some thought I’m having in the moment. Because you’re talking about sparks. It’s like those two might have hit each other and there was this spark and the one that was the stronger one was the life force one, and here you are. Well, before I do go into more about the spark in the journey. I’d like to take a quick break. We’ll be back in just a second.
(15:13) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, I’m back and I’m with Jeff Davis. I’m on a very fascinating journey from how he became somebody who is such an exciting, inspirational speaker out in the world and that he is here to share his journey from having been bullied, having been almost close to suicide until he got struck by lightning I say from inside. Something inside said, “You got to live here,” and there was hope. Jeff, what happened next?
(15:53) Jeff Davis
Yes, so let me share this as we are in the moment. I’m back up in my room. This is my mind blowing experience. I did an awakening Kundalini meditation by someone named Kelly Howell. Right near the end of the meditation, where she says, “You are merging with the source of creation.” I went into an indescribable energy field. I’ve never experienced something like this in my life. I’ve never since had as powerful as an experience as when I was in my room after I nearly died by suicide and did this meditation. It wasn’t an outer body experience. I was still in my body. But I couldn’t feel the normal physical boundaries of my body. I was in this energy field. In that energy field, in the heart of this meditation, I had a profound realization. Your self-worth doesn’t depend on external circumstances. That was my beautiful, powerful, soul-level core level of realization that no one, not one person ever taught me. All I heard is, “Jeff, to be somebody, you have to be a star sports player. Jeff, to be someone, you have to get perfect grades. Jeff, to matter, to be someone who people care about, you have to go to the most well-known university in the country.” None of those things that I were taught were true. What I realized, with depression, acting as a gateway to spiritual enlightenment, that your self-worth is infinite. It does not depend on external circumstances.
(17:40) Dr. Doreen Downing
You just saw my mouth drop just like this. This is so exciting to share to our audience this insight that you had in this moment of waking up to some truth that now can be shared with others, so that we look within ourselves. That’s the message we look within ourselves for our truth, our value, our meaning, our purpose.
(18:09) Jeff Davis
That’s exactly it. That’s exactly it. The answers are inside of you. I’m speaking to all of your wonderful listeners here. Your answers are inside you. It’s totally okay to seek advice, to seek various input. At the end of the day, trust your inner wisdom, trust your inner knowing, because that is your true guiding light.
(18:33) Dr. Doreen Downing
I definitely teach that. I believe that the within is where our power is. Talk about a little bit how you might help people guide people to—you have the thought, but how to drop down into and be able to connect with, listen to, and speak from this inner knowing.
(19:03) Jeff Davis
Yes, so there are many approaches here. I’m going to start off with one that has worked well for me and others. This is something to consider, and then I’ll share a few other things as well. Taking time to meditate and or pray. Whatever works best for you. Let’s call that solitude. Then in the solitude, you can choose the method that works best for you. For some, like me and others, it’s meditation. For some, it’s prayer. That’s wonderful by the way. For some it might be reflecting in a journal. It depends on what personality type you have. Maybe you reflect out loud with a close friend or colleague on the phone. There are different approaches here. But being able to reflect and to go within and having a tool to do that is essential. The how there is to slow down. We have this very fast paced life. By the way, I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of my schedule as well and I constantly remind myself, “Jeff, slow down. Take a breath.” I find that slowing down, I’ll consciously breathe. Sometimes even before I meditate or reflect, I’ll just breathe deeply. I’ll breathe in and out. That relaxed presence will help me connect to my core. I would suggest—
(20:23) Dr. Doreen Downing
Your voice just changed. Those who are listening could hear it. I’m sure I felt that. Didn’t it? Your voice—there’s a resonance, when you dropped down, that’s different and I noticed that.
(20:38) Jeff Davis
Yes, it works.
(20:44) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, so a voice coming from a place that’s deeper within us, you have to take yourself there is what you’re saying. I like that you aren’t saying, “This is the way to do it.” Step one, step two, step three, step four, and then you’ve arrived. It feels like you’re allowing people to be who they are in their own way to discover the more that’s within their own inner journey. How they do that.
(21:16) Jeff Davis
Yes, you just hit the nail on the head. It’s really important that each person does what works for them. There are some out there, and I say this completely respectfully, there are some out there who will say, “This is the way.” It’s 1-2-3-4. Yes, that might have worked for them and some others, but that doesn’t mean that’ll work for everyone. That’s why I said, “Okay, maybe give meditation a try.” Think of this like a buffet. You’re at a buffet, and you’re trying different approaches here, and you’re seeing what works best for you. Maybe it’s meditation, some form of solitude, we talked about prayer, reflection, talking to others, maybe it’s going for a long walk in nature. All of these different approaches will allow someone to find what works best for them.
(21:57) Dr. Doreen Downing
What works best for them—what we’re talking about working—is the whole point for me being able to go within and know yourself so well that the voice that comes out has this ring and resonance of truth, and you feel more aligned with this deeper you who are meant to be as opposed to walking around the world trying to impress or imitate or make a splash because actually being who you truly are is the beautiful splash.
(22:35) Jeff Davis
Spot on. I found in my own experience—to piggyback off the third powerful words you just said—that when I stopped trying to be like someone else, and instead decided to be the first Jeff, instead of the second someone else, it transformed my life, both professionally and on an individual basis as well. I found people were resonating with my speeches more. I was going deeper with my professional speaking. I was doing an approach that not everyone may necessarily recommend, but it worked for me. That’s the key. Do what works for you by connecting with your truth inside.
(23:14) Dr. Doreen Downing
I feel like we can just spend the whole day. This is so wonderful to be speaking to somebody like you who understands this inner realm and that it is easy to access our inner realm. I think that what we’re searching for is this sound and the feel and the expression of who we truly are, and I think that people who are afraid to go within because they come up against some of the things that you did when were close to suicide was more negative thoughts and more negative fields and self-esteem can be really low for people. I think what I’m looking at right now is inspiring people that their potential is beautiful. We do come up against doubt. We come up against insecurity, all the kinds of other things that we’ve come to be afraid of inside of ourselves, even getting close to or showing others. But I think what you’re saying to me today and to listeners is you’re inspiring, that within, there’s brilliance, is what I’m saying.
(24:45) Jeff Davis
Yes, you understood perfectly and that’s exactly what I’m sharing. Thank you so much for restating that in an excellent way. Your truth, your power, your inner strength is inside of you, and connecting with that will completely revolutionize your life. It can be messy. It can be a process. It might take many iterations. But keep going because as you go deeper through the mud, you’ll find all sorts of hidden gems. I found these hidden gems of love and beauty buried deep underneath all of that negativity in mud.
(25:24) Dr. Doreen Downing
Again, speaking of nuggets, it feels like you offer nuggets of wisdom, and they are golden. Thank you so much. I am coming near the end. Is there something that feels like you’re listening to yourself and wanting to share?
(25:49) Jeff Davis
Yes, I mentioned earlier how your self-worth doesn’t depend on the outer world. I would like to share this with everyone who’s listening. You are an infinite soul. You have so much power within you regardless of what other people say. I wanted to remind you of that, even if your colleague or even if someone you know doesn’t see that in you or is putting you down. You are worthy. You matter. You have a purpose for being here. You indeed will do great things.
(26:22) Dr. Doreen Downing
You mirror back to people the big yes. The Yes to what’s inside of us. Thank you so much, Jeff.
(26:32) Jeff Davis
My pleasure. It was an honor to be here and thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Also listen on…
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.