I sit here, in a hotel room in Ottawa, Ontario (that’s in Canada for my geographically-challenged friends) 2,850 miles from home, typing out a tribute before I head to the Celebration of Life for James Butler. I left my home yesterday at 9:00 am, and after traveling in two cars, a bus, and 3 planes – I arrived here in Ottawa around 1:00am local time.
I’m only able to attend the celebration today for a couple hours, and then I head to Chicago to visit my family – which has been planned for months.
13 hours and 2,850 miles. Surely, James must have been one of my best friends if I’m traveling across a continent, an entire day of travel, to attend the celebration of his life.
Except, he wasn’t.
I never even met James in person, which is very hard for me to accept at this time, probably will be forever.
Here is where I’m going to diverge a little bit from the conventional tribute.
I’m not going to tell you about James’ life. I will not go on and on about his time in the Canadian Special Forces, or the impressive list of clientele he worked with. I won’t get into detail about his list of speaking invitations, or events at which he was featured.
There are many other people who knew James much better than I did, and could speak on those things with first hand experience, and in far greater detail, than I’m capable of doing. I’ll leave the story-telling and description of accolades to them.
I want to tell you about my experience of James Butler, and the impact he had on me, on my life, and (therefore, indirectly) on the lives of thousands, potentially millions of people.
I was (virtually) introduced to James a little over two years ago by a friend of a friend.
“Hey, there’s this guy you should meet… he’s an awesome mindset coach, and I think there might be some collaboration possibilities there.”
This is something I hear often, almost daily. (Someone I should meet, work with, check out, etc…)
I learned two things the first time I talked to James on the phone.
1) On my current phone plan, it cost a small fortune to talk to people in Canada. (Whoops!)
2) This guy was something (I say something instead of someone intentionally) different than anyone I’d ever spoken to.
To say I was impressed was an understatement.
I went into the call thinking that maybe he’d be a good person to refer my clients to for mindset work. Or maybe he’d be someone we could host on a webinar or podcast – to bring some good content to our audience here at Rebel Health Tribe.
When that first conversation ended, I immediately started babbling to my wife (then fiancé) and my business partner (Joe) about this “wizard” that I’d just met.
I felt that I had to do some work with this guy. That it was something I needed, but didn’t know I’d needed until I’d talked to him – a kind of “you don’t know what you don’t know” type of thing.
He was able to trigger something in me.
I wasn’t sure what it was at the time – but I was different after that first conversation. (And I’ve never gone back to being the same as I was.)
The only problem was that I couldn’t afford to work with him. I really, really wanted to – but there was no way I could swing the financial commitment at the time. (Please don’t take this as a dig at James’ pricing for his services – he deserved, and was worth, every penny.)
I was crushed to when I had to shoot James the message that I thought he’d be awesome to work with, but I just couldn’t swing it. I was sure he’d see that as some kind of a cop out, or me trying to avoid work that I knew I needed to do – or that he’d take it personally, like I didn’t value his services.
Something negative. Because back then, my brain only understood negative.
What can go wrong, will.
Plan for the worst.
Nothing ever works out.
I’ll never have the life that I want to have.
I don’t deserve to be successful.
I’m not “X” enough. (Fill in just about anything)
To my surprise, he not only wasn’t pissed or upset with me – he thanked me for being honest and vulnerable with him, and offered to do a coaching session with me for free, to “give a better understanding” of how he works and what he does.
Why was he offering this?
What did he want from me?
People aren’t just generous and charitable for no reason. (Or so I thought.)
There had to be a catch.
But, regardless of my confusion, I agreed – because I’d have been crazy not to!
I still remember sitting under the tree at the park for the entire conversation. I remember the park services guy with the weed whacker. I remember apologizing several times for the low-flying planes going by (we live near the airport in San Diego). I remember the stick that I fidgeted with the entire time we talked.
I told James how I really struggled with self-sabotage.
I told him how I had a world of pressure on me to get our new company off the ground.
I told him that I’d always been broke and/or in debt.
I told him how “nothing ever works out how I want it to”.
I told him that I was anxious about my upcoming wedding – that I didn’t feel like I deserved to be getting married to my fiancé, that she was a good person and that I didn’t feel like I was.
I told him all the theories I’d come up with as far as why I was like I was, and why my life was like it was – which I was pretty proud of. (“Figuring it all out”, etc…)
I’d always been a troublemaker. Always told I was a slacker. Got in a lot of trouble when I was younger. Partied too much. Had a negative relationship with money and finances.
I psycho-analyzed myself for probably close to an hour.
I told him way more shit than I intended on telling him. And he listened to every single word of it.
He didn’t stop me at any point, didn’t judge, and didn’t criticize me – even though I now know what kind of torture it must have been for him to listen to all of that.
When he finally spoke, he said “Thank you for sharing all of that. I appreciate and honor your honesty and vulnerability. May I ask you a question?”
“If you could design your life from scratch, and none of that mattered, the past didn’t matter, your judgments of yourself didn’t matter, your negative mindset towards certain things didn’t exist, and you could just create exactly what you wanted in life – what would that look like?”
I hesitated to answer, because as soon as I started really thinking about an answer to his question… I realized that I had just about everything I ever wanted.
I live 3 blocks from the beach, in Southern California (I’m from Chicago and always wanted to live somewhere warm, on a beach, with palm trees).
I was marrying a beautiful, intelligent, and caring woman in a couple weeks.
I had a reasonably successful business, doing work that I enjoyed, making an impact on a lot of people’s lives.
I had access to the best food and tons of fun things to do outdoors.
I lived in the epicenter (or one of them) of my industry – which is really helpful for growth and development.
I had a supportive family back home, and a then 16-year-old son (he’s 18 now and in college!) who wasn’t all of those things I thought I was, which I saw as a huge success/am very proud of him.
I was free of debt, and able to comfortably pay my bills each month, for the first time in my life.
I was sitting at a beautiful park, along the San Diego River, with the Pacific Ocean in view, close enough I could hear the surf crashing – with a cool sea breeze on my face and seagulls screaming overhead.
Before saying anything out loud, it hit me.
That was his point.
He wanted me to realize that I already had everything I wanted or needed, and that I deserved it. That the possibilities of what I was capable of in my life are limitless.
Before I said anything – my perspective completely shifted in regard to my entire life.
I teared up and could barely speak.
“I already have it”, I pushed out after what felt like an eternity of thought, trying not to bust into tears on the phone with this retired Canadian Special Forces bad ass that I’d just met and didn’t even really know.
He asked what that felt like.
“Terrifying”, I think, is what I said – or something along those lines.
It was terrifying because I didn’t feel like I deserved the life I had. That I somehow hadn’t earned it. That I didn’t belong. That I was a fraud. All of the typical self-sabotaging and negative self-talk kinda’ stuff…
He asked what would happen if I was able to let go of that feeling and embrace how awesome my life was, to acknowledge how hard I’d worked to make much of it happen, how I do deserve to get married to my fiancé, and how incredible it is that I get to do work that impacts so many people in a positive way.
I told him I had “no fucking idea”, still trying not to cry.
“Let’s find out”, he said.
I can honestly say that it was one of the most impactful conversations I’ve ever had with anyone, and he didn’t even say very much.
He didn’t have to. The answers were inside me. They always were. They always are. For everyone.
Sometimes we just need someone to help us figure that out, to believe in us until we’re able to believe in ourselves. To see us for what we really are, until we can see it ourselves.
He went on to explain how he worked and what he does with his clients and how he doesn’t focus on the past like talk therapy does – that he focuses on the present and the future. That he helps people reach their potential and to impact the world in a bigger way. To help them build their legacy. A lasting impact they would make on the world.
Legacy is something James spoke of often, it seemed to be the main focus of everything he taught, everything he was doing. (Keep that in mind, please)
I told him that I’d absolutely love to work with him, but I just couldn’t swing a 6-month package right now (which is how he structured his work at the time) – and I offered to pay him for the session.
Of course, he declined. He also told me he’d like to speak again before my wedding. I reiterated that I couldn’t move forward with coaching at the moment, despite my desire to do so.
He responded to my resistance with, “How about next Tuesday?” (Guests would be arriving in town the following day)
Tuesday rolled around and wedding chaos was in full effect.
High stress levels, nerves, anxiety, and doubt. Not doubting whether or not I wanted to get married – but still clinging to the idea that I didn’t deserve to have an amazing wedding on the cliffs overlooking the ocean with my closest friends and family present – and that I didn’t deserve to marry someone who I viewed as a “better” person than myself.
I won’t get into details of our call – but I can say that James not only changed my entire perspective on my wedding and the chaos surrounding it, but he also gave me a very simple assignment that ended up greatly enhancing my experience of the entire week.
He asked me to take a pause, at least a few times a day, stop what I was doing, take a few deep breaths, and take it all in. Be entirely present, if even just for a few minutes. He assured me that this was a week I would want to remember fully (he was right) and that it was important that I maintain that level of presence each day.
I’d be lying if I said I remembered to do this as often as was probably intended – but I did do it.
And it did make an impact on my experience.
I clearly remember each of those moments, and I likely will for the rest of my life.
Snapshots in time, recorded only in my own memory – thanks to James’ reminder to be present in the moment and to take it all in, to be grateful for it, and to acknowledge that I deserved it.
I felt like he was there with me every time. I know that sounds corny, or unbelievable, or like I’m trying to overly dramatize something in light of this current tragic situation – but I’m not. In some strange way, I feel like James actually attended my wedding – when I think back on it, and all who were there, he’s part of those memories.
He also told me during that conversation, when I wouldn’t stop questioning why he was working with me pro bono, that he loved our mission with RHT, and that he saw us doing big things, helping thousands, maybe millions of people, and changing the world in a very positive way.
He explained to me that his mission was to make the biggest impact on the world he possibly could, and the way he was doing this was by finding and helping people he saw who had the potential and/or capability to have massive impact themselves. If he could find those lights and amplify them, he was indirectly helping millions and changing the world.
He told me that he saw something special in me, in what we were doing, and he wanted to help in any way that he could.
Although I still couldn’t really wrap my mind around the generosity, his kind words, confidence, and encouragement had a huge effect on me. He believed in me, yet he’d only just met me. I barely believed in me, and I’d known me my whole life!
A week after my wedding, I talked to James to thank him for what he’d done for me.
Again, I teared up and had a difficult time expressing myself. (Like I am while writing this)
He didn’t judge, he thanked me for sharing and allowing myself to be vulnerable, and requested that we maintain contact and check in with each other as regularly as two incredibly busy entrepreneurs can.
Over the last two years, James has been a guest on our podcast (Click HERE to give it a listen), but other than that – we haven’t done much together professionally.
We’ve checked in like we stated we would.
I’ve watched him grow and succeed, and he watched me do the same.
We’d drop each other a line from time to time, offer congratulations on successes, and words of encouragement when appropriate.
I watched his videos, and learned from the messages he shared. I’m guessing he watched some of ours too, because he always kinda’ knew what we were up to.
I watched him decide he wanted to climb a mountain… and then watched him do it.
We discussed the wild adventures he was taking his clients on – places around the world to which he’d travel to work with individuals who wanted to achieve more in life, make a bigger impact, and leave a lasting legacy.
My heart lit up when I saw that he’d gone skydiving – something I love and miss often. (I used to jump regularly – have over 100 skydives) I sent him a “cheers on your jump! Let’s do that together sometime!” message and he responded that he’d love to.
I wish we’d have done that.
James was in Santa Monica (near LA) last year, and we intended to meet up, but it didn’t work out.
I wish that it would have. That I’d have made it work… but I was sure our paths would cross somewhere down the road.
Probably about six months ago, he asked me when I was gonna’ go climb a mountain with him. (He knew I have a strong dislike for snow, cold, ice, etc…) If it were anyone else, I’d know they were just kidding – giving me a hard time.
Not James. He was sincerely asking when I was gonna’ climb a mountain with him.
And he expected a solid answer. Not just “yes”, but when, exactly, I was going to do it.
At first, I said “no way” – that I’d go on one of the other adventure trips he put together. Preferably somewhere tropical with great weather and no risk of freezing to death or falling into a crevasse of icy darkness.
I can’t think of someone I’d rather never be than 15,000 feet up, on a frozen, snow-and-ice-covered giant rock.
This, of course, was not an acceptable answer.
He’d tag me on photos of mountains, or in a video of him explaining what it meant to him to accomplish those things.
He’d shoot me a little nudge every now and then.
Finally, I caved.
I told him that I was setting a goal to go on one of his adventures with him and his clients in the next 3 years. I told him that he’d have to convince my wife it was okay – but that I’d climb a mountain with him. (FYI, these were no bullshit trips. This would require training, preparation, endurance, determination, and professional guidance. James didn’t do anything half-assed.)
He assured me that he’d hold me to that promise.
The last time I spoke with James on the phone was maybe 2 months ago.
We’re building a new website for Rebel Health Tribe right now, and we’re going to “launch” it with a re-launch of our blog, involving a team of 20+ amazing coaches, practitioners, healers, and other assorted wizards – and I wanted to ask him to be a part of it.
For this part to make sense, I need to explain something that everyone who doesn’t work in the online marketing space may not understand or know about.
Generally, when a website/blog with a decent-sized following (which we are lucky enough to have) invites people to contribute on their blog, they offer a few benefits. One of those benefits would be exposing that person to an audience of people who may be interested in the services or products they offer. They agree to contribute content on the site, and in exchange, we attempt to send them business, increase the exposure, etc…
I know that our audience wasn’t really his target demographic, so I came up with just about every possible connection I have that might interest him, different ways I could repay him for contributions, some way that we could make it a win-win.
NOTE: James focused his coaching business on extremely “successful”, wealthy, and powerful men – like Fortune 500 CEO types. This was because he believed that if he could create a shift in them, encourage them to do good, impactful things with their power, money, and influence, that he’d then be able to create a shift in the world through them. He helped them to define what they wanted their legacy to be, how they wanted to be remembered.
I rehearsed what I was going to say, and then I called him.
I asked if he’d be interested in contributing content on the site, that we’d love to share his message with our audience – and help him reach more people and…
He stopped me about 30 seconds into my pitch.
“I’m in”, he said. “And I’m going to just be blunt, because I feel we have that kind of relationship. I don’t need or want anything from you. That’s not why I’m doing this. I believe in what you’re doing, and I want to be a part of it. Just let me know what you need from me, and I’ll be happy to participate. Your audience isn’t my usual clientele. I don’t need you to send me clients. I just want to help you and maybe reach more people with a good message.”
He then offered to actually help me create a PDF guide that would be the “opt-in” or “lead magnet” on his posts. I’m not gonna’ get into what that means, but it’s definitely something above and beyond what I’d ever expect from a guest blogger on our site. It’s extra work that in no way directly benefits them.
Before I could object, he reassured me that it was okay, that I needn’t worry about repaying him, and that as long as we keep doing what we’re doing, he’d be happy to support us however he could.
I was somewhat floored – and very excited to have him as part of the team.
I admired James, and was honored that he thought highly enough of what we were doing to want to be involved for (literally) nothing in return. He really was that generous.
In September, when James announced on Facebook that he’d gotten engaged to Leighann (who I’m very much looking forward to meeting today, regardless of the circumstances) – I wrote a congratulations comment on the post.
Apparently, my comment sparked Leighann’s interest and she asked James about me.
He then felt inclined to send me the following message, on September 18th:
“I was planning who to invite to our wedding and your name came up. My fiancé asked if we were good friends, and I said no, but I think we should be. So I’d like to change that. I really respect you, your mission, and who you are in this world. I’d really like to explore ways to deepen a non-professional relationship.”
In today’s fast-paced world, especially that of entrepreneurs, this simple statement and request meant a great deal to me. I was touched, and honored.
My wife and I were heading up to the SF Bay Area that weekend for her birthday, so James and I agreed we’d connect with a phone call after I returned.
We never had that phone call.
I’ll never get to attend his wedding. Which, given the impact he had on mine, is difficult to swallow.
The weekend James passed away, I received an email from his assistant, Shannon.
My name is Shannon. I am James Butler’s Executive Assistant. James has been off the grid quite a bit recently on some really awesome adventures. James asked me to touch base with you to see when the Contributor series is going to go live and when would you like his first article in? James couldn’t remember if it was October or November. He has a few more adventures lined up this month, and I’m sure these will give James some really great content ideas.”
The guy is all over the world, on adventures with high-end VIP clientele, having a massive impact, on top of a mountain, or doing some other incredible thing… and he checks in with me to find out if his blog contribution is late?
But that’s who James was. It’s a perfect example of who he was.
Sadly, I’ll never receive that contribution.
I’ll never forget the feeling when I heard that James had died.
There’s no way.
This can’t be true.
But he just got engaged.
I just talked to him.
The guy is superman.
The world needs him.
He’s got so much left to do, that he’d left so much work undone.
But then, when I started reading through all the tributes, the condolences, the stories, the statements being made by his friends, colleagues, family, clients, and students… I noticed something.
Something incredibly powerful.
From his fiancé, Leighann:
“My request is that you honour his life and soul by being like him. Truly lion-hearted, unabashedly loving, and seeking transformation at every chance given. Honour him by being extraordinary fathers, husbands, and brothers. Honour him by trusting your worth if you leave the military – and go make something amazing out of the skills you learned there. Honour him if you’re wealthy but empty; find a purpose bigger than yourself to live from. Honour him by bringing intention to your life and stop drifting. Honour him by being authentic and saying what needs to be said. Honour him by doing your part to end war, however that looks for you. Honour him by creating intimate, real, loving friendships with other men – allow and lean on brotherhood. Honour him not only with your big accomplishments, but with making the small details and little moments just as delicious. Honour him by, whatever gender or background, being a damn good human being and looking out for others.”
“Truly an amazing man and inspiration. Hearing the call forth to honor him.”
“James and I only spoke on the phone once and I was truly moved by him. I will carry on as you have requested.”
“James changed my life. Was planning on giving him an update soon. Hang in there Leighann, we’re all thinking and praying about you and James. And Gentlemen, we’ve got work to do.”
“I deeply admired him, and his mission here. I am so sorry for your loss, as well as ours. And yes, we’ve got it from here, James…”
“He definitely made a big impression on me, and I will honour him as you have asked all of us here in what you have written.”
“I hear him loud and clear, every day… pick up the reigns. Live your mission. He is part of me now and will live on in the gifts he transmitted.”
“My heart goes out to you and everyone who loved and knew James. I commit to carrying his light forth.”
I find it incredibly powerful and perfectly appropriate that a man who so passionately preached about legacy, pushed others to consider how they’d be remembered, what they’d leave behind, and challenged them to make the biggest impact on the world they could – has, in his own passing, inspired all of those who knew him to do better, to be more, to up their game, to try harder, to growth their impact, and to ponder what it is they’ll be remembered for.
Thank you, James.
You’ve left a gift.
An army of incredibly motivated and inspired world-changers.
You’ve accomplished your goal to impact the world by showing individuals what they’re capable of.
I know there was so much more to do, but don’t worry, we will take it from here.
You’ve done your part.
Fly free in limitless adventure. I’ll see you there, on top of that mountain.
We will cement your legacy by creating our own.