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354. Unlocking the Story within You | Meaning-Making with Dr. Johnny Parker

the daily helping podcast Mar 26, 2024

Dr. Johnny Parker is an executive coach and consultant to pro and college sports teams athletes and C-suite leaders. He's got a 25 year track record of helping organizations to know, align, and master their story so they win at work and thrive in life. He's been everywhere in the national media– places like CNN, NBC News, Viewpoint, BET, Washington Post, among others. On top of everything, Dr. Johnny has just released a new book, “Turn the Page: Unlocking the Story within You.”


Today, Dr. Johnny shares his book’s five main themes: Clarify Your Quest; Demand Bold Truth; Champion Generosity; Engage Community; Pursue Continual Renewal. Of course we make sure to throw in some Star Wars references, along with some references to top psycho-social research studies.


This episode is a feast of information and anecdotes of lessons learned. Tune in to learn how to tap into your story and lead the life you desire.

The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway


Consider taking your name– your first name or your last name and create an acrostic and craft your core values. So we've done that as a family our last name Parker we added S for Parkers and ours is P the acrostic of P stands for pleasing God; A stands for accepting one another. The R stands for respect. The K, keeping short accounts. The E, encourage 1 another. The R, renewal. And the S is service.


So the reason that that's important, Ritz-Carlton does a stand-up meeting every day. They have 24 core values and every day they talk about 1 of their core values and it's their way of saying this is our story. They affirm the core value with a story. What happened last night in Tucson, Ritz-Carlton. What you're doing when you do that as a leader, as a family, you are actually staying more tethered to your authenticity, tethered to what really matters most.


And research shows that when leaders lead from their core values, their effectiveness is about 110% greater when they're not leading from that place of core center and authenticity. 




Thank you for joining us on The Daily Helping with Dr. Shuster. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts to download more food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, and tools to win at life.



Produced by NOVA Media 


Download Transcript Here

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

So that was a very, very real pivotal turn the page moment for me to be interested in serving and loving others and leaving them better.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Hello and welcome to The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Schuster, food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. Whoever you are, wherever you're from, and whatever you do, this is the show that is going to help you become the best version of yourself. 

Each episode, you will hear from some of the most amazing, talented, and successful people on the planet who followed their passions and strive to help others. Join our movement to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others. Together, we're going to make the world a better place. Are you ready? Because it's time for your Daily Helping.

Thanks for tuning into this episode of The Daily Helping podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. And I am so excited about our guest today. He is awesome. His name is Dr. Johnny Parker. He's an executive coach and consultant to pro and college sports teams, athletes, and C-suite leaders. He's got a 25-year track record of helping organizations to know, align, and master their story so they win at work and thrive in life. 

He's been everywhere in the national media places like CNN, NBC News, Viewpoint, BET, Washington Post, among others. And his turn the page approach has helped organizations and universities such as Princeton, University of Miami, University of Maryland, entities such as NIH, the NFL, the NBA, Kaiser Permanente, Chick-fil-A, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Pentagon, where's the Marines, Johnny? We got to get the Marines in there. Dr. Johnny is also the author of several books, including his most recent book, Turn the Page, Unlocking the Story Within You. And we're going to talk about that book today. 

Dr. Johnny, welcome to The Daily Helping. I am so excited to have you here with us today.

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

I am excited. I've been looking forward to this, Dr. Richard, get the chance to hang out with you. And so I've been looking forward to this for some time. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

So you gave me a slight peek behind the corner a little bit before we hit the red button, but let's hop back in the time machine and take us back to that moment that put you on the path you're on today.

Dr. Johnny Parker:

Yeah. So about 23 years ago, Richard, I'm 39 years old and I'm about to turn 40 and that's really messed with me. Like 40 means that you're halfway to 80. I mean, people die at 80, right? So I'm thinking about that. And at that time, the front stage of my life was snap, crackle, pop. I mean, I wrote a marriage book with my -- I started my work as a marriage and family therapist. I wrote this bestselling marriage book. So I'm on TV. I'm speaking every weekend. I'm traveling internationally, making more money than ever before. 

And so I got a lot of what I thought I wanted, Dr. Richard, in terms of my life, but I was so depressed and didn't have a lot of joy and it was very confusing. I started battling with panic attacks, started having issues with depression. And I can remember one night, we’re driving, my family, my wife and I and my three sons, they drive me to Baltimore Washington International Airport. I'm going to go speak in Colorado Springs and I'm regretting it. Like, why did I say yes to this? I didn't want them to see my tears. 

Not that I have a problem crying, but I didn't want them to see my tears because then they could become curious. Like, well, dad, what's wrong? Well, honey, what's wrong? And what was going on was again, this panic attacks and depression, and I'm close to having an affair. And so it was very, very confusing because I got a lot of what I thought I wanted, but I felt so unfulfilled. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

It's ironic, right? You're the marriage and family therapy expert who wrote this bestselling book thinking about having an affair. You're obviously internally not doing very well. You're depressed. You're anxious. What happened next? What was the turning point in all that for you?

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Yeah. So my wife asked me, what do you want for your birthday? Because well, a month later, my birthday was coming up and I'm about to turn 40. I said, honey, all I want to do is go to the ocean. I want to pray on it. I want to pray and ask God to show me what's going on and figure out what's going on. And so that's what I did. 

And the nice thing about having a birthday in February, no one's at the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, because it's cold. So I had the beach to pretty much to myself. And so I'm there and I'm walking the beach. I'm thinking and I'm inflecting on my life. And what I did, I did something that I do with all my clients today. I call it the Bourne Identity. I'm a big Jason Bourne guy. He got me through my doctoral program. 

And so, yeah, he did -- I'm one of those guys. When I read and then a little bit of white noise and Bourne in the background was my white noise. Anyway, so I did something where I went through every 10 years of my life, from 0 to 10, 10 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 39. And I looked at defining moments. What were defining pivotal moments? What were the emotional themes in each decade? What title would I give each decade? 

Well, when I did 30 to 39, it made a lot of sense. All three of my sons were born 30 to 39. I finished a master's program in 30 to 39. I wrote two books 30 to 39. So, that made sense why I was in a hot mess the way I was but then I also remember being in at the beach having the question, thinking about this question. When I've been at my best, what was going on? And there were five themes that emerged and that's what drove this book and the book came out of these five themes. And so now I was taking sips of these themes. Well, now it's time to really take a big gulp and drink deeply from these themes. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

So you know that I have to ask you the themes, right? So take us through them. Let's go.

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Absolutely. Yeah. Well, the first theme that became real real clear is what I call clarify your quest. Decide on the story you want your life to tell. The idea, Dr. Richard that we don't bump into better, we don't wander to wellness, everyone's life is always telling a story. There's a story in someone's fitness, in family, in friends, in faith, in finances, in work, in career, there's always a story. And the question becomes, is my life telling a story that I wanted to tell? 

And what was happening, if you don't know your story, and at that time, I really didn't know my story. And what happens when we're not clear about our story, our life as a story, and our story as our life, several things happen. We began to plagiarize someone else's story. I want to be like them. I want to sound like them. I want to speak like them. I want to be them instead of knowing my own authenticity. I envy someone else's story. I envy you. I, I want your story, right? I resent you for having a story. I want the gifts that you got. I want the experiences and exposure that you have and what your business is doing. I blame you on why my story isn't working. I'm a victim in the story. I blame parents. I blame society. I blame the world on why my story isn't working and so I had all three of those things going on. 

So clarify your quest. Decide on the story and look at what's the story that's really percolating that I want to give myself permission to know, to master. So that became really -- because here's the thing, no one gets the right, R-I-G-H-T, to write, W-R-I-T-E, your story. But if you and I don't write our story, others will, 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

This is really fascinating because so many people don't view their lives as a story. Most people don't view it as a story, right? And most people actually view their lives as a series of events that happens to them. So just simply the fact, clarify your quest where you're giving the power to the reader to basically say, this is what I want my story to be, which is simply another way of saying this is the kind of life that I wish to have. 

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Absolutely. Absolutely. A mentor of mine would say, Hank, create the life that you want. And I wasn't doing that. I wasn't raised to dream. I was raised to settle. My parents did the best they knew to do, but it was, my options were go to college, go to the military, get a job or go to trade school. I wasn't raised to think beyond that. Like, be an entrepreneur, start your own business, be an author. That didn't happen until my mid-thirties. 

So I allowed my parents who love me to write the story, but the story that they gave me wasn't what fit my heart, wasn't congruent with my heart. And that's true for many of us. Many people that don't embrace the story that's congruent with their heart because they're trying to please parents and trying to please so many other people. And what was happening, others are giving me a script to follow. And I want to push away from that because there's something else emerging on the inside that needs to get out. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

You made me think of a memory. There was a period when I was in undergrad, and it lasted a total of six weeks where I shifted my career to pre-med. And I quickly learned that I really wanted psychology as my major. And so I went to the registrar and I'm waiting. And you talk to whoever you had to talk to, to change majors. And there was a kid sitting there. And he looked just like somebody gave him the news that his dog just died. Like, this is the most depressed look on his face. 

And I started up a conversation with him because I've always been that way. I just talk to people. And he's telling me he's here to change his major to pre-med. And I said, well, are you okay? Like, you look pretty miserable. And he's like, yeah, I don't want to be a doctor, but my dad's making me. I have no idea what happened to this guy. I don't know if he's a doctor. If he is, he's not happy. Right? 

And so by being able to find your own path and follow our hearts desire, that's really where wonderful things happen for us. So clarify your quest. I want to hear that next theme. 

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Yeah, the next theme was demand bold truth. Demand bold truth is when we take fearless ownership of our strengths and our challenges, fearless ownership, because we can't turn the page to a new story, to a better story, until we first own the current story. And oftentimes, owning the current story means that I got to grieve those parts of my life that are painful, where wounds happen. Because if I don't get myself to mourn, I can't move on. So I can get stuck in what happened in sixth grade. I can get stuck in what happened in a friend that betrayed my trust. I can get stuck in a lot of places because all of us have had disappointments. We've all been wounded, disappointed with people, relationships, even people that love us.

And so I can't turn the page to the new story until I first own the current story, until I even, I would say, mourn the current story to move on and permission to move into a new chapter. And so whatever that looks like. And so fearless ownership means that practically I have my clients write a letter to fear as if they're writing to a real person. I have my clients write a letter to forgiveness, who are the people or person I need to forgive and release because I'm still rehashing stuff. 

And then I have them write a letter to fortitude, what are the strengths that I need to give myself permission to fully embrace? I need to embrace those pieces and places where fear has been the narrative in the storyline. And how do I move from fear to love? And then I need to embrace strengths and allow strengths to be my new normal and new reality in the storyline. So that's demanding bold truth. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

There's a lot in there to unpack, but what I really like about that, because everybody gets excited about strengths, right? And so there's assessments that solely focus on strengths and there's books about strengths, right? So it's very easy to lean into what we're good at. But I liken this to you can have all these amazing strengths and if two people jump out of an airplane and one guy's got a parachute and one doesn't, how's that guy doing? Right? The parachute. 

And so I think you said bold truth, but fearless bold truth, because we really need to identify and own what are these things that hold us back. And in business or in life, if you have a deficiency, like if you’re really bad with money and your wife's very organized then your wife should probably be the one who's got the checkbook. Right? So, but we never really move forward until we can embrace those parts of us that could be better and I really enjoyed this. So this is a treat so far. So we had clarify your quest, demand bold truth. What's next, Johnny?

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Champion generosity. So, what happens is the way I wrote the book is I looked and studied how movies are made and movies have predictable plot structures. Within the first 15 20 minutes of a movie, they have what's called an inciting incident. There's a protagonist. In my work, we call it the page turner. And so the protagonist has something, a crisis happens within the first 15 20 minutes of every movie. The rest of the movie is made up of, will they get there? What will happen to Luke Skywalker? What will happen to Jason Bourne? Will he ever get his identity? Will he really know who his father is? I mean, that becomes a storyline. Will they understand? 

So what happens in the movie is that there is a mentor, guide, trainer, or coach that shows up to help the protagonist learn their superpowers. That's where champion generosity comes in because once they begin to learn their superpowers, the force in Luke's case in Star Wars, they begin to want to go back and bless and leave others better. 

So the more that we embrace our story of generosity, studies have shown around altruism, that when we are committed to altruistic behavior, and I know you know this better than I do, that the same regions of the brain light up. It's like sex and food. And so when we do this, we're actually happier people when we show up serving other people, leaving others better off. 

My son lives and works in Utah. Utah is known as the most altruistic volunteer-based state in the country. A lot of happy people there, I'm sure. So that whole idea, and so that was big for me because I was more interested in impressing you with my story versus entering into your story and being more interested in your story and making what matters to you matter to me. So that was a very, very real pivotal turn the page moment for me to be interested in serving and loving others and leave with them better.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

A few things in there that were interesting to me. One, I didn't know that about Utah. So maybe Tennessee, who is known as the volunteer state should give that title to them. For the narrow anatomy nerds in the room here, that part of the brain, Dr. Johnny was talking about some mesolimbic pathway. That's the part of the brain that lights up for us. But I want to, in all seriousness, talk a little bit more about champion generosity, because what you described sounds a lot like Joseph Campbell's hero journey, right? Luke -- Kenobi is the mentor. So there's the obvious parallel there. Where does championing generosity differ from the hero's journey? 

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

I would just say I'm not sure it differs a whole lot. I just think that it's the idea that the hero wants to give back and because now they've discovered their superpower, they discovered some kind of breakthrough, some enlightenment for themselves, and that they find that they don't want to keep it to themselves. They want to go back and help their friends their loved ones their people their nation their city their community and that's a healthy place to be.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Absolutely. All right. So, I'm enjoying this so greatly. Clarify your quest, demand bold truth, champion generosity. What's number four?

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Engage community. Engage community is the idea build your support cast, that in every movie, the protagonist never gets to where they're trying to go without Obi Wan Kenobi without you name it. There's always this, and it's a wonderful life. Is Clarence the angel who helps George figure out, you know what George life really is good. It's worth living. There's always this mentor, guide, trainer, coach is part of the support cast to help the person, help the protagonist get to where they're trying to go. 

That's what you and I do. We show up in the story of leaders in sports and business and whatever it may be, and we help them get to unpack their superpowers and learn new ways to apply their wisdom. And so to really bring out an earth, the ocean floor of their heart and bring clarity and discernment to that. So that's what that is. And it's the understanding that it in this space, Dr. Richard, leaders can't, we can't know ourselves, grow ourselves by ourselves. 

Harvard did a study in 1938, the Grant Project, where they looked at, they just did men, because in 1938 Harvard only allowed men in the program, but about six, seven hundred males, about three hundred from Harvard, and about three hundred from Cambridge, inner city, outside of Harvard University, the study is still going on. It's a longitudinal study. And they said, what contributes to a happy, healthy life? They said that people who have relationships live happier, healthier. Started with men, now it's everyone. And it's still going on. It's a longitudinal study. And every few years they measure it. But basically, that people, when we engage in meaningful relationships and we have community, that again, we can't, I can't know myself. 

And that was significant for me because in my life and what I call the backstage of my life, Dr. Richard, I talked about the importance of community and relationships, but my wife was knocking at the back door of the backstage, wanting access, and I didn't even want to need my wife emotionally. I loved her, but I didn't want to have to need her because it was too much trauma and stuff that I hadn't resolved from my youth. And so I was terrible about allowing people in my backstage. 

And now today, I have four men every Wednesday four o'clock, we ask one big question. What's the most important matter going on in your life that you need to be talking about today? Really, really important. So today I have that, but for a long time, I was very isolated in my backstage, including my marriage and allowing people that I was reluctant to give an access pass to anyone to come into my backstage.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

So let me ask you a question, because back in the beginning of our conversation, you said nobody has the right, R-I-G-H-T, to write, W-R-I T E, your story. And so, if your community is built upon those people that are writing the story about you that you don't want to be told, how do you find the right community to engage with?

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

That's a great question. And what I found is this. I listen carefully to people who share from a place of vulnerability. And so I listen carefully. And because when I hear that person -- Renee Brown talks about taking off the armor. And when they take off the armor and are willing to be vulnerable and transparent, I tend to make the assumption that's a good chance that this may be a safe person because they are so vulnerable, they're so transparent. 

And that takes time because most of our relationships are going to be front stage relationships, people external, but there's only a few people who should get an access pass to the backstage. And there are only those people who've earned the right to be in the backstage. Everyone is not safe. Everyone shouldn't even be back in your backstage, but to be healthy and to have a hope and have a healthy, happier life, we do need those three to four to six people who have earned the right to be in my backstage, here's what I say, who love me, but they can't be impressed with me. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Love you but can't be impressed with you, that's really awesome because it basically is the framework for who gets in. And three to six people is pretty much the perfect number. It's almost like you have this little advisory board that you create for yourself. 

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Think about it at a funeral, you have six people, usually six men to carry out the casket. That's something. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Yeah, absolutely. All right. So I want to recap, clarify your request, demand bold truth, champion generosity, engage community. What's that fifth theme, Dr. Johnny? 

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Pursue, continue or renewal. It's the idea that you can't sustain your impact, your effectiveness, if you fail to sustain yourself. Pursue, continue or renewal. So in my work, we do not evangelize life work balance. We say that balance is for ballet, checkbooks, and gymnastics. We evangelize life work rhythm. That life is a rhythm, not a balance. We think that balance is a misnomer. So with the rhythm, it's the importance of understanding that the seasons have a rhythm, the oceans have a rhythm, the ocean has a rhythm, the heart has a rhythm. And it's important to know the rhythm. 

Harvard did a study around reflection that if we spend 12 to 15 minutes a day over a 10-day period, just reflecting, which is a big part of the rhythm, just reflecting over the last 10 days, 12 to 15 minutes, we actually increase productivity by nearly 24 percent. Just by doing that. And so the rhythm consists of pursue, continue or renewal that if I continue to pour out a lot on my front stage external of what I do in my work. 

And I'm not intentional about rhythm, about renewal in the backstage, I will experience what I call soul abuse. It's the silent killer. And with soul abuse, it's chronic damage to the deepest part of who you are, who we are spiritually and emotionally. It's when we get caught in chronic noise, chronic hurry, chronic busyness. And the soul was not made for that. The soul cannot sustain that. The soul needs time for us to rest. It needs silence. It needs solitude. 

It needs -- I mean, there's a reason why a company, one of my clients, Genentech in the Silicon Valley, after you're there for six years, you get a six-week sabbatical. They tell you get away. Don't go write a book on top of your vacation. You get a six-week sabbatical there. People come back with fresh, innovative, performance off the chart. So pursue, continue or renewal is understanding that to sustain ourselves well, we have to sustain our bodies, sustain our soul.

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

When you were first talking about this, I immediately in my mind, went to Stephen Covey's Sharpening The Saw, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. But this is a little more than that because he really is talking about, you know, the skills, but you're talking really about, in addition to that self-care. But self-care as a priority, which I think is so important. So now more than ever, every one of us needs that. So I'm very grateful that you shared that. 

Dr. Johnny, this has been such a wonderful conversation. It was over in the blink of an eye, and I knew that it would be. Anytime guests bring up Star Wars and other shows of that genre, they get extra bonus points. So thank you for that. 

In all seriousness, though, I mean, as you know, I wrap up every episode by asking my guests a single question. That is what is your biggest helping, Dr. Johnny that 1 most important piece of information you'd like somebody to walk away with after hearing our conversation today. 

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Consider taking your name, your first name or your last name and create an acrostic and craft your core values. So, we've done that as a family, our last name Parker, we added S for Parker's, and ours is P, the acrostic of P stands for pleasing God, A stands for accepting one another. The R stands for respect. The K, keeping short accounts. The E, encourage one another, the R, renewal, and the S is service. 

So, the reason that that's important. Ritz Carlton does a stand up meeting every day. They have 24 core values, and every day they talk about one of their core values, and it's their way of saying, this is our story. They affirm the core value with a story, what happened last night in Tucson, Mitzkoff. And what you're doing when you do that, as a leader, as a family, you are actually staying more tethered to your authenticity, tethered to what really matters most.

And research shows that when leaders lead from their core values, the effectiveness is about 110 percent greater when they're not leading from that place of core center and authenticity. 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

I love that. Thank you for sharing that. I have homework to do with my family tonight, and I'm excited about it. Dr. Johnny, tell us where people can find out more about you online.

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

Absolutely. They can go to -- I'm on LinkedIn at Dr. Johnny Parker. So I'm there. You can go to the website, Johnny Parker, Johnny J-O-H-N-N-Y, And each week on Tuesdays, we send out some type of encouragement and infographic, inspirational thought of four leaders. And we're really intentional about helping people when they read it to see the dynamic of the same dynamics that are true to lead at work. You need to lead with your family. You have culture at work, culture at home, empathy, EQ, and core values. 

So yeah, definitely go there. There's a bunch of downloadables, free stuff that you can get there. So 

Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Outstanding. And we will have the links to everything Dr. Johnny and the show notes at, including the link to Turn the Page, Unlocking the Story Within You. Well, Dr. Johnny, I loved our time together. I can't wait to do this again. Thank you so much for joining us on The Daily Helping. 

Dr. Johnny Parker: 

It's been a joy. 

Dr. Richard Shuster:

It's been a joy for me as well. So thank you again. And I also want to thank each and every one of you who took time out of your day to listen to this. If you're excited, if you're inspired, if you're to go do that homework with your family or do it just for you today, awesome. Go give us a follow on a five-star review on your favorite podcast app of choice, because that is what helps other people find the show. But most importantly, go out there today and do something nice for somebody else, even if you don't know who they are and post in your social media feeds using the hashtag #MyDailyHelping because the happiest people are those that help others.


There is incredible potential that lies within each and every one of us to create positive change in our lives (and the lives of others) while achieving our dreams.

This is the Power of You!