Welcome to the Join Up Dots Podcast with Michael Modzelewski
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Introducing Michael Modzelewski
Michael Modzelewski is todays guest who has an amazing story of a life living on his terms.
Making decisions that for many will have seemed huge and almost undoable.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio where his father played professional football with the Browns, he graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in Journalism.
But our guest did things differently, and instead of following a career that was expected he did things that were 100% him.
He’s the author of Angeles Crest: A Memoir about world travels, ultramarathon running, and metaphysics; Inside Passage: Living with Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and Indians, based on a two year stay on a northern wilderness island along the rugged coastline between Seattle and Alaska; and North Through Paradise, about varied adventures in Alaska.
And now with so many inspiring adventures and tales in his locker, its not surprising that he is asked to speak on TV, Radio and deliver key note presentations across the world.
How The Dots Joined Up For Michael
His speech: “Triumph of The Spirit” is an inspiring, motivational account of what it takes to survive; then thrive in the wilderness — or any challenging situation.
And that last bit says the most about him it seems to me.
It’s not about running away and living in the mountains that makes dreams happen, but it’s accepting every challenging situation that life thows at us no matter how humdrum they may seem.
And trying our best to work away around them.
And that is exactly what our guest has done.
So what did he learn living on the Island in Alaska which was life changing, or did the experiences just cement what he already knew and felt in life?
And why does he feel that the majority of the world would say “No, I cant do this…I have XYZ to deal with first!”?
Well lets find out as its with delight that I bring onto the show the man, with so many stories, and the best moustache I have seen since Tom Selleck, the one and only Mr Michael Modzelewski.
During the episode we discussed such weighty topics with Michael Modzelewski such as:
How his family and friends all thought he was having a breakdown and needed help, when he decided to quit his college football life to work a manual night shift.
How a persons real worth in life is how they greet the people that they don’t need in life.
How two people in Paris, looked at him with such awe, that he knew there and then that he had found his vacation in life to be a writer.
How he remembers hearing his Mother reading Jack Londons “Call Of The Wild” which planted a seed for freedom and adventure which he just couldn’t manage to shake off.
How his Mothers manta for life was…”don’t start living or you might die”
How To Connect With Michael Modzelewski
You can also check our extensive podcast archive by clicking here– enjoy
Full Transcription Of Michael Modzelewski Interview
When we’re young, we have an amazing positive outlook about how great life is going to be. But somewhere along the line we forget to dream and end up settling. Join Up Dots features amazing people who refuse to give up and chose to go after their dreams. This is your blueprint for greatness. So here’s your host live from the back of his garden in the UK. David Ralph.
David Ralph [0:26]
Yes, hello there. Well, welcome aboard. But Join Up Dots rocket. Yes, this is Episode 295. We’re coming from the United Kingdom. And we are literally global now. I think it’s something like 135 countries. So for wherever you’re sitting, wherever you’re listening, welcome aboard. You’re going to have a great show today. Because today’s guest has an amazing story of a life living on his terms, making decisions, but for many would have seemed huge and almost undoable now growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, where his father played professional football with the Browns he Graduated from Indiana University with a BA in journalism. But our guest did things differently and instead of following a career that was expected, he did things that were 100% him He’s the author of Angeles crest a memoir about world travels ultramarathon running and metaphysics Inside Passage living with killer whales, bald eagles and Indians. But he wrote based on a two year stay on a northern wilderness Island along the rugged coastline between Seattle and Alaska, and north through paradise about various ventures in Alaska. And now with so many inspiring adventures and towels in his locker, it’s not surprising that he’s asked to speak on TV, radio and deliver keynote presentations across the world. His speech Triumph of the spirit is an inspiring motivational account of what it takes to survive when thrive in the wilderness or any challenging situation. And that last bit, says the most about him, it seems to me it’s not that running away and living in the mountains that makes dreams happen, but it’s accepting every challenging situation that life throws at us, no matter how humdrum they may seem, and trying our best to work our way around them. And that is exactly what our guest has done. So what did he learn living on the island in Alaska? Which was life changing? Or did he experiences just cement what he already knew and fell in life? And what does he feel but the majority of the world would say now, I can’t do this. I have x y Zed to deal with first, but let’s find out as it’s we’ve done it, but I bring onto the show the man with so many stories, and the best moustache I’ve seen since Tom Selleck. The one and only Michael Modzelewski. How are you sir?
Michael Modzelewski [2:34]
Absolutely great. I have to laugh at the moustache call.
David Ralph [2:37]
It is an amazing moustache, isn’t it? You have got an amazing kind of 80s moustache. Have you still got that?
Michael Modzelewski [2:46]
Yes, I it’s kind of my trademark.
David Ralph [2:50]
It’s because in the in the in the 80s. When I was growing up, it was all Burt Reynolds and I’m gonna lose half the listeners here but it was Burt Reynolds. It was Tom Selleck and it seems to be a world of muscle. donorschoose but you don’t get your coming to moustache anymore. Do you?
Michael Modzelewski [3:04]
Know You know, I actually grew it when I was living in the wilderness. And it’s kind of a talisman or a token from that time, a hair suit reminder to keep it while in a certain sense.
David Ralph [3:19]
Well, what I love about you is the fact that you are really seem to be your own man, you don’t really conform to what people want you to do. You do things the right way, literally every time because it’s right to you. And that’s, I suppose that’s really cutting to the chase on this conversation. That the authentic Michael is what we get every single day, every single conversation Is that about right?
Michael Modzelewski [3:44]
Yeah, and I I just I call it livi to loca it’s sort of a crazy life. And usually when I’m interviewed, you know, as you’re saying, people will say it’s a self actualize life and I never really thought about it that way. Because I started out trying to please other people. And including my father, who, as you mentioned, was an NFL football player for the Cleveland Browns. And that was before they made all the big money and you know, the TV contracts like today. And not that my dad wanted me to follow directly in his footsteps, but it would be nice. So I actually got I was a gifted athlete and wide receiver. And I went to the same college that he did, where he was an all American football player. And I quickly discovered that football and trying to live up to the big shoes that that he had created. It wasn’t giving me happiness. But so many times we do what our parents want us to do, rather than what we want to do. And that was kind of a crucial turning point. early on.
David Ralph [4:53]
Well, you but you’re lucky to have that so early on because that is a truth. I feel bad. I did. certain amount of not following my parents path, but certainly doing what my parents would have wanted me to do, or at least what I thought they wanted me to do. And literally every single person that I’ve spoken to on Join Up Dots and we’re coming up to 300 people now, I don’t know many that has gone Yeah, from the very early age I followed the right path by all go off on a different direction. They follow things has got queued us, oh, it’s the money they’re chasing. But each it leaves them feeling empty inside. So you had to kind of early awakening on that that journey.
Michael Modzelewski [5:32]
It but at that point, I did know and it’s pretty frightening. All I knew is what I didn’t want. I didn’t know what I did not know what I did want at that point. So what I did and this was so shocking to my parents to everybody that knew me. Basically when you go on a football scholarship to a major university in the United States, your tuition is paid for your books are paid for And it’s nicknamed the free ride because you get a four year education without paying a dime. And in all honesty, there’s a lot of under the table money that comes from alumni graduates of that university that want to see the athletes do so well. That free cars show up. Every time you shake their hands. There’s a little bit of paper that’s green coloured in America stuck in your palm. So I mean, my way was greased my way forward was was Easy Street. But I did just decided that it wasn’t for me. And I gave up all of that. You know, Easy Street in future money ahead. I dropped out of school, I quit. And I’m loading trucks in a warehouse on a midnight shift just to make enough money. To pay my bills and to save money to travel through Europe mentor a young guy came into my life and he said, Hey, buy yourself a Eurail pass and take two months and go travel around Europe. He said I have a feeling you’re going to find your future not in the United States but in the UK and in Europe. And that was the best piece of advice I got at that point.
David Ralph [7:26]
So so if we went back to that that crunch decision when you you want to not play football you want to break free from that pop you’re on was was there not a part because he must be quite glamorous. I imagined to be, you know, a wide receiver or whatever you said and, and to be honest, Michael, I’ve got no idea what that means. But it’s out there on the football field. There must be galas galore. It must be quiet. It the focus must be on you if you’re an American football player going through college. It must be what every young boy in America wants to be, isn’t it?
Michael Modzelewski [7:57]
Yes, and I you know I inherited I I guess you could say genetically, my father played a position where he carried the football. So he was a lot bigger than I am. And being a wide receiver, you catch the football. So you’re sort of fleet of foot. And I was written up in magazines as being you know, the next big thing and you’re right, the girls the money, anything you want, you go into a restaurant, the check is picked up. I mean, it was all free. But I gave that up to go load trucks with alcoholics and, you know, drug addicts that were working this midnight shift, just to get that money to buy that URL ticket to go to Europe.
David Ralph [8:39]
Well, what did you mates at that time? Michael say when? When? Because you obviously got a peer group going through college. And when you say to them that actually this isn’t for me, I’m going to pull out that. That must have kind of tried to hold you back. I’ll come on Michael. Just give it another two months. I will, you know you’ve got your future in front of you. You’ve got all those kind of comments flying around. Did you know was it something that you just quite easily walked away from?
Michael Modzelewski [9:04]
No, I mean, the criticism not only from my parents, but from my friends was even worse, they thought that I was insane. They they literally tried to get me to a psychiatrist. But you know, it’s it’s Steve Jobs had a great commercial for Apple where he said that it’s the crazy people. It’s the Misfits that lead society forward. Not that I put myself in that category at all. But it’s people like Einstein, Van Gogh, you know, the ones that don’t fit in, that make the great advances. And of course, they’re called crazy, you know, and almost, it’s almost as if, when the majority of people say you’re nuts, that means you’re on the right path.
David Ralph [9:44]
Well, I spent years with my companies calling me a maverick, and I talked about it a lot in the shows because it used to really stick in my throat. But now I look at it as a badge of honour. And I think yes, I’m a maverick. I’m doing different things to everybody else. I don’t know anyone who’s doing what I’m doing now in any shape or form. So I think there is a certain amount of not craziness. That’s not the right word. But it’s certainly that you see a different part. It’s like you kind of, you’re wearing different glasses somehow. And when everyone is going down a certain route, your route just seems to be the side of it somehow you don’t really kind of fit in to that migration that happens when you leave college and you go into the working place. And you’re expected to do it for 40 years. What happened to you come out the other end? It just seems like you’re slightly on the side. And you felt that as well.
Michael Modzelewski [10:30]
Exactly. You said it exactly perfect. And I think there is a little bit I would use the word envy in a way because when people are following the treadmill, of what’s expected of them, there’s a little bit of envy when you have a life of freedom. And you can jump on a train at any moment in Europe and decide to go to another country or visit a great museum and and not stuck, you know, to a job or a nine to five, and to, you know, to be free to try to discover at that point, what I wanted to do, because most people are afraid to break away from the security, you know, have that constant income and constant job.
David Ralph [11:19]
It’s funny you say vnv from that side, because I remember strongly thinking, why do I feel this and looking around at all the people that would come in at nine o’clock and I would work till five o’clock and I’d go home and I just seem to be content. And I was never content I always used to think there’s gotta be more to life fitness. How are these people getting through their day? How are you just living? Well, you know, what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? And I used to think that life could be so much simpler. So in a funny way, I used to envy them, but they weren’t driven for something. They were just kind of content plodding along somehow.
Michael Modzelewski [11:55]
Well, there’s a downside to sort of being the free spirit as well. Is that Constant restlessness. You know that the lost the drive to see what’s over the next horizon. But if we didn’t have the Magellan and the Christopher Columbus’s and the Thomas Edison’s and the Leonardo’s, you know that that weren’t content with the every day, but had to push, you know, society forward by pushing themselves forward, then we would be just stuck on a plateau I think.
David Ralph [12:28]
So. So how did you separate yourself from the drug addicts and alcoholics and the people on that, that midnight shift, because once you make that, that, that break, that sudden break that change of direction, it seems a trait, but I find that people struggle to then make another one. And for many years, they will be in that first situation that they put themselves into. And so you go from this dramatically sexy as opposed college life where you’re going onto the football field and everything’s great and you’re suddenly working in A shift which, you know, there’s nothing wrong with it if that’s what you want to do. But I believe that that’s not what you wanted to do. Did you not have those dark moments of thinking? What the hell have I done? What What have I done? how did how did you change from that point?
Michael Modzelewski [13:14]
or every other minute and I thought that, but what kept me going number one, I had a goal I had a timeframe of when I was going to leave when I had enough money saved to travel to Europe. And number two, I have love for everybody that walks this earth, and I am no better than a destitute person, a poor person who’s had a bad run of luck. In fact, I think it was President Kennedy who said a person’s real true measure is determined by how they treat the people they don’t need. And before President Kennedy would give a speech at a Hilton Hotel, he would go into the kitchen and he would shake the salad girl’s hand and the dishwasher and in his office Everybody was equal if they were a human being so those alcoholics around me and the drug addicts I didn’t you know look down on in fact being a writer I wanted to hear their life stories of how they they sort of toppled you know because of addictions and things like that so it was very enriching from that point of view and when
David Ralph [14:23]
when you as well Michael were like fascinated by Yeah,
Michael Modzelewski [14:26]
yeah. What are you doing here? Yeah, constantly I heard that Hey, bro, you don’t belong you know you’re not from around these parts. And you know when I explained what I had done then they thought I was crazy as well.
Everybody I was crazy to my parents. I was crazy my friends. Now I’m crazy to the the midnight shift workers you know,
David Ralph [14:53]
but but you never believed that you was crazy. You always believed you was on to something you was doing your own thing.
Michael Modzelewski [15:00]
At that point, I never believed that happiness is determined by money. And by possessions. I don’t know if I was born with a soul that just knew that. But somehow I didn’t think that one source of income and you know, there’s a rapper in the United States that while I mean, he’s world famous, his name is Jay Z. And one of his great rap songs is 99 problems. And it’s all about getting rich, and you have far more problems when you have a lot of money than you do when you don’t have a lot of money. So does it really bring us happiness?
David Ralph [15:39]
So so you’re on this journey now? So we’re going to jump forward a bit so you you find you got enough money and you’re going to Europe? Did it make you happy? Or were you still looking for something now you’re out there, you’ve you’ve achieved that first goal. You’ve got your freedom, you’ve got your train ticket. Did you look around and go Yes, this is where I should be or was there still Not quite right. I still don’t know what I should be doing.
Michael Modzelewski [16:03]
Well, what Europe gave me in the UK, is it gave me my vocation. I went into museums, I saw art. And I remember being in Paris, France sitting at a sidewalk cafe, the left bank, and I’m just a punk kid. And I’m scribbling in a journal, trying to keep up with everything that I experienced that day. And a married couple invited me over. And I was just about to finish a passage kind of in the heat of the moment of writing. And I thank them very much. And I said, Could I join you in just a moment? And they looked and they both said at the same time with this all on their face, they said, Oh, you’re a writer. And the way they said the word writer, with such respect and admiration, I never got that feeling in the United States of America. Because in in America, it’s all about make money who’s rich, you know, in artists and writers are just Yeah, when you’re going to get a real job, that sort of thing. When I travelled in Europe, I saw streets named after writers and artists and when I travelled in Ireland and I went to Dublin and you you see the monuments to James Joyce in the storytellers, you know, that wrote these books that just changed society. So that trip was very, very important. Because Europe and the UK being so much older societies, you know, England was Stonehenge, I mean, Americans are babies were only 200 years old in this culture. But you go to Europe and you stumble over pieces of marble and Rome, you know, they go back thousands of years. So it opened my eyes to a new world. And when I came back from Europe, I knew what I wanted to be in. A lot of People go through life. And they never discover that calling of what they want to do with themselves as far as, you know, a job or a vocation.
David Ralph [18:09]
So it’s a calling, is it how it makes you feel? Or is it what it can bring to you?
Michael Modzelewski [18:17]
I think it’s a little bit of both. But I actually, I just resonated with, you know, Ernest Hemingway’s life when you would learn about him and of course, most of his great writing was in Paris. And just to, to see the respect that Europeans give, you know, to writers and artists, and I had never felt that at all, and the US so that’s what gave me my life. But of course, when I came back, that was not a very successful trip in my parents eyes, because again, most writers struggle to make enough money to live
David Ralph [18:58]
it. That’s the truth in all Creative worlds, isn’t it, it’s not just writing. If you look at sort of the amount of starving actors and the amount of starving artist or musicians and all those kind of stuff, when there’s an element of creativity, it is hard and I can see why your parents would think that because you know, did you want to go and work in a factory or an office where just your time pretty much determines your value? Or do you want to put your heart and your soul into some written work but at the end of the day may not bring you anything back but you’re called to do that so I can see their point of view.
Michael Modzelewski [19:34]
Oh, and I and I could you know, look through their eyes as well. But again, I just felt that that’s what had them I had to do that with my life come high tide or hell water so what I did is I was a freelance writer for a while. And I you know, would get assignments from the New York Times newspaper, Los Angeles Times magazines, and I would go on like, you know, these dream assignments all over the world and great nature places like Patagonia down at the tip of South America and but then I would start for maybe two months before I got the next assignment. And then I was living in Aspen, Colorado, and I said, You know what, it’s time to write my first book. It’s enough of you know, short pieces in journalism, which really didn’t pay enough. So this is where one of the main dots came into my life. But, and I really want your take on this as well. You go for it. So one, one routine day, I’m living in Colorado, this beautiful little ski town, it’s about 7000 feet up in the mountains. And again, I’m you know, not very don’t have very many coins in my pocket. And every summer they have a design conference, and Aspen’s very good in the summertime when the snows gone to having music festivals and cultural festivals and enrich the mind and soul. So they have a world famous design conference every summer with designers, whether it’s clothing, cars, you name it come from all over the world to swap ideas. And I couldn’t afford a ticket. So I volunteered to put up the tents. And that way I would get a free pass that way. So about the second day of attending, they made an announcement at lunchtime. All right. Everybody go out in the meadow and there were about 1000 attendees from all over the world International. And everybody go out in the middle, we’re going to watch hang gliders come off the top of a mountain, and they’re going to land that your feet. So there’s 1000 people stumbling around with their heads back looking up at the sky, watching human kites spinning around getting closer and closer. And of those thousand people. I bumped into a back for why didn’t I bump into the back to the left or to the right six inches. I bumped into the back of a Beautiful French Canadian Woman Who Lived in Vancouver. She was an architect. We fell in love with we skipped out on the conference and when camping up in the mountains, she left we were in tears. She went back to Vancouver. I’m in Colorado. She wrote me letters come and see me. So I had never been west of Colorado. I hitchhiked I stuck out my thumb not having a car enough money.
David Ralph [22:27]
And what kind of he was he’s Michael. When you Yeah, well, when when did you hit China because obviously you still a dodgy thing to do. Was he? What kind of probably the late 80s. Okay. Okay, so So one
Michael Modzelewski [22:39]
thing I learned about hitchhiking is I always dress well, I had an Irish knit cable sweater. And I had a black mountain man hat because all these guys that just look like a piece of bacon that lay on the side of the road with their thumb. I’ll never get a ride. But I look like I tried to look like the person And driving the car. Because like attracts like. And of course, if they feel comfortable that you know you’re not a murderer or whatever, then they’ll stop and pick you up. Again. I feel notebooks up with live life stories that people just wanted to talk. They wanted some company as they were driving across the country. And so anyway, I hitchhiked to Los Angeles, when all the way up the west coast of Vancouver to see john Vf and she had a sailboat and we spent two weeks on her boat sailing north into the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my life. It’s called the Inside Passage. It’s 1000 mile geographical area from Seattle, Washington all the way up to Glacier Bay. 7000 foot mountains come right out of the ocean on both sides of the boat. There’s 3000 foot waterfalls. There’s hummingbirds pollinating wild flowers, thousands of feet up in the hand. gardens, killer whales is scored in our sailboat. A bald eagle landed on the mast bears are pulling salmon out of the streams and in some of the channels up there. The rock walls of the mountains are only 100 yards apart. So you are it’s much like the fiord lands of Norway. So we get back to her apartment. I’m due to go back to my place in Colorado the very last night I have my suitcases by the door and the phone rings again, is are there any coincidences in life, the phone rings and it’s a man that met john Vf at a party nine years before. He kept her phone number. And he rarely was able to get into town. And I remember john v ever going will Mel off I remember you. You’re the man that has a wilderness Island. And whenever you take your coat off and hanging on the garden fence, post these Make a hive in your pockets and you have killer whales in your front yard and you’re we went right by your island on the sailboat. So how many men would do this? I mean, the very unusual David Giambi have said I would love to go out with you for dinner. But I have company. I have a boyfriend here named Michael. I mean, most guys would say, okay, you’re with someone else. I’ll come by and nine more years and call you up and see if you’re alone then, but will he my fate hung in the balance of that phone call? will set all right, the three of us go out. So even though he wanted to be was young via I was there but that wasn’t an hindrance to him. The three of us went for Chinese food and Vancouver. And Java was soon ignored. She sat back with her arms crossed watching a ping pong match, because will and I just clicked he had What I wanted, he had wilderness. He had adventure. He had stories to write about a whole book. You could write about that area having just been up there for two weeks on the sailboat. So he’s in a hurry. He gives me a formal invitation. He says, I invite you to come to my island. It’s 200 miles north from here and 100 years back in time. So please come and visit. Just as you said earlier, we have a million reasons why we can’t do something. Oh, I got a job to get back to. I have bills to pay is great as it sounds, I just can’t do it. The fortune cookies came for dessert, Chinese meal. I opened up my fortune cookie. It said you’re going on a journey to an exotic land. Do you need a hammer to hit you over the head so that that little fortune cookie was enough impetus to get me to make a bunch of phone calls and hold Off the bills and you know, a little writing assignment I had. And I said, Give me two weeks. I just have to go up there. Well, two weeks turned into two years, and I never left. So I said to my dad,
David Ralph [27:14]
he can jump in there. Because it’s a real question I need to ask, when you’re looking at him, and you’re doing the ping pong because he had the adventure and you had all that. Do you think that you had eased your way to that point? By doing your journey around Europe? And you’re hitchhiking? It’s kind of mild adventure. It’s nothing like living in the wilderness for two years. Do you think that if that point had come before the Europe trip, it would have been too big for you?
Michael Modzelewski [27:43]
Well, Europe gave me the the vocation, the writer, but what primed me for meeting will and being receptive to find a subject to write about for my first book, which changed my life, it opened so many doors. There were two things Number one when I was a little boy, six, seven years old, my mother in Cleveland, Ohio, a very big city. She would read me to sleep at night with all these great stories about King Arthur Lancelot Ivanhoe, Moby Dick grimms, fairy tales, all those classic works of literature for children. And she told me she would read to me she would keep reading after my eyes were closed and my chest was moving up and down. In other words, I was asleep. But you know, when somebody wants to learn a language, they don’t turn the tape recorder off at night they let it play all night because I really believe our subconscious is never go to sleep. That there’s a part of us that always remains awake. So one night she read to me a book by jack London called call a while and I don’t know it’s seven years of age living in a big urban area. Why that wilderness store of Alaska, in the Gold Rush, resonated so strongly with me. And then I went to a film revival when I was living in Aspen, Colorado before I mentioned on the earth, and it was a great movie by Robert Redford called Jeremiah Johnson. And it’s about a mountain man in the 1880s, who knows absolutely nothing, and tries to live off the land, and live in harmony with wildlife and the native people. And I came out of that movie theatre and I looked up at the starry sky and you know, being 7000 feet up in the mountains of Colorado, the Milky Way was like a racing stripe across the sky. And I remember saying to the universe, where on earth Can I have that same experience today? Is there a place left on our planet, where there’s native people that still have their pride and heritage that haven’t been thrown on a reservation, that there’s wildlife for the food chains, unbroken Be careful what you ask for. Because it was two months after throwing that magnetic thought out to the universe, that john VMs back bumped into mine. So it’s almost like if we put a request out there to the universe, if it’s the right time and place, and if it resonates with purity, then sometimes the phone gets answered.
David Ralph [30:28]
But let’s play some words now that really, really tie up with this fantastically well. And this is Jim Carrey.
Jim Carrey [30:34]
My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him. And so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant. And when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job. And our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance on doing What you love
David Ralph [31:00]
that really sort of hits it home for you? Doesn’t it that at that moment you really went Yes. Everything.
Michael Modzelewski [31:07]
Yeah, you know that that that is so Wow, how powerful is what Jim Carrey just said, and you know, it’s interesting growing up, my parents were totally different. I have a mother, she’s very Italian. Her mother came from Italy, but she may as well have had because she has all these Italian superstitions and visions and, and she’s very Italian mothers can be very protective. In fact, we like to joke that my mother’s motto about life is don’t live, you might die. So everything to her was Whoa. But my dad on the other hand, was go and his favourite saying I heard it over and over when he come home, he’d say to us children. The only four letter word that I do not want to hear in this house is camp. You couldn’t do anything in life, if you just put your mind to it. And you work hard enough.
David Ralph [32:06]
And do you believe that because I say that all the time to my kids, my kids, my two youngest ones are nine and 12. And so they’re they’re already starting to think what they want to do. And my son Funny enough, came home from school today. And he done some kind of computer test, but worked out what he should be when he grows up. And I think it was a politician, a diplomat, or a TV presenter so you can see which one he bought off quite fancy being a TV presenter. And I said to him, you know, at your age now, if you start working at it, and you stop honing your craft and you start making videos of yourself and putting it on YouTube and practising practising practising, you can really have got there but by the time you need to get there, but you have to put the work in.
Michael Modzelewski [32:50]
But that’s it. It’s it’s doing the work. And Joseph Campbell, a great author and a mythologists. He had an expression that is has been a cornerstone of my life and he said to follow your bliss. In other words, don’t sell out your soul. Don’t do a job that pays you a tonne of money but kills you inside. follow your bliss, follow what makes you happy, and everybody has that happy gift to give to the world. You just have to find it. What what gets you out of bed in the morning with that smile on your face? Because I really believe when you’re on fire with passion and purpose when you’re doing the work that you are put here on this earth to do and you work hard at it. When you glow when you resonate with energy, enthusiasm for your job when that light is shining in your eyes. People have no choice but to get the closed doors out of your way and say yes, because charisma is energy, energy, frequency and vibration is what holds this universe together. It’s it’s the very fundamentals of electricity or success in life. And when I went out of that movie theatre and I looked at those stars, it was almost like I demanded of the universe. I didn’t like meekly put in a request and oh, well, it’s probably never going to happen, you know? No, I said it was such intention. It was almost like, I mean, call it a god call it a great spirit call on you know, the Master of the Universe, whatever somebody was listening, sends this woman into the meadow to bump into me to be the emissary to introduce me to a man on an island. I mean, I just can’t believe those were all coincidences that those dots definitely connected.
David Ralph [34:48]
I love this story. And it’s so obvious but you are a wordsmith, just the way that you, you phrase your your spoken words. It allows us to create images and vision Yours and stuff. So let’s let’s create some more visuals about your life actually on the island. Obviously, it’s going to be harsh. It’s going to be wonderful. It’s going to be beautiful. It’s going to be all things.
Unknown Speaker [35:12]
Tell us about it.
Michael Modzelewski [35:15]
David, I was ready 10 times a day to call in the Coast Guard or floatplane and get out of there. Because I was so in over my head before I went into that wilderness situation and you know, the thing about Alaska for any of your listeners who have been up there and a lot of people have they taken cruises or travelled around. They’ll know this that Alaska can seduce you with beauty. In the next moment, it can try to kill you. In fact, jack London wrote, there’s 1000 ways Alaska can kill a person because it’s so dangerous up there. Not just the wildlife but the temperature of the ocean. If you fall in the clarity, the air you constantly misjudge the horizon. Enter the shore how far away things are people disappear all the time there. So I had only Gone Camping twice before in my life, before I end up in this situation where you better you better be at a professional level to survive. So I had nothing on my resume 40,000 legs in over my head. And unlike this popular show on TV, unlike survivor, there were no other tribes or people out there to vote you off and send you off the island and send you home. I was in isolation most of the time, scared to death. But you know, one day and this was the turning point. My first winter I went 67 straight days, two and a half months without seeing another human being. And the reason for that isolation is the weather up there because it doesn’t rain in the wind can blow 80 miles an hour. That doesn’t happen for today. there too, it can happen for weeks on end. And sitting in that tiny little cabin, the rain was hitting the glass windows like BB shot. In one day, the wind was so strong that it got inverted and it came backwards down the stove pipe. And there’s an air valve at the bottom of the airtight stove. Or first the wind came down the stove pipe. It blew the lid off the stove like a balloon. And then it’s the wind swirling around inside the stove sent a tongue of flame out that open air valve that set my kitchen chair on fire with me sitting in it inside your safe cabin. So you literally feel like you’re under attack from the elements
David Ralph [37:52]
unless you were born no for that period
Michael Modzelewski [37:55]
for that period. But I mean it was almost like of course the elements don’t care. They’re not You know, trying to attack or whatever but they’re just that’s how strong the forces are out there. So I made a big mistake that first winter, I was so in over my head, and so concerned with just keeping myself alive in learning from that landscape, how much you can get away with what you can do what you can’t do that for two and a half months, I forgot to talk. And you know, there’s a reason why and those old movies the gold prospectors, I think mumble outside out loud to themselves. And I learned why because 67 straight days no human beings. Finally there’s a break in the storms. A boat gets tossed from the ocean smacks up onto the beach in front of my cabin on this island. Out of this boat step five full blooded Kwok util native men, the natives that have lived their 10,000 years somewhat like
David Ralph [38:58]
native Indians Michael
Michael Modzelewski [39:00]
Yeah the Indians the carve the totem pole. Right. Okay. And you know the interesting thing the natives in Canada and British Columbia in Alaska, they were never conquered by the white man like in the lower 48. They were never thrown away on useless reservations were alcoholism and diabetes are rampant and they’re kind of fighting back today with bingo palaces, but none of that happened. They remain free up there. So they know that wilderness for 10,000 years better than the back of their hand. They are literally masters of that universe. So these five native men step out of the boat. I am so excited to see human beings again. I yank open the cabin door, I hop out onto the stump porch. My brain fires a signal to my tongue. I mean, we speak without thinking now, you know to say hi, would you like to come in for a cup of coffee? But don’t talk out loud for over two months. What comes out of your mouth sounds room
Unknown Speaker [40:01]
Michael Modzelewski [40:03]
I mean, your tongue is a muscle just like any other. Like if you break your arm and you haven’t done a cast for two months, you take the cast off your broken arm is shrivelled because it’s atrophy.
David Ralph [40:13]
So you didn’t even because I imagine if I was on an island with no one I would just be singing and and, and shouting
Michael Modzelewski [40:20]
Well, that’s what I should have done. I should have done that. But I was so tense I was so in a life or death struggle every day. And it was such an inward processing, like my computer was running it, you know, running hot, trying to take in everything. It was all coming in and not much was going out. So here I am sounding like I’m drunk at 10 o’clock in the morning. These native men came into the cabin, and I’m, you know, my hands shaking, I’m poor and I’m cups of coffee. And they are looking at each other and they are talking to each other with their eyeballs. Like we could take this island back without even Trying, you know, this kids out here alone and he’s deep into the sauce or something. And Ralph Emerson, a great writer and philosopher, he had a line that I thought about at that moment. And Emerson wrote, I can’t hear what you’re saying, because who you are thunders so loudly. And those native men by their very presence in front of me, were just thundering with with mastery in everything that I didn’t have at that moment. So the combination came, I had a big suitcase full of open books or books, the suitcase rather was open and then about a lot of books that I hadn’t read yet like war and peace, Anna Karenina, a lot of Russian novels don’t stay offski you know, those long big books that are but you know, they’re so time consuming, and I go perfect. I’ll take him to the island because it gets dark up there four in the afternoon, the sun doesn’t come up till 10 or 11 in the morning, those little cold dark winter nights I can catch up on the reading of the great classics. So that suitcase happened to be on a day bed near where we were, I was sitting with the native men and the Indians in the kitchen. And Larry Joseph, who was the chief of the noodles. He kept looking over there at those books all stacked up. And then he looked me dead in the eye. And he spoke for the first time. He said, You white people, you have a head full of knowledge. Oh, you know all the facts. And he pointed to his heart, but you have no wisdom. You’re going to end up burning those books in your wood stove to keep yourself alive at that, that native men all stood up, single file out the doorway. Larry Joseph looked over his right shoulder at me. And he said, I’ll be buying the spring to collect your bugs.
Unknown Speaker [42:54]
That was the welcoming committee. Well, we’ll meet you I’m absolutely
David Ralph [42:58]
intrigued. Know why you didn’t give up? Why 10 times a day you had that feeling of, I can’t go on, come and get me get me off of here. But you kept on going for it. Why? Why
Michael Modzelewski [43:11]
did you do that the turning point was that moment when those native men left, and I’m not embarrassed to tell you this, I was so stricken with fear, because who would know better than they who could survive? They’re not. And I just got a death pronouncement. And it was crushing. And I collapsed back into the kitchen chair and I literally all my muscles were trembling. I was shaking. Like, he’s right. I’m gonna die out here. But again, I mean, you couldn’t make this up. If you’re writing it as a screenplay. There was a book there was open to a page and a lot of times, I’ll flick the book open and I’ll just jab my finger, like on a paragraph if I want some random guy islands or whatever, you know, just this kind of a hokey thing to do. But I was reading this book of essays about human potential. And I just Okay, I need some I need some encouragement here, I need to know which direction to go. So I kind of flip the pages like you shuffle a deck of cards at a casino in Vegas. And when the pages stop the shuffle, I jammed my finger down. And there was a line from William James, a very famous psychiatrist. And that random line saved my life. William James wrote that we as human beings, we lead lives inferior to ourselves. We only live a tiny part of the colossal life and potential that we all possess. He quoted Einstein who said we only operate on board 4% of our brain power. You know, every once in a while you can pick up a newspaper you read about a woman backing her card on a driveway, maybe one of her child children are playing behind. The car she doesn’t see the child runs over her child. Then for you know, five foot 220 pounds in a panic, she bursts out of the car grabs the back bumper, and lifts a tonne of steel up into the air to save her flesh and blood. And James concluded that essay saying we have the potential each one of us to be Superman and Superwoman. But we block it with a disbelieving mind. And no matter how glorious the contents in a bottle, if there’s a cork in the neck, they’re not coming out. But that line saved my life. Because when I read that, I said, You know what, even though I’m a white guy, even though I might be overeducated, and my head’s too full of wisdom, or knowledge and not enough wisdom, I’m going to try to show those natives that I couldn’t survive here. And so as William James and that quote, that we lead lives inferior to ourselves. That literally saved my life. But why did that sentence appear when I most needed it? It was like there was an angel that turned the pages of that book to make sure that I saw that particular line
David Ralph [46:12]
is fascinating. I’m gonna play some words. Now I want to get your vibe on and the drama film not too many years ago, but
Steve Jobs [46:20]
listen to this, you, me and nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take it keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.
David Ralph [46:38]
Were you surprised at how hard you could get hit? And keep moving forward? Did it surprise you?
Michael Modzelewski [46:44]
Yeah. And you know, that’s what is amazing about human beings is how resilient we are. But you know what you can study you read the biographies of Nelson Mandela, Walt Disney. These people Failed over and over until they were successful. But is it really failing? If the experience gets you one step closer to success, and there’s a great educator, he’s a Frenchman. His name is Piaget. And his philosophy was, excuse me. He had a great quote, and his philosophy was a mistake is just another way of doing things. So through trial and error, I eventually turned it around up there. And I was able to not only survive, but to thrive in the wilderness. And but that was the turning point when those natives gave that crushing death pronounce it, but you know, the funny thing was, in the springtime, I just caught an 80 pound fish, a halibut, and I was standing on the dock. When I heard the sound of an engine. It was Larry Joseph. Coming back to the island, and he had a big empty black bucket up and above his boat. And when I yelled up, Larry was that bucket for each so calmly Matter of fact Lee because the natives humour up there is very rides very deadpan. And as he tossed me the line to his boat to tie up at the dock, he said, Oh, I came by to collect your bones that I see that you made it a I handed him half of my fish. And that opened up an encyclopaedia set the native started coming by seeing that I had survived out there.
David Ralph [48:34]
Have you seen the film Michael into the wild? It’s sean penn made a few years ago about Christopher McCandless who lived in Alaska on his own.
Michael Modzelewski [48:43]
Yeah, you know, but you don’t mention that film to anybody that lives in Alaska.
David Ralph [48:48]
Because Well, I’m in trade. I’ve only seen the film so I don’t know how realistic it is or whatever. But you tell us what why can’t we make
Michael Modzelewski [48:55]
a lot of people fell Oh my god, it was like seeing your story, but there’s a big difference. You had a happy ending, you survived. Whereas this guy that went up into Alaska died in a bus, you know, in a in a place where there’s no food. But what I admire about that story is he was a free spirit. He was hitchhiking town to town. And as we mentioned at the beginning, people that were sort of, you know, clinging to security of a nine to five job, they were so envious, that he was just so footloose and fancy free. And he also had conflict with his father throughout the book in the movie, but in a sense, he almost had a slow death wish. Because where he went in Alaska, there’s very little they eat that far north, like the grizzly bears along the coast where the ocean is. They can weigh 1000 to 1500 pounds. I don’t know how that translates into stone, but the Grizzlies that live further north away from the The ocean where the seminar and all the protein they’re less than half that size. So he kind of had I don’t know if there was a bit of a suicidal wish to him as well. But whenever anybody dies it kind of the story gets glorified
David Ralph [50:17]
when he does but it did the intriguing thing for me is why was he different to you? Why did you survive when you must have had times when you were scrambling around trying to find food and and the elements were battering you was it as simple as that he went too far north.
Michael Modzelewski [50:36]
Well, you know what, David I really believe there’s a saying I don’t know if they say it in the UK but that a cat has nine lives because cats seem to escape danger a lot. If that is true of human beings. I have two and a half lives left. I have given up a lot of them. And in many instances I should be dead. I was caught in a storm with the engine fell off My boat the boat should have sank. Two times in my life. I’ve been five yards away from grizzly bears that we’re about to charge and kill me. But I really believe that we all have a life plan. And there’s an exit point for each one of us in our blueprint or in our life plan. And no matter what stupidity, at least in my case that I do, you don’t check out yet until you’re meant to go. Because we’re here to learn a certain amount or maybe to teach a certain amount or both.
David Ralph [51:36]
But there’s so many people out there isn’t there Michael, but you know what, what you’re talking about is the total opposite of your mother’s mantra you are living living living until you die, which is really what we should do. But so many people aren’t that they’re barely existing Um, and I don’t mean to say this harshly, but I just see it but they go to work, they come home, they move alone, they go To work, and when you speak to them on a one to one basis, I’ve got all these big dreams and these aspirations but for some reason, they just lock them away. And then another day goes and another month and another year. The key thing is really, isn’t it? We’re only on this planet once unless somebody tells us something. Otherwise, we’re only on this planet once. And if we can’t see the Northern Lights, and if we can’t see whatever we want to in life, we’ve let ourselves down somehow that’s that’s how I feel now.
Michael Modzelewski [52:28]
Well, that’s exactly it. I think when you get to the end of your life, and if you have regrets, that is the worst thing. And you know, the buzzword today is a lot of people that come on the cruise ship that I speak in the summer, they’re they’re checking Alaska off their bucket list. So people are making these lists now, of 100 things I want to do before I die or so they’re beginning to realise the difference between life and living. And one of my mottos is is that A treat every day, as if it’s my first day and my last day upon this earth, because the first day always gives you that freshness of vision. And the last day always gives you that fervour to just wring every bit of life out of every moment that you have. And I try to just go after each day as if it’s my first and my last, because none of us know you know, how long will be here.
David Ralph [53:29]
So So what is your defining memory of your time on the Alaskan island?
Michael Modzelewski [53:36]
You know, the loneliness and we are social creatures. And I remember being on a 17 foot kayak, and one night there was no moon in the sky. And every time I dipped my paddle into the ocean, there are billions of plankton in the water that the whales feed on. And these are still single celled animals. And they’re the scientific name is nocta Luke guy. And what they do is they glow with light. And they actually it’s been shown now that squid communicate like a rave concert by flashing lights at each other. But all the plankton it’s like a slurry soup like pea green soup full of these tiny little organisms that are glowing and emitting light. So every time you stroke your paddle through the ocean, you’re leaving a comet of light behind you. Every time it rains, the raindrops striking the surface of the ocean, send a spark up into the air. Whenever the waves would slosh against the sides of the granite mountains. They would throw liquid fire from all this lit up bioluminescence against the rock. So one night I’m up paddling in the kayak and I wish I had a camera But it probably wouldn’t have showed up on film. The killer whales were taking turns jumping up through the surface, crashing on their back and taking their flippers like a paintbrush. And they were leaving patterns of light on the ocean. That only lasted about 15 seconds before they would fade away and the whale would go down underwater, and they would all spy hop, they would come up with their heads above the water and they would take a visual like, okay, I might turn his next I’m going to try to beat that one. I mean, it was like a bunch of Picasso’s out there. They didn’t need to buy paint brushes. They didn’t need to buy paint. Their pigment was plankton in their Canvas was the ocean. It really made me think, I mean, who really is the smartest creature on this earth.
David Ralph [55:59]
I normally A speech of Steve Jobs, which is the whole theme of the show, but I think we’ve already alluded to the fact that you you buy into those words, but the connecting of the dots is part of what’s made you who you are. But do you have a big dot? I always have to ask this question. Do you have a big.in your life that you go? Yeah, that’s when I started finding myself. That’s when I started becoming the Michael that I am today.
Michael Modzelewski [56:25]
Well, the island was leading up to the big dot. And what I did is I wrote my first book, that dream was fulfilled because oh my god, there’s so many dimensions to Alaska, you could you could write about that place for 10 lifetimes and never tap the well dry. And I got very lucky. The book was published by Harper Collins, which I believe is also in the UK. And in New York City, their office there, which never happens for an unknown author to you know, one of the biggest publishers in the world. And the funny thing was, is when I was in the wilderness for the two years, there are no females out there. So during the full moon, I was so lonely that I actually put my head back and I would howl at the moon with a pack of wolves that lived on the island. And seeing all these magical things like the whales painting the ocean, you just died for somebody else, preferably female to be there and that you could wrap your arms around. So anyway, I write the book. It’s published in New York City, Cosmopolitan magazine. It’s a woman’s magazine that goes on all over the world. It’s the number one selling woman’s magazine everywhere. It’s in 100 countries published in 87 languages. For some reason, I’ll never figure out. They chose me every month. They have a single guy in there. They put his mailing address and email that women single women can write to him. So I didn’t even know about this plan that was being hatched. And I was Mr. November, I came back to New York City to do public The city for the book 5000 letters were waiting with perfume, naked pictures, purple and pink ink with hearts dotting the eyes. It was every man’s fantasy is the moustache. That’s
David Ralph [58:13]
what he was.
Michael Modzelewski [58:14]
It was the moustache. And that’s how I met my wife. There was a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. And that was the big.is finding a life partner, that she’s so beautiful on the outside in the inside, and it’s as easy as breathing with her. And you know, a lot of times people say, Why did you give that up? You could have dated a different girl every day for the rest of your life. I fell in love and when guys asked me, especially how do you know when you’re in love? And my answer is, you know you’re in love When the other person’s happiness is essential to your own. And knowing that I can play a small part in making Paula’s life happy now. It just makes me feel fulfilled. But I didn’t even want to do it. I mean, this crazy magazine, you know about makeup. And this was kind of like the girls Bible. I wanted to be taken seriously as a scientist and a biologist. And I’m learning when opportunity presents itself. Don’t judge that book by the cover. Because there could be a pot of gold behind door number three.
David Ralph [59:25]
I think nothing. That’s the perfect ending to the show. But just before we let you go, Michael, this is the part that we call the Sermon on the mic when we send you back in time to have a one on one with your younger self. And if you could go back in time and speak to the young Michael, what advice would you give and what would you choose as well, but I’m going to play the theme and when it fades you up. This is the Sermon on the mic
Unknown Speaker [59:55]
bit of the show
Michael Modzelewski [1:00:09]
Well, you know what I’m gonna turn it around a little bit.
I’m gonna have my younger self. give more advice to the older self. And the reason is this, the first waking memory I have, you know, and when you ask that if people it’s pretty hard to go all the way back into your life and say, what’s the first thing you remember? But I don’t know if I was two years old. I know it was far back in time. I remember being in a backyard where our house was, and there would be family members over on a Sunday or there’d be a picnic. And when you’re a child, you can run around with no clothes on because you’re in an age of innocence. And I’m talking, you know, a toddler. So I would run around naked and just hug everybody and just give love in in that period. Innocent state, just giving hugs, without any masks, any barriers of clothing, any judgments at all. So to cut to 40 years later, when I’m speaking in front of 3000 people on a cruise ship in Alaska and we get all 50 US states, we get 30 countries, each cruise to come in from around the world to see the beauty of Alaska glaciers. And you never know who’s in the audience, you know, watching your programmes with pictures that are illustrated. So I have a book table outside the theatre where I signed my books. It’s a great gig for an author because you have a captive audience. The psychiatrist came up to me from New York City, and she said, If you buy me a glass of wine later, I will explain you to yourself. I mean, who’s gonna turn that off? And you know what, instead of getting billed $500 an hour or whatever that you know, of top size was A charge. All it costs me was a glass a lot. And she said, Michael, I must tell you, I have never in my life seen such naked passion before. You could have walked out on that stage with no clothes on. And you would have been more naked than if you were naked. Because you just go out there and you open your heart up and you just let Alaska come pouring through you with such love that we have no choice but to love it too. And I went, Whoa. That’s my first memory running around naked hugging everybody. And I’m still doing it today. So that kid that do nothing it one and a half years old in the backyard. I’m now of course a grown man, but I’m basically doing the same thing that made me glow with happiness back as a toddler. So I do Just feel so blessed and fortunate. you’ve joined up the adults Yes, the circle came complete.
David Ralph [1:03:08]
Michael I really don’t want this episode to finish but unfortunately I’m gonna have to say these words how can our audience connect with you sir?
Michael Modzelewski [1:03:18]
Um, if they go on amazon.com worldwide in my last name is a struggle to type in. But my latest book is called Wild Life and it’s two separate words wi LD, a space and then life Li FP and then that’ll take him to my author page and my books are there and then my website is spelled out with moja luskey the last name so just amazon. com anyone in the world two words wildlife and I would be honoured and would be a privilege. If anybody took a look at my work I’d be I’d appreciate that.
David Ralph [1:03:54]
will have all the links on the show notes. Michael, thank you so much for spending time with us today. Joining us dots. And please come back again when you have more dots to join up because I do believe that by joining up the dots and connecting our past is the best way to build our futures. Michael, thank you so much,
Michael Modzelewski [1:04:10]
David, thank you. This is one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. It is so marvellous to talk with substance and meaning like this, your show is wonderful.
David Ralph [1:04:20]
Thank you, sir.
David doesn’t want you to become a faded version of the brilliant self you are wants to become. So he’s put together an amazing guide for you called the eight pieces of advice that every successful entrepreneur practices, including the two that changed his life, head over to Join Up dots.com to download this amazing guide for free and we’ll see you tomorrow on Join Up Dots.