How Being a Chaplain Taught Me to Succeed at Business

The Spiritual Journey of Entrepreneurship

What I’m about to share with you is going to surprise you, but trust me, it is directly related to the success of your business.

I’ve been an on again, off again entrepreneur for twenty years. Before my coaching practice grew to full time, I worked as a trauma chaplain and a home hospice chaplain. In both of of the hospitals where I worked, the ER and ICU doctors and nurses referred to me as the death chaplain, because people loved to die around me.

I’d go on for a 24 hour shift and folks would start dropping like flies. The ER doctors were always asking me my work schedule because they knew if we were on the same shift they were going to have to have some hard conversations with family members.

Being a trauma and hospice chaplain taught me a LOT about business, and you’ll understand why when you read this entire blogpost.

One of the most profound trauma cases I had was with a female truck driver in her mid-forties. Let’s call her Kim.

I was paged to the ER around 8 pm on a Friday night for a Level 1 Trauma — which is the most urgent Trauma. Standing outside the Trauma bay with the curtains closed I can hear the patient laughing, which is significant. A lot of Level 1 traumas involve patients who are unconscious.

The nurse managing the trauma bay comes into the hallway and asks me to go be with the patient. This is unusual because I have already observed that several surgeons are still in the room assessing the patient. Normally, surgeons wouldn’t let me in until the assessment is complete.

When I first go in I see Kim lying on the exam table, talking with a nurse, still laughing. She looks okay until I get closer and realize that her entire left arm is gone. And there are bloody tendrils hanging off her shoulder.

And it smells like death — apparently it took five hours for firemen and EMTs to extricate Kim from her truck, then another hour or so to get to the hospital because she was in such a rural area. I thought I was going to pass out multiple times from the stench coming from her body.

Later I learn I was sent into the room because Kim had no family locally (she lived 2,000 miles away) and because no one, including the surgeons, knew if she would make it through the surgery.

Taking that long to get to the hospital following the accident and her level of internal injury had the surgery outcome looking not so good.

Enter the chaplain.

My role was to spiritually care for Kim, but in that situation it was also about keeping her in the present moment — because in the present moment she was alive, and breathing, and cognizant, and cared for. She wasn’t in the trauma of the accident, she wasn’t in the very real future possibility of death.

So I held the hand she had remaining and we talked and joked and prayed.

We talked about the fact that she was brought to the hospital in her nightgown and no panties — her worst nightmare — because she slept in her rig and had awoken that morning thinking she would drive for a few hours before getting dressed.

We discussed the hotness level of each of surgeons in the room.

Occasionally the surgeons would give me a look like, what the hell kind of chaplain are you, anyway? We talked about her family, how much she loved being a truck driver, and her faith in God. And Kim stayed in the present moment.

The next morning I visited Kim in the ICU and she was sitting up, smiling. She told me how happy she was to be alive and how she looked forward to returning to work (despite her missing left arm). I asked her what helped her get through the night and surgery. She said her faith in God and me being with her in the Trauma bay, keeping her present.

I have helped hundreds of people die and hundreds of people prepare for death. I have helped thousands of family members to prepare for death and to grieve the death of a loved one.

Here’s what I’ve learned from those experiences: when the death door opens we have a choice about how we want to go through that door — in faith, in acceptance, in love, in fear, in overwhelm, in denial.

The choice is ours. But we all will die. That door will open to all of us. Some of us are willing to stay in faith and stay in the present and just take the next step. Some of us go out kicking and screaming.

What I discovered is that the way someone chooses to die is a reflection of how they choose to live. If you live in fear, scarcity and overwhelm you will likely die this way as well. If you live in faith you will die in peace and clarity and trust.

Being in business is a spiritual journey as well. When you are in business for yourself you are continually dying to the person you were in order to become the next version of yourself. And how you deal with that death and rebirth cycle — how you choose to move through that doorway open in front of you — will make or break your business.

A lot of entrepreneurs get stuck in the doorway — and that perpetuates fear, anxiety and tension and actually makes the situation worse. I’ve see entrepreneurs stay in the doorway for YEARS unwilling to make a decision or change their relationship to fear.

Here’s the thing: you are not dying in your business. It may feel like you are dying, but you will not physically die. You may be scared of the unknown, but the unknown isn’t going to kill you. Your abundant success lies in your capacity to continue to move through doorways in your business.


Originally published at emmachurchman.com on March 30, 2017.