The story of the day that changed my life and set me on my path to cause and purpose.
The Mountains are Calling
As I got off the plane in Asheville, North Carolina in March 2002, I distinctly remember the smell of the mountain air. It was the beginning of spring, and spring had come early that year. I now know that smell (which is indelibly imprinted on my brain to this day) as the smell of WNC mountain pollen. Stepping off that plane, it hit me like a fragrance from heaven. I remember the grass so green and the mountains so beautiful. It was as though I landed in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever imagined.
“I Didn’t Choose the Path, it chose me…”
Now, I see this all as God wooing me to His purpose, a path I never could have chosen for myself. In reality, no one grows up and says, “I want to get a degree and work in hospice and be part of a team who will take part in creating this thing now known as palliative care.” In fact, growing up, my hero was Michael J. Fox portraying Alex Keaton on “Family Ties”. He was a young Reagan Republican who wanted to be a businessman and make lots of money. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that now, but that was me back then. Of course, today, one does not choose hospice work for the sole purpose of making money. So, to think my vocation journey would take me to hospice as a career was not something I would necessarily have chosen. But as many of us say in this line of work, “I didn’t choose the path, the path chose me.”
I got my wife to agree to me taking this trip for an interview in 2002 by telling her that I was brushing up on my interview skills. I assured her there was no way we would move to North Carolina as settled as we were in Pensacola, Florida. We had a 2-year-old and 3-month-old, and Pensacola had a beauty all its own, as well as my wife’s family nearby to help us raise our little ones.
However, prior to the trip I had been getting a sense that God was calling me to my next role in hospice. My first role in this career journey was as a CFO for a large Florida hospice organization, and now, I was beginning to feel the next step for me was to be a hospice CEO. Come to find out, a little hospice nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina in Hendersonville was looking for a CEO. They were a small program, in fact so small that all the branch offices of the hospice I currently worked for were larger than this entire program. Despite this, I was convinced we wouldn’t be moving. So, why did I go to the interview?
As often happens in life, a friend put the opportunity before me. He was on the Board of this small hospice’s program. In addition to his prompting, I was also consistently getting a sense through quiet time and prayer that I needed a new opportunity to help me keep growing and to continue my learning.
Raising the Stakes
As I traveled from Pensacola to Asheville, God’s plan began to reveal itself in a way I never expected, as I learned that a friend and professional rival was the other key candidate for the position. We did not know it until we were on the same flight. Through some interesting chess conversation, we ended up looking at each other with the same exclamation: “You mean you are traveling to interview for the Four Seasons position? So am I!”
Interestingly, now, something I had previously not been truly invested in (remember, I was just “brushing up on my interview skills”) now became a competition! What can I say? I am competitive. It is amazing how many things conspire together to put you on the right path.
I’ll admit it is strange hanging out with the person you are competing with for a position. Four Seasons had decided for both of us to stay in the same incredibly quaint bed and breakfast. Come to find out, the owner was also a board member for Four Seasons. She was a great host and made us feel so welcome. I kept getting this sense that I had arrived in the real-life Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show”.
“Float Like a Butterfly”
The interview day started with an early breakfast with one of the key leaders on the team. Interviews continued throughout the morning and I began to really fall in love with the team members as I understood their vision. They had a profound sense of what their program could become with the right leader.
I later learned that a visionary Board member, one of the top executives at the local bank, helped create the vision that this little hospice could become one of the best hospices in America. Frankly, this vision seemed crazy. There was nothing outwardly that would give the appearance that this could happen, but that’s what vision does – it casts a dream that allows intentional people to build toward the impossible.
Four Seasons showed incredible intelligence in setting up this unique interview process. They kept us away from their offices, which, at the time, were a small house and a strip of metal buildings and held the interviews at the tallest building in Hendersonville: the bank building. It was all part of a beautifully designed process. The bank building afforded incredible views of the mountains; it was all quite enchanting. Everything was designed to impress, to help punch well above their weight class.
The lunch interview was a meeting with all the Board members at one time and, yes, with my friendly rival. Can you imagine having two candidates in the room together at the same time over lunch? I was gracious, via God’s grace, and my rival was hyper-competitive, so much so that he cut in front of me right as I was about to sit at a table via invitation from two key Board members who were people of influence. Apparently, that gracious act of stepping aside was noticed. Years later those Board members told me the story of how me stepping aside with grace and giving him my seat made a great impression on them.
“Sting Like a Bee”
After lunch came the big challenge. To this day, I’m still astounded at the logic and ingenuity behind this interview idea. The Board had both candidates go into a room by ourselves for 30 minutes to prepare to make a presentation. We had two choices to pick from and then we had to make a full presentation to the entire Board of Directors. I chose the topic I did not understand, which was “whether they should pursue launching a palliative care program.” Apparently, this had been a huge source of debate amongst the Board prior to the CEO search.
I don’t remember what I said but I do remember making a great impression with my presentation. As I look back, I think I would be more nervous today giving that same presentation. Was it because I was indifferent whether I would even want this job? Was it because I was young and naïve as I was only 30 years old at the time? Or was it because this was my cause – my destiny – and I was jumping into a stream pulling me in the direction of this opportunity? In retrospect, I know it was a bit of all those things mixed together.
At the end of the day, flying back to Pensacola, I had been fully convinced that this was something I was supposed to do. I knew that a great adventure awaited me, and I remember even tearing up at the thought. I called my wife from the airport, saying, “I think this is something we are supposed to do.” My lovely wife said, “I trust you, if this is something you think we are meant to do, then let’s do it.”
And that is how I came to be the CEO of Four Seasons in Hendersonville, NC which later became a nationally known hospice and palliative care program, even going on to win the American Hospital Association’s Circle of Life Award and was the recipient of a ten-million-dollar grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to prove palliative care for the country and to hopefully create a pathway for the future in how this service is provided and paid.
The point of this story was not just to tell you how I got to Four Seasons. In fact, I wrote this story for myself while on vacation with my family because we often forget the miracles that occur in our life. The miracle of having been the CEO of Four Seasons twice (different story for a different blog), and how it even came to pass, is one of the biggest blessings of my life. The people I worked with, the people we touched together, and having a purposeful vocation that allowed me to provide for my family – what an incredible blessing it was.
I wrote about it today because, as I reflect, I realize there are so many rich lessons packed into my little story.
The Ripple Effect
That one Board member who cast such a rich vision – a dream that many bought into hook, line, and sinker – was compelling. For me, it seduced me to take a job frankly I had no intention of taking when I originally agreed to interview. That is what a compelling vision will do.
It’s incredible to see the fulfillment of that vision as well over 10,000 lives have now been touched not just locally in western North Carolina but also across the globe, as we went on to establish a partnership with the country of Zambia for palliative care. Casting a great vision is like dropping a pebble in the pond: the beautiful concentric rings traveling ever outwards show us a picture of the impact a vision can have on others in its path.
When I reflect on the interview process, I am struck by how brilliant it was. It was so different than what one would expect from a small program – and that was exactly how it was designed. Four Seasons was intentional about attracting candidates that normally wouldn’t consider a program of their size. By taking time to design such an intelligent process, they applied knowledge that would allow their vision to take root.
Never underestimate what a group of committed individuals can do. The team who interviewed me expressed such a profound belief of what Four Seasons could become, and indeed it has very much become all that and more. A vision that people rally around can change the world for the better and will undoubtedly impact people’s lives along the way.
Cause and Purpose
It’s fundamental to truly living to seek one’s cause and purpose, and to be open to the adventure – wherever it may take you. It was crazy for my wife and I to pull up roots from Pensacola and move to western North Carolina, but we knew that this is where our “cause and purpose” was taking us. Indeed, it would be a great adventure, and it continues to be that adventure.
Although we knew we were being called to North Carolina, we still wrestled with the decision because, after all, life doesn’t “just all work out” like the movies. Even after that phone call to my wife from the airport, I still had to wait on an offer from Four Seasons, and we still had to grapple with leaving family, finding a home, and the impact that all of those decisions had on us as individuals and as a family.
I remember a trip back to Hendersonville with my family and my wife’s dad where we had to make our final decision. During that trip, I read this scripture:
“I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” - Psalm 121:1
When I read that verse, I felt assured of two things: 1) God was indeed calling us to take this opportunity and 2) I was going to need lots of help on this great adventure. Both have proven true.
Application and Challenge
I’d like to challenge you by asking, “What is your cause and purpose?” My prayer is that you would seek it and find it. Where are you being asked to step out of your comfort zone? For some of you it may be a new job, for some of you it might be accepting more responsibility or asking for more responsibility.
As you ask these questions, I encourage you to rely upon your faith to guide you. There is no greater adventure in life than pursuing your cause and purpose.
May the adventure begin…and continue.
Chris Comeaux, President / CEO of Teleios Collaborative Network
Teleios University (TU)
Program Launch: January 20-21, 2020
An organizational model that allows not-for-profit hospices (Members) to leverage best practices, achieve economies of scale and collaborate in ways that better prepare each agency to participate in emerging alternative payment models and advance their charitable missions.