G87. Dr. Mark Goulston

Crafting a Michelangelo Mindset: Finding the Angel in the Marble

Content warning: this episode features mentions of suicide. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Dr. Mark Goulston is the co-founder of Michelangelo Mindset. Founders, entrepreneurs, and fortune 500 CEOs hire him when there is a critical or urgent problem they want to deal with or an amazing opportunity they don’t want to miss. He coaches them to tap into the way Michelangelo saw his masterpiece sculptures in blocks of marble. He would carve until he set them free. 

Mark is also the author or co-author of nine books, with his book, Just Listen, being translated into 28 languages and becoming the top book about listening in the world. He hosts the highly rated My Wakeup Call podcast, and is a former UCLA professor of psychiatry and FBI hostage negotiation trainer.

For a Jewish baby boomer growing up in the suburbs, it was fairly common that you would either go to law school or medical school. Despite not being too excited about it, Mark chose medical school – because at least he cared about other people and thought that would carry him through.

Mark considers his greatest personal accomplishment to be graduating from medical school after dropping out on two separate occasions. He didn’t drop out because he changed his mind or he wanted to see the world, but he had untreated and undiagnosed depression that was holding him back. He could not retain all of the information contained in his textbooks, so he quit.

Mark started working blue collar jobs after that first absence, and this ended up having a very calming effect on his mind. But something in him convinced him to go back to medical school again, and the same thing happened: his mind just wasn’t working. One day he was called into the dean’s office and was told that he’d essentially been kicked out. Growing up being taught that you are only worth what you can do in life, this was a severe shock to his system. He thought about ending his life that day, but the dean told him, “Mark, you didn’t mess up, but you are messed up.” He said if he got fixed up, the school would not regret giving him a second chance.

And he did. Mark fixed himself up and returned to medical school a third time, this time graduating, and now he’s focused on paying it forward. In that moment where he almost gave up and his dean gave him a chance, Mark began focusing on suicide prevention and helping others who may have been in his shoes.

What Brett asks:

  • [04:36] Can you paint a picture for us about your early years?
  • [17:55] What has it been like to fight back against the conditioning that told you to stop being creative?
  • [41:36] Why is it so hard to do what we know matters?

Lessons for intentional living:

  • Despite everything we may achieve in life, one of the greatest achievements anyone can have is standing up for themselves when they have hit rock bottom. When Mark had to tell his father, an overpowering, assertive force, that he was dropping out of school, he was almost convinced to stay, but he knew that forcing himself to keep going would break him. In that vulnerability, he revealed his unfiltered emotions and his father couldn’t say “no.” There’s great power to be had when you lay it all on the line.
  • When Mark was making house calls to dying patients, he learned many important life lessons. One that sticks with him is to realize what’s really important while you still have time. You can focus on money and achievement all you want, but, at the end of your life, it isn’t going to matter. You’re going to realize that all the money gained at the expense of your relationships and your love was just a waste. And if you wait until that moment to realize it, you’re not going to have any time to change things.