I met Tom Murphy, president of Spenser and Associates, Inc. a couple of years ago when a mutual acquaintance suggested it. Tom has been involved in coaching and adjunct health care professions his entire career and specializes in resiliency and career re-engagement. He cares deeply about his work and impressed me as someone who is both sincere and professional.

Over time, I got a closer glimpse into what Tom’s life is like behind the scenes. He deals with serious chronic pain associated with pervasive, systemic degenerative arthritis and has undergone some difficult orthopedic surgeries of late. He mentioned some of this when we first met, but as it is for many entrepreneurs, it was a side conversation instead of a predominant one.

Tom has been dealing with the challenges of less-than-stellar health his entire life. An asthmatic from birth, he’s had to “fight” for a life that isn’t defined by that illness. Fortunately, starting in junior high school, Tom was taken under the wings of three successive physical education teachers who believed in his physical abilities. They provided him a much-needed offset to the overly protective atmosphere at home.

Through these mentors and a huge triumph – in high school he ranked 2nd in the State of Massachusetts in gymnastics - Tom learned that his physical limitations did not have to become lifetime limitations. These experiences motivated him to major in physical education in college where he encountered his third mentor. Through this relationship he was inspired to become a teacher and coach to children with physical challenges. But, alas, the economic situation at the time aborted that plan. He started his career in human services, instead.

Fast forward to today. Asthma is often treated with various forms of steroids. Heavy steroidal use – what Tom refers to as the “8-pound gorilla” - causes a slow deterioration in one’s ligaments, tendons and bones. Additionally, he believes there is a likely genetic component to the deterioration he’s had to deal with, starting in his late 40s’s.

A Business Model That Accommodates Physical Needs

Always interested in the business side of this, I asked Tom what kind of business model he put in place so that when pain and inflammation limited his mobility he could still work. Like many others, he created a business whereby he could offer coaching and lead classes through virtual means such as Skype, telephone and teleclasses. He still does public speaking when he can and is not shy about asking for what he needs in order to be as comfortable as possible.

Turning Straw into Gold

Tom has relied on his ability to fall back on his physicality to work out any issue in life. When his body made that difficult, self-employment offered a new means to tap into his inner strength and to investigate what lies at the core of personal resiliency.

I didn’t intend to make this post about Tom’s physical issues – because that’s not what impresses me about him – but clearly these early experiences wove the foundation of his work in the world. He has walked a difficult path and he has used his challenges to empower not only himself, but others.

Yes, Tom was fortunate to encounter mentors early in his life who offered an alternative perspective regarding his physical challenges. I am equally certain that he exuded a spark of his own that inspired these 3 men to lend him a boost. He did not hide behind his ailments; instead he opened himself to receiving assistance, a common ingredient in the hero’s journey.

What Question Guides Your Day?

I could write a lot more about what I learned during the interview, but I’ll end this post with the most simplistic, yet powerful approach to managing a business – and life – around an unpredictable health issue. At the beginning of the day Tom asks himself:

  1. What can I realistically accomplish today?
  2. If needed, how can I modify or mediate pain so I can be focused on being of service to others today?