Evolution Mentoring is the culmination of Jeffrey Leiken’s 25 years of personal and professional exploration and learning. Here is his story:
In many ways, I was born on 3rd Base :
My father was financially successful enough that he could afford to send me to private Summer Camp every summer of my coming of age years, as well as to any college and graduate school I wanted to attend.
By Peoria, Illinois (my home town) standards, we were “well off” … our lives abundant with the advantages and opportunities having some money can offer.
My Grandfathers were classic immigrant success stories, one a dentist and the other a lawyer, both of whom put themselves through school, the first in their family lineages to go to college.
The values all my Grandparents and parents modeled for me were ones of work ethic, gratitude and humility. I was decently good looking, decently athletic, academically adept (I got almost all A’s through school, even graduated Valedictorian in college) and had “a gift to gab” as my Aunt used to say.
By the time I was a teenager, I was the one everyone expected to give toasts at happy events, eulogies at sad ones, and many suspected I might grow up to be a Rabbi because of my poise in front of audiences and my deep seated morality.
But there was a problem… a very big problem…
By the time I was a teen, despite how the image I projected on the outside might have looked to others, on the inside:
I didn’t like myself.
I wasn’t confident in my masculinity, often comparing myself to the “cool” guys .. the jocks… the funny, big personality, witty ones… the ones who played football and got all the girls… and this always left me feeling like a loser who no girl would ever want. (I’d been teased a lot by my older sisters when I was younger, so this only reinforced my insecurity)
I was extremely sensitive, felt things intensely and cried easily, and these made me extra careful to not put myself in situations where my sensitivity might be exposed. Thus I avoided risk by not doing or trying anything where I might fail and wind up appearing looking foolish and feeling vulnerable.
Whereas most teen boys lusted for sex with girls, I lusted to find a soul mate, someone I could tell my deepest secrets to.. I was a “hopeless romantic” which is “cute”, but also anything but sexy to a typical teen girl.
We had some family problems that really upset the order of things. Both of my sisters had a lot of struggles, one of them wound up being sent to a Boarding School after being kicked out of high school. This caused my parents tremendous grief and stress, and contributed to my becoming more withdrawn and invisible to them and others.
The one girlfriend I had in high school broke up with me after a few weeks because I was (in her words) “TOO INTENSE”. We were only Freshman at the time!
I was introspective, endlessly thinking, worrying and analyzing… often overly so. I experienced tension and neck pain, got some awful headaches and really struggled. It only got worse as I got older.
I was lonely, insecure and very needy, and the search for help and answers began:
In one month, I plowed through Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, Persig’s Zen & the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenace, Buber’s I & Thou, and the list began to grow…
I would seek council from my School Counselor, my Rabbi, my friends’ parents and even my parents’ friends. Talking to adults felt safer than talking to my peers. For many years, I always connected more with grown-ups, than my peers.
One of these adults in particular really “got” me. Patsy always had the right words to say and her presence alone helped me through some very dark and difficult times. When she died a few years ago I felt a loss that felt like I’d lost a family member.
I spent many weekends alone until, sometime around the beginning of Senior Year, I miraculously found a few others who shared my values.
We were all academically high achieving nerds. A few had girlfriends but mostly what we had were 4.0GPAs and a lot of ambition.
We formed a group who would meet for lunch one Sunday afternoon a month at Lou Malnatis’ Pizzeria. Our mission was to discuss philosophy, politics, psychology and the issues of our world.
We were anything but the typical high school boys who were playing video games, chasing girls and not giving a shit about the world. We cared. We wanted to grow up. We wanted our lives to amount to something.
We were already on a different path… we just didn’t know it.
College was no easier.
I started at Colby College in Maine, then left when my fantasy that I would finally find my like minded peers at this prestigious New England mecca on a hilltop in the Maine woods, was quickly replaced with the reality of beer stained floors, coke using Frat boys and required classes that held no interest.
So after two years, I transferred to the University of Wisconsin. I went from 1700 students on campus at Colby to classes with 1700 students in Madison. I hated it. Instead of being bored in small classes, now I was bored and burned out in large classes.
My grades tanked.
I had one friend, my roommate.
One very cold, snowy late November night in 1988, while I was wide awake at 2:30am reading Doestievsky’s Brother’s Karmazonoff (not for school, but again on my own search for more answers to life’s questions), it suddenly occurred to me:
There was a whole different life I could be living.. and that what I was looking for, I wasn’t going to find in Madison, Wisconsin, wasn’t going to find in a bleak Russian novel, wasn’t going to find through conventional learning at all!
I knew in that moment that I needed to leave school, at least temporarily… and there was no other place to go than the last bastion of hope for a soul-seeking 20 year old: California!
January 5th, 1989: The Day My Life Started Over
With nothing but discouragement from my family, a small cash loan from my dad and a plane ticket from my oldest sister (who worked for American Airlines at the time), I packed up and flew to San Francisco.
I arrived at my friend Geoff’s South of Market flat in a rainstorm, cold, hungry and I couldn’t have been happier.
I spent the next 6 months sleeping on the Living Room floor, working as a counselor at a Residential Treatment program for youth and exploring the nooks and hidden corners of every neighborhood of this remarkable city.
I began to make friends. I met interesting people. I hung out in cafe’s, went to hear different speakers, took long walks on the beach.
I got a cool job doing work I loved.
I went back to school at the University of San Francisco, became a straight A student again and eventually in 1991, graduated as Valedictorian. I wound up going there to Graduate School as well, earning my Masters in Educational Counseling in 1994 . A few years after that I started teaching Grad School there too… but that is a little ahead in the story.
Let me get back to 1989.
I thought I was finally on track… and then…
October 17, 1989: The day the shit hit the fan.
They call it “The Loma Prieta Earthquake”. At 5:04pm, just as the World Series was about to begin, an enormous, violent earthquake shook the entire San Francisco Bay Area, leading to billions of dollars in damage, collapsed bridges, collapsed buildings and trauma for millions of people.
I was home alone when it happened. I was terrified.
The shaking was so bad that it jarred my front door shut for a few seconds, trapping me inside.
When the dust settled several months later, when the aftershocks quieted and we could all sleep again at night, I finally had a break down.
I realized that I was 21 years old, not in school, running around seeking the meaning of life, and yet I was still a scared, insecure adolescent.
So I did the only thing that made sense: I went into therapy!
I explored my childhood, confronted my fears, cried and screamed, extrapolated my family story, confronted my parents, went to countless workshops, did energy work, met “healers”, studied Buddhism, went on solo backpacking vision quests “into the wild” and on road trips around the country… I became a vegetarian, quit on my Judaism, dipped my toes into Christianity then came back to Judaism with great passion.. went back to college, then went to graduate school and earned my Masters.
I finally got a girlfriend when I was 22! We met volunteering at a Crisis Hotline. I fell in love with her, I lost my virginity with her and then got my heart broken when she announced she was moving to New York and oh, by the way, I wasn’t invited. (She was 27 and much further along then I was).
In 1994 I was now 26 years old and even with 4 years of intensive psychotherapy, dozens of workshops and seminars, hours with healers and gurus and no meat in my diet for half a decade, I looked in the mirror one day and realized that absolutely nothing had changed… not One Damned Thing.
After all that personal development and spiritual seeking, I was still alone, had a poor self-image, felt emasculated, was hyper-sensitive, over thinking and over worrying everything. If anything all that attention on myself had only made me more self-absorbed than ever before.
Desperate and discouraged, I did the only logical thing I could think to do:
I packed up the car and went on yet another soul searching solo road trip… this one to Mount Shasta in Northern California… and while I was there, I read yet another book.
When I closed the last page I made a critical decision:
It was time to quit all this psychotherapy, all this seeking and my inner journey,… to stop trying to “find myself” and all these solo trips.
What I needed to do, was go become a man.
And the quickest and surest way to do that, was:
To get rich!
I went to business seminars, bought “get rich” programs, eventually quit my job (I’d been a counselor in the public schools), committed fully to my quest to make money…
How did it work out?
Well by 28 years old I was 90K in debt on credit cards, making no money and standing outside the US Bankruptcy Court with a lawyer I’d hired using one of the credit cards I just maxed out.
The worst sting of all though was when I learned that the one real estate investment I made, turned out to be a complete flop.
I’d wasted $10,000 my Grandfather had left me in inheritance and lost it all being stupid and careless – values he despised.
I was at one of the lowest moments of my life, before or since: I was 28 years old. Bankrupt. Humiliated. Failing at everything. Alone. Despondent.
No silver lining.
It fucking sucked.
But all hope was not completely lost.
There were two more unlikely paths to follow – and I have never been one who is unwilling to follow the bread crumbs.
One was a random opportunity I’d been offered to come speak to a group of summer camp counselors about how to work with kids. I’d always loved camp, loved telling stories and found that I felt totally energized when I did this. I’d gotten a lead – one single lead that was a long shot – in an opportunity to connect with a man in Boston who might be able to help me get connected with more camps.
The other was a woman I’d heard about when I’d studied NLP (starting in graduate school then continuing on as yet another in my quest to find the answer to my problems). She was in private practice nearby.
I contacted both.
Luckily, both responded positively.
The man in Boston (Bob Ditter – whom I will forever be indebted to) liked my work and connected me with a professional conference that was taking place in Chicago a few months later.
That was the beginning of a camp and youth development consulting career that has led me to work with 300 camps, countless other agencies, and to present to over 35,000 professionals in the 17 years since. I’ve since spoken on 4 continents, traveled over 2 Million Miles, lectured at prestigious Universities, given a TED Talk… and it all began because I reached out to Bob and he was willing to help me.
The NLP woman (Colleen Newlin) worked with me for a few months, then called me one day and told me not to come back!
She told me instead to go work with this man she’d met who she knew could help me. He was running a workshop a few weeks later and she insisted I had to go.
I begrudged and went, even though I’d given up on self-help seminars 5 years earlier.
I was so desperate, plus he offered a money back guarantee if I determined it wasn’t for me and wanted to leave after day 2 of a 4 day program.
One January Thursday morning in 1998, I walked into a room in Novato, California and met this larger than life character from Newark, New Jersey, named Joseph Riggio.
For two days I sat in a room with this man learning his MythoSelf Process and I hated him. He wasn’t charmed by me. He wasn’t impressed by me. He barely gave me the time of day.
Plus he was 100 times more interesting than me and at least 10 times more compelling speaking in front of a room, and that, up until now, was one of the only things I was actually really good at.
Finally right before lunch of the third day, I confronted him. I challenged something he was saying. People looked up at me as if I was rude and out of line.
He glared at me and asked me one simple question:
“Do you want me to reply to that now, in font of all these people, or alone with you later?”
“Now,” I replied, standing toe to toe with him.
That was kind of a mistake!
What happened next and for the next 20 minutes or so I will have to leave to those who witnessed it and maybe just maybe a video recording stashed away somewhere in Joe’s archives.
In those 20 minutes, this man proceeded to tear me down, rip apart my life and tell me things about myself that there is no way any ordinary human could have known… things I didn’t even know.
And while I tried to resist, eventually my ego gave way and I found myself with tears rolling down my cheeks… but they weren’t the phony tears I’d learned to cry at all my heal your inner child self-pity workshops… these were different tears.
For the first time in my adult life, I’d met someone who truly got me, could truly help me and would do so with the greatest kind of compassion known to man:
They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. It is also true that when the teacher is ready, the student appears.
I spent the next 5 years, from age 29 to 34, in as intensive an apprenticeship as likely exists on our planet. It was the kind we read about with the Zen Master and the Master Disciples, the Martial Arts guru and his Master Students… We had almost daily contact. Sometimes he would have me travel places on a moments notice, just to sit in the room of a training he was running and hold the video camera. Eventually,. he’d let me sit in front with him.
He guided me in the ways of business and following his methods, I quickly grew a 6 figure business doing work I loved (speaking, mentoring and coaching).
He guided me in the ways of doing transformational work with others, and when combined with my skills and natural proclivities, this enabled me to do work that was substantially more effective than I had done before.
He guided me in the ways of relating to women, and in no time I was dating, sexually active, and my confidence in this domain, was for the first time in my life, soaring.
Then one day in the summer of 2002 when I had just turned 34, I went on a blind date.
She was someone I’d met online on a Jewish Dating site.
This red head showed up an hour and half late (she got lost and had no cell phone), sweating (her car had no AC and no power steering and she was wearing a sweater – July in San Francisco typically calls for it)… and when she rang the bell and I opened the door and saw her for the first time, the first thing that went through my mind was:
“There’s something different about this one.”
She was the real deal. The kind you marry and have kids with and grow old together with… And I just wasnt ready to let go of freedom of bachelorhood, to commit fully.
So we were off and on for months.
Eventually she met someone else and I lost her.
It was my fault entirely. Instead of taking her out on New Years Eve, I chased after Olga, the 28 year old Russian chick who’d been flirting with me and who I totally wanted to bang.
Olga literally slammed the door in my car at 11:30pm. I went home and watched the fireworks from my roof – not the fireworks I’d been hoping for.
Meanwhile the redhead wound up being asked out by a guy who she instantly connected with and decided she wanted to date.
It was, needless to say, the worst New Years of my life.
I’d lost the red head.
Once again, I was alone. I was miserable.
And the most valuable work Joseph ever did with me, was just around the corner.
What we talked about over the next few months, grew me into a man who would commit and stop being alone.
I met another woman, got seriously involved, then woke up one day 8 months into it realizing that while I loved her, I wasn’t in love with her, so I ended it an hour later – just weeks before she was going to give up her place and move in with me.
That was August 2003. I was 35 then, and once again like so many other time in my life, I was alone.
I was making pretty decent money, doing work I loved.
I’d gotten my pilots license and was flying all over California and Oregon in my own plane.
I had friends, really excellent friends. Many of them were already married and busy raising their kids, and I became known affectionately as “Uncle Jeff”.
Everyone’s uncle, but no one’s father.
Then, out of the blue after nearly nine months of silence, one day the phone rang and the caller ID said it was the red head.
She, like me, was single again… and we began again…
Six months later we were engaged.
6 months after that we were married, our ceremony took place on a perfect Autumn day in Mount Shasta, California.
All my closest friends and family were there to celebrate, many of them with their kids in attendance.
Last week Robyn and I celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary. We have two daughters, Peyton 7 and Skylar 2.
I am 46 years old now. I awake each day to the realities of adult life and modern parenting: Getting the kids to school. Paying the bills, trying to save for the future, taking care of business… and while life has its challenges, we are in it together and I would never go back and never want it to be any different.
I love my wife. I love my children. I love the work I do.
I am grateful for the life I have led, and while things didn’t have to be as hard as they were, I get a chance now to help others ensure it isn’t so hard for them.
- My journey to a college degree to 5 years and 3 schools
- My journey to business success took until I was 29, and came after two failed businesses and one bankruptcy
- I didn’t meet my wife until I was 34 then got married at 36.
- I became a parent when I was 38.
Every one on their own time scale. Everyone on their own journey.
My quest to find the teachers who could help me, led me down many paths. When I finally found the one I needed, I was ready to do what was needed to get what I’d always wanted.
If you wind up working with me or my colleagues, you should care about this too.
By golly, by DAMN sure golly, if I can go and do it, SO CAN YOU.
How sure am I that we can help you?
How about 100% Sure!
At this point I have been able to use this methodology to help so many people navigate their way down a different path in life, that I am probably far more confident in your ability to get to where you want, than you yourself may even be.
The first step though is the one you must take next…
It begins by contacting me: