Interviews | September 28, 2021
Finding Positivity Amid Perseverance
It’s no secret that we’ve all been through some tough times recently. The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on businesses and separated us from our friends and family. The difficulties of the past 18 months have underscored the importance of remaining positive, even in adversity.
John Kriesel, who will deliver the closing keynote at CEO Summit, knows very well the importance of positivity in challenging times. Kriesel was wounded in Iraq in 2006 and spent nine months recovering in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He says keeping a positive attitude and a sense of humor helped him get through his recovery and has anchored his life over the years.
PostScript caught up with Kriesel ahead of his session, “Still Standing. Still Smiling,” to discuss his background and what CEO Summit attendees can expect to learn from his talk.
Can you tell us about yourself? What led you to becoming a motivational speaker?
I joined the National Guard on my 17th birthday and served 10 years. While in the National Guard, you also have a regular, full-time civilian job. I worked at an ink manufacturing facility in Minneapolis called Kohl & Madden. I did that from when I was 19 up until 25, when I was wounded in Iraq.
When I was wounded in Iraq, it changed my whole life and forced me to have a different perspective. I lost both of my legs and two of my friends in that blast. I learned to be flexible and had to completely pivot from doing very physical labor — whether as an infantryman in the Army or manufacturing ink on the civilian side — to asking, “What am I good at? What other strengths do I have?”
And I learned that my story is crazy. I still can’t believe it happened to me. People want to hear it, whether it’s in the book that we wrote — “Still Standing” — or from me. They want to learn what I’ve learned without actually going through it.
As I started telling the story out loud, the demand started to grow. I already feel like what I went through was worth it, but being able to impact others — whether it’s people who are struggling personally or professionally and can gain some perspective from what I’ve been through — I enjoy that.
How does positive thinking help companies?
Positive thinking becomes a culture from the top down — from the leadership of a company all the way down to the employees. It can be difficult sometimes. I had a position in a regular job where it was not a positive work environment because of certain people in it. I was tasked with taking over, and I brought my mindset and attitude in. I created what I felt was the best plan moving forward. A lot of that was surrounding positivity and having a good, healthy work environment. And then eventually the people who don’t operate that way? They move on because that isn’t conducive to how they behave.
During tough times, a positive mindset is what’s going to help you get through it, reflect on what you’ve been through and make positive change. Those tough times are nothing but a bump in the road because you’re focused on the good. You have that culture developed. That will help you get through turbulent times. When times are tough, that’s when the true test is. That positivity will pay dividends then.
What’s your favorite part about speaking at conferences like CEO Summit?
I love getting to meet so many different people from different industries. Many times, I wasn’t familiar with the ins and outs of an industry [heading into the conference]. But by the time I leave the conference, I’ve learned quite a bit
Specifically speaking, when it’s decision-makers, that’s fantastic. Hopefully my message can impact a cultural attitude throughout that organization that will get down to all employees. That’s one part I really enjoy.
Can you share a preview of the message you’ll give during your session?
I talk a bit about my time in the military and my life. I go into the main aspect of the message I’m sharing; I discuss what happened to me when I was wounded in combat in Iraq in 2006 and how it changed my perspective on life. But I also talk about how a positive attitude and a sense of humor got me through it, and how it allowed me to live a quality of life now that I didn’t have even before I was wounded.
I don’t have legs now, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Anyone can take what I’ve learned and apply it to their personal lives or how they run their business, and really make the best out of it.
What’s the No. 1 reason CEO Summit attendees should be excited for your session?
They’re going to walk away uplifted and inspired. It’s a heavy story, but there are laughs in it. People should be excited because they’re going to walk away with a new perspective on life.
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