Pushing Up: What Twelve Months of Physical Challenges Taught Two Brothers About Connection, Leadership, and Purpose

Listen to the podcast on Inkandescent Radio Two brothers take us on an inner journey by pushing up through life's most important lessons

In this interview with Stephen and Jim, we learn to: Take the "I will" commitment and achieve audacious goals. Ask for help and find a genuine connection. Recognize limits — and prepare to fail. Embrace "should be fine" as a mantra against doubt. Practice empathy and reaching out in times of loss. And much more! Don't miss it.

A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, BeInkandescent Health & Wellness magazineI am thrilled to introduce you to authors Stephen Gilliland, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, and his brother Jim Gilliland. They have a big goal, a giant job, and a determination to keep the premise of their new book simple.

“We promise to each other to do at least one exercise activity every day. It doesn’t matter if you are sick, traveling, or tired. And to keep each other honest, we share one pic doing our activity every day,” the authors and brothers share on their book website: pushingupbook.com.

The dynamic duo embarked upon a journey of crazy workout challenges that increased in intensity as the year progressed; 10,000 push-ups each in March became 30,000 push-ups by December.

Authors Stephen Gilliland and Jim GillilandAt the time, they were each searching for something more – more from their relationship as brothers and more from their middle-aged bodies. And as each month passed, they discovered the unexpected gift of what it means to live more fully as connected brothers, fathers, husbands, and successful leaders.

I am excited to share their story with you and invite us to join them in the journey.

“We hope you  uncover scars you didn’t know you had, grow muscles and inner strength, and find authentic support in connecting more deeply with someone else,” Stephen says, about the tome which will take you on an inner journey of life through lessons on:

  • Taking the “I will” commitment and achieving audacious goals.
  • Asking for help and finding a genuine connection.
  • Recognizing limits and preparing to fail.
  • Embracing “should be fine” as a mantra against doubt.
  • Practicing empathy and reaching out in times of loss.

Here’s to Pushing Up! Click here to learn more about the book. Scroll down to check out the introduction.

About the Authors

Stephen Gilliland (pictured left): Dr. Stephen Gilliland is a University Professor at Claremont Graduate University where he teaches organizational psychology and is responsible for developing executive education and leadership development programs. Stephen is originally from British Columbia and studied psychology at the University of Alberta and Michigan State University. For 24 years, Stephen was a professor of management at the University of Arizona, where he served in a variety of leadership roles. His research examines the fairness of leadership practices. Through this merging of psychological, social, and managerial issues, he has authored over 50 journal articles and book chapters. He has published eight books in the series Research in Social Issues in Management. He is a Fellow in the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and received the Early Career Award from the same organization. Stephen has taught numerous courses on leadership, organizational behavior, healthcare, social entrepreneurship, human resource management, and leadership ethics. He has consulted with small and large organizations and conducted leadership training for companies around the world. He has served on the boards of several organizations. Stephen is married to Professor Cindi Gilliland and lives in Southern California. They share a wide variety of hobbies, including surfing, gardening, winemaking, and playing music. They spend time traveling to see their two adult children who always find interesting places to live.

Author Jim Gilliland (pictured above, right) Jim is President and CEO of Leith Wheeler Investment Counsel, one of Canada’s largest fully employee-owned investment management firms.  He brought extensive investment experience in Canadian and U.S. investment markets through his time at HSBC Asset Management/M.K. Wong & Associates in Vancouver and Barclays Global Investors (BGI) in San Francisco. Among his achievements were building out and managing a team of professionals covering interest rate strategies, corporate credit, securitized credit, and emerging markets; launching and managing a successfully fixed income hedge fund; developing platforms to manage risk; and developing customized client solutions and liability-driven solutions. Jim is a graduate of the University of British Columbia (B.Comm with honors). After his work at HSBC, Jim earned his Master’s degree in Financial Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.  Jim lives on a horse farm with his family in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia and volunteers his time at a variety of educational and professional not for profits.

By Stephen Gilliland and Jim Gililand

It was out of the blue, but it was not. We had just spent the holidays together; my daughter and her husband recently moved to Vancouver, where Jim and our parents live, and we all had a big family Christmas. Jim gave me a book for Christmas – Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.

In this book, Jesse Itzler describes a month of physical punishment that resulted from having a Navy SEAL live with him and train him daily. The journey defies typical workout wisdom by eschewing “recovery days” and pushing each day harder than the last. Itzler was in decent shape at the start of the month. By the end, he was running with a 50-pound vest and completed 1,000 push-ups in a day.

Some of the workouts he described seemed insane. But he pushed through the insanity for physical and mental gain. I saw Jim reading this book shortly after he bought it. He finished it in a couple of days. He gave it to me and asked me to read it right away.

JG: Have you finished the book?

SG: Just a chapter. I am reading it to Cindi.

JG: Okay, once you are done, I have a New Year’s resolution workout proposal for you.

That filled me with fear. What would he be proposing? Would I be able to handle it? I was in good shape for 51 but not great. My wife expressed her concerns. “You’re not going to do any of those crazy Navy SEAL things with Jim, are you?” But I was also excited.

Workouts had become boring. Runs had become shorter. And I was five pounds heavier than I had been in my late 40s. When I think about it, the workouts and physical challenges were not as big a concern for me as the commitment. Could I commit to a greater focus on working out? I don’t want exercise to run my life. I have always been the opposite of a weekend warrior when it comes to workouts: I am pretty good during the week but usually take weekends off. It’s a break from work and working out, a break from schedules. I don’t take commitments lightly, and this was going to be a big one.

But it wasn’t just about the workouts and commitment. Part of my excitement was the growing connection with my brother. Jim is seven years younger than me, and as kids, it was almost like we grew up separately. Our older brother, Brian, is fewer than two years older than me, and he and I were inseparable growing up. We tried to include Jim, but he was so much younger.

When I was 18, I moved 500 miles from central British Columbia to Edmonton, Alberta, to go to university. Jim was ten going on 11 at the time. Or maybe it was ten going on 16. He had always seemed older and wiser than his age.

Many people I have talked to have found that, as adults, they grew more distant from the siblings they were close to growing up, but Jim and I have been the opposite. Two separate childhoods: For Jim, it was almost like being an only child. But in adulthood, we developed a strong bond even when contacts were infrequent. When I went through a divorce from my first wife in graduate school, Jim was the family member who flew out to spend time with me, making sure I was okay. He was 17 at the time and a freshman in college.

But we could also go for four or six months without ever contacting each other. We lived separate lives with a strong bond between us. So, another thought that crossed my mind when Jim presented me with the idea of a challenge was excitement over the prospect of more regular contact with one of the smartest and kindest people I know.

Jim’s Turn

Growing up, it almost seemed that I had four parents. My brother Brian was nine years older and moved out of the house when he was 16. My brother Stephen was seven years older and left home when he graduated high school. My Dad was working in Vancouver, so it was just my Mom, and having Stephen gone left the house very empty. His trips home during the holidays were an intense time where I could tell him everything that had been bottled up since his last visit. Also intense was my dread near the end of his visit with the knowledge that he would be leaving back to school soon.

Since that time, the intermittent intensity would describe our relationship. Flying to East Lansing to help him through his divorce. The occasional visit to Tucson to see our niece and nephew grow up. A meaningful connection is always there in the background but intermittent. A relationship I didn’t fully appreciate until that phone call in the hospital. My wife Jenny was only 30 weeks pregnant and was recovering from the surgery of an emergency C-section. Our twins, a 2.5-pound daughter, and a 3.5-pound son were both very sick in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

I remember that feeling of complete shock and helplessness. My only thought was, “I need my brother, and I need him now.”

“Stephen, Jenny’s been in an accident. I need you; I need you so bad.”

“Jim, where are you?”

“John Muir Hospital, Stephen, please get here. I can’t do this. I can’t.”

“Just hang on; I’m on my way. I will get the next flight. I will be there. Just hang in there.”

I counted the hours until he arrived and did everything I could just to hold it together. In the years that passed since that day, we sustained a strong bond—a deeper connection from his supporting me at a time in my life when I needed it most. But again, as time passed, our contact became more occasional.

As I approached the New Year and the inevitable emptiness of his latest departure after the holidays, my thoughts turned to resolutions. I wanted to find a way to increase the interaction from a distance. I wanted to create something important together. This relationship was too important not to make a priority.

We hope that by sharing our journey, we can entertain, provoke, and perhaps even inspire. This is not a book about getting in shape. Truth be told, after all the workouts, I still carry that extra five pounds. Instead, this is a book about a powerful journey for two brothers and the lessons for life that were uncovered on that journey.

Learn more at pushingupbook.com.