Matt talks about his business inspiration and motivation for entrepreneurship; why authenticity in brand storytelling matters; and shares his message about self-health, his favorite comeback, and a few executive coaching stories.
Matt Gagnon is the Founder of Atomic Mornings and Matt Gagnon Coaching. He is a TEDx Speaker, a 2x Author, a rule breaker, a bulletproof optimist, is faith-fueled, and is living with a courageous heart. He wrote his comeback story and continues to help others do the same through his executive coaching brand, Matt Gagnon Coaching.
0:53 Megan Ingram (MI): Today, we welcome Matt Gagnon, founder of Atomic Mornings, executive coach, TEDx speaker, and a believer in comeback stories and the power of routines. We're going to be chatting about executive coaching, leadership and entrepreneurship and his favorite brand stories. How's it going, Matt?
1:12 Matt Gagnon (MG): I’m wicked good. It's good to be here.
1:13 MI: Yeah, great to have you on.
1:16 MG: Thank you. I appreciate it.
1:16 MI: Well, to start I definitely love your story and I'm a sucker for comeback stories, too. So wanted to talk a little bit to start about your favorite underdog story and how it relates to your own.
1:29 MG: Oh, man. Typically, I've always been a fan of just the movies first. Every movie I've ever watched, and I love that story of David and Goliath. Actually, David and Goliath was the one that really sparked a big interest to me later in life. And I don't care whether you're a person of faith or not. It really doesn't matter because even the story by itself is really bad ass. I mean, who goes charging after a giant when actually nobody on either side of the field likes you, nobody's rooting for you and everyone's laughing at you. And all you got is a couple of stones in your hand. And so I love that story. And again, there is a scripture around it like first Samuel, 17:48. And it says David ran towards Goliath. And the visualization for me was one of the giants in my life that I should be running towards. And I've used that metaphor for every goal in life. What are the giants I should be running towards? And there's so many times in my own life where I saw myself and was like, man, this situation in my life is a giant and am I choosing to retreat from it? Or am I just running towards that thing? And without really defying logic, because I feel like that's what David did. He defied all logic. He didn't care because if he thought logically about it, he would never do it. That's a big one, but then the obvious ones, I'm a sucker for all the movies like Rudy and Rocky and Miracle on Ice. Like all that stuff gets me. Terry Fox in Canada, a one legged legend. That'd be amazing too. But that stuff just blows my mind about what the human mind can overcome. Like, it's just amazing.
3:17 MI: I totally agree. And I'm a big, like I said, I'm very much, especially when it comes to the sports, like any of those comeback stories, I'm always rooting for the underdog and you know, you love those stories of someone who comes back, who goes through something and then rises above it.
3:34 MG: Every time. Absolutely.
3:37 MI: Let's talk a little bit about entrepreneurship. What about entrepreneurship inspires you?
3:44 MG: You know I have been an entrepreneur since I was a little kid. And somewhere along the way, I lost my way, but I had my first business when I was eight, running the trading baseball card circuit as a kid, we'd go to different shows, I'd trade, buy, sell. I made money as a kid and then running my own lawn-mowing business, shoveling business, even a DVD rental business out of my dorm room in college. I'm pretty sure it's not legal, but then I got into the corporate world and retail, and I just forgot about all of it. I got swept away by the salary, the praise, and it just took me away and I lost my way for a very long time. And what pulled me back was just the freedom that I could have as an entrepreneur, but also the limitless possibilities in entrepreneurship. I had limitless success that I could achieve and also limitless failure. Like there were both extremes, there was a trade-off, but I knew I thrived in that and it was just this ability where I could carve out this life that I've always wanted to have. And I finally decided, you know what, I'm going to go after this thing. And really I'll tell you quickly, is that the inspiration for it was the birth of my son in 2013. I was traveling so much in my retail career at one point 26 nights a month. And when I saw my son after a very challenging birth, show up and I was holding him in my arms and my wife was still in surgery. I just made a point. I was never going to miss out on a moment of that kid's life. He was just everything to me. And I also want to show him, it's never too late to write your own comeback story, that you could leave a career that you've always known and go after something special. And what it took to build something of your own. And that was a big catalyst for me.
5:47 MI: Yeah, and I think it's really cool. Even in this crazy year that we're all in, there's been a lot of those kinds of stories going around where people are really dipping into what they're passionate about and what inspires them to create their own stories. And I think that's one of the positives this year amongst so much craziness and negative things that have gone on. I want to talk a little bit about authenticity in digital marketing. I'm a big believer in authentic marketing. Talking about the things that make you unique and really honing into that. And that's one of the big foundational pieces about brand storytelling and the agency brand. How do you find you can be your most authentic self on social media?
6:33 MG: Yeah, I think that's the secret sauce right now. It’s authenticity and being real. Also, the value of expertise. I've been really diving deep into David Baker's work and the business of expertise and how that really separates you from everybody else. That you can't just specialize in everything. You have to find something that separates you from everybody. And you've got to be boldly confident in that area. And that's where you get to charge a premium for your expertise, too. But vulnerability and authenticity is what got me started because in the very beginning, when I rarely had a dime to my name, when I started this business, all I had was a LinkedIn platform that was free and that's it. And so I wasn't sitting there pimping out my business to every single person. I wasn't mass-connecting with people. I just wrote. And I wrote about real stuff. I said, here's where I am in life. I used all of the adversity and experiences I was going through, had been through and used those as a way to serve other people. And I was very real and honest. Again, I'm serving people through challenges in life, but I'm also sharing like- Hey, I'm human too. And so I built relationships with people because there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people who do what I do as a coach, everybody and their mother's a coach, you know? And everybody's been through adversity too. A lot of people have been through stuff that I've been. There's a lot of people who've accomplished stuff that I've done. The only thing that's different is me. I'm what's different. My value system is what's different. And my goal is to find people who align with my values and my approach. And so I see authenticity as being a lighthouse on social media, where you're just shining this light out with your content and how you connect with other people as this way of saying, look, I'm over here. If you align with this, we're probably going to have a great time working together.
8:26 MI: Yeah. And I liked the other part you talked about, which is also figuring out who those people are, because I think that's a big part of it too, is, you know, can't be everything to everyone. You've got to kind of find your niche, so to speak and kind of hone in on that audience while you're being authentic and transparent and all those things.
8:45 MG: Can't let finding your niche stop you from creating your business or doing business. You’ve got to get out there and just start doing it. And sometimes, your clients will tell you what your niche is. They'll tell you, like, Hey, we like you because of this. I don't really want to be known for that. They say we like it though. We'll pay you for it. But it starts to do that. In the very beginning, I had a very wise mentor mind telling me that said, when I asked him- Hey, who is your niche for a client? And they're like- When I first started, it was whoever sat in front of me. I knew I could serve and help anybody, but I started just doing the work first. And I started to understand who are the people I love, love working with and who loves working with me. And that started to carve out my niche, but you never prevent yourself from doing the work you get out there and you just start.
9:40 MI: And I really liked that too, because I'm a big believer in not having a niche, so to speak. When you're talking about clients. What do you stand for message or whatever those things are going to be about. And for every brand that can be different, but those should be the things that you look for in clients. Do they stand for the same things as opposed to, are you an X industry? Do you hit a certain level of income? Those kinds of ways of defining clients or people you're going to work with. Great. So you did hit a little bit on executive coaching. I definitely want to talk a little bit about it because it is a very interesting career path. What attracted you to executive coaching and what do you find most rewarding about the work?
10:24 MG: They're high achievers, and it doesn't necessarily have to be the title. It's a mindset, too. But they understand what adversity is or I'll say when I've made it to the position they're in or where they are in life. So they get adversity, they also get how to overcome it. They get how to thrive through it, but sometimes you can only get so far with your own knowledge. You only know what you know. And so I love being able to get in there with that outside perspective. What I love even more though, is helping people with that high achiever mindset also find success. Offline too, in their homes personally. I'll tell you one thing. I don't have a ton of respect for the outrageously professionally successful executive who's massively overweight, unhealthy, running themselves into the ground. Family life is poor. I don't know what there is to really appreciate about that because you're taking a fast track to a shorter life. I have an immense amount of respect for the person who is also finding success at work building great teams, can go home, have a beautiful family, or a healthy life, and they find that give and take. Now, granted, there's never this perfect stationary balance, but they have the wisdom to know when to shift and move back and forth. I love helping that person, because we need those high achievers. We need those mindsets because they're the ones that help us create new innovations and futures and new stuff in this world that solve major problems. I want to make sure that those things see the light of day
12:06 MI: That's really well said. Your tagline for your brand is “living with a courageous heart.” Tell me more about how and why you landed on that.
12:15 MG: Living with a courageous heart. I believe it comes from that story of David and Goliath, because I truly do believe that David lived with a courageous heart, and that's what fueled him, his faith fueled him, but it was that courageous heart for his faith that took him towards that giant and living with a courageous heart for me it also means to live life aligned by your values. And so often in life, people live life by the values defined by others or society. And the biggest transition I made in my life was the day I decided to say, screw all of those rules, screw those value systems and started shedding all of that garbage that I put on me, all these upgrades and suits and all this stuff that I wore thinking that other people would approve of me, and decided to find my values in life and implement those. And honestly, those values, I help other people find those high achievers. And they don't really necessarily look like what you think they are. It's like finding value. I value nature, music, and connection. And when I'd make time for those things, even the smallest 15 minutes a week, for some of those things, it evokes the best in me- creativity, gratitude, perspective. And all of a sudden I can pour all of that into my work, too. And it pours into my family. So it values finding time for the things that are most important. So the BMW wasn't important to me anymore. I got rid of that thing and I got a Jeep that aligns more with me. I can go make my own roads, take the doors and top off, put my family and dog in that thing and conquer the States as we travel from national park to national park, that's what I believe in.
13:58 MI: Yeah. And it's amazing how that happens when you do those things, how you're more productive, you're more passionate. You feel lighter, all those things. For me personally, a big theme this year is the idea of being free, right? It's being able to live it by your playbook and not the rules as you know them. There's some give and take with that, but live it free like that.
14:27 MG: I will tell you though, I've been fortunate enough since September my family and I have traveled almost the entire United States as a road trip, just going to national parks, and I was still able to do my career and that took some practice. I do believe you can have your cake and eat it too. And people who don't, I just think aren’t creative enough, but it takes hard freaking work to accomplish these things. If you're willing to do the work, you can have all the cake you want. It is hard work, and I'm willing to do that because, I want that experiential life and look 40 minutes away from where I live right now is my house. This beautiful home I had built several years ago, but currently there's another family living in it. And I was fine with that. We sold all of our possessions for the most part, leased that house out to somebody else, and then we borrowed an RV for a while and traveled the country in that. And now we live in a small apartment and we invest our money into living experiential life. And we pour it into a business that also serves others. I don't need all that stuff.
15:32 MI: Yeah, that's so cool. And you know, definitely, it's a big thing for me. The people that do that and live like that are just, I'm immensely appreciative and in awe of them. And it's really cool to see more of that and to see that going around, with people to share. Self-health is also something that you talk a lot about, and especially your Atomic Mornings, which are very inspiring by the way. What is your message to the people who are struggling with self health and how do you stay motivated, especially as a quote unquote morning person?
16:11 MG: Boy hearing that being a morning person is still weird to hear that's an unexpected journey that I started two years ago. Self health and self care really started back in 2015 when I realized I had been putting my self care last for a long time. And my health crumbled, especially, I'll tell you quickly. In my twenties, I was drinking 15 cans of Red Bull a day plus 60 milligrams of Adderall. And that was so I could go nonstop so I could keep up with all the promotions I was getting, the pay, and especially the praise and that's what just propelled me. But I also didn't know that I was getting sick over time, too. It started catching up with me slowly, all the Red Bull and Adderall wasn't working anymore. But in 2015, my body said it had enough. It had enough of not sleeping and had enough of all the supplements and things to keep me going and the stress. And I developed a ton of chronic illnesses that put me on short-term disability and almost long-term. And it's what knocked me out of the career that I had known my entire life. But it was the greatest thing that ever happened. And so I was forced- I was given an opportunity to answer a call to adventure, to start my own business. And instead of grinding into this new business, this entrepreneurship, and treating it the same way I treated my last career that almost killed me, where I almost killed me in my career, I did it differently. And I started focusing on the things I can control in life. Because my health seemed out of control and all these other circumstances, but I realized I could control my sleep, my prayer meditation, my nutrition, my fitness, and the people I chose to surround myself with. Those were supply lines to me and they had to become non-negotiable because I can't bitch about being sick if I'm not eating right. If I'm not making time to take care of myself with fitness or even praying or meditating or sleeping properly or surrounding myself with negative people. I've no right to complain about my circumstances. So I found a way to control those. And I'll tell you what, anyone who says that you can't make time for those things, well, they officially can make time for getting sick. They can make time for burning out instead. So you tell me that you can't make time for any of those things, and I will tell you great. Well, you are making time to burn yourself out.
18:40 MI: Yeah. That's so well said, and I'm a big believer in having to take that time. And I can attest myself, going through where you're working so many hours and you hit a wall. And I think it's really important to know when you're hitting, even when you need to take a little bit of time away for yourself and whether it's even just a long weekend or whatever it may be to take time and do what you can to unplug and reassess so that you're in a healthier, more productive place.
19:13 MG: That's exactly where the Atomic Mornings process came from. It was just one day, everything clicked two years ago in the winter time. It was two years ago in December of 2020, actually. And I was in Maine at the time in this cabin in the middle of the woods. We were staying there for a while and it's freezing cold out. And I realized I want to have this time to myself, and this time for stillness, this time for me. And I had always said I was a night person. And then I realized I've never actually given mornings a fair chance. I just said, I don't like them. And I'd never really tried. And what I realized was I only stayed up late at night because sometimes I was so stressed about tomorrow. I just didn't want to go to sleep. I didn't want tomorrow to come. And so logically, that made sense to me. And also there was a time where there were no emails, no expectations, no phone calls. It was me-time. When my productivity always crashed, it didn't make sense. After I thought about it, I was like- Oh, I'll stay up and do some work. But then the more tired I got, I got less quality of my work. But if I got up early, the momentum would only pick up and go into the day. So I was like, I just need to learn how to reallocate my time. So I figured out how many hours I want every morning for me until the family wakes up? 4:30 was the number that was bonkers. I was like- 4:30? I'm used to sleeping until 10. I've always worked careers that enabled me to sleep in. My retail career did.
20:44 MI: What is your favorite leadership quote that has helped you throughout your career?
20:47 MG: The one that sticks out the most is, “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.” And I've always dug that one. I can never remember who says that, but that always stuck with me a lot because managers always did things in this black and white way. This is by the book. This is how things are done, and on paper that looks great, but it doesn't always work out that way. Leaders do the right thing. They know when to bend things. They know when to circumvent stuff. They know when to break things in order to do the right thing, when to honor something, and that's something I've always lived by. And that also means for me, just even the rules of society, these unwritten rules basically. And so I love breaking these unwritten rules. That's one of my favorite things, but the one that's really grown on me now over time is, it's an unknown author, but I've heard it a few times is “The world wants the best of you, not what's left of you.” And that's where I've really believed in the power of routines and self care.
21:54 MI: Totally makes sense. And I totally agree. Those are very important things. What is your favorite executive coaching story from a client experience?
22:06 MG: I think my favorite one is having a client that was an incredibly high achiever, really successful company. And it was the opportunity when their company was still continuing to thrive and, struggling with mornings too, at the same time, struggling with his routines, but still on paper, wildly successful, but it was the moment into the program when all of a sudden they were starting to have dinner with their family, too. For the first time in ages, dinner with the family, dinner with the kids, coming home at a reasonable time every day, and then still thriving more at work, having coworkers and people that reported to them starting to recognize a difference in their attitude and their energy, and then also their spouse and the kids recognizing the difference in them. That all of a sudden, boundaries are being established. Their health was improving. And that stuff really gets me emotional sometimes when I can think about people who are thriving as parents, as spouses, and as CEOs. That's the greatest sweet spot in the world right there. And so that was the thing. The story really was that they had had maybe four dinners at home on time in the past year or so. And now all of a sudden, they've gone 28 days out of the month by doing that. And they were creating time to do extracurricular stuff and it was just pouring into the work, too. So I love that they learned this beautiful dance. Between thriving in both places and having these non-negotiable values and boundaries, because now that they had created this new time in the morning for themselves, they made that untouchable, nobody had access to that. And people tried to, at first, when they found out- Oh, you're awake, great. Can we do a touch base and stuff like that? And it was tempting to say sure, sure, sure. Absolutely. And then all of a sudden, they said no, that's my time. Wait, you didn't try and call me when you thought I was asleep. So no that's mine. I love seeing that. It's one of my favorite things, especially seeing how being a parent, all of a sudden became this thriving area. Truly, truly one of my favorites and that's just actually just become this repetitive story now over time. So I never get tired of it. So it's always my favorite.
24:47 MI: Yeah. And I think that's probably something everyone struggles with is finding those boundaries whatever they may be. For me, it's as simple as call days versus no-call days. Like having a zone where you can actually do work, like trying to find boundaries, that will allow you to be more productive. Because trying to do everything in a day can sometimes be just exhausting.
25:10 MG: It was seeing the person that learned to turn the phone off on certain days and then learning how to delegate to other people in order to have more family days, but also learning to ditch some of the guilt, too, the parent guilt also about saying like, Hey, kids this day, you won't see me. I'm going to be working more telling the spouse, but it was more intentional now. It wasn't just happening all over the place, but then also telling work- I'm unavailable right now. You won't be able to get me and those boundaries are amazing. So it can go either way, because I understand as an executive, a CEO, an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to put in the extra work, you have to grind and hustle, but that's the one-off not the trend. And it's the same thing, at home too, you can't always be at home either. You should feel like there can't be a ton of guilt because you actually need to step away from home and do your job. So it goes both ways.
26:08 MI: Yeah. And that's the thing that I love about your atomic mornings. Doing that with workouts. I have a similar thing where I ride a Peloton bike and I try to keep as set as I can. For me, it's typically the three o'clock hour. I try to make that like my zone, but because mostly I can't ride in the morning. It's hard for me in the morning. So I try to do afternoons if I can, and try to keep to those types of scheduling where every time you're going to get on the bike or you're going to do whatever it is.
26:38 MG: That’s the thing. And that's where I challenged people though, too, where it is kind of hard because sometimes it's doing the hard stuff that ends up making it easier to do other stuff. And, look, routines are mundane and boring sometimes. I mean, they're not fun. They can be ridiculously monotonous, but doing boring routines can also help you live an extraordinary life. That's it. It's a small investment actually doing something boring that can help lead to something incredibly extraordinary.
27:07 MI: Well said. What tips do you have for people who might be struggling to tap into their best self right now, or maybe aren't finding themselves being their most productive day in and day out?
27:19 MG: Well, hire me. You’ve officially fallen into my pool of clients. I think the first thing is to really take an inventory of what is the impact I really want. These things that I want to do well in my life. If you want to work out more, but you're struggling to find a way to do that. Well, what's the impact you want out of that? What's that going to give you in life? And instead of you trying to figure out, like- I want to work out five days a week, I want you to just start by asking yourself- what's one thing that I need to do in order to work out just once a week? What am I willing to do in order to do it once a week? Because honestly, if you never stop and actually try and solve the problem, it's just a beautiful idea of yours. It's not an actual thing that you're serious about. So think about what's that one thing that you're willing to change in your life to actually do it. And if you're not willing to do it, stop talking about wanting to do it. It's just a waste of time. So it always starts with just one thing. And that's the thing with the mornings when I'm this ridiculous over-achiever and I've always been that way. But when I started with mornings, I stopped all that crap. I said, my number one goal is to wake up at 4:30. That's it. I don't care if I sit at the edge of the couch with my mouth open and do nothing, until the rest of the day starts, it was just to wake up. And normally I'd fill the whole thing. So don't do that to yourself either. Don't fill the calendar with all this space, leave some white space on your canvas, on your calendar, give yourself some time, but you will get hungrier and hungrier to take on more and more because it didn't take long for me to do mornings when all those it's almost like- I think I want to do some reading, and I started reading. I think I want to go to the gym, too. And I started going to the gym. I was like- I want to eat healthier. And it just started slowly building up, building up, building up and all of a sudden it's like, I'm a machine. I am so untouchable right now, you know? So start slow. And just start thinking about that one piece of change that's going to help you execute your first goal. That's it just small, small.
29:35 MI: I always say, even when you're trying to do these like bigger goal setting exercises that we recently just went through in January, like the best way to achieve this bigger thing, whatever it may be, is to think about it in two to four week increments. What are you going to do in that short period of time that's going to allow you to achieve X? And even if you're talking about a business goal or a social media goal, it's the same principle. What are you trying to do on a daily or weekly basis that's going to allow you to achieve that one thing as opposed to trying to take it all together in one fast. Because that just never works, generally. 30:10 MG: In all honesty. One of my biggest influences was James Clear in his Atomic Habits book, and he focuses on all of that stuff around habits and those tiny changes. That's really the essence of what Atomic is, and then my focus just became on the morning's piece of it, you know? And it wasn't just about how you can do these routines, but it was also about this emotional awareness to getting up early enough to actually understand, how do I feel today? And then being able to take things on. It makes a world of difference.
30:40 MI: Totally agree. What are the next big things for you in 2021? I know it's been quite a ride for you over the last few months. So as you're getting your bearings here, just a little sneak peek into what 2021 has in store for you.
30:54 MG: I'm really excited about this year. Crazy enough as it is, 2020 was probably one of the greatest years ever for me. Even though it was riddled with extreme adversity, it was epic. And I think those two typically go hand in hand actually, but in 2021 Atomic Mornings is really starting to take off. I am so blessed that this business is running. But more importantly, that it's serving other people and making a difference. It's going to continue to grow. Matter of fact, I'm going to have other people start supporting me on other coaches coming on board that can help support it too, because I'm in the central time zone. And when I travel and I go West, serving my Eastern time zone folk, that gets challenging. It’s really, really early as I travel West. But I want to be able to serve more people. That is definitely going to be expanding. You continue to see more of that. I'm also super excited about filming my TEDx talk this month. And this is historical, because it was supposed to happen a year ago in March. And then obviously everything hit the fan and there were all these ideas about when this was going to happen, where we would do it, how we would do it, and it was supposed to be in Indiana. And finally they decided, here's how we're going to do it. You're not coming to Indiana. Find a venue in your local area and we'll find a videographer, send them to you, and you will film it in your own area. That is going to be historical TEDx talks. It's not been done before. So now I get the honor of doing my TEDx talk in my town of Austin, Texas, and I love that. It would be great to be on a stage and share that with everybody, you know? Because honestly, I don't care if it's a TEDx talk. All I care about is that I get a chance to serve more people on a bigger stage. You don't get paid to do these things, but it's an awesome opportunity though, to serve. And so I'm really, really looking forward to sharing the story that I'll be there and it will be called “living with a courageous heart.” And I can't wait to get that out there and hope that it serves more people.
33:06 MI: That's awesome. I definitely will keep my eye out for it and I’m sure it will be impressive and amazing. Well, thank you so much for joining the show today. It was great chatting with you. Where can listeners find you?
33:17 MG: The biggest place you can find me right now is LinkedIn. That's my playground. You can find me under my name there, and you can't miss me. I got a ton of weird emojis and stuff in my headline, but you can definitely find me there. Also you can find me on Instagram, under @iammattgagnon, and @IamAtomicMornings.io.