PAST / PRESENT / FUTURE
Rather than writing the complete story of Andy Petranek, I decided to write this bio about my journey in getting where I am today. Some of it is about accomplishments… but that’s just a small part of the story. Most of it is about the inner journey I’ve been on for most of my adult life. What follows is my best attempt at putting into words what is very difficult to actually find words for… my intention is that this serves you in some way - perhaps in helping you see or hear little parts of yourself that have been niggling at you for years, but you’ve been ignoring. My encouragement to you… pay attention - as you are the only one who can.
Looking back over the past 30 years, I see the breadcrumbs… how everything has led me to this moment, to this calling, to the work that I do now as a life, leadership, and performance coach:
- Feeling inside, back in my late teens/early twenties that something was “off” but I couldn’t explain it or even formulate the words to describe it.
- Decades of self-exploration work with coaches, seeking, practicing, and self-discovering to find answers to questions that I didn’t even know to ask
- Years as a student of Zen Buddhism
- Earning a master’s degree in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica.
Of course, I didn’t see the trail at any point along the way. Nor did I have a planned route or progression in mind. It was as if there was an invisible force pulling me, guiding me toward this innermost desire for self-expansion, understanding, learning, and growth. As I see it now, it was actually a calling for radical self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love, but it’s only now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I can see that trail.
I was born into a family of professional, classical musicians. My mom, a grad of Eastman School of Music, was a violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer. My dad, who studied with the world-renowned conductor, Pierre Monteux, was primarily known as a violist and conductor. My Aunt was a pianist, choral director, and composer. Music was everywhere in my life, it was pouring out of my ears. I knew more about classical music as a kid than most learn in their entire lives… in fact, learning a new instrument was almost as common as getting a new pair of shoes. By the age of six, I chose the trumpet (or it chose me) as “the one.”
I continued to grow up, learn, and sponge up everything from life that I could. This included significant traumatic life events (Dad is an alcoholic, parents splitting up), as well as little momentary upsetting things that I internalized (comments from friends, parents, teachers, and from my own inner voice). Like almost any other kid, I made sense of these life challenges by creating an inner narrative that included the assumption that who I was, wasn’t enough. And to get the attention, love, and acceptance that I so desperately wanted, I needed to prove my worthiness, value, and enoughness to the world. To me, on the inside, this was a matter of survival, while on the outside, to the rest of the world, I had a perfectly normal, great life. And I did… have a great life!
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear - I never looked at this from the perspective that something was actually wrong with my family or my life. As far as I was concerned, I was living a perfectly normal and AWESOME life, one that I loved, and was grateful for. Nor did I ever look at this view of reality as anyone’s fault. I’m not blaming anyone, especially not my parents or family. It was simply the way I made sense of the events happening around me in the world.
My subconscious “keep Andy safe” strategy gained strength with each challenging moment of life. My inner voice would twist anything upsetting or challenging that happened to fit this narrative. And the ensuing dialogue became my inner “safety net” - designed to protect me from my misunderstanding that the world was inherently unsafe, and people were out to get or hurt me.
My inner dialogue went something like this:
“Andy, something is wrong here. You are obviously not good enough or worthy as you are. So from now on, to ensure you are safe and protected, you must always prove your worthiness to others through outward-facing “success”. Never show your weakness or vulnerability. Measure yourself against others, not where you excel, but where THEY are comfortable and great. Prove your worth by being smarter, faster, stronger, fitter. Make sure you keep up appearances - got to look good to others at all costs. Do whatever you need to do, to be accepted. Judge yourself based on what others think about you. Compete and win so that you look good in their eyes. Never falter. Never let them see you sweat… or fail.”
This mindset took many forms over the years, and led to a very exciting and accomplishment-filled journey over the past 30 years. I’m including the complete list below as a way to contextualize just how hard-wired this story and pattern were ingrained. It’s not here for self-aggrandizing or as something I would think you’d need or want to read through line by line.
Click here to 'Pop Up' a list of my Accomplishments
Some people go their whole lives continuing on a journey like this, never stepping off the achievement treadmill. They succeed in many ways, but as I can see now, it’s with great personal cost. Fortunately, that wasn’t to be for me.
Prior to my transition to full-time professional life coaching in 2020, I had one of the most significant and difficult emotional breakdowns of my life as it relates to this pattern. As you can tell from the above list, I lived in the world of “achieve to prove”. As soon as I proved my ability to succeed in one area, I would look to the next (unconsciously) and ask myself, “What’s the next way I can prove my worthiness and enoughness?” I would find it (or it would find me), and I would go at that with reckless abandon.
The breakdown came in early 2019 when my business, the Whole Life Challenge, suffered a significant downturn in enrollment and revenue. This wasn’t just a business for me… it was my personal mission for almost 20 years, and it was the first major obstacle we had hit for which I had no solution. As you might imagine, hitting this obstacle came with extreme emotional unraveling for me (disappointment, discouragement, hopelessness, despair, panic, fear, worry, and anxiety.) And while it wasn’t literally a failure (my business partner is still operating the WLC today), I took it as such, as my entire self-worth for over 40 years had been based on my accomplishments - hiding anything that even resembled a “failure”, and showing only “success” for whatever I did. So when I perceived my very public business as a failure, I failed. And since my personal self-worth was entangled with the success of my business… well… catastrophe.
This was the first time that I ever had to face the possibility that my life-long strategy no longer worked. It was like someone pulled the rug out from under me and I couldn’t regain my footing. It was also the first time that I couldn’t just jump into something else to feel better, my confidence and foundation had taken such a blow that it forced me to slow way down to untangle what was true from what was just made up in my head.
As I mustered up the courage to stop internalizing and start talking to people who loved and cared about me about what was going on, I started to find out that I wasn’t alone. Much to my surprise, many shared their own stories of struggles with panic attacks, anxiety, fear, worry, and uncertainty. And in a strange and amazing way, it was a relief. I started to feel not so alone, not so scared, like maybe there wasn’t actually something wrong with me. Maybe this part of life’s experience was “normal”. I started to consider that perhaps the persona I lived in for 5 decades was the outlier, and perhaps this newly discovered way of being was more like what it is like to be fully “human”.
As I was doing this, another crazy thing happened… I started to connect more deeply with others. They would share a story of struggle, loss, or pain, and I would feel their pain in me (usually resulting in the shedding of many tears). Their fear, anxiety, or desperation became so present for me, so alive. I used to think I knew what it was like to empathize with someone. While I understood the concept… this… this was the real deal.
It was amazing really… for the first time in my life, I was able to fully understand, feel, connect, and empathize with the magnitude of another’s struggle. Of the risks taken, challenges overcome, and fear/anxiety experienced by them as they went through things in their own lives. While I could sympathize with their struggles before, this was connecting through empathy, and was on an entirely different level.
In spite of 2019 being the most emotionally difficult year of my life, this event was just the sort of wake-up call I needed. As I can see now, it was the universe “nudging” me closer to the path I’d been on for close to 30 years. It took a lot of patience, self-compassion, inner work, plus a solid morning routine to make it through these challenging times. But as I did, I was finally able to let go of the story that I had to prove my worthiness through achievements, accolades, successes. I finally saw the trap - how it was a bottomless pit that could never be filled. The feeling of being enough from then on would come from one place,and one place only - inside of me.
My journey today continues, as there are so many more layers to the onion. In fact, as I peel away layers, the onion seems to be adding new ones at it’s core, so that I’m never in jeopardy of running out!! I am grateful for the journey, and the great revealing of 2019 - as it allows me today to connect at a much deeper level of appreciation, understanding, vulnerability, and empathy with my family, friends, and clients.
As for the path I’m on now, the universe has revealed to me me that I AM ENOUGH and I AM FULLY WORTHY of calling myself a professional life, leadership, and performance coach. I am grateful for my ability to serve others in this way, and do so with great joy, grace, humility, gratitude, and responsibility. I am fully aware of the tremendous courage and commitment it takes to walk this path toward a deeper level of consciousness, and feel blessed to be able to help others walk toward own to greater levels of confidence, joy, fulfillment, acceptance, and success.
In my life today, I am an avid reader and am continuously learning (peeling away more layers of the onion). I’m always up for a great conversation, love movies, podcasts, family dinner, and mornings with a hot cup of coffee. Physically, I continue to get after it - training functionally, riding my Peloton, running, mountain biking, snowboarding, practicing yoga, swimming, and surfing regularly. I live in Los Angeles with my wife, Julia, son, Dashel, and dogs, Odie and Bella.