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A Conversation with Jeff Comer About Drawing from Life Experiences and Finding What Drives You

Jeff Comer has spent 20 years as CEO of multiple organizations in the health care industry, ranging from small hospitals to billion-dollar multi-site domestic and international operations. Located in his native Cave Creek, Arizona, Jeff is versed in turnaround management for struggling organizations, strategic planning, and growth. He has also served on many non-profit boards […]

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Jeff Comer
Jeff Comer

Jeff Comer has spent 20 years as CEO of multiple organizations in the health care industry, ranging from small hospitals to billion-dollar multi-site domestic and international operations. Located in his native Cave Creek, Arizona, Jeff is versed in turnaround management for struggling organizations, strategic planning, and growth. He has also served on many non-profit boards and community agencies, focusing on fund raising and development. Finally, Jeff has taken steps to begin a new and exciting career by pursuing his doctorate in psychology, which is something he has always wanted to do. Jeff will complete his doctoral thesis  oral defense this November. His thesis  is on mitigating sympathetic and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal excitation, which cause the stress reactivity process or the more known concept of fight, flight, or freeze.

Jeff has enjoyed an exciting life and has tried many different activities. He holds all airplane pilot and instructor certificates and has served as a corporate jet Captain with over 6,000 hours flight time. Additionally, he has taught students advanced ground, simulator, and flight instruction. Jeff is also a certified personal fitness trainer and yoga instructor and has a passion for wellness, self-care, and healthy living.

Jeff Comer CEO achieved a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Arizona State University and a Master’s in Health Administration from Washington University in St. Louis. As was mentioned, he is currently working toward his Doctorate in Psychology from California Southern University.

Jeff has been married for ten years to his wife, Mariah Comer, who runs her own successful online wellness business, wellthyboss.com. Together, they are currently in the process of adopting a two-year old orphaned baby boy from China. They have named him Sage, reflecting their spiritual ties to the West. Jeff and his wife also own horses (Amara and Kody) and Chihuahuas (Quest and Lulu). In his free time, Jeff enjoys exercising, hiking, shooting firearms, and practicing mixed martial arts.

In the last few years, what lifestyle, habit, or behavior change has had the biggest positive impact on your life?

I have been fortunate to be able to expand my mind by working on my doctoral degree. This has been quite an exciting new direction for me. Although it has been an extremely challenging process, it has been fascinating and rewarding. My thesis  research is focused on stress reactivity and how to manage it, which I know we can all learn a lot from, particularly during these stressful times. I look forward to being able to help people learn what stress actually is and how they can most effectively mitigate its very detrimental acute and chronic effects. I am particularly interested in working with executives and busy professionals to help them learn how to reduce their stress levels and achieve better performance at work and improved balance in life. That has become my true professional passion in life.

When you feel unfocused, what do you do?

This is a great question and ties into my future direction as a doctor with the goal of helping people to improve their stress management skills.  To regain focus, I try to immediately slow my thoughts down and take slow, deep breaths. Controlled breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the mind and body. This reduces the detrimental effects of stress reactivity, enabling you to think more clearly. When you are stressed your amygdala, the emotional processing center in the brain, takes command and your responses become emotionally driven and cluttered. This results from complicated biophysical and hormonal responses to stress. By slowing the breath down, which you have control over, you can counteract these physiologic pathways, regaining command of your logical thinking processes, which are housed in the prefrontal cortex.

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

I would say two things to new graduates. First, they should follow a passion that provides innate meaning. They should not pursue something because they believe it is expected of them or is what they should do. Second, and most importantly, they should be themselves and not who they think others want them to be. I see too many young professionals dress, behave, and act in ways they think are expected and required. But this can lead to psychological dissonance and eventually they can lose a sense of who they are and what is fundamentally important. The concept of being true to themselves will make young grads much more effective over time, and most importantly, help them to grow in positive ways. It will also lead to much more balanced and happy lives with lower levels of maladaptive chronic stress.

What is one lifestyle trend that excites you?  

For me, technology is a great and valuable addition to our work and personal lives; however, it is clear in empirical research that it comes with a psychological cost by increasing stress reactive processes. So, in the psychological and wellness fields there is a trend toward limiting technology each day and taking a dedicated approach to getting back to nature and simpler ways of living as much as possible, which I find quite exciting.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?

My mom and dad have been my biggest influencers. My dad taught me the importance of hard work and responsibility. And my mom taught me the importance of always making time to enjoy the sunsets. I can’t really think of better advice than that.

What’s one of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned?

Well, I’ve learned quite a few lessons, mainly the hard way! I think being honest with myself by not trying to seek approval and acceptance from others is one of the most important. I firmly believe that the fastest way to depression, loneliness, and even failure, is by trying to please everyone, which you just can’t do. So, I have learned to treat others with respect and integrity, while not becoming overly focused on catering to every perceived or real demand from others.

What do you think it is that makes you/someone successful?

Successful people recognize that life is not fair and that others will not always treat them fairly. But no matter how hard life can be and how many challenges surface, giving up does not improve the situation. For me, I try to accept that life is not fair – and when it is not, I strive to continue moving forward no matter how hard the times may be. Successful people simply do not quit – they may retreat or take difference directions, and that’s ok, as a long as they make progress and remain true to themselves.

How do you stay motivated?

My wife is my best friend and the hardest worker I’ve known. Watching her maintain a commitment to her professional and personal beliefs, and balance her ever changing life, motivates me to always keep pursuing my life goals. She is truly an inspiration to me.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

This is a tough one to answer. When I began my career as a CEO, I would have easily said that I want to create my legacy by completing the most difficult turnarounds of hospitals that are facing rapid closure, enabling them to survive and provide care to their communities. And I have had the opportunity to do this with many hospitals, which brings me a great deal of satisfaction and pride.

However, I no longer see this as my legacy or my driving force in life. I do want work to be meaningful and to be successful in my profession, but I now realize that other aspects of life are more central to my beliefs. I want to be known as a good husband and dad; an animal lover; a person who tried everything and lived life; a person who never quits; and someone who impacted other people positively. I think my new career direction in stress management will provide an opportunity to leave a rewarding legacy by favorably impacting others.  I find great personal fulfilment by helping people to manage their stress, which improves their physiological and psychological health, leading to longer and happier lives. I can’t think of anything more personally rewarding.

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