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Dr. Matthew Monson: “Adversity doesn’t define you, how you react to it does”

“Adversity doesn’t define you, how you react to it does.” — Dr. Matthew Monson In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many […]

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“Adversity doesn’t define you, how you react to it does.” — Dr. Matthew Monson

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Monson.

Matthew was selected to play on the All-Marine Rugby Team in 2003 and had the honor of being selected for the Combined Service Tour Rugby Team in both 2004 and 2006. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2003 with an emphasis on Pre-Med and was accepted into Palmer College where he earned his Doctorate in chiropractic medicine in 2008. After 8 years of service in the United States Marine Corps, Matthew was honorably discharged.

Matthew had his own chiropractic clinic from 2010–2019, during which he quickly became one of the top performing clinics in the Northwest side of Chicago. Matthew has been internationally recognized as the lead doctor for the South Pacific Mission Group, which has helped to improve orphanages and villages throughout the South Pacific.

In 2015, Matthew lost a close veteran friend to suicide. At that very moment, he realized he was capable of creating something bigger than himself. In 2016, Matthew launched Veteran Video Gaming Team, the only certified veteran-owned terminal operator company in the state of Illinois. Veteran Video Gaming Team is currently serving as a solid platform for veterans and first responders to serve, work, and give back.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born and raised in Algona, Iowa. I grew up playing football and enjoying the outdoors. I wanted to join the military after high school as a way to create an opportunity for me to get out of my small town and be able to go to college.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I recently made a career change from being a chiropractor to being a video gaming terminal operator and a philanthropist. Terminal operators have a special license through the Illinois Gaming Board to own and operate slot machines in permitted townships. I started the company Veteran Video Gaming Team with the mission to give back to local veterans and first responders. Veteran Gaming Team donates 10% of the profits from each slot machine to veteran programs and individuals, with an emphasis on suicide prevention.

A little over two years ago I was introduced to a Marine and SWAT team member that has ALS. This Marine was a sniper for 10 years, became a police officer and SWAT sniper, then a triathlete — I could go on and on. This person was understandably down about his situation. So we rounded up his old police teammates, all his family from out of state and basically everyone we could and had them come out to one of our local partners, Draft Picks. I asked him to come have a beer and when he showed up there were 100 loved ones surprising him and showing him some love. I think the world would be a better place if we all appreciated each other more.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I enlisted in the Marine Reserves in Iowa in January 1999. It was great! I got the experience of becoming a Marine and the opportunity to go to college. I went to SOI or School of Infantry in April and finished at the end of May with the illustrious MOS 0311. Then I started college that fall.

I was honorably discharged in 2007 as an E-5 Sgt. It was a fantastic learning experience. I had the opportunity to meet and work with all types of different people and learned so much about leadership, logistics, and personal success. I played rugby for the All-Marine Rugby team in 2003. The relationships I made in the Marines are still my closest and best friends today.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

The most interesting story I have was that I was able to sit and talk to veterans that would share their experiences with me because I was a Marine. I got to sit at the local American Legion Hall Post 208 and have a beer with a Marine medic from the beach landings in World War II. I was able to have a conversation with a man who landed on the first day at Iwo Jima. I also made a friend who was an Army vet that shared her experience as an advisor in the Bosnia/Kosovo genocide. She struggled with what she saw and later took her own life. That is what inspired me to be proactive in addressing veteran suicide. I figured that if we are going to do something about veteran and first responder suicide, we are going to need a lot of money in the right hands.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like. Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

I hope we don’t wear the word out by using it too much. It’s a special title to bestow upon someone. I will probably catch some hell for this but, my definition of a hero is someone who performs an act of self-sacrifice with the most selfless intentions. There is a perspective component in there too. A big brother that fends off a little brother’s bully is certainly a hero in the eyes of his sibling. Someone who does something generous to make things right and make the world a better place.

I met 20 different living Medal of Honor recipients in 2019. I think there are around 70 Americans with that honor. I also met a lot of veterans holding the Purple Heart and Gold Star parents and wives last year. It is tough for me to fathom their level of commitment and sacrifice when I was never deployed. I very much appreciate them all and feel grateful to be surrounded by humans like them.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

My experience with the Marine Corps was one giant tutorial in leadership and working toward a common mission. I had a brilliant leader in Staff SGT Riley at Bridgeport Mountain Warfare School. He was a Marine that was very well-read and loved by his fellow Marines. He pulled me and two of my friends aside to tell us that we would be the leaders in the platoon in the future. He said we needed to watch all the different leadership skills and tactics we saw during that training and take away one good thing and one bad thing from every single leader there. I was just a junior Marine and hadn’t really considered anything in the future. It taught me to think ahead and observe those in the position I want to be in. It also taught me the importance of learning from others’ mistakes. I saw how toxic bad leadership was as well. The wrong person in the wrong position can really mess up the entire team and operation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I could name so many people on this. I have been blessed with so many great mentors. Dr. Fred Schofield, Dr. Nick Psaltis, Karl Hoffman, Bob Martenson, and so many more. They are really wise, generous, and classy gentlemen.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

I would describe a crisis as an intense danger. How you survive and thrive is completely up to your preparation and if it matches the level of intensity of the crisis. Most things are not as bad as they seem. Our brains really mess with us. I always tell myself, “Life is not as serious as my mind makes it out to be.”

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

To survive and thrive in a bad situation, you need a great team around you. If your team sucks and goes through the motions when times are good, they are really going to stink when times get tough. My team and staff will run through walls for each other. They can turn lemons into lemonade. If your staff is unappreciative and does the minimum when times are good, what will they do in a tough situation? I always try to have a best case and worst case plan in place for the future too. Play the “what if?” game — if this happens I will do XYZ. It helps so you aren’t caught flatfooted.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

You need balance in your life. If you are messed up when times are good, you are going to really struggle in a crisis and you might not survive. If you are running your own business and living paycheck to paycheck when things are good you need to either curb your spending or improve your business and start saving. Saving is a habit. It’s the act and routine of saving that will save you from panicking during a shakeup and dominating some huge opportunities when the market pulls back. Savings gave me the freedom to transition into gaming full time. If you want peace of mind, have a full savings account.

Be well-read! We have had several crises on a national/international level in my lifetime that I got to experience. The early 1900s and 1800s had lots of drama too! History really does repeat itself and if you read about it you can have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen during a certain event. This also helps you to not think the sky is falling every time the market swings 40%. You can also benefit from hindsight while reading about other crises. Read how Lincoln handled the Civil War or Hannibal leading elephants over the Alps. These will teach you what to do and what not to do in terms of leadership when it hits the fan. We experience a major crisis every 10 years or so. History is important for many reasons but perspective in a calamity or certain situation is of primary importance for me.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

The first thing people should do is to take a deep breath, assess the situation, create priorities, and then move. There are so many opportunities in chaos to get ahead. What I mean is if you nail it during a crisis you can cut years off the length of time it would take to get to a financial goal. Buying oversold stocks and making a big return in the market gets you closer to your retirement. When the market tanks 30%, and you have savings and no debt, you have all the options. Success is based on the number of uncomfortable actions we are willing to take.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

My personal mantra has always been: “Adversity doesn’t define you, how you react to it does.” To survive a crisis you need mental stability. You need to have wisdom, perseverance, and confidence. You can get better at all of these.

Wisdom is a book, seminar, or mentor away. It’s crazy how many businesses I see that could do exponentially better but the owner refuses to update his thinking. If you are barely making it when times are good you are going to get overwhelmed when times get bad. Constantly improve and you will rarely be in a crisis.

Perseverance- So many bad things happen to people under stress because they give up. Many lost hikers die of despair rather than trauma. It is really hard to beat someone that never quits.

Confidence-Confidence comes from experience and ties closely into wisdom. If you are in a bad situation you have to think decisively and with confidence or you and your team are going to struggle. A well thought out plan is worth everything. Don’t be afraid. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

The person I think demonstrates all those traits is General Mattis, a Marine Corps legend. General Mattis is considered the warrior monk. He has read over 7,000 books in his 40-year career. That is approximately 1 book every 3 days of his entire life since he was born. That is incredible and why he was so cool under pressure and beloved by his Marines.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

I got a herniated disc in my cervical spine. That was terrible. I lost a lot of my use of my right arm for a few months. It was so scary because I was a chiropractor at the time and really needed my arm just to work! Although it was extremely painful and uncomfortable, I pushed through it and went through rehab. I didn’t appreciate my own spine until it was compromised. I bounced back stronger since I became more serious about taking better care of myself physically and I had the confidence from having overcome a very scary personal situation.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Evaluate the situation. You have to get facts about a situation not rumors. There is no room for misinformation when you have to make a significant decision in a small span of time. Be thorough! This can be used to your advantage as well. General StoneWall Jackson and General Rommel were excellent at confusing opponents and purposely giving them false information.
  2. Prioritize. You must figure out what is critical, what you want, and what you need based on circumstances. Do you apply a tourniquet? Do I use the economic slowdown to buy a new piece of work equipment at a discount? If you have a mission or goal you can go through and see what needs to happen so you can continue and complete your mission.
  3. Create your plan of action. I like to work backwards. I start at the end and then go backwards on what needs to happen to get me to my goal. For example, as a small town Iowa kid, it was hard to imagine making a difference in the world. But when I looked at how I could make a difference in the world as a businessman/philanthropist and worked backwards it seemed a lot more attainable. Think about what your perfect day looks like 5 years from now then work backwards on how to get there.
  4. Attack! The 70% rule was taught to me by a great Marine friend. Basically, the rule is that after you create a plan, you have to get started immediately. You may not know all the facts and information and you will have to get about 70% through the situation before you do know everything you need to. The inability to start is a huge problem. Don’t freeze up or overthink, get up on your feet, and get moving.
  5. Adjust accordingly. So you got 70% through a project, and you learned a lot while making mistakes and gaining experience, now adjust accordingly and complete your mission. Adaptation and learning on the fly are incredibly valuable skill sets I look for when I want to partner or hire someone.

Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want to inspire other veterans to get educated and become entrepreneurs. So many G.I. Bills go unused. Veterans have a fantastic skill set and if they are willing to dedicate themselves, they can do anything. Teamwork, leadership, adaptability, and appreciation are all things that are very hard to find in an employee.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Jesus or Buddha. From history I would say Marcus Aurelius for his incredible wisdom. He wrote the book Meditations and was emperor of Rome. He was stoic and wise. He must have been an incredible human being seeing as he is still appreciated 2,000 years after his life.

Follow me on Facebook at @VeteranGamingTeam or on Twitter at @VeteransVGT.

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