Ep166: How a Near-Death Experience Turned Massive Failure Into Growth | with Chinna Balachandran, ANW

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“Your obstacles don’t care about what you’ve been through.”
– Chinna Balachandran

Fail is a four letter word that most of us avoid like the plague. We live in a society that is obsessed with achievement, yet has no tolerance for failure. But any successful person will tell you that regular and consistent failure is not only part of the path to success…failure IS the path. Without embracing failure, you’ll never learn how to overcome obstacles or become resilient in the face of adversity thus never achieving your goals.

You don’t get to choose your obstacles, so when obstacles choose you, you have to be ready. That was certainly the case with today’s guest, Chinna Balachandran. In 2019 Chinna was suddenly and unexpectedly afflicted with an acute subdural hematoma, or in layman’s terms, a slow brain bleed with a mortality rate of 50%-90%. The brain bleed was so severe that his brainstem compressed into his spinal cord. When he awoke from emergency brain surgery, he found himself paralyzed on the left side of his body, unsure of his cognitive abilities, and incapable of taking care of himself.

Now just two years later Chinna is back to work as a school psychologist, an advocate for neuro-trauma survivors, newly married, and has competed on American Ninja Warrior two times. His recovery, on paper, is nothing short of miraculous. But when you hear him talk, he tells it as a simple practice of accepting where he was day after day, taking tiny steps forward, and celebrating the small wins. Failure was simply a stepping stone on the road to success.

Though I sincerely hope you never have to endure a traumatic brain injury, the lessons learned from this conversation apply to any obstacles you might encounter. Prepare to be inspired and armed with practical strategies to take on your own road to success.

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Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Chinna’s life before his traumatic brain injury.
  • The events that led up to his brain injury.
  • What led Chinna to become a school psychologist working with deaf and blind children.
  • The details of his brain injury and the awful prognosis he received.
  • The list of side effects and symptoms that he was plagued with after leaving the hospital.
  • The thoughts that Chinna had when he was in the hospital and recovering.
  • How he decided to train for American Ninja Warrior.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: The first step to any challenge is accepting where you are now.
  • Gratitude and celebrating small wins was essential in his recovery.
  • The secret formula for success in three steps.
  • Chinna’s strategy for being prepared for setbacks.
  • The shift in mindset he made between year one and two of ANW to improve his performance.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Do not ignore the psychological aspect of any performance or skill you are trying to perform or learn.
  • How the lessons learned in ANW can be applied to your own life.
  • Chinna’s advice to his younger self. (I’m stealing this and putting it on a t-shirt!)

Useful Resources Mentioned:

Dr. David Fajgenbaum: What 5 Near-Death Experiences Can Teach Us About Living

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Episode Transcript

Zack Arnold 0:00

My name is Zack Arnold, I'm a Hollywood film and television editor, a documentary director, father of two, an American Ninja Warrior in training and the creator of Optimize Yourself. For over 10 years now I have obsessively searched for every possible way to optimize my own creative and athletic performance. And now I'm here to shorten your learning curve. Whether you're a creative professional who edits, writes or directs, you're an entrepreneur, or even if you're a weekend warrior, I strongly believe you can be successful without sacrificing your health, or your sanity in the process. You ready? Let's design the optimized version of you.

Hello, and welcome to the Optimize Yourself podcast. If you're a brand new optimizer, I welcome you and I sincerely hope that you enjoy today's conversation. If you're inspired to take action after listening today, why not tell a friend about the show and help spread the love? And if you're a longtime listener and optimizer O.G. welcome back. Whether you're brand new, or you're seasoned vets, if you have just 10 seconds today, it would mean the world to me if you clicked the subscribe button in your podcast app of choice, because the more people that subscribe, the more that iTunes and the other platforms can recognize this show. And thus the more people that you and I can inspire, to step outside their comfort zones to reach their greatest potential. And now on to today's show.

Fail is a four letter word that most of us avoid like the plague. We live in a society that is obsessed with achievement, yet has zero tolerance for failure. But any successful person will tell you that regular and consistent failure is not only part of the path to success, failure is the path without embracing failure. You're never going to learn how to overcome obstacles or become resilient in the face of adversity, thus never achieving your goals. You don't get to choose your obstacles. So when obstacles choose you, you have to be ready. That was certainly the case with today's guest Chinna Balachandran. In 2019 Chinna was suddenly an unexpectedly afflicted with an acute subdural hematoma, or in layman's terms, a slow brain bleed that has a mortality rate of 50 to 90%. Let me say that again 50 to 90%. His brain bleed was so severe that his brainstem compressed into a spinal cord and when he awoke from emergency brain surgery, he found himself paralyzed on the left side of his body. He was unsure if he had any cognitive abilities, and he was frankly incapable of taking care of himself. And now just two years later, Chinna is back to work as a school psychologist. He's an advocate for neuro trauma survivors. He's newly married, and get this he has competed at American Ninja Warrior for not one, but two seasons. His recovery on paper is nothing short of miraculous. But when you hear him talk and tell his story, he tells it as a simple practice of accepting where he was day after day after day, taking tiny steps forwards and celebrating the small wins. Failure was simply a stepping stone on the road to his success. So I sincerely hope you never have to endure a traumatic brain injury. The lessons learned from this conversation apply to any obstacles you might encounter in your life. Prepare to be inspired and armed with practical strategies to take you on your own road to success, which by the way, is going to include a lot of failure. Alright, without further ado, my conversation with American Ninja Warrior Chinna Balachandran made possible today by our amazing sponsor, Ergodriven, who's going to be featured just a bit later in today's interview, to access the show notes for this and all previous episodes, as well as to subscribe so you don't miss the next inspirational interview. Please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast. I'm here today with Chinna Balachandran, who is a school psychologist. He's an advocate for neuro trauma survivors. He also happens to be a neuro trauma survivor himself, which we're going to talk a whole lot more about. And you are a two time competitor on American Ninja Warrior, all of which, we're going to dive into a whole lot deeper in interview today. So Chinna It is a pleasure to have you here today. And I'm really excited to allow you to tell your story and share it with my listeners.

Chinna Balachandran 4:20

Appreciate it. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Zack Arnold 4:23

So here's the I'm gonna give a little bit of a brief overview of how you ended up on the show because I'm gonna admit it's a tiny bit embarrassing. I haven't told you the story yet. So I saw your story as one of the feature packages on American Ninja Warrior when it aired. And I remember watching it and thinking this story is absolutely unbelievable. This is somebody that has to be on my show. As you know you've kind of gone through a few of my past episodes and one of my favorite interviews is with Jimmy Choi, who has Parkinson's survivor that is a multi American Ninja Warrior athlete as well. And I was thinking oh, this is perfectly belongs in the same category of the Jimmy joy type interviews that I do. You and I did absolutely nothing. I didn't put it on a board. I didn't set a reminder, I didn't put on a to do list and all of a sudden it just kind of flew out of my brain. And then a few months ago, I was following Jimmy Choi's Instagram. And there's a picture of the two of you when he talked about how you're both brain trauma survivors and survivors of these things. I'm like, Oh my God, this sounds amazing. Tell me more about this person's story. So Jimmy sent me a message and I'm like, Oh my god, I'm such an ass. This is the guy that I was going to reach out to like a year ago. And I totally forgot. So the point being, you should have been on the show like a year ago, but because of my absent mindedness, it was actually thanks to Jimmy Choi in his Instagram that I realized this guy's got to be on because there's a reason I saw that post on that given day. And I remember this story. And I said, people have to hear about what you have overcome. So that's kind of my embarrassing version of why you're here as opposed to you probably should have been on here like a year ago,

Chinna Balachandran 5:49

I'm actually appreciative that we waited a year to do it, because I genuinely had no clue what I was doing on Ninja Warrior, the first time that they showed me and now after a year of having been one preparing for the sport, and then to getting to become a bit more familiar with some of the faces and some of the really salient parts of ninja that have applied to the other parts of my life. I feel like this will be a better interview.

Zack Arnold 6:14

Yeah, okay, great. Well, that I'm glad to hear that. And if we want to have a long involved conversation about not being prepared for American Ninja Warrior boy, can I dive into that one myself. Because as many of my longtime listeners know, I too am a rookie of American Ninja Warrior first run did not go well at all. And what I learned almost immediately, the flash of a few seconds, is you think you can be as prepared as possible for something and then you realize how unprepared you really are you check off all the boxes. I've worked on the forearm strength, and I've worked on the chaise and I've worked on balance, like years and years of getting ready. And then you're like, Oh, crap, I didn't focus on this thing. And I'm wet. Alright, so now it's time to start over, right? So it really kind of puts into focus, your habits and your behaviors, and most importantly, your mindsets. And we're going to talk about all of those. But before we get right to kind of the meat of the interview, which is understanding what your your story is, and how it is you got an American Ninja Warrior and why they picked you. I actually want to get to know a little bit more about Chinna before any of this happened, because in the research is always about your story begins when you had a subdural hematoma, which is a very severe brain injury. And we'll talk more about that later. And how like, the prognosis is, you should be dead right now. But I want to know more about you before that, because I know that you originally came from the Midwest, you flew out to LA. And I'm sure there are reasons for that there were dreams in your heart. So tell me more about your story about what brought you out to Los Angeles before your real story begins.

Chinna Balachandran 7:39

Sure. So I met my now wife when we were in graduate school as competitors at the University of Texas for their school psychology program. And we go through our training, I begin practicing in Austin, Texas, and she continues in school to get her doctorate. And as part of that, she has a trading opportunity that brings us to LA, where she gets involved as a clinical psychologist in some hospital level systems. And so I moved to this new city with her key to my job in Austin, working as a school psychologist at a it was actually the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I loved that job, didn't want to let it go. So worked remote for a bit. But it was in this new city for one person without really knowing any other people. And so, me having been just a hobby athlete, throughout my life, played some team sports, growing up football, tennis in high school, but had always been interested in boxing. And there happened to be a boxing club in the neighborhood that we moved to in LA. So I figured like this has been something I've been curious about for a bit like Why don't I go and check it out. And sure enough, I fell in love with the sport and got really immersed in it for a few years. There's a great amateur boxing scene in LA and some pretty fun guys who are getting ready for their own fights that were in this club with me, but I myself just kept it at the hobby level never intended to go beyond that. But this does seem like a natural segue to share how I did actually find myself on this ninja path and sort of a falling backwards way of me being a hobby boxer. I would go in and I spar with some guys who were getting their amateur game going. And one Sunday, January 20 2019. I went for a spar didn't think too much of it aside from like this was a bit of a harder spar than usual. But you know there was no moment of knockdown no knock out. I was on my feet the whole time had conversations with people didn't think anything was amiss until I drove home spoke to my she was my girlfriend at the time and gotten the shower. And about 90 minutes after this bar had ended, I realized I'm seeing dark circles out of both of my eyes. And I'm like, okay, something is happening neurologically. And by the time I finished this shower, I had vomited, which, in case any of your listeners need to know this, if you've ever taken a blow to the head, and you vomited, that is a indicator that you need to go to a hospital immediately. So that's going through my mind, and I know Okay, I gotta go figure out some help. And my wife is in the next room on a work call. So unfortunately, it was just me in the bathroom, as my body is beginning to shut down, and I don't really know what's happening. But I do know, I can't, I'm losing the ability to speak, I'm paralyzed on the left side of my body. And I'm in and out of consciousness now. So I get her attention by thrashing loudly enough on the floor. She makes the lifesaving call to 911 and informs the paramedics that I was a boxer and I was taking blows to the head, which was really critical information, because I was originally going to be taken to the closest hospital down the street, but there's actually only one hospital in LA that treats neuro trauma. And so anyways, I can go into the multiple miracles that resulted in me being here a bit later. But all this information, put me in front of a doctor who made a life or death decision to operate on me. And it ended up being the right one. I had this emergency brain surgery that saved my life and saved a lot of functioning. But yeah, that was a long winded way to tell you about who I was before LA.

Zack Arnold 11:39

So let me ask you this, because I, I think that obviously, the majority of what we're going to talk about today is going to be post brain injury, recovery, you know, talking about the prognosis, and how it was so dire, and really that the elephant in the room is the questions everybody's asking, like, if you're supposed to be dead. How did you become an American Ninja Warrior? Right? That's that's the big question. But I want to ask a question that I don't know if anybody's ever asked you before, and maybe they haven't, I just haven't found it. But what I'm really intrigued by, and I can't explain any of this. And you can say, it's faith, or religion, or the universe, whatever it is. I don't believe it's a coincidence that before this injury, you were dealing with people that had disabilities. So I'd like to know more about what drew you to not only psychology, but working with deaf and blind children,

Chinna Balachandran 12:25

being a school psychologist really jumped out to me because I, I had a good school experience growing up, I think it's important to give back. It's not specifically a religious thing. I did grow up in the Hindu temple. And I appreciate having that upbringing going through Sunday school. But I wouldn't call myself like an overly religious person, it's more so I just believe and believe in the world a little bit better than when you found it. And working as a school psychologist and getting my training experiences led me to really appreciate working for the most underrepresented, the most voiceless of people, like people with visual impairments and Deaf blindness and sensory impairments. And that became a really satisfying thing for me, in Texas. And then now here in LA, I'm working in a inpatient residential treatment facility for adolescents. So it's a psychiatric hospital, for kids who have been through the kinds of things that really marginalize you as a demographic, being through the foster system. being homeless, Child Sexual commercial exploitation of children sees that a lot of things that big picture society kind of overlooks. And I think it's really important to advocate for the little guy.

Zack Arnold 13:48

And I'm interested in where that comes from. Because I always I always trying to understand how things work. I've been this way since I was literally a toddler. I pointed things that I it's not just about what is it is how does it work, whether it's a gear or machine or taking things apart? And when you said I had a really good school upbringing, that actually makes me wonder what would drive you to decide that I want to be a part of a career that's so challenging, because to say not only that I want to be a school psychologist, but now you're working with adolescents that have been through all this trauma, that cannot be easy. You can't wake up and say, well, another easy nine to five at the job. Like you have to be totally invested in that. And I'm curious, what drives you and what your deeper Why is to choose something like that. That's so challenging.

Chinna Balachandran 14:31

I love this question. And to be honest, if I have been asked before, I don't, it's not coming to me, but what jumps out right now is, well, they need it. They, they need help. These people are going to be suffering whether people like me are in their lives or not. But I am here with this opportunity and was kind of like drawn towards this thing to give me the training to be in a position to maybe do something For them, and if these people were going to be struggling and suffering anyways, then yeah, we should help.

Zack Arnold 15:08

Well, and I love all that. And again, I'm not going to get into spirituality or specific religions or whatnot. But I can be very clear about one thing that I believe in personally and I think it actually very similar to Hindu religion and a lot of Eastern religions. I believe in karma. I think that most religions, whatever they are, it's just their own version in some way, shape or form of karma where certain actions lead to certain reactions and whether it's afterlife or whatever it is reincarnation, but I don't think it's a coincidence that you chose such a rewarding career that's about giving back to people. And you ended up in a situation where I believe the percentage was far over 50% of people that have a subdural hematoma not only you know, live poor live, they're essentially dead or they're vegetables. Is that correct?

Chinna Balachandran 15:53

That's right. It's a

Zack Arnold 15:54

I don't think that's a coincidence.

Chinna Balachandran 15:57

Yeah, you know, the doctor who saved me would tell you that there are no coincidences in this world. So I think he also shares your attitude about karma and and this general spirit that there's there's meaning when you look for it.

Zack Arnold 16:13

Well, knowing all this knowing kind of the the path to get to kind of where your story begins, so to speak, it listed the public facing story that you've told many times and is told on American Ninja Warrior starts with I have a subdural hematoma. And for anybody that doesn't know and I'm not going to even pretend to explain it. But it's essentially your brain is bleeding on the inside and swelling up and it's filling the entire space inside your skull and your there's just there's no more room to expand. And it's a very, very bad

Chinna Balachandran 16:40

actually just about exactly

Zack Arnold 16:41

Oh Okay, well then, I live I've watched a lot of house episodes. So I consider myself kind of a junior medical professional, because I've seen every episode of house so what can we oh well. But that having been said, like we talked about the prognosis is incredibly dim. And not only that, but you can talk a little bit more about the actual procedure where In short, they cut out like a third of your skull, like I'm not talking an incision, I mean, like it's just gone.

Chinna Balachandran 17:06

Right. So just as you so beautifully explain what that injury is a subdural hematoma is it's describing a brain bleed. And when there's too much intracranial pressure from all this blood and cerebrospinal fluid that shouldn't be there, the brain is going to, it's going to move and your it's going to compress your brainstem is going to compress into your spinal cord, your brain doesn't have a lot of wiggle room. And so the biggest issue that comes with these bleeds, which don't always need surgery, is that those who do need surgery need to get some extra space for the brain to swell and to accommodate all of that extra blood. And that's what this surgeon did for me. He removed about a third of my skull is called the skull flap to give my brain space to swell. What happened while my brain was swelling was it was kind of it's easy to explain it as like a hard reset, except with your body. I had basically nothing when I came out of brain surgery, you know, so I explained earlier I was taken to the hospital rushed into surgery, I came to briefly once to a roomful of people saying Don't move, don't move, you've had a brain bleed, and you're in a scanner right now. And then I have one thought, which is like okay, well, my life is going to be different. And then they put me back under, and I wake up to a roomful of nurses screaming, Don't move, don't move, there's no bone, which I didn't know what that meant. But that meant that they had removed this big slice of skull, and there was nothing there to protect it because my brain needed to push out. And actually, immediately after they took that slice of skull out, you couldn't really tell that I had had anything done at all because my brain was so swollen that it made up for the space where the bone would have been. And it continued to swell out for some time until finally when I was ready for this bone to be reattached, there's like a very clear concavity in my head. And that was one of the first pictures of my injury to go viral on Reddit. The physical things that were happening for me, if I didn't already say this, my brain stem compressing into my spinal cord meant that like all those basic brainstem functions were now impaired. So that's your breathing your, your heartbeat, controlling vomiting, the use of the small muscles in your eye, your balance, your states of consciousness, your body temperature, all of those things that left me so after first coming to I mean, my first thought was of my wife who was there and waiting for me, and they brought her in and that's how they call me down. really savvy nurse who is like hey, wait, your wife's name is Erica. Right? She's here with you and your Parents, they're from Chicago, right? They're flying to be with you. And that's, that was my first like, Okay, well exhale. But pain aside, I won't get into the pain because you can just assume that that is a painful thing to go through, I could only stay awake for maybe 30 minutes maximum a day, because of those states of consciousness, I had really excruciating nerve pain in my legs, like I wasn't sure if I'd be able to move my legs again. And I definitely couldn't move the left side of my body, the brain bleed was on the right side of my brain. And so everything is Crossfire up there, that means the left side of your body is what's going to be affected by it. So I lost the use of my arm, I lost my leg, I had to relearn how to walk, I couldn't bathe myself, I was a fall risk, the list of things that I couldn't do would be, we'll be sure to tell you that things I was cleared to do, which is basically nothing. But that's where it started. And yeah, that was what I woke up to. That was like then.

Zack Arnold 21:06

Alright, so what I'm curious about and I want to talk a whole lot more about from the point that you know, your quote, unquote, okay, so let me rephrase that the point at which you know that you're still alive. From that point forward. There's a whole lot of story. But there's a question that I want to dig a little bit deeper into. And this is going to be similar to a conversation that I had with a guest named David Feigenbaum. I don't know if I sent you a link to his podcast episode or not. And if I didn't, I probably should have. But he went through this one of the most inspirational stories I've ever heard. He was a physician himself, they got diagnosis, something called Castleman disease. And he was basically on his deathbed five times, over and over and over over the course of several years. Like it's one of the most astounding stories, his book is amazing. And what he went through is amazing. He actually was the doctor that found the cure for his own disease, because it was incurable. So it's an amazing story. I'll link to it in the show notes. If anybody wants to listen to it. It was Episode 100. But the most important takeaway for him from his book and from our interview, was that every time he was on his deathbed, and this guy was in his 20s, he was not like in a 70. So he was a young guy with his whole life ahead him. And there was one thought that he had every single time he's thinking Alright, well, that's it. I'm gonna die. And I'm curious from the point that started happening to the point where you had consciousness. Was there ever a moment where you wondered, Is this it?

Chinna Balachandran 22:29

Oh, well, I'll say the most first of all that story. Oh, my goodness, I need to look this episode up. It gave me goosebumps what a What an amazing story. For me, actually, it was it was a little turn on its head because I didn't think I

Zack Arnold 22:45

no pun intended, by the way, right?

Chinna Balachandran 22:48

A lot, actually. Oh, boy, the species at this wedding reception. I did not expect to be roasted so hard, but a lot about the shape of my head. The thing with me was that this freak accident and me being 29 at the time, I was like there's no I'm not gonna die. I'll wake up. Surely there's no, no way anything could have gone wrong. But it was only when my wife came into the ICU and said, Hey, you made it that for the first time that it said upon me like, oh, that probably wasn't taken for granted. So like, meanwhile, while I was being operated on and put under the doctors, were telling my wife, he's probably going to die. And then that changed to well, the live but he probably won't wake up. And then that became, if he does wake up, he won't be the same person. So she got the news first. And then after coming out of surgery, and being discharged from the hospital, I began to read up a bit more about just what I had faced. But of course, like I still wasn't quite right, mentally and cognitively at the time. So I the amount of information and what I chose to take in and how it was actually landing was a bit different. However, during the recovery itself, and shortly after to be discharged, there were several times where like, after my first visit to the doctor, and riding in a car, I had what I thought was a stroke and everything on the left side of my body drooped. I was like, Okay, well, now I'm dying. Or if I stood up too fast, if I got hungry, I would have seizures. And I'm like, Well, now I'm going to die. It happens several times, because I had a lot of those instances. And it was it was kind of similar to how you put it both with words and in terms of the fact all you can really do is say like, this is it.

Zack Arnold 24:43

So I'm curious, having gone through that and it sounds like while things were at their worst, you weren't even conscious of what was at stake. Everybody else thought it was a miracle that you were even alive. You just kind of came to and you're like, everybody what's up so it's not that happened like so you didn't have that experience of seeing it. ahead of you, but afterwards, you got a sense of Alright, so things were a lot worse than maybe I didn't experience because I wasn't conscious. And now I starting to have this thought. What I'm curious is when you were facing this idea of Oh, I'm, I'm very mortal. And I now realize that I'm very weak in any of these could be the time that I go, whether it was the seizure or anything else. Did you have thoughts when that happened? What were the most pressing thoughts that kept coming up in your mind knowing that that could potentially be at at age 29?

Chinna Balachandran 25:28

Oh, go back to having just had my wedding. I mean, I thought like, I just want more time to love my wife, I want more time with my parents who, thank God are both still with me and came in both lives with me and Erica, in our one bedroom apartment. And so I was surrounded by them when it was happening. And I could, I wasn't alone, which is the most that I could ask for when those things would happen. But the thought would really just be I, I just want more time with them. I shouldn't be putting them through this, I want more time with them.

Zack Arnold 26:05

So you weren't saying to yourself, Man, I wish that I worked harder and longer hours at my job.

Chinna Balachandran 26:10

That's just it, you know, and I've often thought about how many times in life that I have. I've struggled with like how much what is this work life balance, and I really value the things that I do at work. And as much as I value helping people. And that is something that I took away from my deathbed. It wasn't in the form of work or being a school psychologists.

Zack Arnold 26:31

And the reason I bring that up is because one of the most important takeaways from my conversation with David which once again, I'll send you the link to it right after we're done. And I'll make sure that there's a link in the show notes. But it's basically the universal theme of everybody that's on their deathbed, whether it's suddenly or it's somebody that's at the end of their life and is going to die a natural death, they all say the same thing. I regret the chances that I didn't take I don't regret the chances that I took it's always about what are the things that I was too afraid to try that I didn't do and I now don't have the chance to do? Did you have any of that? Or was it just more about I want more out of the time with the people that are the most important to me,

Chinna Balachandran 27:07

there was definitely some of like, I don't know why I thought work would be so important. And even a part that was like, even going into becoming a school psychologist where I thought like maybe I'll reflect on life at the very edge say at least I help people. But it wasn't that for me either. It was I want I want my people I want more time with them. And I was reaching out in person and virtually for it because it was all about people to me, it had nothing to do with earning a title. You know, doing whatever accomplishment and in the work world or, or anything related to any particular accolade. It was just about like, Oh, I should have told this person that I love them more I should have visited so and so more. It was all about the people in my life.

Zack Arnold 27:59

So now you've got me curious. And here's why I'm curious. Because you had this near death experience that frankly, you should have just either been dead or most likely a vegetable the rest of your life. And here you are speaking in complete sentences, able to walk able to feed yourself able to give a speech at your wedding, all of which is a miracle. And the most important thing to you is time with people and you would never want to risk anything to lose that. So what in the hell led you to decide I want to become an American Ninja Warrior? Because that seems kind of scary and kind of risky.

Chinna Balachandran 28:31

That is a fantastic and totally fair question. And also goes back to what we were just talking about, about the chances that you didn't take and regretting a life half lives. I as a college kid used to watch ninja warrior and think all I could do that. And then one day my mother in law texted me it was like, Hey, I was watching ninja warrior and they're taking applications and haven't you always said you could do that that would be so fun, you should give it a shot. I was like you know what? Life is too short to not go for the things that you want to do. And for me, that's a shot of the Ninja Warrior course and I still stand by it. If I get sketched out by something, when I'm in training that I won't do it, I have a helmet with me for the things that I'm not confident in and I'll wear it for some obstacles. But it also comes from a place of ninja can kind of be a platform to get the message that I want to put out. And that's that you can still find some joy in life after something horrible happens. It doesn't have to be this high flying sun show that I'm doing. But it doesn't have to be the end of the things that that bring you joy.

Zack Arnold 29:50

So again, we're what I'm sensing is there's this theme between your work and Ninja Warrior and everything else which is that I want to be the voice for the underrepresented. But I also want to make sure that they know it's not always going to be this way, right? There's there's a light at the end of the tunnel. And I think that's a really important mindset that I want to dig deeper into. If we think about, you know, looking back in hindsight, yeah, there are a whole lot of things that happen, but you got through it. And now look at where you are, you're doing great. And you've been a two time American enjoyer. But something tells me that there was a time when you said to yourself, Is this just going to be the rest of my life where I'm going to be drinking through a straw, and I can't use my left arm and my legs are killing me. And walking is a distant memory. So for somebody that's in it, right for somebody, whatever their challenges their obstacle in their thinking, is my life ever going to get better, and they're terrified? Is this all that it's going to be? You've been there. So talk to me a little bit more about how you dealt with this emotion, when you actually didn't know that things were going to turn out the way that they did.

Chinna Balachandran 30:53

I mean, I think a big part of my story, and something that I've tried to normalize is that there's no unconditional positive thinking and never letting any doubt creep in that results in a good outcome. You can't will yourself to this, there's so many people with the same injury as me, who died simply by chance, or who would have less, I guess, for lack of a better term, like visually dazzling with the high flying suns. recoveries as the and it's not for any lack of, of want, or will. Part of the reason that I'm doing this is also honoring, its honoring the version of me that was bed bound, and in this hospital bed, wondering if this would be the rest of my life. Because you can't say that I didn't aspire to be an American Ninja Warrior. That was the last thing on my mind at all. I came from a past of enjoying to use my body for athletic endeavors. But I had to accept that maybe that part of my life was over. Maybe the part of my life where I can go and work and use my mind to make a living to provide for my family is over. despair is part of it. And it kind of needs to be normalized. People who are going through it, don't need to put on a happy face, because that's more palatable to the people around them. Don't get lost in it. Don't let yourself wallow in despair and lose sight of any hope whatsoever. Because hope is everything. And that's also why I'm doing this is to maybe be that for someone else. But for the people who are going through it. It's okay to have that despair. Other people who haven't had these horrific circumstances, these these crazy, unimaginable health things going on, aren't going to get it. But feel that know that it's possible, and then do what you can from there. That's all it is. I didn't, I didn't dream of recovery that could have gone this far. But it was just simply setting small goals and putting one foot in front of the other over and over. And then things just happened to work out for me.

Zack Arnold 33:06

Yeah, I want to talk a lot more about this idea of setting small goals and moving forwards and little pieces every day. But the first thing that I want to point out that I think is so vitally important, not even vitally important, like it is essential. If you have any interest in overcoming any form of obstacle or challenge, whatever the circumstances are, whether it was in your control whether it wasn't, as you said the word except, right. And I think that what happens so often with people, and it doesn't just have to be with traumatic brain injuries or accidents or anything else. But when something is put upon somebody, they say, well, this wasn't my fault. But what they do is they don't see the difference between fault and responsibility. This wasn't your fault. I mean, somebody could say, well, yeah, you know, you chose to be a boxer. And it was, you know, brain hemorrhage or whatever like that. Obviously, this if had you known this, you wouldn't have been a boxer, it just happened. And it's such an anomaly. So not your fault. But it sounds like what you decided to do fairly early on was say, I take responsibility, and I accept the fact that this is now my new normal. Yes,

Chinna Balachandran 34:06

yeah, completely. It's exactly that I said earlier, what it means to figure out your new normal and that I had to accept what my was for that day. And then the next day, I would try to push that new normal. But it's precisely that.

Zack Arnold 34:22

And when it comes to this idea of small goals, one of the things that I've been teaching my students for years, and it's something that Jimmy joy talked about, and it really seems to be kind of a prevalent theory or mindset that I see throughout the ninja community, is that your goal is not to be the best at anything on any given day. Right? Like we've talked about before we even started the call and like I talked about all the time, it's not about I'm racing against others instead, I'm running my own race. So talk a little bit more about this mindset of all I have to do today is be the tiniest bit better than I was yesterday.

Chinna Balachandran 34:55

I mean, I think it's applies to everybody regardless of new trauma. But when I was the having dealt with the brain injury that I had, setting those small goals and having things be so concrete made it a lot easier to celebrate when I did meet those goals. And I think practicing gratitude and celebrating the journey that you're on, and any incremental progress is everything. But not everybody is going to celebrate that they were awake for five minutes longer on Tuesday than they were on Monday, or that they were able to bathe themselves in the shower. But it did start there. It started with things as simple as not throwing up when I was in the car, or being able to walk through a window and looking at it without having vertigo, and then upping the ante to the next day, being able to walk down the hallway and turn my head while walking. And I think the same can be true for for anybody setting any sort of goal, it was the same with me with ninja a sport that I had no background in whatsoever. And now I'm able to do some things that I'm proud of

Zack Arnold 36:06

the basically what I have discovered, thanks largely in part to ninja but from talking to people like yourself, and Jimmy and everybody else is essentially the secret formula to be successful at anything. And it seems like oh my god, like What a crazy promise. like nobody could have discovered that. But it's not something I've discovered. I've just extrapolated from other people that have discovered it and shared it in their own journeys. But essentially, I broke it down into three steps. And this is something that given what you've gone through, I want to see if this applies to your situation as well. And I think that it does. So the first step is you need to establish what you are capable of doing right now comfortably. And for you it might have been, I can sit in a car for 45 minutes comfortably at 46 minutes, I get uncomfortable, and I think that I might need to throw off, right? So it's establishing the baseline. The second step is you need to find the hardest version of that same thing that you're capable of doing, but make it uncomfortable. So you're pushing towards something that you're capable of, but it's a lot harder. And then step three is you do that thing consistently until that becomes comfortable. And then you move the goalposts and you make it uncomfortable again, Would you say that's relatively accurate about how your journey worked from waking up realizing that I can't walk, I can't move my arm, I can't eat too, all of a sudden you're, you know, swinging for bars, and you know, jumping on quad steps

Chinna Balachandran 37:23

100%. And it actually ties very neatly to what I had been doing for work as a school psychologist as well. Your job is to find what the kids baseline is, what is their need, and you identify it, let's say their need is an expanding their social circle. And you see their baseline is that they can't hold a conversation for longer than three minutes. And it only has to be about one specific area of interest. Well, I think it might be attainable for that student to talk to somebody about two areas of interest and maybe find something that they have some overlap with, with another peer. And I want them to be able to do that for three conversational turns you, me, you, me You make you make it observable, attainable, but in that frustration level. And then once they master that you determine what the area of need is, and what's the new frustration level. And then that's their new goal. And so that that mentality had already been ingrained in me and I had speaking that language in one world. And now I brought it to my world.

Zack Arnold 38:24

So then it sounds like the training that you had, as a psychologist played a pretty large part in your recovery. So do you feel that if you hadn't had some of those tools, that might have been harder for you to accept and put together a plan, knowing that, you know, this could just be it.

Chinna Balachandran 38:40

I think the parts of it that helped were that I had other disciplines floating around in my head as a school psychologist working with physical therapists and occupational therapists and several members that are also part of a rehab team in a hospital. And so that combined with having had about a decade of practicing yoga under my belt were really critical when it came to re learning how to walk, figuring out my like vestibular sense where my body is in space already being able to speak some of that language. And those things combined with this plan of attack for I know I'm not going to get out of the hospital bed and be fine. I'm not going to get up and give speeches at educational psychology conferences right off the bat. But I do know how to retrain myself and measure some progress so I can maybe approximate person that I was before. And then you just keep going and going and seeing what that new frustration level is. And now I feel much, much like who I was.

Zack Arnold 39:49

Yeah, I mean, I don't think other than like the joke you made like the shape of your head or some weird hairline or whatever. I don't think anybody would ever assume that you'd been through any trauma whatsoever. Like I'm just I'm not seeing it and I Like speech patterns or lost words or lack of focus, like people that go through severe traumatic brain injuries, I'm sure you know much better than I do. A lot of time, it's evident in their behavior. And I'm seeing none of that I would never know that you went through anything, which in and of itself is just miraculous.

Chinna Balachandran 40:15

I'm blessed for sure. I also check in with the fact that it's okay to not look like me, you know, that there's like a big community of people that I want to normalize. This, me is not the norm. But I've, I've been there. And, you know, I know that's how you were getting at Zack. But I always make this qualifying statement when I speak to that part of not looking like other people who have been hurt that way. Because I don't want anything about what I'm doing to ever put off somebody who has gone through it and is wondering why they can't be like me.

Zack Arnold 40:49

Yes. And that's exactly why I wanted to bring it up. Because I know that's an important part of the story that you're sharing. So I wanted to make sure that that perspective was out there. The next thing that I want to dive into is frankly, just me being super, super curious. Knowing that your basically the mindset or the strategy that you're using is I'm going to get his a little bit better today than I was yesterday. And for anybody that were to look at, say that the one year progression, if you went from I should be dead to Well, I'm going to be alive, but I should be a vegetable from Well, I'm not a vegetable, but you know, I can't walk if you went through an entire year. And suddenly, you could jog from your house across the street to the next house, people would call it a miracle. However, somehow, in a year, you got just a little bit better every day and ended up on American Ninja Warrior course. So I'm wondering, is there some additional secret sauce or something that happened that makes it go from wealth one little tiny step every day. But most regular? When I say regular, I put in quotes, but most regular people that haven't been through trauma never get to where you got, in fact, a very, very small percentage do and they're probably taking small steps as well. So what do you think the difference was with this mindset, but also moving so far so fast?

Chinna Balachandran 42:03

I think part of this mindset is the foundation that came before the brain injury. One of the best contributing factors towards my recovery was that I was, well, one young, but we don't have any control over that. But two, I had been physically active, and that I had been using my body in a variety of different ways, yoga, boxing, tennis, weightlifting, just all sorts of different things to think about what my body was doing in space in so many different ways that when it came time to force my body to do what my mind wanted it to do, there was already a bit of a foundation. But that aside, there's there's some things that can't, I can't really explain. After a certain point, I kind of just throw my hands up and say, it's a miracle.

Zack Arnold 42:53

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Zack Arnold 43:45

When people think of protein powders they think, well, I don't want to get big and bulky. And that's not what this is about. To me this is about repair.

Kit Perkins 43:51

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Zack Arnold 44:24

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Well, one of the things that I want to extract and go a little bit deeper on and maybe it's going to help answer this question, and maybe you can say that has nothing to do with it. But I'm going to do a little bit of shameless self promotion. For anybody that's listened to this podcast for a long time, they already know the story. But the very, very brief version for anybody new is that I spent about 10 years directing and producing a documentary film about the first quadriplegic to become a licensed scuba diver. And I learned a whole lot of lessons about life and how to achieve your goals. And frankly, I now teach the five step go far framework that he originally developed is now a core part of what I teach all my students. But I think the most important takeaway for me from his mindset was that I was basically born without the use of my arms and my legs, I could have spent my entire life focusing on what I couldn't do. But instead I focused on what I still could do. And on a minute level, I've read about and heard from some of your videos where you talk about this idea that well I know that because my right, the right hemisphere of my brain, you know, has some issues that maybe I need to grab the holes with the right hand instead of the left because the left isn't as coordinated. And I think that this fundamental mindset that probably got you where you are, at least in part was this idea of what can I do not why can't use my left hand the way that I used to so I might as well just skip anything where I have to grab it, you're like Screw it, my right hand still works, let's just retrain my brain to do that. So talk about the kind of the mind body connection. And this idea of you understanding that I need to focus on things I am capable of,

Chinna Balachandran 46:48

I'll stick to that part first because I I love that line of thought and where you're going with that it's what we in education call compensatory strategies where you recognize that there's something that isn't a strength for you, but you plan for it and you plan for things to go wrong and similarly Actually, I don't I don't talk about it very much, but I do now it's a good opportunity to say like I don't think any coaches or people that I trained with know that I don't really have as good of control over the left side of my body as my right but that is what's going through my head when I'm planning what I'm going to do on a course you have to be honest with yourself and that's part of accepting I can't will myself to use this side of my body as well as I used to. So I adjust I can still do plenty of other things that people brain injury or not, wouldn't be able to do. So let's run with that and let's play to my strengths and let's use this strength base strategizing to find where I can be successful and it's starting to work

Zack Arnold 47:54

well I wouldn't say that it's starting to work I will say that it's been working for a while for sure. Because if I having a little bit of experience not the level of experience that you do, but I have just enough experience with Ninja Warrior sports and actually being on the show as a rookie that I don't take for granted how difficult it is to number one just be on the starting line because a lot of people and I'm sure that you've probably heard this more than once and I hope you haven't but you probably have oh well you just got on because your story you have a sob story and you get on American Ninja Warrior and they don't care about the real athletes it's just a TV show I'm guessing you've heard that more than once right? yep yeah so that that's that that's out there everywhere and it drives me crazy when people say that but I know personally how hard it is just to get yourself to the starting line just so they in some of it yes it is a television show and it's not based on you have to do X number of pull ups or push ups or anything else. If you have a good story you do have a higher percentage for getting on the show. But the component most other people don't understand is if they believe that you have no skill whatsoever or you're just going to hurt yourself you're not going to get on the show. So I'm assuming you had to prove visually after they saw your story it's like well yeah, but I read like enemy getting sued because you're gonna hurt yourself on the course. So talk to me about how visually you convince them No, no, I can actually do this. It's not just an inspirational story I can actually compete

Chinna Balachandran 49:16

well. To be fair in year one, I will I like lean into being just a guy who is on Ninja Warrior for having a good story because my my audition video was like a young climbing rope on the Santa Monica Pier and I'm doing some pull ups and showing you that like you know I'm doing box jumps and showing that my body's okay I can handle like your everyday average levels of athleticism. And then I went out on the course for a sport but I was not very familiar and and showed your everyday level of athleticism. But then between then and your two isn't sending it in like I'm I'm doing with Shay lanes that were circulated on sports center and like having some Success in training that should I like, Oh, this guy's Actually, I didn't just go I went from a guy who is on Ninja Warrior for having a good story to, like now being okay with calling myself a ninja. I knew all along even after falling in year one, I was like that wasn't the best I could do, I just needed more reps. And sure enough, I came out in a year or two did get a little bit farther, because more reps paid off. It is like, as he said, getting to this starting line, it's a process, getting yourself to start running is even more of a process. But I don't really take any offense to people say you're just there because you have a good story. Because, yeah, I have a great story. And it can do a lot of good for people who even if they did just even see somebody go out and fall on the second obstacle. It's like, wow, that guy was where I was, and recovery well enough to like go and make it further than some other contestants. And I take no offense to that, because it's people who think you're, you're gonna need to prove yourself as being some sort of superstar athlete by talking back to it, when really like, I'm a guy who's making the most of my second chance at life and loving it. And I wanted to go do that. And I had an end. So I'm having the time in my life.

Zack Arnold 51:22

Yeah. And it really comes back to the same idea that I keep talking about, which is taking responsibility. And this is one of the things that I see both, if we're talking specifically about the ninja community, but just in general society at large, is whenever they're not getting something that they want, they don't take responsibility and say, Well, it's because of my actions or my choices. It's well that that guy just got lucky. And he's got a better story than I do or whatever. Whether it's in Ninja Warrior, or like in my industry in Hollywood, there are so many people that are saying, Oh, well, it's, it's all about luck. And it's about who you know, and it's such a hard industry to get into. And they don't realize that they have to take responsibility for the choices that they're making, because that's what's gonna lead them to where they are or are not getting in the places that they want to be. But I guess the The other thing that just to kind of put that out there, and I've talked about this in a couple of other past episodes, but you mentioned like between year one and year two, it was this transition that you made from Well, it was just it was an honor to be here, right? It was an honor to be nominated and be on the stage versus I can do better. I could have done better than that. Now, it's not just about a story. It's about actually wanting to put in the reps and and accomplish something. But you weren't giving yourself permission to call yourself an American Ninja Warrior. You said being one, it almost took you like until the second year. It's so funny because that's exactly where I am now. Do you know who Alex Weber is?

Chinna Balachandran 52:45

Of course, I love Alex.

Zack Arnold 52:47

Yes. So I had Alex on the show a few weeks ago, and I'm not sure if the audience will have listened to that by the time this comes out. I think they probably will have. Um, but we talked about this idea of giving yourself permission to call yourself something, right? And I've been teaching my students for years, like for example, as a Hollywood film and television editor and director and producer. I've told people that say, Oh, well, I'm just an assistant. I'm like, well, nobody's going to give you permission or hire you to be something until you've given yourself permission to be that first. Right? So if you want to be an editor, you call yourself an editor. But then I realized I was not taking a dose of my own medicine, because I too did not do well on my rookie season. And I have not been giving myself the permission to call myself an American Ninja Warrior. So somebody who say oh my god, that's amazing. You were on the show. You're an American Ninja Warrior. And in my head, I'm like, Yeah, but am I really like that I really accomplished what I wanted to. And I think that's that's number one a hard thing that I've been working through personally and what I'm doing this year is I'm putting in the reps and then some so I feel more confident about my hand needs to grab the rope here my foot needs to go here. Here's how the Shea works. So I just physically feel more confident. But I've had to convince myself as well that I actually belong on the stage. So I'm curious Did you ever go through something similar to that

Chinna Balachandran 54:01

so did not know Alex did this a few weeks ago but I love that you brought him up because Alex has a thing about what the label of a former athlete did for him and how categorizing himself as someone who is you know, liked sports who played sports but who no longer did that. What that title did and how, how. It just saps your energy if you don't let yourself be in something you've you've earned you've earned or don't let yourself or stick to something that is not what you really are. Alex isn't a former athlete and he shed that and became a great competitor. You are a ninja warrior you went you ran you competed you got on that starting line you dealt to stage fright you did it but you know we go through the same things and it's it's natural to not I'm plenty of people show Up to the starting line and are like I have arrived, this is me. But it is so human to, to second guess and have all these ideas about what really accurately describes what you think you deserve. That's not how the world would describe you. I'm sure there are plenty of people in your life, Zack who have said you are a ninja warrior, though he went and you did it you got on the show, and you competed. That is literally what a ninja warrior is. And you're not using that metric, because we tell ourselves all sorts of other things. But we can also talk back to those things. And that's why Alex isn't a former athlete anymore. You and I are ninja warriors. It's, it's what we talk back to and not letting ourselves get lost that initial despair or that initial not feeling deserving, because our performance didn't live up to this expectation that we have for ourselves.

Zack Arnold 55:56

So how can we apply all these things that we've talked about to people that have absolutely no interest in American Ninja Warrior, and they're like, really like, just not my thing. Because you don't spend all day long dealing with other athletes and American Ninja warriors, you're dealing with people that just want to get through the day or just want to overcome grief, or trauma or disabilities or whatever it is. So if I have no interest in athletics, or sports, or competing, or any of the things we've talked about, but I just want to be a better version of myself, how do we apply some of that? How do you help your students do that? Or clients or anything else? How do we just help a general person, apply what we've talked about today,

Chinna Balachandran 56:33

there a part of it is accepting the journey that you've been on who you are, and what it is that you're facing. Part of it is striving for more. And the balance is, those of us who are really taking this head on, are the ones who are doing both at the same time.

Zack Arnold 56:53

The other thing that I would add to that too, and this is something that basically it's the the word that Alex and I used at least if we should turn it into a drinking game, and we probably would kill people if we did, but we use the word failure over and over and over and over. And failure has a really bad connotation. But Alex and I essentially I even addressed him on the show. And I said, this is going to be a show between two giant failures, about two people who fail over and over and over and over all day long every single day. So talk to me about all the things that people perceive as failures that if I were on the outside, looking in watching your journey, I might have called a failure. But in your mind, it was just feedback. It was just information and I iterated on it.

Chinna Balachandran 57:31

Oh, my goodness planning. Part of it comes from being a person who box and had a brain injury and then became public about it. Plenty of people who say you deserved it, why should I listen to it makes you have to say, and then you're going off and you're doing Ninja, there's, there's nothing that this guy could say that I would take seriously played so much failure. In my personal life, in my professional life in my ninja life. When I train, it's, it's actually I was having this conversation recently, with a friend, like a willingness to go out and fail, you have to accept that failure is part of the process. And you have to still want more, you don't go out expecting to fail. And so there's another instance of balance, if you expect to fail, the most likely thing that's gonna happen is failure. But you have to go and practice failing, you literally practice that, at least in some of my ninja experience was learning how to fall safely, you get comfortable with that. And then you kind of increase that frustration tolerance. Again, in terms of the examples of failures in my life, the first thing that comes to mind is largely that this brain injury was self imposed. I did that to myself. I'm not a victim, and I've never once claimed to be because that's just a failure on my part, I just didn't let myself be consumed by it,

Zack Arnold 58:57

where would love to end the conversation? Cuz I want to be very respectful of your time. But there's a there's an exercise that I've been doing with some of my recent guests. And I think it might just become like a new thing, because it's been a really interesting final conversation point. And it's going to kind of help us wrap all this up and talk about the failures, the successes, the mindsets, what we're gonna do is we're going to jump into a time machine. Right now you're going to jump into this time machine, and you're going to time travel to the version of you that just woke up and has no idea what's going on. You have no idea if you're ever going to feed yourself again, if you're ever going to walk. Certainly not thinking about American Ninja Warrior. What is the advice or what is the story that you tell yourself to your version of you right after you wake up after this injury?

Chinna Balachandran 59:47

Honor this version of you. I didn't even have to think about it because I still live by that. Everything that I do now. I do it asking myself that question of is this honoring the version have me on my deathbed, literally just taken off of death's doorstep. That's the advice. Just love yourself to what would be in honor of this version of you.

Zack Arnold 1:00:16

I cannot imagine a better way to live life than by that one model. I mean that that just encapsulates it perfectly, and I had no idea that that was going to be your answer. I'm always interested in anticipating what the answer might be based on doing the research or watching the videos or reading the books or whatever, every single time I ask this question, I get an answer I never expected and it's just like life changing. So if, if what I always like to do is I like to teach my students how to ask better questions themselves because you ask better questions, you get better answers, and you get better quality of life. And it sounds like if you were forced to only ask one question every day of the rest of your life, it's are the things that I did today honoring the best version of me.

Chinna Balachandran 1:00:54

Yeah, completely. I love this question. By the way, this is something that I might take with me and use other avenues.

Zack Arnold 1:01:00

So yes, I do not have a trademark on it so you can please use it to whether you're talking to your students or otherwise. Because I find that it's a really useful exercise for people to gain a little bit of perspective about what it is that they've really been through. But that perspective can be lent to other people that are going through it completely right because again, the the mathematical odds of having more than maybe one or two people listening today that actually have a traumatic brain injury in a similar story probably pretty slim. But that's one of the things I love about Ninja Warrior is that it's like the best metaphor of life ever. I think that sports and athletics in general are a great metaphor for life. But ninja is like the epitome because there are literal obstacles that you have to learn how to overcome literally one step at a time and that's the perfect metaphor for high you have to overcome everything life

Chinna Balachandran 1:01:50

yeah, you know honestly just because you brought this up I kind of I keep me doing this stuff kinda on the down low and I've only recently started telling people like my students and other co workers that this is something that I do but around the time that I did they said would you please speak to our graduating class that last year in the spring and part of it and something that really stuck with me in the speech was I had the opportunity to say to these kids who have been through some of the most horrific circumstances you could possibly imagine and betrayed by the people who are supposed to take the most care of them is the obstacles don't care about what we've been through. And it's my favorite part of ninja and I think an important lesson for anybody dealing with sort of adversity brain injury or not to bear in mind

Zack Arnold 1:02:41

I can't even imagine how to close a better than that like these these I've just for the record this advice is so good. I'm totally stealing all of this you can take my questions use them on your students I'm going to use these on my students because between the idea of Am I honoring the version of me that I want to and the obstacles don't care what we've been through I mean my god that's not a bumper sticker for life I don't do brilliant I love that saying that that's a T shirt right there that's like a T shirt I absolutely love it. So on that note, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time this evening to talk about your story to be so open to share some of the things that you haven't really shared in some of the other forums which is why I like to do this in longer form is you really get to go deeper into the stories you can't in a newspaper or even on American Ninja Warrior so I appreciate you being here and for those of you that are listening today if you want to connect with Chinna you want to learn more about him you want to you know send him an email share your story for those that are listening How can they do that?

Chinna Balachandran 1:03:40

The best ways are definitely well Reddit is where all of this sort of started and I do continue to post updates by username on there to show you how big of a dork I am. It's QuiGonGiveItToYa like you know Star Wars and then the DMX song excellent given to you so QuiGonGiveItToYa

Zack Arnold 1:03:58

Oh my god that's amazing.

Chinna Balachandran 1:04:00

So there's that I do regularly correspond with people through Reddit who have reached out with similar stories. So other survivors usually got me through there. And then on Instagram as well at GreatWallofChinna. So

Zack Arnold 1:04:13

which is genius again, love it.

Chinna Balachandran 1:04:16

I I'm a really corny person, but I swear I can be very heartfelt and sincere as well. But yeah, Reddit, Instagram are usually the best ways to correspond.

Zack Arnold 1:04:26

Well I love it. We're gonna make sure to put a link in the show notes and I don't want you to apologize or put a disclaimer for the corniness. I myself teach a host of hundreds of students how to better themselves and I make sure on our slack community we have a channel that's called dad jokes. Oh, right there with you got to have dad jokes, right? We've got to have some levity, and we have to enjoy the process. So never apologize for your corniness again,

Chinna Balachandran 1:04:48

appreciate that. That is where I'm at 100%

Zack Arnold 1:04:52

Yeah, me too. So on that note, I can't thank you enough and I'm really excited for all of those that are gonna have the opportunity to hear your story and be inspired by it.

Chinna Balachandran 1:05:00

Hey thanks for having me Zack.

Zack Arnold 1:05:05

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Optimize Yourself podcast. To access the show notes for this and all previous episodes as well as to subscribe so you don't miss future interviews just like this one, please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast. And once again a special thank you to our sponsor Ergodriven for making today's interview possible. To learn more about Ergodriven and my favorite product for standing workstations the Topomat, visit optimizeyourself.me/topo, that's t o p o and to learn more about Ergodriven and their brand new product that I'm super excited about New Standard Whole Protein, visit optimizeyourself.me/newstandard. Thank you for listening, stay safe, healthy and sane and be well.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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Guest Bio:


Chinna Balachandran

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Chinna Balachandran works to support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach as a school psychologist in Southern California. He currently works in a Level 14 locked psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescents. He has worked in residential settings that specialize in low-incidence disabilities and typical public schools throughout the last decade.

In addition to practicing school psychology, Chinna was also once a hobby boxer. After driving home from a spar in early 2019, he began noticing signs of neurological dysfunction. He had unknowingly sustained an acute subdural hematoma, a slow brain bleed. He was incredibly fortunate to awake from surgery at all, but he suddenly found himself paralyzed on the left side of his body, unsure of his cognitive abilities, and entirely incapable of taking care of himself. He has since recovered and resumed his school psychologist responsibilities in full while also learning a new sport to compete on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, in the hopes that his journey can help others suffering like he was.

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared by Debby Germino and published by Glen McNiel.

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).

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Note: I believe in 100% transparency, so please note that I receive a small commission if you purchase products from some of the links on this page (at no additional cost to you). Your support is what helps keep this program alive. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”