At 10-years old, confused and scared, I decided to write a note
I just turned 10-years old, and my family just moved from Chicago to Boston. Being one of five children, and the youngest of 4-boys, I found myself retreating to odd places of the new home to find quiet space to feel peace, from what was proving to be a challenging transition.
One of these places was under the basement stairs.
I was particularly close with my oldest brother Chris, and growing up in Chicago in the 80’s and early 90’s, we idolized Walter Payton, and saw football as our paths to freedom.
After a stressful episode, I found myself under the stairs one afternoon, and next to me was a black sharpie.
I knew nothing about visualization techniques or the power of writing things down. I was just a young kid, hoping for a brighter future.
In a flash of random inspiration, I grabbed the sharpie, and wrote the following note on the pine-backing of one of the stairs:
October 25, 1993: Hello, my name is Dave Nelson, and by the time you read this, I would’ve become the all-time leading rusher, playing running back for the Chicago Bears.
This note served as my inspiration for the next 12-years of my life, and gave me the renewed sense of purpose and inspiration I needed to meet the challenges head-on that I was faced with.
Although I never made the Bears, I always felt like I over-achieved with football, because of this one note.
As you’ll learn below, I was determined to not let my football dream die in vain.
When I Was 21 Years Old, I Had a Near-Death Experience
On early morning Memorial Day, 2005, a stranger stabbed me in the chest, puncturing my heart, when I tried to intervene in a fight in downtown Boston, Massachusetts.
My injuries were so severe that I actually died in a cab as I was rushed to the hospital. I’d been dead for seven minutes when the doctors and nurses at the Massachusetts General Hospital revived me.
All of this happened right before I was supposed to start my senior year at Lafayette College. I’d been elected co-captain of the football team, and I was gearing up to lead the team into the fall season.
When I opened my eyes in my hospital room, I knew immediately that I wanted to recover as soon as possible and get back on the football field.
With the help of my doctors, friends, family, and coaches, I did recover – and I started playing football again two months later.
My football team went on to win the Patriot League Championship that year – and now I use my near-death experience (and what I learned from it) as one of the foundations of my personal coaching method.
read about my near death experience here:
New York Times article:
Life After Near Death: A Normalcy in College Football →
Lafayette.edu sports feature:
David Nelson '06 to Receive ECAC Award of Valor →
Four years later...
...Chris whispered his last words, “I love you, too” before he passed away peacefully after a battle with cancer.
Before Chris died, I had asked him what he would have wanted to achieve if he’d had more time.
Chris replied, “I wanted to make a million dollars in a single year, meet Barack Obama (who was then the President of the United States), and go on a safari in Africa.”
Even as he faced his impending death, Chris never stopped dreaming of a bright future. His dreams gave him purpose, meaning, and peace in his final days.
I assured him that I would make sure that I achieved his dreams for him after he passed away. I wanted him to know that he didn’t dream in vain, and that his vision for the future would go on after he died.
This gave Chris comfort in his final days, and it gave me purpose in my life as I continued on without him.
Fighting My Way Back to Health a Second Time
In 2014, I was working at a tech company and juggling a busy family life with my wife and kids.
Despite living a reasonably healthy lifestyle, my body was showing signs of revolt. I was dealing with an autoimmune condition that limited me physically and effected how I felt about myself, and things didn’t seem to be improving as time went by.
My declining health was stopping me from keeping my promise to my brother Chris, and I was growing more and more frustrated by the day.
At 32, I decided to Revisit the Basement Stairs again
Distraught, confused and frustrated at this point, for some reason, it hit me to visit the stairs one more time.
It was close to 20-years since I had seen the basement stairs, and had long-forgotten about the note for the most part, up until now.
I was now a dad, husband, and working for a tech start-up, with all sorts of growing responsibilities, with my football days long behind me.
As I curled around the back of the stairs, on the dusty and damp basement floor, I was excited to see this note again, and even reminisce on the journey.
To my surprise, when I looked at where I had written the note, it was completely covered up with black paint.
No other stair had black paint - just this one stair.
At first I was sad, and then it’s meaning hit me:
It’s time to write a new story.
And, release the old one.
Determined not to let myself, my wife and kids or Chris down, I focused on healing my body through mindset, mindfulness and lifestyle changes. Through a process of trial and error (and lots of hard work), I journeyed my way back to health.
As my body healed, my mind became more clear, and other things in my life began to shift, too. I knew my career in the technology industry wasn’t helping me grow and become the person I felt I wanted and needed to be. I also started feeling inspired to start helping people as part of my career, so I started exploring other possibilities.
What I had then developed for myself, then became what is now Milestone Mind.
putting it all together
And in those moments of confusion, pain, and even despair at times, Milestone Mind was born.
Now my wife and I run the two businesses in conjunction, and my specialty is coaching with high-performing clients and teams and helping them develop self-leadership and awareness, to improve the focus of where they’re going, bringing them peace of mind.
I love what I do, and every day I appreciate being able to bring together all the pieces of my life into a coherent, inspiring profession.
All the best.
Courage. Love. Belief. Strength. Patience. Determination.
Dave's Professional Background
Dave Nelson is the survivor of a near-death experience, as well as an endurance race competitor, former Silicon Valley sales director, and a self-leadership, meditation and human motivation teacher. He’s also a husband and father.
From 2006-2016, Dave worked with companies like EMC, Dell, Nimble Storage, and Rubrik to help them build successful sales teams and build new markets for their products. At Nimble, he helped build the Northeast U.S. and Eastern Canada, taking it from a $2M/year run-rate business, to over a $25M/year run-rate business, building it from 4 team-members to over 25 team-members, leading all sales, marketing, channel and engineering go-to-market strategies.
In 2016, he founded Milestone Mind, which provides leading-edge self-leadership, mindset and mindfulness training for high-performing people and organizations.
He studied Sociology and Anthropology at Lafayette College, where he served as the Co-Captain of their 2005 championship football team. He's the recipient of the ECAC Award of Valor as well as recipient of the inaugural Lafayette College David Nelson '06 Award of Valor, established at the school after Dave's return to the gridiron after being dead for 7-minutes just two-months prior to the 2005 Championship season.
Dave has received executive business education from Harvard Business School, undertaken deep meditation practice and education training from Kathmandu University's Centre for Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute, and is a certified ICF NLP Master Practitioner, Life Coach and CMA Meditation Teacher.
These days, Dave is a coach, mentor, podcast host and teacher who understands what individuals and teams need to grow and thrive – and helps executives and high-performing teams develop self-leadership and awareness, to achieve improved focus and peace of mind.
He has had the opportunity to interview and get to know thought-leaders such as Spartan Race Founder, Joe DeSena, Leading Meditation Teacher and Founder of the Insight Meditation Society, Sharon Salzberg, O2X Founder, Adam La Reau, PIVOT Founder, Jenny Blake, Green Beret and Author of Game-Changers, Scott Mann, Ironman™ World Champion and USAT Paratriathlete of the Year, André Kajlich, and many more.