Juggling and hustling life’s uncertainties make the process of living more challenging. Tom Moynihan, the uncle of host Dr. Kevin Pecca, shares how he survived life in a big family. With his God-sized goals, Tom was able to support himself towards becoming a cop, a firefighter, an investigator, and eventually a counselor who helps others live more productive lives. Having been able to balance work and home life, he gives advice to people who are trying to find their way in life – whether with a passion or a new job career. He also talks about the importance of journaling, getting rid of the negative self-talk, and how he helps people take the steps in the right direction.
We have Tom Moynihan. Tom Moynihan is a retired New York City police officer, firefighter, fire marshal, nurse and currently is a personal counselor. He is also my uncle who has been a second father to me and is always there for our family no matter what the situation may be. We talk about the power of having God-sized goals, the power of writing down very clearly your goals and intentions, the gift of asking the world what you really want out of this life and creating your own opportunities. Please welcome Tom Moynihan.
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God-Sized Goals with Tom Moynihan
We have Tom Moynihan. Tom Moynihan is my uncle. He is a rock for our family. He’s your go-to guy for everything you need. He’s been an inspiration and role model in my life. I’m very excited to have him on the show. Uncle Tom, how are you?
Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Uncle Tom, where are you from originally?
I was originally born in Queens, New York. I was the number five of six children and from there we lived in Queens Village for a few more years and then we moved out to Massapequa.
You moved out to Long Island when you were about six or seven. What were those early days like for you? Can you remember?
The early days back in Long Island where the men were men and the women were men. It was a little tough. The winters were a little more severe but it was a great place to grow up. It was a great place to get my formal education and it worked out well for me.
What was it like growing up in a big family like that, one of six kids?
The first up is best dressed. You had to learn how to survive, but we were very close. That’s the one thing I can say about a big family. It is conducive to staying tight and close up to this day.
What were those early years like for the family? Were they tough? What was it like?
It was a situation where we had a family dynamic where my father had some issues with alcohol and it was very difficult growing up as a child of an alcoholic. I later went to graduate school to get my MSW, and the one question they always ask you when you’re coming home from school or if you suspect that a child has a problem with alcohol or drugs at home. You ask him a telltale question is what you can expect when you come home from school at 3:00 in the afternoon and you opened up the door? If you get the deer in the headlight look from the kid, there’s something going on at home that you should look into. The home life was very tight-knit. We had a close relationship with all of our kids, but unfortunately, it was overshadowed by my alcohol. We learned to survive. It was survival mode most of the time.
What things did you take from your early childhood that helps you survive those times in the early years into your early twenties and everything?
I think living in an environment like that, there was no violence. There was no abuse. It was the unknown, the uncertainty. Getting involved in sports. I played lacrosse way back when in the days of wooden sticks and iron men. Unfortunately, there wasn’t too much participation from my father. My mother was trying to survive and working as much as she could to keep the bills paid and to keep everyone together. The things that I brought from that household was a survivorship mode. We learned to be close. We learned to be self-sufficient. We learned that we had to get whatever we wanted. We all got jobs early. We all looked out for each other, but we all took care of ourselves.
How did the dynamic change when your father passed away at a young age? How old were you?
I was seventeen when my father died. There wasn’t too much emphasis on higher education. If you made it out of high school, you were very happy. That was because my parents were the end products of the Great Depression and they survived. They were living on the coattails of that whole depression era. Luckily for me, my role model early on was my brother, Gene. Gene was instrumental in taking a look at a few options in my life. Gene became a New York City policeman. At the time they had a police trainee program going on. It prompted me to take the entrance exam for the New York City Police Department at age sixteen. We had the opportunity to come on board as young as seventeen and you do nonenforcement jobs until you reach the age of 21, and then you automatically got appointed to patrolman at that time.
Technically you were a New York City cop at seventeen?
I was New York City Police training at seventeen. With the passing of my father, that opened up a lot of interesting times in my life.
I’m sure you met some great people with that. I’m sure you had some fun. What was your experience like at such a young age as a New York City policeman?
My first command was down in the narcotics division and I worked in there for a few months. I was asked to join the Community Relations Division, which was a select cadre of younger guys who were all eighteen to twenty. They wanted us to go around and give narcotic lectures in the schools. At the time, The Bronx was burning. There was a lot of heroin on the streets. We were trying to have a group of young police trainees that we could form a relationship with. They trained us, they put us in a formalized training program, and we all became precinct service officers. We worked throughout the city. I did that until I was 21 years old. I entered the Police Academy for my formalized training.
How long were you a New York City cop for?
I stayed in the New York City Police Department through 1977. I was 25. Unfortunately for me, when I was in high school, a friend of my father was a New York City fire lieutenant. At his prompting, he threw us into the back of his Chevy station wagon one Saturday morning and he says, “You’re all going to go down and take the New York City Fire Department test.” I think we were at seventeen. We took the test and I took the fire test and I forgot about it. When I was a policeman from 1973 on, we were in the middle of the financial crisis. The city was going broke. There were laid off cops. I got laid off for about three days in 1975 during the fiscal crisis.
Were you married at this point?
Not yet. That’s right before we got married in ‘75. They called us back. They laid off 5,000 people and they called back 2,000 people because they were having some major civil upheavals going on at the time. I wanted to go into the Tactical Patrol Force at that point in time. We worked at 6:00 at night to 2:00 in the morning and we were more or less working high crime areas with high productivity, high activity outfit. We worked in probably some of the toughest neighborhoods in New York City at the time.
You probably saw some things doing that?
I certainly did it. It was my youthful urban education. At that time, I started going to school. I started going to night school. I went to John Jay College. In 1977, I happened to be working in the twentieth precinct up in Harlem. While making the car stop, my partner was going out and talking to the driver of a car from the passenger side. He was getting into a little bit of a verbal argument. I reached down to open up the door and a gypsy kid came and took the door of the radio cart off. Everything broke loose and we wound up taking everybody down the station house and getting things squared away. Fortunately for me the next day, I got letters from the fire department asking me if I wanted to become a New York City fireman.
That’s wild how something like that happens and the next day an opportunity comes like it’s almost unexplainable.
They say there are no coincidences for all, it’s true. From there, I thought about it and I initially turned the first opportunity down in August of ‘77. I had just gotten married and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a fireman, but then in November of ‘77, I had made up my mind and wanted to go. I decided to leave the New York City Police Department and enter the New York City Fire Department.
Why did you want to go to the fire department?
No one in my family was ever a fireman. The motivating factor I had was my supervisor at the time, Bob Leonard. He was my boss. He heard that I had turned the fire department down and he wanted to talk to me. He had me drive in that one night. We drove that night and he said, “You had the opportunity at the fire department.” I said, “I was thinking about it, but I’m not sure if I want to go.” He said, “Opportunities don’t come along in your life that often. You should take another look at that and seriously think about that.” We talked for about an hour and he laid it all out for me. I was touched by him actually sharing this with me. I thought about it. He made some good points. He says, “You’ve got a year to come back. If it doesn’t work out with the fire department, you can always come back to the police. There’s no time lost.” I decided to give it a shot. I went to the fire department and I never looked back.
How was that transition from policeman to a firefighter?
It was like night and day. It was like a glorified boy scout camp. Went to work on Randalls Island every day for a few weeks and we were sliding down ropes, shooting water at buildings and knocking down doors, breaking glass, running around. It was a lot of fun and I miss some of the most interesting, endearing and bravest men I’ve ever met in my life on that job. I realized that it was a challenge because you are fighting against nature. I never understood that until I got into that position where you had to go and put yourself in some unsafe situations. Using the strength and fortitude of the people that you’re working with is a team effort was the motivating factor. You couldn’t let your team down. Being one of five guys in a truck company, you learned your job, you learned it well, you went in there and you never let anybody down. You never let anybody alone. You always made sure that everyone got out together. It was a great concept and it worked. It was a great experience for me. I got hurt early on the job. I had a few years in the job. We relocated to Rockaway during a cold February morning. Unfortunately, when we got down to Rockaway, we got into a bit of a situation where I got thrown off the rig, breaking my arm and my knee and I got on sick report for a few months.
You were up on top of the ladder or something. How high up were you?
It was about twenty feet. We lost hydraulics and everything else. It was a towel ladder.
Did you fall twenty feet off the ladder onto the concrete?
Yes, fifteen to twenty feet, something like that. I broke my leg and my right radial arm. At that time, the fire department had a program and they were looking to get more men into nursing. I had thought about that. I had applied for it earlier on. When I was out sick at that time, they accepted me. I started my studies and I started going to nursing school.
What were you going to school for then?
When I was a policeman, I went to John Jay College Criminal of Justice. I went to get my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration Planning. I was looking to further my education. I went to the fire department and they laid it out for me. I said, “That might be an interesting career path.” They were looking at getting more men into the nursing field at that point in time in the ‘70s. They gave us unlimited mutual and made it very easy for us to go to school.
What made you want to go to school because nobody else in your family was going to further their education in college and everything? What do you think it was that made you say yes because a lot of people don’t want to do that?
My sister Margie went to nursing school. She became a nurse and I was married to Maureen, a nurse. I thought it might be something instead of just underutilizing my spare time in the fire department and there was a lot of free time and a lot of time off. They had a great chart. I figured I’d utilize that time wisely and I’d go to nursing school and that’s what I did.
You went to nursing school and then after you graduated, were you done with the fire department?
I continued to go to nursing school. When I got back from medical leave, I had taken a test for the fire marshal’s office. I became a fire marshal. I was back to police work and I was doing cause and origin and I was an investigative police officer for the New York City Fire Department. I used to investigate arson, fatal deaths and candid investigations. We did a plurality of jobs for the New York City Fire Department.
Did you enjoy that work?
I did. It was very interesting. Most people when you came and talked to them and said, “You have to listen to the fire marshals,” they were like, “The fire extinguishers are over there in the corner.” I said, “No, we don’t want to see the fire extinguisher. You put your hands behind your back, you’re under arrest.” He knew who we were. It was a great job. It was very interesting to learn about cause and origin. The different colors of the fire, the different colors of smoke and how you reconstruct the fire zone by using an inverted cone and looking to see where the most damages in the building, where the origin of the fire took place. We worked with the NYPD Arson Explosion Squad. Some work with terrorists and also for profit. They had a lot of fraudulent international groups that were coming into the country and they were buying a lot of buildings. They were burning the top floor down and then they got the whole building through insurance. There was a lot of different scams going on at that point in time. It was very interesting working with ATF, the Arson Explosion Squad and the Fire Marshal’s Office. We also had a joint Arson Task Force with the State Police. It was interesting pulling all of our collective resources together.
Were that crazy hours working all around the clock or was it 9 to 5?
We did work on the clock. At the time, I was still going to nursing school. They were very accommodating to me. They let me change my tools around. I happened to finished nursing school right as I retired from the fire department.
Are you juggling a family at this point? Any kids?
I think we had three or four kids. The injuries that I sustained from the fire department from that fall that time, they said I couldn’t do firefighting anymore. They asked me and they said, “Your firefighting career is over.” My careers mended together there and there was this opportunity to go into nursing, which I did. I had a number of different interesting jobs as a nurse also. I worked for a pharmaceutical company. I sold medications at one point in time. I did some private duty stuff. I worked for a bit doing occupational health nursing. I also had an opportunity to work for an insurance company as an insurance medical investigator, which put everything that I was doing altogether. I wore a lot of hats. I was doing investigation for the medical owners doing a lot of different things and I decided to try that. I wound up working for two different companies for over 30 years doing that.
With that job, you’re investigating insurance fraud and people that are faking injuries or whatever.
We try to establish a pattern of credible claims and we do pay all credible claims. Naturally, you do find some people that are not as honest as other people are. We do make some proper notifications and the referrals for the bureau and whatnot when necessary. Majority of the time though, we spent a lot of time evaluating people that had been on the claim for a while to see if there’s anything we can do as their carrier and to help them through difficult times. That’s why you get that insurance.
At this point, you’re wearing a couple of different hats at work. You’ve got a large family. How were you able to balance out everything? Home life, work life, spending time with the kids, paying for everything with the kids. How does that all work? Aunt Maureen had a job too.
She always worked. She worked between part-time and full-time. She went back to graduate school and she became an NP, Nurse Practitioner, in psych. It was a collaborative effort. We had to pitch in. We had a lot of energy because we had six children, and we’re always involved in everything. Maura was involved in track, cross country and indoor track. Our son, Tom was involved in wrestling and in lacrosse. Brendan was the same. He was involved in lacrosse and football. They were all involved. I’d say the majority was lacrosse and soccer. Some of them did wrestling, some of them did golf. Terry I think had the most charmed life though. He did golf in his last year and he was a pretty good soccer player. He had a good couple of years in high school. Elizabeth ran, played lacrosse for a while. Everyone was very busy. They were all finding their own way. It was a wild and crazy time, but it was great.
What advice would you have for people that are trying to find their way in life, whether it’s their passion or it’s going into a new job career? You’ve had so many different careers over time and you found a way to enjoy them all. How do you think that was?
One more thing that I didn’t tell you yet. Being a nurse and having a background or a family history of alcoholism, I was approached to join this program they had. It was the New York Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses program several years ago. It gave nurses an opportunity that had problems with drugs and alcohol the ability to go into this program and in lieu of prosecution against the license and lieu of discipline. What they do is they will work with them. I joined this as a SPAN facilitator and I’ve been working in this program for the last several years. It got me into counseling and it got me into thinking about handling different situations. It made my job as an investigator a lot better, a lot sharper because I had a lot of skill sets that I use to do a lot of other things.
It prompted me to take advantage of the company that I worked for an educational assistance plan. I went back and I got my Master’s in social work. I liked the type of work. It motivated me to look further into this. I’m working on the SPAN program. I do some private counseling on the weekends and it is very fulfilling. What suggestion would I give to the people that are looking for the future or are unsure? Follow your heart, follow your dream. Never ever let anybody talk you out of it and never let yourself out of it. We are sometimes our biggest critic. “I can’t do this.” You can. If you put your mind to anything, you could do anything you want to do. It’s your desire. It’s what you want to make your dominant intention to do. You can do it.
You do some private counseling. What do people come to you with and how are you able to help these people with whatever they’re dealing with?
Most of the people come to you because they have an issue, something that’s affecting their life. Something that they can’t shake. Sometimes it can be drugs and alcohol. Sometimes it could be a family situation, it could be a marriage. It can be having children. It could be a number of things. Some of us reach a point in time in our life where we need help. Asking for help sometimes is the biggest roadblock or the biggest stumbling block that people have to overcome. When they reach a point in their life and they say, “This is not working for me anymore.” It’s time for you to reach out. When people come to me, I usually let them talk and give them free rein as far as what’s bothering them.
The program stems from the writing program with my brother, Gene and I, and all of us were starting a long time ago. It’s a combination of goal-focused therapy and also asking people what you want. The majority of people don’t spend five minutes in their life trying to figure out what it is that they want because they go through life and they’re spinning their wheels. They get up in the morning, they go to work and they ruminate a lot of windshield time. It’s a lot of thoughts, but they don’t take too much time figuring out what it is that I want. What is going to make me happy? That’s why I work with people. I said, “What is it that’s going to make your life happy? How would you want your life to be? What changes do you want to make this better?” Open up the doors like that.
How does that work? Do you have them journaling? How does that start and how do they make steps in the right direction?
Some people are better candidates for journaling than others. Some people have that affinity to journaling. A thought is a chemical reaction and when you write it down, it becomes a physical reaction. When you’re at school, they always tell you, “If you want to learn something. If you’d want to know something. If you want to be very good at it. If you want to know it and feel it, then write it down.” Rewrite your notes. If you can write it down, that means that you know that you got it. There’s something about writing down what it is that you want and making your intentions God-size. My God-size intentions are every day, I want robust health. I want financial freedom. I want to send out the best vibration in the world to bring in the best clients in my life. I want to surround my children with light to make them happy, joyous and free. I’ll repeat the same thing every day. However, I changed a little bit. I do make changes in my journaling every day. It works for me. If people use it, I use it in my therapy classes all the time. If it works for them, it works for them. It’s powerful. Words are powerful and our thoughts become our behaviors.
Do you write down short-term goals, long-term goals, and when is it important to reassess those goals?
I go look between us and I say, “How would you relate this to work out?” After the initial situation or crisis, depending on what it is, is an address, then we go over what it is that I want on a long-term? The magical question is, “If you wake up and your life will be perfectly fine and wonderful, and everything you wanted in your life was right in front of you, what would your life be?”
That’s hard work. You don’t just write that down right away. You’ve got to sit by yourself for a little bit and think about it.
That’s why it makes you contemplate your priorities. It makes you figure out what’s important in life. From there, it makes it easy to point out any shortfalls that they may be going through. Anything that’s not jiving. Is that the best thing for you? How’s this going to work out for you? What do you think?
Do you think some people are fearful actually to ask for what they want? Some people may think, “That’s too big. I can’t ask that.” How does somebody remove that?
That’s why I say make your aspirations and make your wishes God-size. Don’t ask for a little. When you write down that book, this is your checkbook for life with an unlimited supply of currency that you can write anything down you want. The currency will come. Anything you want is going to happen. The funny thing about this, Kevin is, I tell people, “Don’t buy it, just try it.” I guarantee if you are steadfast and do this for 90 days, your life will change. It cannot help but change. You’ll have a couple of moments, you’ll say, “What happened here?” I tell people this, “I want you to call me up. I want you to tell me about this when it happens.” This is what happens with that very frequently all the time.
You are also probably dealing with some cops, firefighters, whoever may be. You might have some people that are pretty hard headed, getting in their own way, don’t want to believe that the journaling is going to help. How do you break through to those people?
I’ve seen a number of cops and firemen post 911 with PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes it’s very difficult for them to think clearly and not to have flashbacks and not have the recurrent thoughts. Sometimes somebody journaling what they want is very helpful. Other types of therapy I used to like rapid resolution therapy, which is a combination of hypnotherapy and also deep thought process changes that occur quickly. It’s a very interesting type of modality and it helps a lot of people.
How does it work?
It’s a week-long course that you take to get certified in that. It includes changing the level of consciousness. If someone has a real problem like with PTSD and stuff like that, the human mind is different than the primal mind. If the zebras were walking in the jungle and see a lion, they go into fight, flight mode and they take off. The only thing that the zebra has to be aware of is it’s got to be faster than the slowest zebra. Once it gets past that threat, the zebra goes optimum and they say, “I just made it out of it by the skin of your nose.” He said, “What are you talking about?” That’s the difference between the human brain and the primal animal brain. Another analogy we use is garbage disposal. A lot of times you put the coffee grinds down there and you turn the faucet on, you grind it up, you throw your egg shells down and you grind it up, it goes through smoothly. That’s your thought process. Every once in a while, you get an avocado stuck in that mechanism. Those are the thoughts that bring you problems. These are the thoughts that cause PTSD. These are the thoughts that cause a lot of traumatic events in our lives, sexual trauma, emotional trauma, physical trauma. It sticks in their heads and that’s when RRT is very effective.
For people reading this, how does one even start to journal? What do you think should they start with to get the ball rolling?
You can get the book and you can get to think into a book. It gives you a little explanation forward to the book and it shows you how to journal. You can get that online or you can just get a composition book. You can do it on your phone. Start simple. Start with ten affirmations to say what is it that’s important in your life. Is it your health? Is it your financial freedom? Is it your marriage? Is it your children? Is it someone or something in your life that’s causing you an issue or something that you want to change? Is it a change in your job? Is it changing the direction of where do you want to go? These are the things that you can start small. The only two rules are make your wishes God-size and keep everything positive. You’ve got an unlimited supply of currency. Whatever you’re writing in that it’s going to take place whatever you want.
Now that I’ve heard your story and I’m connecting the dots. It seems like every opportunity you’ve had, whether it’s another job or another opportunity, they’ve come sequentially without you trying too hard. Almost like it flowed one into the next. How do you explain that? How do you think that came to be?
I’ve always had an open mind and I’ve always been the type of person always to keep my ear to the ground. Some people aren’t like me, but I’ve always been conscientious and I’ve always been looking for, “Maybe I’d like to do that. Maybe that would be good for me. Maybe I could try to look into something else.” I’ve been the type of person that always looks for the next step. Like journaling, things have always come my way. I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t ask too many questions. It was the right place at the right time. I think it’s the right mentality and the right time. That’s what it has to do. If you’re an up person, if you’re a half-full glass all the time, if you keep your positive attitude going on all the time, that helps.
It sounds like you didn’t put a lot of self-limitations on yourself either. You always had those God-size intentions and that’s definitely served you 100%.
I’ve always said I also had a very positive family. Growing up, the stuff that we had, we were very supportive of each other. My marriage has been terrific. We support ourselves all the time and we’ve always helped each other attain the position in our lives we want to get to. When Maureen went back to graduate school and when I went back to graduate school, we always was there for each other and I think that was important.
This is by far the longest I’ve ever heard you talk about yourself. Usually, when people get a conversation going with you, you’re always willing to ask how the other person is doing. You’re definitely a listen first, talk next type of guy. I think that’s why people are so comfortable opening up to you because you give them a gateway to share everything. Where does that come from and all of that?
They say you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. It helps being a gifted listener. Your father was a gifted listener. We could all learn something from your dad. There’s something to be said about listening. There’s listening and there’s really listening. Looking beyond question and maybe invoking other questions to more or less make an understanding of what they’re going through. It helps me when I’m interviewing people. It helps me when I’m helping a client when I’m in therapy with them. Many people are so quick to talk. Sometimes it’s good to be quiet and let it all sink in. Silence equals silence a lot of times. We should just listen and it helps. It helps to have a sense of humor too in this world.
I feel like even if another person talks a lot. If you let them talk, they’ll end up talking themselves in a circle anyway and you won’t have to backlash at them or anything.
Sometimes they can talk themselves out of the problem, especially if you can stop them and say, “What did you just say? What did you mean by that?”
It’s interesting you said that because I was doing a couple of sessions with Jay. I’m the same way as you. I let other people talk. I had it flipped on me and some of the stuff that was bothering me, I started talking about and as I was saying it, I was thinking to myself, “That is such a non-issue.” It’s almost like when you put it out and you actually see the words come out in front of you, that’s not even a real problem. I wouldn’t have had that if I didn’t say it out loud.
Sometimes you’ve got to hear from your own ears and be gentle with yourself too. It’s nice being gentle with yourself and not beating yourself up. We are sometimes our worst enemy. We have the ability to do a number on ourselves. You have to be kind and gentle with yourself.
Are you saying the way we talk to ourselves? Some people can be very hard, just bad language on themselves. Do you think that takes a toll on a person’s well-being after a while?
Without a doubt. Words are very powerful. Thoughts are even more powerful. If you’re thinking things about yourself and not being too forgiven, that leaves a lot of issues.
Changing the way you talk to yourself can be a powerful change.
Change your environment. Change the way you are thinking about things. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change, as Wayne Dyer used to say all the time. It’s true. If you’re in a funk, do something about it. Go for a walk. Take care of yourself. Do something good for yourself. Do something kind for yourself. The people are leaving the session and say, “What are you doing for fun this week? What exactly are you doing for yourself?” Be a little selfish for yourself. Another thing I forgot to tell you, which is paramount is every time I write, I always put I love Tom. The first thing on the top of the journal. If I don’t love myself, I’m not good for anybody else.
At the end of every show, I like to ask all my guests, what is one piece of advice that has resonated with you over the years that you would like to share or gift the audience? It could be absolutely anything.
Some of the gifts that I’ve got from my life are my children. The gifts that I got from them is that hard work pays off. They all have blossomed in their own way. They’ve all come around. My advice to anybody is hard work pays off. Be kind to yourself. Be the best guy that you possibly can to everyone around you because something is going to come back.
Thank you so much, Uncle Tom. I love you. Thanks for always being there for me. I appreciate all the wisdom you provided for this episode.
You’re very welcome, Kevin. I’m very proud of you.
Thank you so much. I’ll talk to you soon.
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