Search & Replace S04E09: David Nordel

David Nordel is a retired Air Force veteran whose life story transcends the boundaries of military and civilian realms. From a youth spent on a California dairy farm to a career marked by 30 years of service and four combat tours, David’s journey is one of profound transformation and resilience. In a candid conversation, he reveals how a near-death experience forced him to reevaluate his inner circle and confront the tough persona that served him in the Air Force but hindered his civilian life integration. Join us on Search and Replace as David shares invaluable lessons on vulnerability, the importance of a supportive ‘life team,’ and the courage to face one’s fears and pain for personal growth. Tune in to discover how redefining strength and opening up to help can lead to life-changing realizations and healing. 

More about today’s guest:

Explore these related stories:


[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialists at Johns & Taylor. More information follows this episode.  

[00:00:09] Joe Taylor Jr.: What if you spend your entire career taking care of others, but you’re not sure who’s going to take care of you. I’m Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace. 

[00:00:24] David Nordel didn’t necessarily pick the career he expected, but he says it gave him lots of job stability and plenty of action. 

[00:00:33] David Nordel: I think my career starts on a dairy farm in California and having experience there, because life on a farm teaches you a lot of things.  

[00:00:40] I left home when I was 19 and I ended up doing 30 years, 6 months and 24 days in the Air Force. I wanted to be a plumber, they made me a medic, shoved me into medicine. And in there is EMT work, a lot of emergency room work, training to be a mid-level provider that did remote medicine. So out in the middle of nowhere, just being the only medical person around, which is fairly extensive. Put myself in nursing school doing shock trauma, even my life in the civilian world. 

[00:01:07] So you’ve got this whole thing. And throw in four combat tours and doing combat, you know, combat trauma medicine. It’s an amazing journey. So I thought I was doing great.  

[00:01:16] Joe Taylor Jr.: Like many veterans, David experienced a little turbulence as he acclimated to life outside the military. But he wasn’t prepared for what happened next. 

[00:01:26] David Nordel: After I retired, I thought, you know, I’m working through these things and, you know, I knew I had some issues. Struggling, trying to reintegrate. That’s a whole other piece, reintegrating from the military back into the civilian world. And I was learning to it. But I thought I was doing pretty well.  

[00:01:40] And on June 3rd of 2018, I took my son to the airport to go off to DC to his big first job out of college, gave him some fatherly advice, came home, sat in the exact chair that I’m sitting in, did some work and stood up and threw a blood cloud into both lungs and almost killed me. 

[00:01:57] And I was sitting in the bed in the emergency room, a place that I was very familiar with, cause it’s what I do. And I knew the people that were working on me. And I said, boy, you haven’t been doing any of this right. So last day I took a drink. I haven’t had a drink in five and a half years.  

[00:02:11] The second thing was, was I said, how did I get here? Why, besides my wife, why wasn’t there somebody that picked me up? And I looked at my inner circle and I said, All of these people were comfortable with who I was because they also drank, they also suppressed their thoughts, they also played the macho thing. They also played the tough guy. So they validated all of my victim mentality that I put forth with all of this stuff. They perpetuated it. They were enablers at that level. And so I started cutting those ties. And to do it, not easy.  

[00:02:43] Joe Taylor Jr.: David said he noticed so many similarities among those people that he now had to cut ties with, especially when it came to one trait to helped David and his peers navigate their lives in the Air Force, but didn’t work very well back at home. 

[00:02:58] David Nordel: I think the natural human tendency is to, especially men, is to default to being tough. Far too often, first responders and military carry that into their day to day lives. Right? And so when nonjob time is out in the world, you don’t have a lot of people around you that one, can relate or two, that you think are worthy of sharing this experience, that they have anything to add to your ability to deal with it. 

[00:03:24] So you internalize it. Run up hills and beat your body up physically to try to deal with this stuff. When all that doesn’t work, you have the three main counselors that most first responders use: Jim, Johnny, and Jack. Right?  

[00:03:37] And so, when you’ve run that gamut and one day you go, I’m in a worse place than I was, and you realize you finally have that epiphany that you go, there’s actually people out there that may not be me and may not have my experiences, but they know how to help.  

[00:03:52] Joe Taylor Jr.: Surrendering that toughness and opening himself to vulnerability led David to a profound realization. 

[00:03:58] David Nordel: That’s your first step off of your ego, to actually let somebody into your life to start to pull this stuff apart and teach you about boundaries and teach you about how to build little safe spaces to put all of these things in. And then when they do get out of your little box and start to hold them, but they do get out and they start to rear their ugly head. It takes having a life team that is really, really solid. 

[00:04:20] You know, we are the CEOs of ourselves. CEOs are the only people that can write the checks, hire, fire, set strategic vision, all those things. Right? They’re the only ones that with one love, one sense can change the whole course of action.  

[00:04:31] So we own that. We own all of our stuff and the thing that we own is our life team. And so sometimes we have to fire people. Sometimes you have to say, you know, I really appreciate you for who you are, but you’re not contributing to me where I need to be mentally, physically, and emotionally. You should be picking those people very specifically, and they should fill roles and they should be reliable and you should be contributing to them, too. If you have the right life team, when you hit those tipping points, there’s somebody there. And they’re easily accessible and they actually understand their role when you’re reaching out to them.  

[00:05:02] Joe Taylor Jr.: David says he now knows what holds most people back from making positive transformations in their lives. 

[00:05:08] David Nordel: You already know what you need to do and what you need to do to make it happen. You already know that. The only reason that you’re not doing it is two reasons. And this is everything in life. But in this, there’s two things. Fear and pain. And in your mind, we always come up. Put the things that scare us and the things that are painful. And we use those as excuses to stay exactly where we’re at.  

[00:05:28] And then there’s the unknown space. And you need to go there. It’s scary because that’s the space you have to go into that requires work, it requires effort, and it requires you to sometimes bring your teammates with you. But that’s where we grow. And it looks painful because one, you worry about what people are going to think and you got to stop that. 

[00:05:45] That’s why you get people in your life that genuinely care about you because they’re not judging you. They’re trying to help you be better regardless of what side of the journey you’re on, knowledge is power only when shared. And that is a really hard concept for a lot of people because when we get experience, we go, we look at that as kind of a treasure chest. And we only delve that out in small doses sometimes. We should be tossing that stuff out like candy at a 4th of July parade. We should be throwing that stuff everywhere. So if you’ve got the knowledge, you need to share it.  

[00:06:13] Joe Taylor Jr.: That’s David Nordel, an Air Force veteran who now helps other people transition from military to civilian life. 

[00:06:21] We’ve got more from David in our show notes and on our website at  

[00:06:26] Also in our show notes, as David mentioned, opening yourself up to a group of trusted people can help you navigate many mental health conditions.  

[00:06:34] Writer Candace Kelly documents four of the archetypes for the people you might want on your personal advisory board. Thinking of those folks as coaches, critics, cheerleaders, and classmates can help them better help you, even as you prepare to play one of those roles for someone else.  

[00:06:52] We’ve got those resources and more in our show notes and on our website at  

[00:06:59] Today’s episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team. 

[00:07:03] I’m Joe Taylor,Jr.  

[00:07:05] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production.  

[00:07:09] Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns & Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *