Corey Feldman is a veteran of the IDF special forces (and an active reservist), an Erickson certified professional coach, and holds an MBA and a Masters in Healthcare Innovation from The University of Pennsylvania. He is also a volunteer EMT with the Central Park Medical Unit, a published author (A Line In The Sand), and runs two podcasts, The Lone Soldier Podcast, and Healthcare Reimagined. Corey’s focus since leaving the IDF has been helping early-stage digital healthcare companies scale their commercial offerings as a growth leader, advisor, and investor.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Westchester NY and attended the Windward school for children with learning disabilities until I was in fourth grade. I struggled a lot both socially and academically for the first part of my life, and credit Windward with putting me back on track. My parents were incredibly patient and persistent in trying to get me the help I needed, without which I am quite sure my path would have been quite different. Because it was so hard for me to succeed academically, I doubled down on my studies and retreated into myself. I was, for lack of a better word, very self-centered. On a crisp fall day during my sophomore year of High School, the student body was addressed by Joe Opotowski, a 21-year-old representative from Free the Children. Joe spoke of genocide and injustice, child soldiers, factory conditions in less-developed countries, and poor families in Jamaica living in a garbage dump. He possessed the unique ability to shape his speech, tone, and mannerisms to reach his audience; it felt at various points during his speech as if something or someone bigger than Joe was speaking through him. His talk awakened a sense of social justice within me that was dormant until that point. I had previously assumed that achieving good grades and getting accepted into an elite college was the path to greatness. That perception was dealt a severe blow by Joe’s speech, which transformed me from a disimpassioned, grade-hungry high school student into someone who began to look at the larger picture. I began to see beyond my own needs. For the first time, I looked beyond the classroom to the school, the community, and ultimately, to the world. What I found in that picture were many things in need of repair.
Two days after Joe’s address, our principal came over to the loudspeaker to share the tragic news that Joe had been killed in a car accident. I immediately excused myself from class, ducked into an empty hallway, and burst into tears. With Joe’s short but meaningful life as my inspiration, I got involved in my community. I ran for student government and ultimately became the vice president of the Scarsdale student body. Shortly before graduating, I interned with Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that seeks to promote tolerance by incorporating genocide into school curriculums. Through that organization, I traveled around New York City speaking to high school students about genocide and how they could take action to help stop it. After Joe spoke, I took a trip to Israel with my family. Our tour guide’s ever-present pistol and watchful eyes were among the many signs that Israel was not at peace. The most powerful moments of that trip were visits to the monuments which memorialized civilians murdered in terror attacks and paid tribute to fallen soldiers who’d made the ultimate sacrifice for Israel. I felt a respect for and connection to those soldiers that I could not yet explain. While the politics around the Arab-Israeli conflict are far too complex to address in this interview, I think we can agree that suicide bombings perpetrated among civilians are unjust. During the years that I was in High School, 52 suicide bombers blew themselves up in Israel, murdering both innocent Israelis and Palestinians. Israel s the size of New Jersey – it would be like an NJ Transit bus blowing up once a month for four years. The sense of justice that Joe awakened in me is what I feel ultimately led me down the path of military service in the IDF.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I had realized earlier in my life that nobody is irrational in their own mind, a concept I was first introduced to in Seth Godin’s morning newsletter (I highly recommend subscribing). Nobody wakes up and says, “today I am going to screw over my friend,” or “I am going to put unreasonable amounts of work on my employee”. Operating from a place of assuming that others have bad intentions breeds resentment, and resenting someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I have found that when I assume positive intentions, or at the least approach situations from a place of curiosity, it forces me to look beyond the emotional, visceral reaction I feel to any given situation. I try to understand why the person who is frustrating me is acting that way/speaking that way. This forces me out of my own narrative, in which I am the center of the universe, and allows me to see the bigger picture.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I have heard people advocate for staying in a bad job, which I would define as one in which you are not learning/growing/appreciated, in order to avoid a short stint on a resume. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that life is short and unpredictable, and tomorrow is not promised today. If I ever find myself in a situation where I am not growing, not appreciated, and the job is not fulfilling any higher purpose, I will be sprinting out the door.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
In the years prior to enlisting in the IDF, I had set my sights on Duvdevan, one of the most elite counter-terrorism units in the world. After years of training, learning Hebrew, and several grueling tryouts, I was accepted to the unit. After a year of training, 2 months before we were to become operational, I was reassigned to a different special forces unit. For the first time in my life, I had wanted something with every fiber of my being and failed to achieve it, and it was devastating to me. As I’ve since learned, everyone experiences a heartbreaking failure at some point in their life and the utterly debilitating feeling of giving one’s self completely to something or someone and falling short. The memory of facing that failure, learning from it, and turning it into something positive marked a milestone in my maturity. Ultimately, while it was incredibly difficult at the time, the experience made me a humbler, stronger, and more empathetic person. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.”
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Simple. I do not give up. When I set my mind to something, though I am flexible about how I get there, I am steadfast in my commitment to achieving my goal. I see obstacles as roadblocks, placed to prevent those who don’t want it as badly from getting it, whatever it may be. I would credit the IDF with helping me to foster this sense of resilience during my year and a half of training. Whether it was getting accepted into the IDF Special Forces and completing training, learning Portuguese to help Taboola expand into Latin America in 2016, learning the language of Healthcare at Parachute Health, or publishing my recent book, A Line In The Sand, I have been successful for the simple reason that I am willing to sit with the frustration, pain, and struggle that is a natural part of any challenging endeavor. Anyone can be resilient if they make a choice to be.
What is your morning routine?
I will give you the routine that I strive to uphold, though I will admit that I am not always successful. I usually wake up at around 7:30, and immediately do ten minutes of meditation (I use the Sam Harris “Waking Up” app). I then do a few minutes of stretches for my back, and read the thirteen quotes that are emailed to me each morning by Readwise, which pulls from highlights I have made in E-books. I then usually do some form of exercise (Jiu-Jitsu, strength training, or yoga), shower, drink my morning coffee, and eat an egg and cheese on a bagel.
Prior to starting my workday, I read my personal mission statement. I am lucky to work in the digital healthcare space, and to have had the chance to work with and for companies that are trying to make the world better. Though I love what I do, at times the activities required to commercialize an early-stage company (which can include cold calling) are not the most glorious. By reminding myself every morning before starting my day why what I am doing is important, and how it connects to the mission of the man I want to become and the legacy I want to leave behind, I increase the likelihood of sticking to that schedule.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
My old coworker Dror showed me how to pin WhatsApp messages, so my chat with myself is now and always at the top of that list. In that chat is a list of all the little things that I need to get done which can’t be done the right way and which are not yet on my calendar. There were a lot of things that used to slip through the cracks for me which no longer do.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
At a micro level, blocking my schedule for specific activities helps me schedule my priorities rather than being reactive to the various things that come at me in the course of a day. At a macro level, I have written out a personal mission statement, which helps me connect my actions on a daily basis to my values. Nietzsche once said something to the effect of, “He who understands his why can bear anyhow.” In practice, I have found this to be true. No matter how boring, or even painful something is (i.e. working out, IDF Reserves training, etc) when I have a deep understanding of why I am doing that activity, and how it connects to my values and my mission, I am much more likely to do it and do it well.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The first is definitely Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl was a psychologist interned in Auschwitz who lost his father, mother, wife, and brother in the camps. Despite having every reason to reach the conclusion that life is meaningless, Frankl emerged from the war as an optimist. The quote from Frankl that has always stuck with me is “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” No matter what anyone does to us, we are responsible for the way we respond, and nobody can take that final freedom away from us, even in the horrors of a concentration camp.
I have struggled with ADHD my whole life, and have at times, particularly when I was younger, been beholden to my impulses. After reading the book for the first time about fifteen years ago, I reached the conclusion that if a man who had everything taken from him could respond to the world with love instead of hatred, and subvert the feelings of anger and despondence that must certainly have surfaced for him after the Holocaust in the pursuit of something greater, I have no excuse not to do the same.
The second book that has deeply influenced my life is Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. Vice Admiral James Stockdale was a fighter pilot, and the highest-ranking Naval officer held during the Vietnam war. He spent 8 years as a prisoner, 4 of which he spent in solitary confinement, but like Frankl, he refused to be beholden to his circumstances and continued to lead the underground resistance from captivity despite the tortures he endured each time he was caught. The book is rooted in the teachings of stoicism, and the analogy he cites from one of Epictetus’s works that most resonated with me is that, in essence, we are actors in a play. We do not get to choose how long the play is, or what role we play within it – our job is to play our assigned role to the best of our ability. To me, this is about accepting that which you cannot change and doubling down on the things that you can. Though Stockdale’s world was limited within a North Vietnamese prison cell, he chose to play the role of an American patriot, and never wavered in his commitment to the men he was interned with and the country he was serving.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
My great grandfather imparted my grandfather with some life advice in his High School signing book in the late 1930s, which my grandfather then read to me at my Bar Mitzvah in 2000. When he passed away shortly after, I had the quote engraved and have carried it with me for the last 20 years. This is what my great grandfather wrote to my grandfather:
Dear George –
Be a man – How? – Love your God, honor your and my native land, the good old U.S.A., cherish your parents and family, hold on to your true friends zealously, be continuous and efficient in your studies, strive for a worthy career, be honest in your dealings with a man without prejudice as to race, color, or red and you will then measure up to my idea of a real MAN.