Commencement speaker shares a sober 3 Cs of a good life

Josh Danaher prepares to give the Commencement speech upon earning his master's in clinical mental health counseling.

Photos by Elizabeth Tinajero / Slideshow/ Livestream

Josh Danaher is one of those people who runs a marathon not long after a first jog around the block and remodels a kitchen after watching YouTube instructions.

“I came to realize, however, that my insatiable curiosity was driven by a deep anxiety and discontentment in my own life, and it led to a long battle with addiction as a way to self-medicate,” Danaher said in his Commencement address to online and cohort graduates at Grand Canyon University Wednesday morning.

“I learned that curiosity coming from restless insecurity leads to painful places.”

He came to GCU 13 years ago as a 25-year-old communications professor, spouting Aristotle to his befuddled speech class to prove himself, only learning later that he didn’t need to prove himself, he needed to help them write a coherent paragraph. He began intensely growing the communications department at GCU, only to realize that the people he gathered around him were the key.

His dad had a “love language” of work and mom a gift for communication while he grew up in Maryvale, never feeling comfortable unless he was succeeding. “I just took that to the extreme and put a lot of pressure on myself that my parents never put on me,” he said in an interview.

“Our friends talk about the ‘Danaher intensity. We are going to go Danaher on this.’”

Josh Danaher listened to wife Mindy (left) and began to get help.

Unfortunately, that intensity was also evident in weekend binge drinking. Nearing age 30, his budding career, two of his soon-to-be four boys and a new house needed tending, but “weekends were my time to completely come unhinged” – until wife Mindy told him to he’d have to hit the bricks if he didn’t stop.

She was serious. So he leaned on his church community, his 12-step recovery program, and strapped on a fitness-tracking watch his father didn’t want and figured he might as well go for a jog or do a CrossFit class – and off he went full speed.

“That’s when I started to realize, ‘Oh, these are kind of addictions, too, but they are good ones. They are pro-social,’” he said.

The first word, curiosity, which he shared with doctoral and master’s degree graduates of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Wednesday, became more “God-centered.”

He took up jiu-jitsu in 2019, a martial arts discipline of both self-defense and competition that also can be a way to be fit and center your life, “really learning to use it to increase your self-efficacy and confidence.”

A year later, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at GCU, while training to be a Gracie jiu-jitsu instructor.

“Some of the things they were teaching, I was teaching in communications and talking about in counseling,” he said.

Josh Danaher talks about making connections during his Commencement speech on Wednesday.

Which leads to the second word in his speech: connection. Our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time, he said, quoting author Susan Scott, and his with the Christian Counseling Services staff sparked an idea to combine what he has learned in communications, Christian counseling and jiu-jitsu.

Danaher is leaving GCU with his master's he celebrated Wednesday to blend those ideas with the CCS team providing Christ-centered therapy in the Valley.

He said GCU’s focus on classroom teaching led him to having great interactions with students, even after they graduated.

“College is this bubble in their life and all exciting, but it’s after, when they are into careers and having families, that is kind of like communications 2.0. This is the next chapter,” he said in an interview. “This is where the rubber meets the road.

“That’s what hit me, too. Everything was easy breezy. I loved ideas, I loved having fun, but then I was starting a family, we had a house, and that’s when the rubber met the road. The people who were there for me at the time meant a lot.”

Now he wants to be the one there for others on that next road in life.

“It’s been God connecting me,” Danaher said. “I learned in sobriety when I realized I’ve got to let my foot off the gas, because I have no idea where I am going. God’s going there. I just get to be the passenger.”

Though Danaher as a speech teacher was often tasked with helping GCU Commencement speakers drill their speeches down to five minutes or less, he had to whittle down his first draft from 14 minutes.

Josh Danaher poses with wife Mindy (left), mother Debbie, and their children (from left) Jude, 4, Anaiah, 12, Isaac, 7, and Silas, 9.

Danaher’s last word, commitment, he once thought of as hard work, though he was “always freaking out about the big things – what I am going to do, what I need to get – that I was destroying everything in between. If you just enjoy the in between, the big things take care of themselves, or God takes care of it.”

So he told the graduates this:

“Outcomes are still important, but the irony is that embracing a process-focus has made me 1,000% more productive than I ever was in my anxious control state,” he said.

In jiu-jitsu, he learned about “holding outcomes lightly,” and in therapy, he learned to “let it go where it needs to go,” both informed by a commitment to the process.

“Let me be honest, though. God’s commitment to love me and show mercy has brought all these things together in my life, and no amount of commitment on my part could have accomplished it,” he said.

“Remember this moment, no matter how long it took to get here, and keep it as a vivid reminder of the positive belief, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me …”

The crowd interrupted with a cheer. Although he pushed the boundaries again with a speech that clocked in at over seven minutes, Danaher went where he needed to go.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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