When Leadership Meets Magic: Reflections on our conversation with Jim MacPhee

When Jim MacPhee, former COO of Walt Disney World, retired in April 2021 after 43 years as a corporate executive, he quickly realized how little time he’d had for reflection and discovery along the way. When his wife recommended that he watch Michael Pollan’s psychedelic documentary, “How to Change Your Mind,” Jim was intrigued—and from there, it wasn’t long until he discovered Beckley Retreats.

When Jim applied to attend a Beckley Retreats program in Jamaica last year, he was nervous, unsure of what the experience would uncover. It was through meeting with the team at Beckley who would facilitate his retreat, however, that Jim could crystalize the purpose of this journey.

“I had one intention, and that was clarity,” Jim said in a discussion with Beckley Retreats Executive Advisor Val-Pierre Genton at the inaugural Beckley Talks live event on February 27. “I wanted to focus in on being more present for my family, for my wife in particular, and more clear on what my future direction was.”

Beckley Talks is a new, monthly virtual event series where the Beckley Retreats team comes together to showcase world-class facilitators, visionary leaders, and alumni participants of our programming. Whether you’re interested in attending one of our upcoming retreats or you’re looking to unlock peak performance, Beckley Talks offers a platform to discover ways to lead a healthier, more meaningful life.

Jim joined us for “When Leadership Meets Magic,” a discussion exploring the impact of psilocybin retreats on his approach to family, work, and self-reflection. Having now attended two retreats in Jamaica, including most recently in February, Jim sees Beckley Retreats as a way to recenter and reground himself as he explores his next chapters in life.

When Jim arrived at Beckley Retreats, he was recently retired and reflecting on his career, including what it means to build relationships with co-workers. Little did Jim know at the time, nearly one in four adults experiences mental illnesses each year, including some form of anxiety or depression, according to the Harvard Business Review. It was a statistic that stopped Jim in his tracks. 

Work is consumptive, Jim says, and that means an onus is placed on leaders to recognize and understand individual experiences. Yes, leaders have to get work done, but they also need emotional and relational skills.

“If I knew I was walking into a meeting with some of my leadership team and potentially four out of ten of them were experiencing some form of anxiety or depression or challenge, my energy may have been different,” Jim said, reflecting on his career. “This idea of leading with a mindset of true humility, true vulnerability, and true empathy and delivering results…has to be a key priority.”

For Jim, his experiences with Beckley Retreats have highlighted the importance of perspective, empathy, and humility—both as skills to become a stronger leader in the workplace, but also to strengthen relationships at home and with friends.

“Psilocybin strips away the individual ego,” Jim said. “It allows and reminds [us] that we’re a part of a much bigger whole.”

Between the two psilocybin ceremonies Jim experienced while on his first retreat in Jamaica, he recognized that he needed to slow down and take stock of the world around him. For years, he had focused on what he wanted and needed, rather than what was already around him.

To change his mindset, Jim started with the little things—no more picking up his phone first thing in the morning, incorporating Tai Chi and acupuncture into his everyday life, less hustling, and more intentional breathing. Practicing repetition is something Jim learned while on retreat.

“It doesn’t start with a manual, it doesn’t start with a playbook…If you want to reinvent yourself and be a better human being as part of humanity, do the work,” Jim said. “The mushroom doesn’t always give you want you want, but it will give you what you need.”

These practices look different for everyone, and in addition to Jim’s reflections on his personal wellbeing modalities, Val-Pierre Genton, our event moderator at “When Leadership Meets Magic,” spoke about honoring his daily practices while being a father to three young children and making time for work. For Val, meditation, breath movement, and yoga are an essential part of his mornings.

“That’s the only way I am able to actually sustain the neurological transformation that’s required for that airline to turn into a highway in my brain,” Val said at the February 27 event. “It’s something that takes real discipline because you can always say why you don’t have time.”

“Today, we’re witnessing an incredibly unprecedented epidemic and work-related, related anxiety, burnout, loneliness, trauma,” Jim said. “I think we have a huge opportunity to help think about this from a business rationale perspective, but I think even more important from a human perspective [is]…to recognize the opportunity to help others help ourselves become better human beings.”

In response, Jim added, “I always say the enemy of transformation and growth, whether it’s corporately or personally… is conformity.”

Jim joined Beckley Retreats because he was looking to transform himself as he entered his latest stage in life: retirement. And as big as ‘personal transformation’ sounds, his experiences at Beckley Retreats highlighted the importance of the small, intentional choices that compound to create meaningful change.

“I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked,” Jim said. “I’m working on me, the one I should’ve been working on decades ago.”

Interested in hearing more about our conversation with Jim MacPhee? Click here to watch the event for free. To learn about our upcoming Beckley Talks series, visit our website. Jim is also the author of the book ‘Engage, Inspire, Lead: Riding the Waves of Life and Leadership from my 43-Year Career at the Walt Disney Company.’