August 31, 2015

Finding Light and Compassion in the Midst of Tragedy

When I heard the tragic news that TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot and killed during a live broadcast, several emotions and thoughts rushed through my mind. How twisted was it that not only did the alleged gunman Vester Flanagan open fire on the victims while on live TV, but he also recorded the incident and posted it on Twitter? I could not get myself to watch the video.

Flashbacks of former colleagues and experiences we’ve shared ran through my mind. I thought about precarious situations I’ve been in while covering local news. Then, I said a prayer for everyone involved: their families, friends and even for Vester. Yes, I always pray for the perpetrators when I hear about news like this even though some people, especially those who knew the victims, may be angry (I know I would and am) because at some point, something caused them to do this.

WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward
(@WDBJ7/Twitter)

Compassion may not be a word anyone wants to hear in situations like this, but hear me out.

I ask for compassion for Vester. Why include the shooter in our prayers? I thought about how sad, dark and twisted Vester’s life probably was. I thought about how he grew up in the Bay Area, my stomping grounds for more than 14 years. I thought about how he probably ate at some of the same places I frequent. I thought about how he interned at the same CBS station in San Francisco where I interned. I thought about how he worked in Midland/Odessa Texas, the same TV market I was once in.

I thought about how his family, friends and loved ones must’ve felt. I thought and wondered… what or who could’ve wronged him and hurt him? From mental illness to someone hurting them in the past, I believe that hurt people hurt people.

If you’re not in the TV biz, I ask for compassion for my fellow journalist brothers and sisters. This could’ve happened to any of us. As a former TV reporter, I’ve been put in precarious, dangerous and vulnerable situations.

In San Francisco, I remember doing a live shot in front of a sink hole and being terrified because a homeless person tried to grab my IFB transmitter attached to the back of my belt. As a morning reporter in Fresno, I remember being sent out on a story where a gunman was on the loose near a peach orchard. It was in the wee hours of the morning. It was dark. I was scared. The only thing illuminating us was the lights my photographer set up for our broadcast. Still, I knew I had to get the story because it was my job. When daylight broke, the gunman was found under the porch of a home just across the street where I went live.

I thought about how Alison and Adam didn’t think they were in harm's way. It was a light story. I thought about the horror of seeing the gunman just before their lives ended.

Journalists are not all sensationalism seekers. As all of my brothers and sisters in journalism can attest to, many of us do this for the love of storytelling. We’ve have had to move to small towns to start our careers. We were paid low wages, endured long hours, worked holidays and have had to sacrifice important life events away from loved ones. Out in the field we’ve been called mean things and threatened, while some colleagues were even attacked and robbed. The truth is, most of us got into this biz because we love to tell stories and we want to make a difference.

It seems that Adam wanted to leave the biz for the same reasons I did. According to this article on NewsCastic, one Reddit user said he “…met Ward two weeks ago randomly while playing golf. And through small talk, Ward said he was moving to Charlotte and was getting out of the new business because 'he was tired of video taping people on the worst day of their life.' "

Life is crazy – the trajectory of our lives can change for the better in a split second, just like it can end abruptly. We all have the power to make decisions. We can choose to do more things we love and spend more time with people we love and to love more. We’re all on this planet together, trying to get by and dream before the deep sleep.

As law enforcement continues to search for answers, I too struggle to find answers to the problems this tragedy sparks. There have been debates about gun control, mental illness, etc.. Truth is, you have more power than you think.

I challenge you to take action. Do one kind thing for someone. I started to tell stories that inspire compassion and action. My team and I also created a Community Heroes program that inspires children to be kind and compassionate and help one another. A first grader in our program said, “I don’t think I can do a lot, but the other day I asked a girl who was eating alone at lunch to eat with me.” A small gesture that leads to big life changes. We may not be able to single-handedly solve these problems, but little by little, if each of us do one kind thing, the world would be a kinder place.

August 14, 2015

A Message to My Younger Pre-professional Self

The 25th annual Asian American Journalists Association national convention is well underway in San Francisco. With family in town I won’t be attending, but I made time to see some of my old friends to catch up personally, professionally and spiritually.

Catching up with Unity '99 Student Project Mentor Lori Matsukawa

I’ve been a member of AAJA since 1996, taking part in the convention's student project in Seattle – go Unity ’99 – as well as winning a few scholarships from this organization that aims to support Asian American and Pacific Islander journalists. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood of people who are storytellers, and where I’ve found many mentors and mentored many kids.

For me it’s become a reunion of sorts. Yes I sound old, but a sign of age isn’t how you're feeling, rather, you know you’re getting old when former interns and mentees are now working in big markets and guest speaking on workshop panels. I like to drop in on the AAJA convention's student project VOICES to meet and greet these up-and-coming journalists who are currently bright-eyed, hopeful and energetic college students.

VOICES student staff members at the 2015 AAJA national convention

While going up the escalator at the convention hotel, I saw some young, unfamiliar faces. This new crop of journalists and aspiring journalists brought back memories of when I attended this conference as a student. While most of the flashbacks were fabulous, I recalled and re-felt the anxiety of going to a professional conference early in my journey.

As a student at the University of San Francisco, I remember doing everything in my power in hopes of becoming a bona fide journalist one day; I interned five times, emceed events, applied for scholarships – I even co-created JAMS (Journalism Association for Multicultural Students), a student group at USF. As a university instructor and mentor, I'm often asked to give advice. My No. 1 piece of advice is, "Don’t worry, boo."

Again, Don’t worry so much!

As a student, I worried so much and wondered if I would ever get an internship. Check. I got five.

I worried if I would ever get paid to do what I love: reading, writing and talking. Check. I got my first TV reporting job in Wasusau, Wisc.

While in my small market, I worried whether I would ever make it to a bigger market. Check. I went to Fresno and then to San Francisco.

When I got to one of the top TV markets in America, I worried about what my next career move would be. Check. I got to co-host a show on PBS.

I worried so much back then. Only now when I look at old pictures, I realize that real success was in the moment. It was perfect when I made only $20k my first job. I met so many amazing people, told their stories and made life-long friends with people who took me in like family.

Photo with Stephanie Sy of Al Jazeera America and Vicky Nguyen
of NBC Bay Area, who were also part of the Unity '99 student project.

Sometimes I catch myself worrying what’s next. I started a nonprofit, Go Inspire Go. I search for everyday heroes so viewers can find the hero in themselves. I shot a pilot for a TV/web show with hopes of reaching a broader audience to share these stories.

While things are going well some days, on others I feel a little worrywart growing in my mind, I stop myself and realize that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. Be right here. Right now. The past and future don’t exist. I can only do so much… connect with production companies, network execs, send emails, etc. But I can’t worry about things that are out of my control.

While some of you may be tangled in the web of worry, untangle yourself. Make time to do things you enjoy. Be around people who bring you joy. That’s because if you trust and take action – you’ll gain traction… and wish that you had time to be with people you love and do the things outside of work that bring you joy.

Truth is you will never “arrive.” So keep going and enjoy the journey.

Veteran journalist brother/sisters what advice would you give your younger professional self? Let me know in the comments section.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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July 20, 2015

The Complete Guide to You


Breathe deeply and with each deep breath say it with me three times… and it will change your chemistry… and your life:

I am complete.

I am complete.

I am complete.

This seems to be the mantra and thread throughout many conversations with friends lately… that we are enough. Truth is we were born enough. This isn’t some "aha" revelation that I came up with because I’m a spiritual superstar (which I think we all are – some of you just don’t know it yet). It’s been taught in many religions, including Buddhism, where the core belief is searching for enlightenment.

I recently reconnected with a friend who seems to have it all. Professionally, she’s worked as an international correspondent and is currently a network anchor. Personally, she has a beautiful family, lives in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in America, has a handsome hubby and a gorgeous little girl. To add to the package, she is good looking, has mad style and then, there's her light. Wow. Her light.

I was shocked to find out that recently things seemed to have crumbled beneath her designer heels. She split with her husband, work has been uncertain because she isn’t locked into a contract (what workplace doesn’t have uncertainty?) and her spirit seemed low the last time we spoke on the phone.

When I met up with her, she had a lightness around her energy. Her aura was clear as though she had just finished a long yoga sesh. Why? We both agreed that we are complete and are always on the right path, even if it seems like the wrong path at the time.

Traversing these routes shows us the way to life lessons, blessings and miracles that unfold through the grace which is our life, our breath, our connectedness to one another. We talked about our lives and how far we’ve come in our personal, professional and spiritual paths. We agreed that no matter who you are, even Oprah in all of her Oprah-ness, she sometimes, I believe, still has days where she, too, doesn’t think she is as complete as she is (although she seems mighty close to complete). That I know for sure.

The truth is, thanks to ego, we seem to think we are never enough. Release that thought when it comes and instead, live in gratitude – that is the true meaning of grace. If you’re feeling way off your path, like your dreams aren’t unfolding as you think they should, here are three spiritual snackables to nibble on:

1. Anxiety is wanting to be where you’re not. Guess what? Even after I achieved ALL my dreams at an early age – TV reporter in a big market, co-host for a PBS show and instructor at the university level – I still felt like I hadn’t arrived. First I thought, “Will I ever get a paid TV reporting gig?” Then after achieving that I wondered if and when I would jump to a bigger city. “What now, what next?” That’s the ego talking. Be OK with the now. How? Start by breathing. It will chemically change the way you feel and shift your perspective.

2. Don’t compare yourself with others. It’s futile. We are all on different legs of our journeys. My friend mentioned that sometimes she got caught up in comparing herself with others, their jobs, buying luxury homes, having more children, etc…. I told her that I learned long ago not to compare – it wastes energy. I remember quitting my first TV job in Wisconsin to take care of my father who was battling cancer. I thought to myself, “This feels right, but my friends are jumping to bigger TV markets and I am so far behind.” Guess what? I got back into the biz a couple of years later and landed in San Francisco, the No. 5 market at the time, before the friends I was compared myself to did. I realized that it didn’t matter that I got here before them and it doesn’t matter that I’m out of the biz now. We all are being guided by something greater. We can’t control timing. Just be here enjoying what is….

3. You are complete. Born complete. Start by writing a gratitude list. It doesn’t matter if you’re on your last dime. You have something to be grateful for. Maybe it’s the check coming your way when you didn’t expect it. Or a loved one who loaned you money to pay rent. Begin with your breath. If you’re alive, you’re blessed. You’ll see before your eyes how real your completeness is. A few days ago, I was inspired to go to my rooftop and practice yoga. I joined Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditation challenge, "Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude." That day’s entry was perfect for this lesson on being complete and grateful for what we have now:
Day 3 - Awaken the Energy of Gratitude

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” ― Karl Barth

In today's meditation, we learn how to recharge our gratitude batteries. If we are tired, upset, or stressed, then our heart is closed and we are not able to feel or express real gratitude. Genuine gratitude comes from a feeling of contentment, safety, and being welcomed in your life – what Buddha called the “gladdened heart.” This natural energy of gratitude is awakened when we meditate. Our intention in meditation will be to invite this warm attitude of appreciation into our awareness and perception. With this recharged heart of thankfulness we will find reason to be grateful wherever we look.
If you do all three exercises, you too will feel the shift. Nothing else has really changed around you, but something is changing within you. Honor this moment. The only thing that is real. You are complete. You are complete. You are complete.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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July 2, 2015

In Search of Modern-Day Heroes

One of the biggest questions on planet Earth that humans have twisted, toiled and contemplated is, “What is the meaning of life?” I was so excited when I got close to the answer after running across a Dalai Lama quote that I even blogged about it.

The second biggest question (at least for me and for many folks who follow my blogs and videos about everyday heroes) is:

“What does it mean to be a hero today?”

Toan spoke earlier this year at the Community Heroes
club at Sun Valley School in San Rafael, Calif.

I don’t think many people ask this question enough in this day and age where we are inundated with junk TV, an unhealthy obsession with celebrities and Hollywood’s depiction of comic action heroes. It’s important to contemplate because we DO need heroes to look up to, attempt to emulate and get excited about. According to research from Santa Clara University:

“We need heroes first and foremost because our heroes help define the limits of our aspirations. We largely define our ideals by the heroes we choose, and our ideals -- things like courage, honor, and justice -- largely define us. Our heroes are symbols for us of all the qualities we would like to possess and all the ambitions we would like to satisfy. A person who chooses Martin Luther King or Susan B. Anthony as a hero is going to have a very different sense of what human excellence involves than someone who chooses, say, Paris Hilton, or the rapper 50 Cent. And because the ideals to which we aspire do so much to determine the ways in which we behave, we all have a vested interest in each person having heroes, and in the choice of heroes each of us makes.”


My curiosity to explore the essence of what makes a hero ultimately led me to quit what I thought was my dream job as a TV reporter and start my voyage to discover everyday heroes so others – you – can find the hero within you. Perhaps the best answer came from a friend on Facebook:

“Heroes are popularly depicted as the comic action brave-heart who saves the day. The real version of a modern-day hero is the nice guy/woman who stands up for what they believe in for the sake of the greater good. An act of goodness beyond themselves, and against any odds. Contrary to popular and cynical belief, good guys don't have to finish last. Within every good guy/woman is a hero waiting to be to unleashed.” – Meno Crompton

After meeting hundreds of heroes, some of whom can be celebrated via our Go Inspire Go YouTube channel, I realized that everybody can be a hero in their own way. They don’t have to accomplish huge feats like Phoebe Russell, a 5-year-old San Franciscan who wanted to feed hungry homeless people. Or Matthew Kaplan, a teenager from Arizona who, in standing up for his brother who was being cyberbullied, educated and inspired compassion amongst thousands of bullied youth around the country. And Tony Tolbert, who at age 52, moved back in with his mom and gave up his home in Los Angeles to a homeless woman and her children.

To get a kid’s perspective, super mom Kala Shah, co-creator of Go Inspire Go's Community Heroes program, asked them, "What does being a hero mean?”

Sun Valley School students explain what a hero is.


They answered, “Fearless, helpful, giving, persistent, passionate and courageous....”

Their real-life heroes include, “My great aunt for taking care of people in a dangerous part of the world,” “Malala because she helps people and risked her life to stand up for her beliefs,” and “My uncle because he’s a policeman and helps the community.”



These elementary school students appear to be on the right track in identifying admirable heroes and their lofty answers underline the importance in starting these conversations early to help direct young minds towards worthy pursuits.

The truth is each and every one of us has a superhero power within us. It’s our duty to find it while on this planet and use it to the fullest capacity. That’s the meaning of life. That’s the answer to what our purpose is. That’s what ultimately leads us to joy. So we’d love to know, what do you think it means to be a hero today? What’s your superhero power? How will you use it? Inquiring heroes want to know. Share in the comment section below! Pow!

Onward and upward,
Toan

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June 21, 2015

Homage to My Father and Yours

Good morning Dad. As I wake up this Father’s Day morning, I resist the urge to get on social media to see what my friends and people I follow post in celebration – homages, snapshots of photos old and new and little heart-felt messages to their Dads and father figures alike.

It’s been 15 years since you passed away. It still hurts. The empty hole you left when you disappeared.

My family - I'm in the #12 jersey

I never told you how much I yearned for your acceptance, for you to say, “I am proud of you, I see you and that you are enough the way you are.”

Sure, more than a decade has passed since you fought a long, courageous battle with stomach cancer and other illnesses that slowed down your body. But I find strength in the fact that you never lost your spirit. I hope I never do too, no matter what challenges lie ahead.

Your mind and essence remained strong. So strong I can still feel them more than a decade and a half later as I look up into the sky, during my conversations with loved ones and walks in nature. I’m not going to lie, it is weird here without you. It still hurts deep inside.


We didn’t have the best of relationships, but I know that you did your best to give us opportunities and freedoms. You left your worldly riches and fancy life in Vietnam to bring us to America in hopes of achieving the American dream.

We landed in Sacramento, 10 of us crammed into a small trailer, a few bucks in your pocket – but the riches lie in our hearts and eyes – wide and full of hope. Through your actions, you taught us that we have nothing if we don’t have hope.

Along the way, you were locked in semi-golden handcuffs. You weren’t around as much. Didn’t spend enough time with me. I used to wonder, were you proud of me? That’s all I wanted to hear. Are you proud of me? Did you know that I quit my first TV job so we could spend time with each other before your spirit left your body? I hoped we could make memories that would fill the gaps from all the times you were not home. But as I learned, no time was and is enough.

I’ve grown up a lot since then. I’ve found my passion work through Go Inspire Go. Met many magical people. Miracles unfolded. I found my happy place and joyful place within. The key to joy in life isn’t in material wealth. It was through service and helping others. You taught me that.

As you told us before your passing, “It’s our responsibility to share the music inside of us before we die.” You’ll be proud that that music is being sung loudly every day through the work I do, people I connect with and every experience I’m able to feel because of all your sacrifices.

Today, as I look at the tiny squares, harrowing hashtags and micro-messages online, I know and feel you are proud of me for just the way I am. I am enough. For me and for you and for others we touch.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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June 13, 2015

This Equation Will Point the Way to Your Future Success

Photo by cocotran.com

“You seem so passionate about what you’re doing with your life. How do you find your passion?” That is one of the biggest questions I’ve been asked during my career as a journalist, founder of Go Inspire Go and university instructor.

I have a woo-woo and practical answer. I’m part spiritual – I believe in trusting in God (some call Universe) but also taking action. Start by taking baby steps that lead to your big goal. Here’s what I came up with in a simple equation:

Trust + Action = TRACTION

In college, I would’ve never believed the trajectory in which my life unfolded. I definitely didn’t believe in the magic of positive thinking/believing. This happened through opportunities and people who have showed up to guide me.

When I was a student at the University of San Francisco, I wanted to be a TV reporter. I remember my old school journalism professor Michael Robertson asking my News Media class, “How many of you want to be TV reporters?”

Statistics show about two percent make it. I was an unlikely two percent. The odds seemed stacked against me. I didn’t have a big network of journalists, I wasn’t born into a family with any journalists and financially, we were poor.

I remember wondering if I would ever achieve my dreams – getting paid to be a TV reporter and host a show on PBS. Unclear about how I would hit my target, my gut told me to TRUST. I am spiritual and knew that I could trust God would use my life for a bigger purpose than serving myself. I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t try to tell peoples’ stories as a news reporter. I’d rather try and figure out that it wasn’t for me than not have the courage to take those baby steps. I said prayers, practiced gratitude and wrote down my goals.

I also applied ACTION. I interned five times at various production companies and local TV stations. I was in it to win it. I recall logging tapes for a whole semester during one of my internships, wondering how this would ever help me with my job as a TV reporter. It did – it helped me identify good soundbites while interviewing people on the street – a critical time-saving skill to have for breaking news situations.

Still not convinced? Here’s one thing you can do NOW to help you reframe your state of mind:

Instead of focusing on how a future job, beefy paycheck or status will make you happy, focus on what you can control. Keep up the hard work, network and be around people you want to be like (I joined the Asian American Journalists Association). Your experiences and hard work will add up to the sum of what you’re supposed to do. Here’s to you being part of that two percent too!

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May 27, 2015

Spreading the Message There's a Gem Inside Us All

Toan Talking to Kent Middle School Students in 2014
If there is only one thing you tell a younger person in your life, it should be “YOU MATTER.” Heck, you should tell that to anyone, at any age, in your life who matters – before it’s too late.

It seems like every week, I hear news via Facebook, the press or through a friend, that yet another young person committed suicide here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I recently asked a group of millennials to introduce themselves, tell us where they’re from and give us a snapshot of an experience that changed their lives forever. One by one, the kids mustered up the courage to tell us gut-wrenching stories of the heart.

One teen told me how depressed he was because his parents didn’t know his truth and how he finally came out as gay to them. Another teen talked about her battle with booze and another talked about the sudden loss of a parent and how she was nearly out in the streets with no family. Each story touched us all. I was shocked to several of them had tried to commit suicide.

Many of them admitted they didn’t feel that who they are, what they’ve been through and even their very existence mattered. I saw the brilliance and potential power of each of them. I wish they only saw themselves through my lens.

No matter what platform I’m on – as a teacher, mentor, motivational speaker, founder of Go Inspire Go – I spread the message that “you are all gems.” Some of you may be dustier than others. Some of you may have been dragged through the dirt and mud more than others, but everyone deserves to shine. It’s my job and every human being’s job to dust off these gems so they shine.

Toan speaking about the power of storytelling with Reel Voices youth in 2014.

Likewise, every youngster should only surround themselves with people who make them shine. If only those kids who took their lives knew how much they matter, how bright their light really is – they – and the world would be a better place. One of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned as an adult is, when you let yourself shine, you reflect it onto others and they shimmer and sparkle too. We – YOU – are all dazzling beings. So let the light in!

My mentor – actor, comedian and humanitarian Michael Pritchard, whose life work is healing people through comedy – reminded me that the moon actually casts no light. Rather, it reflects the light from the sun. The unison and the yin and yang of this story gave me chills. What if we were the moon to all the sunshine we encounter in our daily lives? Wouldn’t the world and all its gems be a warmer, shinier, brighter place?

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May 12, 2015

Comedi-tarian Michael Pritchard: Healing Through Humor (VIDEO)

Photo: Robin Williams and Michael Pritchard
UPDATE: Since the taping of this Tea with Toan & Michael Pritchard interview, Michael suffered a massive heart attack and underwent bypass surgery last week. Thankfully, he's on the mend. A small way to say thank you for all his inspiration and love is to contribute to his medical fund.

# # #

Have you ever met someone who touched you so deeply your soul shifted? For me and the millions who’ve been touched by the gentle giant known as Dr. Michael Pritchard, you know and you feel what I’m talking about.

Many folks know him as an actor, comedian, PBS host, Vietnam medic, life saver and humanitarian who along with his best friend, the late Robin Williams, spent many hours using his power of comedy to heal sick kids, bandage wounded spirits and hold hands with the dying as they crossed over to the other side through hospice. I gave him the name “Comedi-tarian.”

He left the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to heal hearts and wounded spirits. “Pritch” traveled near and far to motivate, facilitate and elevate the hearts and minds of many. Authenticity, kindness, friendship and anti-bullying were just some of the life lessons Pritch preached. I know him as my mentor of life... my spiritual teacher-preacher. Get ready to be inspired, entertained and uplifted.

Even Robin Williams spirit made his way through this interview – you'll have to watch and be amazed!



I met Pritch through Kala Shah, my sister from another mister and co-conspirator of our Go Inspire Go Community Heroes program. She called me on the phone after meeting him for the first time and sounded like she had just won the lottery. “Oh my gawd, you have to meet Michael Pritchard, woo!” I get it now. She won the spiritual lottery and so did I. So did so many of you who’ve met him. And so will many of you who will meet him one day – but until then, you can feel this spiritual superstar through my Tea with Toan interview with Pritch.

When we met, it was love at first hug. The synapses of our souls were felt deeply by both of us. His knack for connecting to a higher source and connecting to all he touches is magical.

“Hey brother, don’t work too hard,” or “Take care of your health, your gut is going through some problems,” he would spout out to people walking on the street. Pritch just knew.

He knew that I was, in his words, a “spiritual teacher of the next generation.” He knew that I was working on a TV pilot and had aspirations to do more motivational speaking, a TED talk, write a book and that I had a flair for compassion and fashion – all before I shared with him my soul’s desires. He knew my deep desire to spread my message of what he calls “mindfulness and kindfulness.”

Michael Pritchard, Robin Williams, Kala Shah & Toan Lam

The last few months have been a spiritual whimsical whirlwind of wisdom. His “Pritchardisms” include, "Don't overstand, understand," "When the student is ready the teacher arrives" and "Build a spiritual wall."

He told me that he wanted to pass the baton to me and Kala because he was getting tired. “You are the enlightened reinforcers,” he said last week at his home in Marin, as we talked about the debut of our TV pilot and the folks to whom he wanted to connect us.

“Toan you know my soul more than most. Through your work and this show, you are carrying on Robin Williams’ legacy of compassion and joy,” he said excitedly.

Perhaps the most special (and there are so many things that make him special) is not what he says, but how he makes you feel. He makes everybody feel like they matter. They are special. And he is right. I matter. You matter. We all matter.

Tea with Toan interview

For some reason, I left his home that day feeling heavy after our light but deep conversation. Little did I know that my feeling of “something isn’t OK with him” was right. Last week, I got a call and found out he had suffered a heart attack. As he undergoes triple bypass surgery and heals, I ask all of you in the “unity of community” to pray for a speedy recovery.

It’s ironic that the man with the biggest heart is getting it repaired as I type. As I process what has happened, I thought, “What could I do to help? What can I do to show the gratitude of the biggest gift of all – his time and love?”

I wrote this poem, titled: BearClown for Pritch to read while he was in the ICU:

A big teddy bear. Oh where did you come from? Bigger than life. A happy clown who once drowned and frown thanks to the glitz, glare of fame and fortune. A heart that is the epitome of care and share and dare to find your authenticity. Synchronicity. A noble job he embarked on...using his life, power and many hours to heal with laughter, saving lives day by day, spending hour by hour helping soul brothers and sisters cross over, moreover seeing the love, laughter, light in all. Sending love to everyone he touches. My teacher-preacher bestows wisdom from above... he exhalts “don’t overstand, understand,” “when the student is ready the teacher arrives,” “build a spiritual wall.” Still sometimes I stall. Afraid of my power. But no more. The hour. My power is ready. So join me. Step up. Join the circus of love. Balancing act. Lots of work dropping the act we were taught. That falseness that we fought. Search for your real you. Robin and robins and hummingbirds teach us the legacy of happy. Who cares what haters say? Blessed be the day that me becomes we. That we see the gem in thee. The true community. Keep laughing and lets send our healing vibes to our bearclown...

Michael Pritchard, Barbara Ocampo, Kala Shah & Toan Lam #Selfie

Here are a few other ideas:

Reflect & Act...

1. I don’t know how else to repay him for his support and love but to use my power of connecting with people and storytelling to say, “I love you back and thank you for being you.” I called my editor and good friend Barbara Ocampo, videographer of my recent “Tea with Toan” segment, a conversation of the heart and soul with Pritch from his backyard. I asked her to meet with me ASAP to finalize this video as a gift to him and you. Again, please contribute to Michael's medical fund.

2. Share this blog/video with loved ones and in the blog’s comments section, share how meeting Pritch changed you and/or your fave Pritch moment.

3. In the spirit of Pritch’s teachings, do a kind thing for someone and let us know about it using #PayItForwardPritchard and #GoInspireGo – we’ll share on our social media channels.

4. Laugh at a challenge you're going through.

5. Make someone laugh today.

And don’t forget, be mindful and kindful.

Love you guys,
Toan

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May 4, 2015

Too Blessed to be Stressed

As I count my blessings before bed every night, on the top of my list are loved ones. Peeps who make life’s bumps smoother and life lighter.

From divorces to uncertain times at the workplace, I’ve recently had many friends confide in me about physical, mental and spiritual problems they’re blessed with. While the issues and life lessons are different – there is an underlying theme here: these problems are making them stronger. There are life lessons to be learned and ultimately I’ve told them we are are too blessed to be stressed.

Here’s an email I sent to one of my friends who is going through personal and professional tribulations as I processed a recent call:

1. Write down five things you're grateful for every night. It will rewire your brain to pay attention to the lovely little things in life that really matter. Start with Bella's gaze into your eyes and excitement when she sees you after a long day of work.

2. It's YOU time. Do something nice for yourself every day. Phenomenal, fabulous, stylish -- lovely you. I believe friends are like mirrors that shine the light you emanate back at you. Every time I think of you, I think, "She's got mad style, sexy, fabulous, classy lady, good heart and wicked smart. Anyone who is lucky enough to be in your life and heart space is better for it, blessed for it."

3. You are blessed with breath. Listen to your breath when you get stressed to bring you in the now. If you live in the past you’re filled with regret. Live in the future and you are anxious. We have no choice but to live in the now. Try it and it will calm those crazy nerves.


This too shall pass. I wish I could take a bit of the pain and hurt away -- but like the little butterfly, you need to sit with these challenges as they are teaching you invaluable life lessons about yourself, the light and shadows.

Be well my fabulous friend.

Big hug,
Toan

P.S. Please share with someone in need and let us know in the comments section how a challenging time has blessed your life.

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April 27, 2015

Making the Impossible Possible

Earlier this month, I was honored to keynote Rotary District 5330’s annual assembly in Southern California with more than 350 brothers and sisters of service in attendance. The theme of this year’s district assembly, “Making the Impossible — Possible,” resonated with my soul. The marching orders from incoming District Governor Rudy Westervelt were simple: tie in the theme “Making the Impossible — Possible,” talk about why storytelling is important and inspire the heck out of them. Tall orders for this motivational speaking event, but I was up for the challenge.

“Where do you even begin?” I thought to myself. Right from the heart. I structured the talk around three simple stories:

I started by sharing my story. If you would have told my 10-year-old self that I would have achieved all my dreams by my early 30s, I would have thought it was impossible. My family moved to America from Vietnam with a dream and $4 in our pockets. The ten of us lived crammed into a trailer. Against my parents’ behest of becoming a “doctor, lawyer or engineer,” I followed my own dreams – to use my love for reading, writing and talking to teach in universities, become a TV reporter and tell stories on a PBS show.


I then told the story of one of my youngest teachers: 5-year-old Phoebe Russell, who wrote letters to friends and family asking them to give her aluminum cans so she could redeem them and donate $1,000 to the San Francisco Food Bank. Her efforts raised nearly $4,000. Our video featuring her story multiplied that amount to $20,000 dollars. Together, she, my Go Inspire Go team and the community has helped her enable the food bank to give out more than 200,000 meals.

After the talk, a shy ninth-grader mustered up the courage to tell me that she was inspired by the talk and Phoebe’s story. “When you said, ‘If a 5-year-old could feed 200,000 people, what can you do?!’ I thought, I could do more,” she said enthusiastically. “I can do more.”

I ended the talk with why storytelling is important. What a loaded question. Every single culture from the beginning of time has told stories. They connect us all. You and I may not know each other, but when we learn about each other’s stories, we are no longer strangers. Storytelling breaks down walls, builds compassion and leads to action.


Before I walked off stage, I went off script – actually, I didn’t have a script, but you get the point! I asked the audience, “How has storytelling changed your life?”

A woman stood up and said, “I’m an incest survivor. I haven’t told my story to many people, but am starting to. It helped others.” WOW! I thanked her for having the courage to tell her story. In turn, it was a cathartic experience for her and the people who learned about her story.

Words can’t convey the inspirational fuel that filled me up that weekend. People from all generations told their stories. I’d love to hear about your inspirational story. Please share in the comments section below.

With love, faith and trust we can all make the impossible possible together.

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