July 19, 2017

All Good Deeds Are Indeed Good

By Calista Tee
Go Inspire Go Contributor

Helping the unfortunate can be a huge, hairy topic.

Recently, someone shared his learnings from an encounter with a woman he met in a train station on Facebook. She was handing out packs of tissues with a flyer in exchange for donations. If you didn't feel like donating, you could give it back to her.


Living in San Francisco, he’s seen lots of people ask for money and he admittedly “(shamefully) rarely ever” gives. This time though, he gave her a donation because the tissues were something he needed.

He was reminded of the importance of providing value before asking for something.

“Necessity is the mother of innovation, a lesson I learned today from a mom,” he shared.

Then, this comment popped up on his Facebook post:

"So Cringy....
Not sure why you feel the need to brag about giving a woman $3... It doesn't make you a miraculous creature to donate to money to those in need. I don't need to expand on this".


1. The central message was about giving something of value before receiving.

2. A good deed is a good deed. Period.

Imagine this:

If a child donated $3 from his own pocket to the woman, he would’ve been applauded. Facebook posts would have gone viral. People would’ve reacted with heart or pride emojis.

That doesn't make an adult donating $3 any different.

What I want to say is:

We do what we can to help others.

There’s always something to learn from others.

Big or small, these lessons neither deserve to be belittled nor go unheard.

Plus, this exchange happened both ways.


The man with the story: Jordan Crawford

June 20, 2017

10 Unconventional Things I Do To Make Myself Happier

By Rebecca Temsen
Guest Blogger

Sometimes, all we want is to be happy. I know we can’t be happy all the time, but just a few good moments can really make your day. I’ve written a post titled “I Want to Be Happy! 41 Things That Will Make You Happier” with 41 great things that can make anyone happier. There are some really cool ideas that are unconventional and here are my Top 10 from that list and why I love them so much!


P.S., I won’t be explaining too much about the points but more about why I think they can work. This is not just a summary of that post, but it’s a different perspective. You can check out the post to read them in more detail.

1. Remember the bad times

Bad times are bad times. You may think it’s counterproductive to start remembering them, but I look at it in a different way. I look at what I went through and appreciate how easy things are now compared to those times. In that perspective, I believe we can all be a bit happier when we start remembering bad times.

2. Wake up early

If you’re like me and you hate waking up early, you must be thinking, how can waking up early make me happier? It goes a bit deeper than that. Whenever I get up earlier, I tend to do a lot more. I get more things done, I feel more productive and most importantly, I feel that my day is not wasted.

3. Stay up late

Waking up early is one thing. This is the total opposite. In this case, I stay up late to have fun, binge watch a show or just relax in my bath. You can do whatever you feel like, but in my experience, just make sure it’s not work. The extra time spent staying up late and doing something relaxing has really been beneficial to me.

4. Call in sick to work

This is not the best piece of advice, but calling in sick to work can do wonders! Here’s how I look at it: It’s Sunday night and I’m dreading everything because Monday is coming. I call in sick, Sunday is great and when Monday comes, I take the day off doing whatever I like. It’s like two birds with one stone. I feel happier on Sunday and Monday! But don’t tell your boss I suggested it.

5. Cook a meal

You might not be a great cook. I definitely can’t cook to save my life. So why suggest it, then? Go ahead and find a recipe of your favorite dish, go to the market and get the ingredients and try cooking. There’s just something about cooking. I’m not sure if it’s creating and eating your dish, or the conversation it starts. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating alone or with friends and family. Somehow, it just makes me happier. Then there’s baking!

6. Wear that outfit

What this means is wearing something fancy. I have it, you have it. It’s tucked away in the closet and we save it for special occasions. Why not make today a special occasion? Wear it, go out or stay in. It doesn’t matter. Heck, maybe you can even cook a meal, then change into your outfit to eat it. The feeling is strange, yet satisfying.

7. Pet an animal

Animals are great. I’m not talking about petting your own pet. Head over to the pet store or shelter. If you hate animals, you might still want to head over and just observe them. See how animals live without stress, without worries. It’s almost like when we were kids. There’s something soothing about petting an animal that brings so much joy. Even better, go ahead to the local petting zoo and watch the kids petting animals.

8. Write yourself a letter

This is something I try to do every year. I tend to do it at the start of the year. I’ll read the past year’s letter while I write next year’s one. It doesn’t have to be a year’s wait. I’ve tried a month and what I read is just amazing! My thoughts at that time will always amaze me. Take it one step further and write something to your future self when you’re really happy. Then one day when you feel a bit down, take that letter out and read it.

9. Dare yourself to do something silly

When was the last time you did something silly? Honestly, I prefer to do this somewhere I won’t be recognized and I’m sure you would too. But this is great. Taking the first step is exhilarating, but once you’re in stride, there’s no stopping you. And the feeling? You can’t imagine! Get some ideas online and just do it!

10. Do smiling exercises

What’s a smiling exercise? It’s exactly that. Exercising your smile. Look in a mirror and start smiling. Test different smiles. You’ll be amazed at how this makes you feel. This is probably the most practical out of the 10 and you can do it every day! Try it. You won’t regret it.

There you have it. My 10 favorite of the 41 things that can make us happier. I know you’ll have your own preference. Leave a comment below and let us know what makes you happier!

Author’s Bio:
Rebecca is an author, entrepreneur and most of all, a wife and mother of two. What she enjoys the most is helping normal people reach their full potential. Rebecca uses her ever-growing skills in writing to inspire people and not settle for a normal life. As an entrepreneur, she has no shortage of failures and that is why Rebecca is the ideal person to talk about this. Read more at http://www.selfdevelopmentsecrets.com

June 8, 2017

How to Talk to Children About Suicide

The expression, “I have no words,” have been echoing repeatedly since my brother-in-law committed suicide last week.

Yes, he killed himself. A gunshot wound to the chest at his home and he was gone.

I warn you, I am going to be blunt and tell the TRUTH in this blog because I’m tired of people sweeping the unseemly under the rug and being hush-hush when someone commits suicide.

It’s this very silence on this “taboo” topic, this turn-your-head-away-because-it-could-never-happen-to-me mentality that causes loved ones to be mental, maniacal, suicidal.


I was the first family member in California my sister Lynn contacted when the unthinkable happened at her home in Fort Myers, Fla.

Last Saturday, I thought it was strange my sister was calling at 1:30 a.m. her time. I will never forget the bone-chilling, screeching voice as my sister cried in an unrecognizable voice, “Chris [her husband] shot himself!”

I couldn’t understand what was going on. “What? Who is this?”

She screamed repeatedly, “Chris shot himself in the chest!”

Worried about my nephew Drew, 12, and niece Serena, 8, I yelled, “How are the kids?”

“They’re not injured. I need you here! The police are here,” Lynn shouted as she hung up.

Shock… helplessness… disbelief… grief… sent tremors through my body.

I scrambled to call loved ones to help me sort through the foggy madness. I needed someone to grab the kids, hold them and tell them they’ll be OK.

Thankfully, we got a hold of a couple of Chris’ best friends in Florida, Mike and Stephanie Letourneau, to quickly retrieve the kids to make sure they were in loving arms as the police investigation was underway.

I booked the next flight to Fort Myers and feverishly searched online for “How to help grieving children” and “How to explain suicide to kids.” I also called my psychologist friends, Dr. Gladys Ato and Dr. Ron Holt, for counsel. (I sure didn’t want to say the wrong things and thwart the healing process or cause more anguish.)

When I arrived in Florida, I hugged my inconsolable sister, niece and nephew and promised them we would get through this together because we have awesome, loving and supportive family and friends.

I notice the awkward interactions that usually ensue as folks tried to console my family. What do we do? What do we say? How do we help heal? What if we say something wrong?


Four days later, my sister’s neighbor told me she wasn’t going to tell her kids. I feel this hush-hush, don’t talk about it, skirt-around-the-truth mentality is what teaches our kids to silence their natural state, hold back and bottle emotions and creates this vicious cycle of dishonesty.

I thought, “If we don’t tell the truth, talk and cry openly, we are closing off the communication that heals us all during times of grief.”

I had to pen this blog to share the amalgam of learnings, research and tips from grief counselors (thank you to all the pros who mirrored this same message.)

1. Tell the TRUTH. Many folks don’t like confrontation and would rather tell half-truths, white lies or complete lies altogether. If you don’t tell your kids, or decide to tell them a partial truth, trust me, the truth will eventually surface. My niece told her other 8-year-old (and younger) friends, “My daddy shot himself. I am sad. I miss him.”

During this already confusing time of grief, if parents don’t tell the kids the truth and the kids found out from others, I believe this causes distrust and breaks the comfort and openness kids desperately need during times of distress.

2. When talking to kids about death, use simple, easy-to-understand clear words. Don’t say “passed away.” Don’t say “went to sleep.” It confuses kids. Instead consider saying “died” or “killed.” Be honest. Children will express grief in different ways. Some through talking. Others will act out, scream and shout. Here is a good resource on how to talk to kids of certain developmental ages.

3. Encourage them to express their feelings and cry. Don’t hide your emotions and tears. Let them flow. Tears do wash away some of the pent up anger, resentment and sadness.

I cried in front of my niece and nephew, but ran out of the house when I was about to burst into an ugly cry. My nephew (remember, he’s 12) ran out to hug and console me and said, “It will be OK, Uncle Toan.” My niece (remember, she’s 8) told my sister, “Mom, don’t be sad. I don’t want you to be heartbroken, you could die of heartbreak.”

Another time, my nephew shared, “I got you a gift. Remember, you really liked this candle at the boutique? I wanted to get it for you.” He knows my fondness for candles, apothecary stuff. He knew it would calm me. I couldn't believe that in a time of grief, he was thinking of caring for me.

Listen to your kids, they can teach us so much!

I noticed my nephew and niece were able to process some of the pain better after they began talking about their feelings. I encourage starting off the dialogue by telling a story about the person who passed away. I also noticed funny memories helped create some levity and lifted their spirits.

Dr. Ato and Dr. Holt both strongly recommended getting my sister and her kids to a psychologist with experience in childhood trauma as soon as possible, as the success rate is significantly better the quicker they can get professional help. My sister was still in shock and looked like a zombie when I saw her. She was in no state to make decisions. So I booked them a session with a psychologist fast.

Things I told/asked them:
- It’s OK to cry.
- They said they were confused. I told them I was, too, and encouraged them to talk about it so we could help each other understand.
- How are you feeling after losing dad?
- What are some good memories you had with him?
- Kids undergoing the trauma of losing a parent or guardian worry about being cared for. So I told them my family and I will always be there to take care of them and talk to them through all of their troubles and mistakes.

4. Reassure and tell them it’s not their fault. One stage of grief is blaming ourselves or feeling guilty. When dealing with suicide, tell the kids, “It’s not your fault. It’s the disease in his head that killed him. Not you.”


5. Let them know they are not alone and we will get through this together. Again (it’s important to do this again and again) kids want to be comforted and know they will be taken care of. Let them know you’ll always be there for them.

6. Oxygen mask first. When you’re on an airplane, you’re reminded in case of an emergency, the oxygen masks will drop and you should put your mask on first before helping others. Remember, you’re grieving too, so practice self-care. If you’re not well, you’re not going to do a good job helping your loved ones.

7. Breathe… this too shall pass. It may be a good idea to set a timer on your cell phone to remember you to breathe and focus on the present moment and the things you’re grateful for during this time of distress.

8. As one of my favorite poets, the late Maya Angelou, once said, “There is always a rainbow in the cloud.” Trust me, grief is like surfing. It hits you in waves. In 2000, I lost four family members in a year’s time. It does get better. If you are present, talk about your feelings and work through your grief.

Here is an interview I conducted with my dear friend Marianna Cacciatore, a grief expert. I love how she explains how grief leads to love and generosity:
Here are some additional links to helpful resources:
-“Helping your child deal with death” (KidsHealth)
-“How to help a grieving child” (The Dougy Center)

* Special thanks to everyone who has reached out, prayed, donated food and resources, opened their home and continue to send their love. IT is lifting us and allowing us to see light during these dark times.

* If you would like to help support my sister's family, a friend has set up a GoFundMe campaign.

As my niece says, I love you (all) beyond the universe and back.

Love and light,
Toan

May 11, 2017

A Billion Reasons Why I'm Living the Dream of Inspiring Others (Including Forbes!)

Dear everybody who has a dream but is scared to take action on living life to the fullest,

Growing up in a poor, refugee family from Vietnam in a trailer park in Sacramento, Calif., I never thought my story mattered.

Toan and his grandmother in a refugee camp after fleeing Vietnam.

I remember thinking, “Why would anybody care about a poor Asian kid?” Most of the successful people I saw on TV were white. Deep down inside, I thought it would be so cool to be on TV and be a voice for the voiceless, but in the early 80s, even Oprah wasn’t living her best life. She was navigating her way through the talk show world. I dreamed of running scripts to Lavar Burton on “Reading Rainbow.” He was one of the only black male TV show hosts I saw on TV.

It wasn’t until several mentors convinced me my story, my talent for connecting with people, mattered, that I started to realize my true American Dream. It’s crazy to me that Forbes recently wrote an article about my latest passion work, a podcast called “TruthDare,” which is an amalgam of my professional work as a nonprofit founder, motivational speaker and university instructor.

Forbes article on Toan Lam
Toan was recently featured on Forbes about redefining the American Dream through inspiring others.

After the fall of Saigon, my family of 10 came to the U.S. with just four dollars and hopes of achieving the “American Dream.” For my parents, the dream was for me to become a “doctor, lawyer, engineer.” But what got me excited to wake up each morning was my love for reading, writing and interacting with people.

I read every single book I could get my hands on. Reading was a way for me to escape the reality of living in Section 8 housing, welfare and hopelessness in the different neighborhoods we inhabited. I read every children’s book I could get my phalanges on. I read my older sister’s textbooks. I even read shampoo bottles aloud in the shower: “Rinse, lather, repeat, methylparaben.”

My parents’ dreams for me went unfulfilled. I tried to be a pediatrician and even took Mr. Clarion’s honors chemistry class in high school, barely passing. I remember feeling the lowest of energy forms when I tried to make my parents’ American Dream come true. Instead, I listened to my inner GPS and found my American Dream by inspiring people to discover their superpower and use it to help others.

My journey took me to the University of San Francisco, where I had five internships, worked nearly full-time and carried a heavy load of classes. My reporting career took me from Wausau, Wisconsin, to Midland, Texas, then Fresno, Calif., and finally San Francisco. Eventually, I left the TV biz because I wanted to use my knack for storytelling to lift, gift and shift people.

I did this through my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go. It started with me and Kathryn Blancas, one volunteer. Fast-forward nine years later, more than 100 videos of heroes whom I will never forget, 150+ volunteers around the world and enough impact to make me feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes.


From Phoebe Russell, who, as a 5-year-old, was sad to see so many hungry and homeless people in her community. She wanted to collect aluminum cans and give the earnings to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. We helped her enable the food bank to give out more than 200,000 meals.

Then there’s Dr. Ron Holt, a psychiatrist who spends much of his free time speaking about his research and personal experiences to spread compassion in the LGBT community. He travels the country to promote kindness and self-love as he shares his harrowing story about growing up gay in a small Midwest town. People who saw our video wrote to Dr. Holt and said it inspired them to come out to their opposite sex partners and kids. One person wrote in telling Dr. Holt he had been kicked out of his home after coming out to his parents as a teen. He said the video and Dr. Holt’s story inspired him to live another day and be OK with his truth.

Every single hero’s story I’ve told changed my own story, and I promise you, if you pay attention, it will change yours, too. You see, all of our stories matter. Many times, we just feel like they don’t. There were countless times I contacted someone I wanted to feature and he or she would say, “But, I’m not a hero.” After speaking with them and sharing other hero stories I’ve covered, many told me they got off the phone and wept in realization that they, too, matter.

Although I never became a doctor at my parents’ behest, I was reminded by a dear friend and mentor, Gina Pell, that I AM a doctor: a doctor of the soul.

I truly thought I would be a billionaire before I would make it in Forbes. I have now been featured by them twice. Although I may not have a billion dollars in my bank account – yet – I feel like a billion dollars, thanks to a life full of rich experiences paid for by the risks, challenges and hardships my parents and ancestors endured.

One of my favorite quotes shared by the late Maya Angelou is, “Your crown has been paid for. Put it on and wear it.”

I’m happy to share I’m wearing my crown and sharing it with everyone I meet. I dare you to live your truth, share your story and wear (and share) your crown.

Be good,
Dr. Toan Lam

December 30, 2016

Looking Back on Whirlwind Year, Ahead to Renewal, Revolution in 2017

Wow, where did 2016 go?

Time is fleeting. With all the news this year about the passing of legends such as David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, many of us are thinking inward about our own lives, our own legacies. I sure am thinking about it. Where did the year(s) go? Now more than ever, I’m daring myself to share more of my truths, my story, with the world.

I believe it all starts with intention. Last year, I dared to share more of my story, personally and professionally. This led to a feature on Forbes.com this past January about my story. What the…?! Growing up, I carried a lot of shame, thinking, “Who would care about a poor Chinese immigrant kid growing up in South Sacramento?” It turns out my story was worth caring about.

Sparked by the Forbes article, I sought to do more motivational speaking. I told my business mentor I wanted to use my voice and story to inspire others to be better and do better for themselves and others. My mantra during my talks is, “Be careful what you intend and think, because your thoughts become your words. Be careful what you say, because what you say becomes real and manifests your reality.”

Guess what? As the universe would have it, people and organizations reached out to me and as a result I booked 14 speaking engagements this year!

One of the core messages I share with my audiences is you are powerful beyond what you can comprehend and you, yes YOU, matter.

As I reflect on this whirlwind year, I’m grateful for many things — thank you Jesus! It was a busy year, crisscrossing the U.S. for passion projects:

MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKING

1. Throughout the summer, I went on a Media Institute tour, sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation, with Asian American Journalists Association brothers and sisters to Washington, D.C., Gulfport, Miss., and Santa Fe, N.M., to talk to nonprofit leaders about how to tell their stories to the media. I also had the opportunity to produce a legacy documentary project in partnership with AARP (more on that shortly) and embarked on a screening and Q&A tour across Northern California, Las Vegas and Virginia, with more showings to come in 2017.


Then, I joined my soul sister Kala Shah to spread our Community Heroes message about empathy, compassion and action to middle school students in Marin County, Calif. Last but not least, just before the crazy November election, Wilmington College invited me to speak at the Westheimer Peace Symposium about using storytelling and social media for social good. Lord knows we need more peace in the world in 2017!

CAREGIVING: THE CIRCLE OF LOVE DOCUMENTARY 

2. As mentioned earlier, 2016 marked one of my most meaningful endeavors — a legacy project. I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker and work with elders (my family and I unexpectedly became caregivers for four older family members who all passed away within about a year of each other). As fate would have it, I produced my first documentary about caregiving heroes in the Chinese-American community, titled “Caregiving: The Circle of Love.”


This collaboration between Go Inspire Go and AARP aims to help people engage with loved ones on the sensitive but important topic of caregiving and provide them with valuable resources such as the free “Prepare to Care” toolkit. We all are connected by caregiving – we will either be a caregiver, be cared for or both. My family and I were woefully ill-prepared. My hope is that you won’t make the same mistakes we made.

Craving more of the conversation? Here’s an in-depth look.

SHOTS OF INSPIRATION

3. This year was also about experimenting and having fun with video making. I created an 18-episode series called “Shots of Inspiration” — a weekly short video about an inspiring thing you need to know about, delivered to your inbox or social media feed. This has opened to doors to possible partnerships to create inspiring content on a wider scale in 2017!


As I look back, I feel so blessed. I remember being a college student, working more than 30 hours a week and interning my butt off, telling myself, “I just want an internship. I just want to get paid to be a TV reporter. I just want to help people and make a living by doing what I love — talking.” #manifestedit

Fast-forward 16 years later, I’m in awe. Why did I worry so much? I’m grateful I’m working on projects I’m passionate about. Reminds me of my fave Oprah quote, “Passion leads to purpose.” Hallelujah for living a purpose-filled life! All the challenges — being broke, scared to take the leap, scared of my own light — have helped me illuminate my own future.

NEW! TRUTHDARE PODCAST

What’s next? Want to know the truth? I have been keeping this secret for several months so I'm excited to finally announce... I signed a contract to produce my very first PODCAST with Strawberry Hill Productions! They're the same company that is producing Eckhart Tolle's upcoming podcast and which also works with Michael Bernard Beckwith and Hay House Publishing. Through my experiences as a TV reporter, PBS host, college instructor and public speaker, I've realized one thread that binds the fabric of our human experience: so many people want to share their personal/intimate stories and tell their truth. The truth-telling is usually followed by deep breaths and tears. To me, it’s cathartic. It’s an amalgam of everything that has made Toan, TOAN! My journey has led me to this new podcast titled “TruthDare” launching in January 2017.


More about TruthDare:

“How many people truly know the real YOU? This podcast is a series of intimate conversations and truth telling to uncover who we are and why we have been hiding. Do you have the courage to live your truth? And dare to be more of YOU?”


So, looking back at 2016, what are you grateful for? What challenges have helped you grow? What are you going to do to be better and do better in 2017? Please share in the comments below. I want to know!

I’m feelin’ that 2017 is all about renewal — a new you, a new me. Let’s do it together. Ready to discover your power and truth and share with sparkle with the world? Join us on this truth-telling revolution. I dare you.

Stay tuned.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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November 17, 2016

A Call for Creative Lights in Wake of Post-Election PTSD

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of the #2016election. It’s unlike me to not want to get out of bed, feel despondent and be unmotivated. To be real, the day after the election I stopped reading any Facebook posts that had to do with politics — blue or red.

I need a detox.

My social media feed, personal conversations and exchanges on the streets echo the same sentiments. We’re tired. Sick and tired. We’re terrified. I get it. The day after the election, I went to my Facebook feed to find solace, but as I got sucked into all the negativity, anxious feelings seeped in again.

Tears flowed as I saw images of swastikas and heard stories of hate crimes on the rise (post election) and kids telling parents they’re scared they might have to pack up and leave the comforts of their home. One openly gay millennial posted on FB that he is scared for his safety and his rights to love openly. He asked for some words of comfort to calm his anxiety.

In the face of this, we have two options:

1. Be part of the change and spread light in the world.
2. Be part of the problem and fester in the dark.


I choose to move forward.

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Here are several things I did to get myself out of what I call the #PostElectionPTSD:

1. Be of service: Many folks tell me they feel helpless. We all have the power to shift that energy.

I reached out to a few people I mentor who felt mired in depression. We spent time simply talking about their feelings and mine. It turns out trying to help them has helped me even more!

Still at a loss at what you can do? Put your money where your mouth is. Donations to organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have spiked since the election, so donate to causes you care about!

2. Spend time doing more of what you love. What brings you joy? Reading? Exercising? Binge watching a Netflix flick? Do it!

I love cooking, writing, designing (see flowers on right), spending time with loved ones and yoga. Actually, I’m going to yoga tonight at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco — yes, yoga in church! It’s a special session taught by renowned instructor Darren Main and the benefits go to Yoga for Change to benefit at-risk youth! All we have to do is show up with a mat and donate $20. Double yeah!

3. Gratitude. Counting and writing down the things you’re grateful for rewires your brain to look for them and brings awareness to all the awesomeness in your life.

4. Sing, laugh & dance. No explanation needed. My guilty pleasure is Googling “Adele news” to see what’s up with my favorite chanteuse. Sounds creepy, I know, but HELLO, how can you not love her?

5. Share kindness/kind news. The first thing I did after the election was write this bloggity: “The KIND of America I see.”

Writing and eating favorite snacks and drinking tea to calm nerves

Now it’s your turn – let’s flood people’s social media feeds with positivity.

I started to feel better when I saw this Instagram post via Manifest Justice:

A photo posted by Manifest Justice (@manifestexhibit) on

Calling all creatives: get creating! I had an idea and a challenge as I deal with this #PostElectionPTSD. I’m a creator. If I’m not creating, arranging, writing or doing something creative, I feel stifled. It also helps me relieve stress.

So write, design or create something that brings light into the world and share it with your network and me! Alternatively, I urge you to share something positive you’ve experienced or heard on your social feed or in real life. Would love to spread the kindness y’all are seeing: Tag me: #PostElectionPTSD @toanlamtv @goinspirego

If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, let’s change what we see, say and think. According to a study by the University of British Columbia, good news results in better people.

I believe this so much, I left my successful TV news career seven years ago to discover and share positive stories — and their impacts have been more uplifting than any storybook out there. We all have the power to spread light.

Spent time with soul sister Kala Shah and Michael Pritchard

Please take a moment to share your light with me. Together, let’s set the internet on fire with kindness, compassion and love. Don't forget to share the good you're seeing in the world with me! #PostElectionPTSD @toanlamtv @goinspirego

Onward and upward,
Toan

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November 10, 2016

Healing a Divided States of America — the KIND of Country I See

Eight years ago, I left my cush, well-paying, high-profile job as a TV reporter in one of the largest markets in the U.S. because my internal GPS — my gut — told me so. I was tired of covering death and destruction and instead wanted to use my power of storytelling for good.

Today, I pledge the same pledge I made eight years ago. My job was and continues to be finding inspiring people and sharing their stories with the world. I realized after this divisive election that now, more than ever, the world needs to see, hear and feel more goodness.

I’m not going to lie. My heart hurts. I couldn’t sleep on election night and I wept in the dark.

My sadness wasn’t because of the election results. I cried because so many people are hurting. Red, blue … black, white… gay, straight or <FILL IN THE BLANK>, we all feel pain and joy. We are all more connected than we think. We all have the divine allowance of having the human experience.

This post isn’t about my political leanings. No matter what party line you’re on, this historic election shows us that, bottom line, people are hurting.

I’m an immigrant from Vietnam. My family came as boat people. My parents gave up their comfortable life in search for freedom, the chance at a proper education and the American Dream. We ended up in Sacramento, Calif. My first home was in a trailer park.

I didn’t think my own story mattered, so I lost myself in the stories of others. I was obsessed with reading. I read everything — even shampoo bottles aloud in the shower in a pretend broadcaster voice.

As fate would have it, I did achieve the American Dream I imagined for myself. I became a broadcaster, motivational speaker, university instructor and so much more. Thank you, America.

The first eight years of my career were spent in TV news as an on-air reporter. I covered car accidents, the economy’s ups and downs, politics and everything in-between. Most of the stories were about death and destruction. What often didn’t make it on-air were stories of humanity at its best.

I treasure the connections I made with people from all over — red and blue states and small towns and big cities. SO many people told me about stories — good news — that never made it onto TV.

During the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, I decided to leave it all. Mentors told me to hold on. The economy was bad and there were far fewer jobs on-air than there were traditional jobs. But I followed my heart. This led me to reconsider my career choice and ultimately I left TV news.

In contrast, I've spent the last eight years covering positive stories about everyday people around the world through my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go. Along that journey, more than 150 volunteers have pitched in to help my mission to tell the stories of these unsung heroes.

It's come with many hardships. There were times when I doubted myself, but I knew inside it was the right thing to do. I held on. There was a time when I only had 80 cents in my bank account. I held on. There were many times I knew better, so I did better. I remember Oprah telling Lisa Ling, “Once you know, you can’t pretend you don’t.” This inspired me to hold on when I felt like letting go.

I knew that even though I wasn’t rich or famous, I could connect to people on a deep, soul-to-soul level and inspire folks to be and do better for themselves and others. It’s like alchemy, this connection.

Here is a snapshot of a few stories of kindness and love that inspired mini movements of hope. People like Phoebe Russell, a San Francisco kindergartner who was sad to see so many hungry people in her city. She wrote letters asking people to give her aluminum cans so she could recycle them and donate the proceeds to the San Francisco Food Bank.



After sharing Phoebe’s story, a stranger on social media asked me to submit her video to nominate her as a Tyson Foods “Hunger All-Star.” They awarded her a special prize of 15 tons of chicken that was given to the S.F. Food Bank. About a year later, three kids in her former kindergarten class were inspired to replicate her “YES you CAN” drive and raised even more money. In the end, Phoebe’s efforts led to more than 200,000 meals for the needy in San Francisco.

In the Midwest, there’s Amy Pankratz, a stay-at-home mom from Sioux Falls, S.D., who made and prayed over more than 10,000 superhero capes for sick kids and their siblings around the world.



And in New York City, there’s Jorge Munoz, the “Angel in Queens.” For more than a decade, Jorge has devoted countless hours and half his school bus driver salary to purchase groceries, prepare hot, home-cooked meals and pass them out to more than 150 hungry people under a Queens subway station every day.



After sharing Jorge’s story, the worldwide community used their power to pitch in. People sent thank you letters. Random strangers gave money, baked goods and even new appliances to help. Len Harris Inc., a family-owned store in Flushing, N.Y., was inspired by all the generosity and threw in free delivery and set up of the kitchen equipment.

Friends from ServiceSpace heard about our surprise follow-up and wanted to cook for him, and a family from the Midwest moved by Jorge’s selflessness joined me in surprising him with a new refrigerator and stove. We captured this on video. Grab a tissue:



I’m not going to sugarcoat this — this journey has been effin’ hard. The challenges… the ego… letting go and not letting go.

Personally, professionally, spiritually, I have learned a lot about humanity and myself.

What can we all learn from this?

1. I believe people are genuinely good-hearted. Every video I’ve produced with my volunteers have inspired actions both small and large.

2. We are all gems. Some of us lose our sparkle and get dusty because of the characters in our stories who make up our lives. What if we all spent more time doing what we love? Surrounding ourselves with people we love, people who help dust us off and make us shine? There are so many people hurting in our country. It’s a wake-up call to the divided States of America. From jobs to homeland security insecurities, this brings to light the darkness many don’t see in our country. While we are witnessing so much pain across the board, I know there is more good than bad in the world. No matter what your party line, we as humans want to be seen, heard, felt and loved.

3. We have more power than we think. We all have the power to help others. We can’t control what happens, but we have the power to control the way we react. A smile, a kind act, a thoughtful gesture… My challenge to you: Do something nice for yourself and someone else today. The world needs it. The world needs you. Now you know, you can’t pretend you don’t. What can you do?

Onward and upward,
Toan

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October 20, 2016

Support Child Cancer Survivor's Halloween Drive for Hospital Kids

Our young Halloween hero is at it again! Nico Castro, 10, of San Bruno, Calif., is calling all heroes this Halloween to use their superpowers for good in the 5th Annual Halloween Costume Drive for the Sick Children.

Please support Nico and his annual costume drive to provide new and unused Halloween costumes to sick children at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif. Nico and his family are asking for costumes for ages 6 months to teen, or any Halloween-themed items such as goody bags, decorations, clothing (socks, pajamas, shirts). Gift cards and monetary gifts are also welcomed.


Donations can be dropped off from Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at their family business:

C & C Automotive Collision
860 San Mateo Ave.
San Bruno, CA 94066
(650) 873-8372

Nico’s family is asking that all donations be sent by Tuesday, Oct. 25. Items will be delivered to the hospital on Friday, Oct. 28. Click here for more info.

Background

I met Nico when he was six. At the age of five, Nico was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent surgery to remove a 4½-inch brain tumor, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. He had to relearn how to eat and talk while going to the hospital almost every day for treatment.

During this trying time, he had one wish: to dress up as his favorite superhero, Batman, and celebrate his favorite holiday, Halloween. The doctor gave him the green light to take a day off from treatment to go trick-or-treating, but he was still sad. He wanted to spread the spirit of Halloween with his friends in the hospital who were too ill to go out trick-or-treating by getting them costumes and goodie bags, which he has continued to do every year since.


Check out our Parts 1 and 2 of Nico’s story and find out how you can help him save Halloween from the villains (illnesses that are keeping kids from celebrating this year)!

Part 1: '6-year-old Boy with Brain Cancer Brings Halloween to Sick Kids'


Part 2: '6-Year-Old Halloween Hero Quadruples Goal'


Update: Great news, Nico’s mom Marlene Castro told me he’s in remission!

Nico learned when you give to the world, you get so much more back. Little did he know, he would inspire many other heroes young and old this important life lesson: caring is sharing. Thanks for using your power to help this Halloween!

Onward and upward,
Toan

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October 13, 2016

AARP caregiving documentary my full-circle moment

UPDATE: We will be holding a special screening of "Caregiving: The Circle of Love" at the University of San Francisco, Fromm Hall on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. The event will include a panel discussion and Q&A with featured caregivers MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and AARP Historian Emerita Lily Liu, who are featured in the documentary, and moderated by Toan. Admission is free and all are welcome. Click here for more info.

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Whenever I get the chance — whether it be to my students, mentees or audiences at speaking engagements — I tell people, “Be careful what you think; your thoughts become your words. Then be careful what you say because your words, when spoken, become real. You manifest the reality.”

So when you hear yourself saying, “I’m fat, ugly, not good enough. I can’t <fill in the blank>,” check yourself and instead tell yourself, “I’m working on being more healthy. I’m going to be my best self and I can. I believe it.”

Your intentions are more powerful than you think.

For example, I originally intended to use my powers — which I believe are my resources, talents and network — to inspire kids and the elderly. Why? Well, because kids and elders are closest to the spirit world. Not to get all weird and woo woo, but hear me out.

They know what’s important in life. The true meaning of life: to have fun and to be our best self and help others. Kids are not preprogrammed to find a job, attain material things and work to pay bills. Elders have wisdom. They’ve lived life and can tell you a thing or two about life’s abundant lessons.

Be careful what you wish for and think, because it will come true.

My intention when creating my nonprofit Go Inspire Go — to serve the youth and inspire them through storytelling — led me to my dear friend Kala Shah, a mother of three young boys. Together, we created the Community Heroes program, which uses our videos about everyday heroes in schools to inspire compassion and action — and the next generation of service-oriented heroes!
While there was no Community Heroes program to help inspire me while growing up, there was my grandma. My late paternal grandmother, whom we call “Ma,” instilled spirituality, compassion and altruism in me, and was the catalyst for my soft spot for elders. I knew one day I would do something with elders. I just didn’t know how that would manifest.

Last fall out of the blue, my friend and brother in journalism Richard Lui, an NBC and MSNBC anchor, emailed me because AARP was looking for a storyteller to head a project on Chinese American caregivers. Little did I know I was about to embark on a legacy project — a project that would inspire, educate and open me up in ways words cannot accurately describe.

The next thing I knew, I signed on to become the executive producer of “Caregiving: The Circle of Love,” a documentary featuring three caregiving heroes in the Asian American community: Richard and two other caregivers, Elizabeth Chun (a “sandwich caregiver”) and Lily Liu (AARP Historian Emerita).

The full circle moment — I present to you the West Coast premiere of the documentary at my alma mater, the University of San Francisco:


What I learned from this experience and action items:

1. Where do I even begin? I learned we are all connected through caregiving. One day we will either have to give care or receive care, or perhaps both.

2. My family and I did the best we could, but there are many ways we could’ve been better prepared to care. The goal of this documentary is to inspire everyone to initiate a dialogue with their loved ones about caregiving. Use this film as a conversation starter, then follow up with this content-rich “Prepare to Care” toolkit from AARP. This will save you and your family a lot of physical, emotional and fiscal heartache.

3. For more caregiving resources, visit aarp.org/caregiving.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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August 11, 2016

A Short, Easy, Effective Exercise to Find Your Passion

People often ask me, “You seem so passionate about your work and purpose in life — how do I find my passion?”

What a loaded question! I thought about this for a while and came up with an exercise to help you find your passion.

I want you to close your eyes. Be still. Take five deep breaths. Focus on your breathing. Now take some time to think about the things that excite you when you wake up each morning. Can you focus on funneling that to just one thing that excites you the most?

For example, I love food, travel and design, but what gets me most excited is communicating with people. The idea that my words and stories can inspire people to be better and do better for themselves and others gives me the chills. So naturally, using my power of communication to tell stories of everyday heroes to inspire the hero in each of us makes sense. Remember, it doesn’t always have to be a paid “job” — rather something that puts a sparkle in your eye and gives you a rush of excitement.

Now, time to take action. What can you do to make that dream a reality? Take baby steps. If you love to read and write, make time every day to write for 30 minutes. Don’t have that much time? Then do what works with your schedule. Maybe write 15 minutes a week. The idea is to take action.

Take action:

1. Channel your inner child: Think about what you naturally loved to do as child. I enjoyed reading, writing and talking. When I was growing up, I read books aloud in my pretend reporter voice. I would even read shampoo bottles out loud in the shower: “Rinse, lather, repeat.”


2. Sharing is caring. Tell people your story, write it down, any way you feel comfortable. You’ll be surprised by all the connections and opportunities that will come into your life.

3. Have fun. Your passion doesn’t necessarily have to be job related. Just play with your passion and if it’s authentic to who you are and really lights up your soul, things will naturally fall into place.

Here’s to finding your passion…

What’s your passion? How did you find it? We want to know.

Onward,
Toan

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