March 20, 2018

A Love Letter to Me — and Spring ❀

Dear Toan,

Remember to be bold, share beauty and have fun this year! The words that describe the essence I envisage this new season are BOLD, BEAUTY and FUN.

This winter, as I waited patiently for buds to bloom and spring to arrive, I had a quiet epiphany: Everything leading up to the cherry blossoms and flowers started long before buds emerged from branches and stems. The soil, water and sun all played a part in determining how big the blossoms will billow and how plentiful the yield of flowers and fruit will be. Just like how the intentions we set are the soil, the conversations and baby steps of action we take are the water and sunlight.


Admittedly, I am not the most patient of peeps. I’ve already checked my Instagram and email several times as I type this paragraph. I often feel like the branches of a fledgling tree clambering toward the sun or that next story or project to tackle. I’ve realized, as my spiritual friend Terrie Crowley once told me, when things seem slow, to relax. Enjoy it. Get rest. It’s God giving you time to restore and regain energy because things will become busy again as you continue to do God’s work.

I wrestle with the word “busy.” I hate it because it seems like a cover-up for not being attentive to things such as chores, going to the doctor and doing bills. Resting is not a part of my DNA. I’ve always felt restless when I sit idly too long. That’s why I am trying my hardest to continue a meditation practice. I’m currently doing Oprah and Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience, aptly titled, “Finding The Lightness In Your Life — A Personal Journey.”

Lord, do I need light more than ever. While my interactions with people and Instagram posts are a great reminder of the beauty in life, I have also been sparring with darker issues. And boy, when it comes to the topic of grief, I feel like I’ve been sucker-punched over and over again.

Just when I thought I became an expert at grieving (I lost four family members in about a year’s time early in my career), I was knocked to the ground, spiritually, last summer when my brother-in-law committed suicide. As I often do when tragedy strikes, I wrote to right the insanity in my head.

Last week, I awoke to another terrible tragedy. My creative-spirit-dreamer-sister-friend Fiona Pattison pinged me on Facebook to tell me our friend Jonathan Walker, a well-known street busker in London and gentle spirit, passed away suddenly. The cause is still unknown. My heart sank. I jumped on a call with Fiona — she’s an intuitive — to talk and catch up. I told her I was OK and started talking about projects I’ve been working on.

She stopped me in my tracks and said, “No, how are you?” She sensed I had a deep grief-stricken sadness. She suggested I do some personal writing to heal. She was dead on. While I never have had thoughts of hurting myself, I did recognize I am in a dark place in my soul.

Besides writing, I am doing other things that bring me joy: CrossFit, handstand classes, coffee and tea dates and lots of design. Most days, I am rearranging something in my home to change the energy and change up what my eyes get bored with aesthetically. Oh, I can’t forget my almost daily practices: meditation, yoga and prayer.

Since last summer, I have prayed a lot and wrote in my journal I wanted a creative shift. I sought new ways to leverage audio and video in the nontraditional news style of my nonprofit Go Inspire Go, where, for a decade, I’ve told stories of everyday heroes to inspire the hero in you to help others.

As I’ve had time to reflect, I realized in my quest to help people find the hero in themselves, I, in turn, found the hero in me. I realized more of my true power — my voice and ability to lift, gift and shift people with my words and energy. Yes, that is my power. I’m OK with saying that because at first, I was like, “Who am I to say this? Who do I think I am?” Why do we shy away from our gifts, our magic, our fabulousness?

Now that spring has sprung, I’m taking stock of the seeds of intention I planted on New Year’s Day. I even blogged about it, with the intention to inspire others to take time to plant the seeds of intention and dream big.

So, here’s how I am living out this year’s mantra — BOLD, BEAUTY and FUN.

Being BOLD

In my journal, I wrote, “I want me and others to live and be more of our truth.” I caught myself saying, “I want an easier, free-flowing way to capture audio and video from conversations that I’ve been having with my beloved friends and family.” Be careful what you wish for! I launched my new TruthDare podcast with an All-Star lineup, including a star from Broadway, CrossFit legends and the first Mexican chef to earn a Michelin star.

I realized while I loved putting the Go Inspire Go “newsy”-style superhero videos together, it wasn’t my true authentic voice. Instead, I realized the format I love is more of a talk show-style, and that practice allowed me to rehearse my new TruthDare podcast.

Sharing Beauty in Design

Everybody who knows me knows I love me some design. Whether it’s observing nature’s magic with spring blooms or fall foliage, interior design, fashion or talking to friends about designing a life authentic to them, I’m always game for design of all types.

From strangers on Insta to my soul brothers and sisters, I’ve been urged to share more of my design tips. Within the past year, I’ve been entrusted with the task of totally redesigning the homes of some friends/clients. On a whim, I’ve shared design tips ranging from candle care to choosing that perfect paint color or rug that pulls the room together. I’ve taken on the challenge and will start delivering fun videos that answer your design dilemma questions.

The first question comes from my CrossFit coach and friend, Diane Fu — and fellow pal with a penchant for one too many candles — who asked me how I care for my candles. BTW, you can never have too many candles.
FUN Being Alive and Going LIVE

I have also been obsessed with live platforms — Instagram, Facebook — wow, technology is insane!

I’m not going to lie. Going live on FB is scary because there are no do-overs. Strangely, it’s also a place I feel most alive though. A few weeks ago, I met up with my soul brother Lonnell Williams for tea and we both ended the convo by saying we wished we could have recorded that conversation (actually, we say that every time we chat). Then we thought, wait, we can record our convos through Facebook! So for no other reason than having fun, we created our own LIVE talk show-style Facebook Live chats, appropriately named “YOLO with ToLo: Loving Life with Toan & Lonnell.

Every Wednesday, we vow to get on Facebook and chat about topics that interest us, catch up on what we are doing in life and the little life lessons that challenge us to be our better selves.

Like the branches on a tree, it seems like my projects are going several different directions. However, they’re all rooted in the idea of designing your own life. I decided to use my newsletter to deliver design inspiration to your inbox. I’m calling it, “Design a Life that is True to YOU.”

You’ll get:

1. A short video on a design tip of the week. Again, the first one is about Candle Care 101.

2. I’ll introduce you to someone who has designed a life authentic to them. It’ll be a mash-up of someone I’ve met through Go Inspire Go, TruthDare or a link from an outside source. If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, here’s Episode 1 — an introduction, intention and how it could help you in your journey to find your personal, professional or spiritual truth.

3. And for fun, I’ll include a link to the “YOLO with ToLo” chat. Here are the first two Facebook live videos:

Very first FB live w/ Lonnell Williams:
Facebook Live convo 2 with my soul brother Lonnell:
What are you doing to be bold and have fun this season? I want to know. Tweet/Insta/FB me at @toanlamtv.

So this season, I’m not looking toward the next. Cue one of my fave Carole King songs: “Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.” (Side note: If you haven’t seen “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” you must! I loved it so much I even interviewed Salisha Thomas, who plays a Shirelle sister in the Broadway musical.)

In the meantime, I’ll be indulging in the simple things: warm laundry from the dryer, snapping a sunrise or sunset, walking in nature, a magical interaction with a stranger. My goal is to enjoy every morsel of every season — even on chilly days, enjoying a wet walk in the rain — instead of longing for spring blooms and summer sun.

Onward,
Toan

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February 1, 2018

A New Story for 2018

By Kathy Chow
Go Inspire Go Contributor

As we closed out last year, I spent the final month in moments of reflection. Over the course of 2017, I’ve witnessed family, friends and people in my professional network struggle. Some have lost their jobs, some have developed health issues and some have encountered the personal loss of family members, pets and friends.

I’ve listened to friends struggling to find their professional footing, manage the stress of family and are questioning what’s ahead in the next chapter of their life. From an outsider’s view, it seems we all struggled. And amid these struggles, we connected through the pain and sought new directions in editing our own stories.

Looking ahead in 2018, I’m challenging myself to rewrite my story. As a start, I plan to stretch myself in three areas:

January 9, 2018

How Oprah Speaking the Truth Helped Me Discover Mine

Like many of you, I was one of the millions of viewers glued to the TV during the 75th Golden Globe Awards, mesmerized and energized by every word our teacher-preacher Oprah Winfrey uttered as she made history, becoming the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

In true Oprah fashion, she taught us about phenomenal figures in history — Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks — whose lives should not be forgotten. She expressed sincere gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault with emotion-filled words that felt like hugs reaching through our screens. She even gave a nod to men — her partner Stedman Graham and others who believed in, inspired and challenged her.

She called for a new day on the horizon, inspiring us all to speak our truth, which she preached “is our most powerful tool.”

One of Oprah's crowning achievements — inspiring us to follow our authentic truth. (Thanks Yasi and Luis for my fave birthday shirt. Now I can keep Oprah closer to my heart. LOL)

Her words and work have even deeply touched someone outside of her primary audience — a little immigrant boy on welfare, who grew up in the ’hood of South Sacramento, Calif. A boy named Toan. I may not be Oprah’s main demographic, but her words have touched and molded me just the same.

After watching her speech, I was inspired to write an ode to Oprah and wanted to hear how you were affected by her words. This from someone she probably never intended to reach, through the eyes and window of a gay, immigrant Asian male soul — me.

January 4, 2018

How to Achieve Productive and Successful Intention-Setting Sessions

Happy New Year! New year, new you?

How many of you subscribe to this way of thinking? New diet? New job? New boo? Do you set new personal, professional and spiritual goals during the new year?

So cliché, no?

I personally don’t set lofty goals just for the new year. Why? Because of a pattern of disappointment and feeling like a failure. Instead, I do check-ins periodically throughout the year. I call them “intention-setting sessions” and do them with my two soul sisters, Kate and Keely.

Kate, Kelly and Toan

Several people have asked me what happens during these special intention-setting sessions, so I’ve decided to share with you. Remember, this is all about what works for you, so feel free to soak in what works and expunge what doesn’t resonate with you.

December 5, 2017

Facing My Fears over CrossFit Transformed My Life Forever

When I first learned about CrossFit, I thought people who did it were crazed. I was intimidated by the chiseled athletes who looked like they were training to compete in the Hunger Games. The truth is, deep down inside, I didn’t want to be judged. My ego didn’t want to face my internal fears:

1. My fears: The fear of being judged by all the buff mofo’s for being out of shape
2. Low self-esteem: I thought I was fat and out of shape. I hated my body.
3. Giving up: It looked so hard, I worried I would give up and be a failure.

I was afraid members would judge me because I couldn’t do a pull-up properly. I never learned the correct way to do a sit-up, push-up or squat. The reality is, most people haven’t been trained properly how to do these basic exercises. My gut was nudging me to face my fears and try it. I did. (GULP) My life forever changed. The journalist in me researched the heck out of “CrossFit” before I even step foot in the San Francisco CrossFit box (gym).

I searched online for every article, video and tutorial. I asked my brother Dat (a CrossFit athlete) how he got his jacked bod. I reached out to my friend Doreen Hess and Rob Mayeda about their journeys to CrossFit. Their encouragement inspired me to face my fears. To say this experience was life-changing is an understatement. I grew physically, mentally and spiritually and might I even add – intellectually.

November 20, 2017

Giving Back with an Open Heart

By Calista Tee
Go Inspire Go Contributor

When I first met Steven Ng, he struck me as a really appreciative and compassionate human being. He's also a successful entrepreneur who founded Elliot Havok, a start-up that designs and sells high-end, innovative watches and wallets at affordable prices, and was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30.

Contrary to what you may think, Steven (left) grew up in an extremely poor family. He said he and his brother never got toys growing up. However, Steven’s uncle in China opened his heart to them and spent his entire month’s salary of $400 on a PS2 to make the boys happy.

Touched by their uncle’s gesture, the boys promised to return the favor in the future.

October 9, 2017

My Favorite Time of Year: Fall Forward, Reflecting Back

Hi GIG-sters,

Happy autumn, my favorite time of year! As the leaves change color and wither, I’m reminded that they’re nourishing the soil for new growth in the spring. As a college student, I remember pausing amid the hustle and bustle of each fall semester — my part time job, internships, extracurriculars, running cross country and, oh yeah, school — to take in the mixture of warm and crisp air in San Francisco and revel in the changes.

I remember thinking:
1. What is going well that I need to keep doing? Like working out, getting good grades and speaking at school events.
2. What do I have to say goodbye to? What things aren’t serving my best self, so I can let it fall with the leaves?
3. To remind myself to pause and breathe in the crisp morning air, take in the sights of the beautiful fall colors and slowly sip on my cinnamon and pumpkin spice latte.

As I reflect upon the changes from last autumn, I decided that instead of pushing myself to create more videos, I’d nurture the existing content we had — the stories and messages — and work on repackaging them for a greater impact. I went with the flow. Team members got married, some had kids (talk about changes!), while others moved on to other cities and jobs and others are still here. I can’t believe we’ve had more than 150 volunteers who have found their “inner superhero power” helping me help unsung heroes.

One of my favorite things to do now is pause and enjoy the process, whether things seem well or stuck in motion. I also love to catch up and follow up with some of our heroes as their stories and impact continue to ripple out.

August 4, 2017

Man Thought Act was 'Selfish,' but Changes Homeless Person's Life Forever

Adam on the left; Tarec, from Jamaica on the right.

By Calista Tee
Go Inspire Go Contributor

Every time I look at this picture, I’m reminded to always finish what you started.

Adam had always noticed Tarec strolling outside a Starbucks in Marin City, Calif. He frequently pondered whether to invite this homeless man to lunch, but always found an excuse not to. One day, feeling lonely and perhaps being what he described as “selfish,” Adam decided to switch off his critical internal voice and asked Tarec, “Do you want to have lunch with me?”

As they bonded over the meal, Adam learned that Tarec, born and raised in Jamaica, moved to the U.S. eight years ago in search of a better life to provide for his family back home. However, Tarec hasn’t had it easy; he’s been living in a tent next to the freeway and was living off of the berries he picked for the past year.

Feeling sympathetic, Adam brought Tarec back to his apartment for a long-needed wash up. Both of them then agreed to work together to help Tarec get back on his feet.

What happened over the next two weeks was life-changing.

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.

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!