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.

The ‘Aha!’

It’s amazing how words from a stranger can lift, shift and gift you and ultimately change the trajectory of your life. Magical words that could cast a spell over you and give you hope, gratitude and light in the darkest times. She was like a babysitter/mother/sister/friend/spiritual teacher to me every afternoon.

She taught me that every moment — even the toughest ones — divinely occurs to teach us something. Life is a class with constant lessons for us to learn. She has shaped me personally, professionally and spiritually. The most important “Aha!”/life lesson she taught me is it’s OK to simply be me.

Her acceptance speech brought me back to my childhood when I was an insecure kid trying to find my way in life — days I felt like I didn’t matter. I tuned in to nearly every one of her shows religiously at 4 p.m. My cheap seats were from the living room of Section 8 housing. I sat cross-legged on the matted carpet next to my grandmother’s altar with fruit, Buddha and photos of deceased ancestors. I can still smell the incense.

Me and my Grandmother, a.k.a. O.G. spiritual teacher.

I am a gay, Chinese hustler. This would’ve been so hard to type and say had it not been for some of the groundbreaking, controversial and eye-opening episodes where Oprah would uplift and learn from our LGBT brothers and sisters on her show.

I remember watching those episodes and feeling like, finally, someone knew my secret, and it was OK to celebrate being gay. (Thank you, Rev. Ed Bacon and Michael Beckwith, for telling Oprah you thought being gay was a gift). It was as if my mom was telling me, “It’s OK to be you.” The little boy in me was impacted deeply by the “Ellen episode” where she came out about her truth at a time when society and Hollywood shunned it. Since that day, my heart and mind opened a little. I trusted my truth a little bit more. But I was still afraid to speak and take action on my truth.

My Story and Oprah

Yes, I’m a descendant of immigrant hustlers, boat people from Vietnam who left a behind cushy life, only to hustle for the so-called “American Dream.”

My father, who came to Vietnam as a homeless little boy from China, hustled his way to create a cast iron nail business. He became rich, married the love of his life and had five kids, me being the youngest. But as fate would have it, at the height of his success Saigon fell, the communists took over and he made the heroic decision — following his truth — to give his family a better life in America.

We landed in Sacramento, 10 of us crammed into a trailer in a trailer park, with $4 in our pockets. The only English my parents spoke were “Hi,” “yes,” “no,” “thank you” and “bathroom.”

From where I was sitting, the window to the world appeared bleak. I saw things my little eyes shouldn’t have seen. There were drive-bys, prostitutes and violence in my hood. No wonder why I didn’t think I mattered. I thought success in America meant being white and coming from some sort of pedigree.

Every afternoon, I followed Oprah through the ups-and-downs of her weight-watching journey (even the “wagon of fat” episode), through the big hair and epic episodes with white supremacists, relationship dramas, transgendered folk (even before that word was even understood) and, yes, the over-the-top giveaways.

“You get a car! Everybody gets a car!” I didn’t get a car and never realized my dream of being in her audience, but what I did get can’t be counted in coins or dollars. I learned life lessons that helped me navigate a spiritual life that has helped me suffer less mentally. I remember watching, intently, no matter what the topic was, I waited patiently till the end of the episode to see what the life lesson was in store for me.

"Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have." Oprah's words are completely aligned with why I started the "TruthDare" podcast last year. #TruthTellingRevolution

I was in awe of how she connected with people. I studied her communication skills.

Little did I know, that I would follow her footsteps, get in, and out of the news and eventually find my best — well better — self.

Full-Circle Moment

As a young boy, I never thought my story mattered. But as a man, I have built a career around telling my story and others’ stories, giving a voice to the voiceless. Oprah gave me the courage to follow my true calling.

Like most immigrant parents, my “Ma” and “Ba” wanted me to be (cue broken English) “docta, lawya, engineer.” My truth is, I love to read, write and talk. As a child, I would read aloud every book I could get my hands on. In the shower, I would even recite words on shampoo bottles: “rinse, later, repeat, methylparaben.”

I knew one day, I wanted to use my communication skills to make an impact on people for a living. That was my professional little secret. I remember thinking there weren’t any Asian male broadcasters in the mainstream media, but there was Oprah, someone who didn’t look like the rest of the people on TV.

As a little boy, my prayer to God was, “Please use my life, my body; use me to help others.”

I struggled to tell my parents that, against their behest, I wanted to pursue a career telling stories and teaching people. My heart wanted to be a teacher, TV reporter and, ooh yes, do something, anything on LeVar Burton’s PBS show “Reading Rainbow.” Yes, LeVar and Oprah paved the way for my wildest dreams.

As fate would have it, I would become a TV reporter, university instructor and co-host of a PBS show. I listened when Oprah said she didn’t want to be “used by TV” and instead wanted to “use television (as her platform) to help people lead better lives.”

I, too, followed my truth, quitting my job as a TV reporter to produce uplifting stories about everyday heroes through my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go.

Filming an AARP documentary on caregiving heroes.

In a time when everyone is fed up with “fake news” and once-unspoken truths are surfacing in Hollywood and the ’hood, it’s time to wake up, pay attention and take action with our proverbial double-edged sword, our authentic truth. We are all born with this gift, this inner GPS. It’s called your gut, your intuition, that feeling that you can do and be better.

“Now That You Know, You Can’t Pretend You Don’t”

“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

When Oprah said this, I knew it was the truth. How? My body tingled with chills (that is usually my affirmation). The BIGGEST lesson in life you can learn is at the end of the day, you only have your truth. You must trust it. Honor it. Be it. While it may the single most difficult thing you can do, it’s also best gift you can give to the world.

In 1995, journalist Lisa Ling appeared on “Oprah” to report on mass atrocities against women in Congo. After sharing these widely unknown stories of sexual violence and genocide, Oprah ended the show by saying poignantly, “Now that you know, you can’t pretend you didn’t hear it.”

Those words woke me up and changed my life forever. They helped me get through the doubts of leaving my successful career in TV news during the 2008 economic crisis to start my nonprofit. They gave me the courage to put one foot in front of the other after my savings ran out and I only had .80 cents in my bank account. I clung on to on my truth no matter what.

Regardless of how many or how few likes I had on a story or follows on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, these stories mattered. I matter. You matter. Regardless of what naysayers said, I knew my words had impact and people were listening.

Through the stories produced on my Go Inspire Go platform, a five-year-old helped feed hundreds of thousands of people in San Francisco, a reverend helped dozens of kids attend school in Haiti, and a homeless boy who was kicked out by his parents for being gay came to terms with his truth and found his way.

Ultimately, I knew I couldn’t turn my back on the gifts God has given me and I couldn’t give up on myself.

#TIMESUP — Trust Your Truth, I Dare You

“And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, ‘Me too’ again.”

I believe a new day is dawning. It’s beckoning. It’s here. It starts with you. It starts with me. We all must listen to our truth and no matter how scary it sounds, we need to act. No matter how big or small you think the action is, we must do something to speak up, even if it is uncomfortable.

It’s what Rosa Parks did for Recy Taylor. It’s what a friend did for me when I was being made fun of on the playground . It’s what humans naturally do for humanity’s sake. It doesn’t have to be a big protest. You don’t need a bullhorn. You don’t even need hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. You just have to be YOU. SPEAK and BE your truth.

Last year, fed up with the lies on TV, at dinner parties, on social media, I was inspired to start a podcast called “TruthDare.” I would have conversations with acquaintances, friends and loved ones and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to record these?” The goal is to have illuminating discussions with truth-tellers who have found their TRUTH and true calling. I would then DARE the audience to discover, live and be their truth.

Dr. Gladys Ato discussing her new book,
"The Good Goodbye," on TruthDare.

Speaking with S.F. CrossFit co-founder Kelly
Starrett during a recent episode of TruthDare.

My work with Go Inspire Go and the TruthDare podcast has not only led to life-changing occurrences for countless people, it’s led me to my ultimate truth — that it is OK to be me.

I’ve always striven to see the silver lining in bad situations and the light within darkness. This #METOO movement made me realize when I’m going through a bump in the road, if I am vulnerable enough to speak the truth and say, “Me too,” others will know they’re not alone and there is hope.

Your Turn

What is your truth? Have you told anyone? Are you living and being your truest self?

Join me on this truth-telling revolution: Simply share a story about your truth or a truthful moment in the comments below. It could even be about how Oprah or someone else helped you discover your truth.

No rules here.

I believe that together, we can LIFT each other with love and support, GIFT each other with the words and stories of how we found our truth and SHIFT our perspectives.

TRUST your truth. I DARE you.

Onward,
Toan

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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.

The Pow Wow — Setting Intentions

Intentions are like planted seeds. While strategizing and taking action are the sunlight and water, your intentions need to bloom and manifest. A few years ago, Kate, Keely and I decided to meet up every six months to have an intention-setting sesh. Why six months? We figured we could bookend the year with a session and check in mid-year in June to see how we are doing, what we like and don’t like about our lives and how to course correct. Swerve with us….

Why meet with folks?

There are no rules. This is designed to be in-the-flow and fun. If you like to be zen and do it alone, more power to ya. No need for soul sisters and brothers to bounce ideas off of. Just do a sole intention sesh with yourself. I find it to be helpful to talk it out, share insights and brainstorm ideas on how to take action on our intentions, strategies and solutions. It also helps to “talk about it” as you are more likely to stick to your intentions if you have others holding you accountable.

Pre-Planning, Homework Before the Intention-Setting Session

A few weeks before we meet, we do a little pre-sesh homework. We each create a document that works for us. I like to write, so I have a Word doc that outlines six months of adventures, travels, highs, lows, etc. Keely likes visuals, so she includes pie-charts, graphs and photos. Kate likes to draw, so she does everything by hand, with colored pencils and pens.

If you need more structure, you could use a year planning booklet such as YearCompass. (Thanks Kate for organizing us and for the tip). This free downloadable gem of booklet helps you organize life events, goals, milestones, etc. from last year and the year ahead. It’s chock full of awesomeness and reminders to “Arrive, Put on some relaxing music, Pour yourself a hot beverage, Let go of all your expectations, Start when ready.”


How It Goes Down

We generally start out the morning with a brisk walk, 15-30 minutes.

Kate hosts the sessions in her San Francisco apartment.

We meditate for 10 minutes.

Next, we spend 40 minutes reflecting on the past six months.

Break: Kate makes us an amazing Japanese-style breakfast — yum!


Then, we spend 40 minutes reflecting on what are intentions are for the next six months. They range from personal, professional and spiritual things we want to manifest.

For example, one year, I wanted to find more truth to my journey personally and professionally. I wrote in my intention journal that I wanted to find an easier, more user-friendly platform to record conversations I have been having with friends.

I remember thinking, “There are so many life lessons and spiritual learnings from these conversations. How do I record these on the fly and get them out to a wider audience?”

Voila! My dear friend Celeste Perry, a radio DJ in San Francisco, connected me to the amazing folks at Strawberry Hill Productions. We created the TruthDare podcast, a series of illuminating conversations with badasses who took the leap of faith to follow their true calling. The goal of the podcast is to inspire listeners to dare to find their truth.

Fast-forward a year — woo hoo! I have had so many soul-stirring conversations with truth-tellers like Ari Afsar, who stars as Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton,” Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican chef to earn a Michelin star and Juliet and Kelly Starrett, who are legends in the CrossFit world.

As I journaled about my past year, I was overwhelmed by all the miracles and blessings. My cup runneth over with gratitude. When you speak your truth, the universe helps you find flow to support your journey.


Friends and strangers connected me to the amazing lineup of interviewees. I found support through sponsors like Moeloco (most inspiring flip-flops that are good for your soul and sole), Weal Life (an app that makes it easier to coordinate care for your loved one) and MobilityWOD (“the ultimate guide to eliminating pain, preventing injury and maximizing athletic performance”). Thank you Jesus!

After reflecting, we close out the session with an hour of sharing what worked, what didn’t, how course correct to make changes that support our journey and how we support one another. I’ve learned we are not alone in our journey. I’ve also realized the key to joy is in finding that truth that excites you and taking actions to manifest and follow it — knobby knees, heart palpitations, sweaty palms and all! When you use your talents in service of others, somehow, someway, God, the universe, a higher intelligence guides you.


This last part may or may not be for you, but since Kate, Keely and I believe in God and the divine, we pull a few angel cards, which correspond with words that may signify the year to come. My words this year were “Love,” “Unity” and “Forgiveness.” Each word corresponds with ancient wisdom in an accompanying booklet on how this angel will guide us in the coming year.


That’s it! Remember, there are no hard and fast rules to the intention-setting session. It’s your intention, so go with your gut. Create a session that works for you. Be in the flow — write, draw, play — as long as you are setting intentions that align with your values and wildest dreams. Good luck and happy new year!

Onward,
Toan

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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.

A year into it, I wrote a love letter to myself and even mustered up the nerve to share a blog about facing my “ugly truth” that quickly went viral.

With Juliet and Kelly Starrett, founders of San Francisco CrossFit.

Fast-forward five years later and I’m still CrossFitting! I am no longer ashamed of my body. The myths withered away and I no longer care if people judge me. Ultimately, I discovered a new community of awesome friends from all over the world. With so many fears and myths surrounding CrossFit, it’s no wonder why the topic of this episode is just as taboo as talking about SEX.

Till this day, when I mention CrossFit to people there is an awkward energy with many non-CrossFitters.

I’ve received emails and texts from people who have told me it was a cult, you will be injured for life… blah blah. To help you better understand what happens inside and outside of the Crossfit box, I interviewed celebrity coaches and power couple extraordinaire, Kelly and Juliet Starrett for my TruthDare podcast.

Listen to my in-depth conversations with Kelly Starrett here and Juliet Starrett here as they open up about their struggles and challenges to get to where they are, and what's in store for them moving forward.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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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.

Fifteen years later, on his recent business trip to China, the brothers kept their word and honored their uncle with a brand new SUV.



In sharing the story, Steven emphasized the significance of a common Cantonese phrase.

“Hoi Sum: A common phrase to describe being happy in Cantonese. But more literally, it means ‘open heart’.”

Who are you opening your heart to? And are we returning the love to those who have opened their hearts to us?

Thank you, Steven, for showing us how to live a life of gratitude and remembering to give back to those who have given to us.

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.

For example:

1. Nico Castro, our Halloween hero is at it again, collecting costumes for his friends in the hospital who are too sick to go trick-or-treating. We’re happy to report this 11-year-old warrior has fought off the villain (brain cancer). His mom tells me he is undergoing regular check-ups and follow-up procedures to continue winning the battle. If you’re able to donate new costumes to help him bring cheer to his friends in the hospital, here’s how (see flyer below):


2. Matthew Kaplan of The Be ONE Project, a peer-to-peer mentoring program, was chosen to be a CNN Hero last fall! Woo hoo. CNN producers reached out and licensed our footage and interviews for their feature on Matthew’s anti-bullying program that blossomed when he couldn’t find a youth-centric anti-bullying program to help his younger brother who was harassed by cyberbullies.

CNN Heroes' video on Matthew Kaplan included Go Inspire Go footage. 

3. One of my favorite quotes is from the late poet, Maya Angelou: “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” Little did I know, the past decade I dedicated to Go Inspire Go’s mission of featuring everyday heroes to inspire the hero in each of us would help me find my own superhero power. I grew and evolved personally, professionally and spiritually through each story, interaction with my volunteers/team and meeting you all and hearing how GIG impacted your lives. This led me to shed my insecurities around growing up poor and ashamed to tell my story about the struggles of being an immigrant whose dream didn’t align with my parents’ “American Dream.”


I’ve spent the past year on GIG 2.0 — the “TruthDare” podcast. I interview badasses who have found their “true calling” and I dare you to also find your truth. I realize all the work I’ve been doing has a single thread running though them: finding out your truth — that special thing that excites you when you wake up and makes you, YOU. I realized that when you own and live your truth, you give people the permission to live theirs. When you share it with others, that, my friends is JOY.

I’m inviting you to listen and share, and to “Trust your truth, I dare you!”

Onward,
Toan

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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.

Adam took Tarec around to buy new clothes, apply for jobs online and drive him from door-to-door to seek job opportunities. They received a few positive responses, however, most required people to submit job applications online. Sounds easy, right?

Wrong.

Looking at Tarec struggling to fill out his online application struck a chord with Adam as he realized we all take our computer literacy for granted.

“We’ve all heard someone say, ‘Why don’t they just get a job?’ or ‘They’re lazy,’” Adam said. “I saw firsthand how the ‘system’ is set up to fail people like Tarec. There is no way he would have been able to do any of this without my help.”

After multiple phone interviews and an in-person interview, Tarec ultimately landed a job at a Safeway grocery store.

“His smile was radiant, he stood up straighter
and even walked with a swagger.”

Adam and Tarec’s story didn’t end there.

Landing a job merely marked the beginning of Tarec’s journey. To look presentable, energetic and healthy for work, Tarec needed a better living situation. He felt self-conscious about being homeless and never showed up for work. Days later, he was fired by Safeway.

That’s when Adam learned sometimes it takes more than a job to get out of homelessness.

To provide better living conditions for Tarec, Adam set up a GoFundMe campaign for #TarecsFreshStart that has received media attention and raised more than $16,000 in five months. The goal was to raise enough to cover a year's worth of rent and basic necessities for Tarec.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the empowering unity and help of thousands to get Tarec to where he is today.

Back in February, Tarec was eventually able to afford a flight back to Jamaica to visit his family. We’re not sure what the future holds for Tarec, but like what Adam said, “I’m hopeful. And I guess at the end of the day, that’s really all we can be — to just be hopeful.”


Adam urges to “never underestimate the power of compassion and how even a smile can make someone’s day. Inspiring action from others is one of the greatest gifts that has come from sharing Tarec’s story.”

A wonderful example of friendship and love that knows no race, no color, no class and no gender.

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