February 20, 2016

'Aha!' Don't Miss Out on Life's Special Moments

I was recently in Washington, D.C. to cover a story about Asian Americans and caregiving with AARP and found some heroes in action at a park near my hotel.

If you know me well, you’d know that I love food and exercise. Yes, I said I love exercising!

One morning, I went to the hotel gym to do my workout and then felt inspired to go on a quick jog around downtown D.C. After about a mile, I realized the demographics around me changed.

I ran through a park and noticed a long line of people waiting to get socks, clothes and warm meals for the homeless. It was cold outside but witnessing this warmed my heart.

I followed my “Aha!” instinct (maybe it’s the journalist in me) and ran back to meet the folks behind the kindness. I was conscious not to mess up their well-oiled operation. I spoke with a couple of people before being introduced to Teanna Jones, who is part of the Alfred Street Baptist Church “A Heart 2 Serve” Homeless Outreach Ministry.

Another “Aha!” hit me. I asked her if I could do a quick interview – a selfie talk if you will – on my phone. She said yes. I silently screamed, “Hallelujah!” This is the magic that ensued. Hold on to your jaw. It’ll drop when you hear how this operation started.



After the shoot, I told Ms. Jones about the heroes I’ve met and documented on my journey with Go Inspire Go. We laughed a lot, connected a lot and “Amen!”-ed a lot.

A group of other volunteers listened in and we all laughed and shared inspiring stories with each other. She let me know how every September their church hosts a “Feed the 5000” event. My heart skipped a beat. Our souls connected. This was divine intervention. I knew instantly that she was a sister from another mister, and that I had made a friend for life.

The moral of the story:

1. Be adventurous and follow your “Aha!” Don’t know what that is? Pay attention to your gut. My gut told me to go on a jog. It told me to stop because I would’ve regretted not finding out what was going on (yes, even though I left the news biz to discover everyday heroes and share their stories years ago, I am still as inquisitive as ever).

2. Be open to serendipity. Instead of thumbing through Facebook or Instagram while walking around (you know you’re guilty like me), look up, look down, look all around. You’ll be surprised by the connections you’ll make with your surroundings and others.

3. Everybody has a power. You don’t have to be rich… (channeling Prince) or famous (channeling Oprah). You just have to care (channeling your inner hero).

Inspired to help? Take action:
1. Learn more about Alfred Street Baptist Church and their “A Heart 2 Serve” Homeless Outreach Ministry.
2. Think about what you enjoy and build upon it by using that hobby or your talents to help others.
3. There is no one right way to give back. Just do it. Still stumped? Share this story. Amen to you!

What can you do?

Onward and upward,
Toan

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February 1, 2016

Follow Your Yellow Brick Road

I’ve always been a kid who believed in magic. And the magic of stories.

I can’t believe I just typed those words, as this is something I kept to myself until now. I think sharing my magic will encourage people to believe, too (pinching myself while writing this on an Amtrak train from Philly to NYC).

While on an East Coast tour for Go Inspire Go and motivational speaking, I was on a plane and saw one of my favorite stories, “The Wizard of Oz,” in the queue of the in-flight entertainment. Who wouldn’t love a story with lions, witches and, for some, glittery shoes? Dorothy had a fabulousness all to herself: her energy, her spirit and her sense of adventure of wanting to go over the rainbow where she, too, could spread her wings and fly like the bluebirds. Little did I know, Dorothy’s message and her journey would have so many parallels for me and if you pay attention, perhaps for you too.


I was a fan since seeing my sister Lynn Billett in “The WIZ” performed live at Valley High in my hometown of Sacramento. At the time, I didn’t know how or why that story resonated with me so much. Like Dorothy, I needed to go further along my journey before I could fully understand it.

But something in me knew it was special. It touched me deeply. “You’ve always had the power,” was one of my favorite quotes by Glinda the Good Witch. Wow, so much meaning packed into those five words.

As a child, I used to wake up thinking, “Who am I going to meet? What am I going to learn? What does the day have in store?” I, too, wanted to see other lands. I knew I, too, had a bigger story to tell one day.

My parents were much like Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. They tried to tame my excitement and sense of exploration. Like many Asian immigrant parents, my mom’s American dream for me was to be (cue cute little Asian woman’s broken English voice) “a doctor, lawyer, engineer.”

I wanted to use my power of communication – reading, writing and talking – in some way, shape or form. I failed them, it seemed, because I took a risk and followed my yellow brick road to attend the University of San Francisco, which led me to become a TV reporter.

“How you make money tell stories? How you have money buy clothes for TV?” Ma would ask, puzzled.


Back then, I was mad because her American dream didn’t match my American dream for myself. But now that I’ve met many “wizards” who I thought reigned in the Land of Oz (or TV, etc.), I realize that you never quite arrive, that you have the power to change your story and that the change starts with a small action you can make today.

For me, the preconceived notion of the “dream” was to become a TV reporter. Then I got a taste of working at PBS as a co-host/correspondent. Later, I added university instructor to the resume. The twists and turns in the road led me to different characters and places – my own Oz continues to change.

I never thought my story mattered… it wasn’t until I told people about how we immigrated to America on a boat and landed in Sacramento with four dollars to our name. How our first home in the U.S. was in a trailer park. Or the story of how I achieved my dreams and still am dreaming a bigger dream. But my story does matter and so does yours.

That is why I’m excited to finally, fully share my story and allow it to be told. Here is my story told for the first time in this fashion by Brian Rashid, a motivational speaker, former speechwriter for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and writer for Forbes.

Like Dorothy, my Kansas was Sacramento, California. I, too, didn’t know why, oh why, I couldn’t go to another place – a land far away from some of the bad zip codes where I had to learn to stand tall on my own feet.

Like Dorothy, the yellow brick road is my life’s adventure to lands near and far. My journey has taken me all across the U.S. and to other continents. I was able to do stories, motivational speaking and storytelling workshops across many ponds, the U.K., Ireland, Australia… and, oh, the people I met! The lions who yearned for courage, the scarecrows who thought they didn’t have a brain and the tin men and women who had a bigger heart than they could ever know. I met soul brothers and sisters and together, we continue to rise above the clouds to discover other rainbows.

I believe if we do life right, our relationships, the people we meet – our light, our rainbow shines brighter. The characters in your story help make your life less bumpy. I met some seemingly bad witches who tried to cast societal spells on me. People who tried to make me fall under life’s “safe” category, chasing after big paychecks and larger-than-life job titles.

But instead, I followed my gut and diverged from their road. Brick by brick, experience by experience, the path turned golden. I learned life lessons and made soul connections money couldn’t buy.


The next road I’m choosing? My biggest dream ever – a role that’s authentic to my heart and soul – that of “Inspirator.” It’s a made-up word that I believe means, “One who inspires others to be better and do better for themselves and others.”

Together, let’s skip, do cartwheels and click our heels together so that you, too, can discover your power. That is my American dream – my soul’s dream for me and you.

I hope to meet you along the yellow brick road. Please share your story and the stories of heroes around you.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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