Now and then, I get to meet someone who absolutely inspires me, Quilen Blackwell is that person.
grew up in an affluent neighborhood in Wisconsin, set on the path to go to college and get a good career. But he decided to leave it all to follow his own path, one driven by faith and conviction, one driven by a desire to serve.
His story is filled with ups and downs, trials and tribulations. He ended up homeless at one point, but always driven by this faith, he never gave up. His story is absolutely inspiring. He turned his life around and became a social entrepreneur, now giving back to the very community that helped lift him up. His story and he are absolutely magical. This is a bit of optimism8. Quilen, so good to see you, thanks for joining me.
The reason I wanted to talk to you is I'm kind of in awe of some of the life decisions you've made. To be honest, you made decisions to give back to your community, to live a life of service, which I admire and love. But you have done so with this intense conviction to go and live in the world that you work in, which is not the world that you grew up in.
That's correct. Just give me a little bit of background about how you grew up, where you grew up, and how and why you find yourself where you are today.
Yes, I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. I'm a proud Wisconsin badger. My parents had both really good jobs. I grew up upper middle class. I don't want for anything. I had a very, very good childhood where I am now. I'm in Inglewood on the south side of Chicago. So it's like really the antithesis of what my experience was growing up. But like while I was a child, my dad, he was the first one to really instill in me this idea of community service because I was getting a little too big for my britches as a kid.
You know how it is that pre-teen teenager facing for you and challenge your parents and particularly my dad. I just started, you know, telling them, hey, you know, I'm some hot stuff, so I don't need you. You know, I felt like I was grown before I was grown and he felt like he needs to knock me down a few pegs. And he was like, you know what, Quilen? I think it's time for you to understand that the world is bigger than just you.
So what he did is he actually had me volunteer at a community center where there a lot of refugees from Southeast Asia. So like at that time, you know, there's like a lot of refugees from the Vietnam War. This is like late nineties, early two thousands like me in middle school through the experience, you know, I really began to see that, oh, not everyone has what I have because I just sort of had this assumption as a kid, like most people do, that everyone must be going through what I'm going through.
So I would say, like that was like the first maybe inflection point in my life where I began to realize that I had a pretty privileged upbringing. And then from there, I just sort of got hooked. So, you know, at first my dad intended it to be more of a punishment. But then, like the following summer, I voluntarily said, hey, you know what? I can't go back there because I was like, I had so many good experiences.
I'm like working with these families. I'm hearing their stories and it just really, like, convicted my heart. Oh, there's more to this world than just being this young hot shot. So, yeah, that's pretty much like I would say, like the impetus of what got me on this road. And then from there it's just been pretty much me following my faith. I think I told you before, like I'm a Christian. So that just really just added coals to the fire, really just this conviction that I need to live my life in such a way where I need to give back to mankind and to the world.
So let me take a step back for a second. Can you tell me one of the specific stories that you experienced with the families from Vietnam that you were working with when you were in middle school that really set you on this course?
Yeah, I'm transparent. So hopefully there's no judgment zone, OK, no judgment zone.
So, you know, as a kid, I would say I was like racist against, like immigrants and Asians in particular, because, you know, like Madison at that time was mostly white. My idea of white Americans and culture was more than black, white dynamic. So, you know, when you start having, like, this influx of Southeast Asians, you know, they really don't know their language, their customs. You know, I feel like they are knee jerk reactions, fear.
Right. So one thing I would do as a kid is like there's like a hill that would like to look down on where the center was and be my friends, like, go up there. We'll just like toss rocks at, like, the people there. So, you know, when I was, like, volunteering, I began to get to know these people in one of the kids basically talked about how when those rocks hit and you just say, OK, hey, you know, my family moved here.
They kind of went through the whole explain to me this ordeal of how they had escape of Vietnam. It was like this really hellish experience. They didn't know whether their end up it's not like they were looking at us. They're like a few different options. They didn't know what Wisconsin was enormous and was I mean, they're just trying to save their life. Right. And that just really tough because I'm like here I am throwing rocks into basically assaulting these people who I don't know, they're just human beings like me, you know, they're just looking for a better life.
I would say make me feel bad is probably an understatement. Yeah. It's just a memory that I just don't forget it. It's something where I just thank God that he's given me enough grace to kind of continue live the life I have and really try to do my best to really be understanding and see compassion first. Because I don't know how you're hurting people when you come to hate and prejudice and racism.
Yeah. And so you went back the following year. Yep.
And was that experience more of the same different because clearly you're on a path and there's a momentum here. So I'm interested in what happened the following year. But even how it affected you when you went back to school.
Yes, like the second year. I think because it is more about building the relationships that got established that previous summer, so I felt like that second year we began to relate more on a peer basis because that first year I kind of went in and I kind of came with this idea of like, OK, I'm here to help you. My dads tell me to do this. I didn't really look at it as like, this is something we're going to get that second year.
It became more of like, OK, we're doing this together. And I kind of began to look at it as, hey, these people have something to teach me. So my posture was totally different. And I began to learn a lot about Hmong people and Cambodians and Laotians. Interestingly enough, as I got into high school, I became more accepted in that community playing basketball with of those guys. My first girlfriend was Hmong. I really began to become very immersed in sort of that Southeast Asian community.
The thing I think, like really, Gobbi was just like the love they showed me, knowing some of the acts that I did that I'm not proud of. But the fact that they're willing to forgive me for that and accept me for who I am and really take me in to this day, like I have close friends who are Cambodian and Hmong. So I just look at like man like these people, like really contributed to a part of my life, my personality.
And it's all because I basically took that step outside my comfort zone. Right.
I took that step outside my box, which is, I think, going to be a theme, which is this idea of stepping outside your comfort zone.
I still need to get you to where you are today, which is outside your comfort zone.
Yes, that's 100 percent true. No, I look back on my my journey to where I am today. It's like it's like the little building blocks, right. It's like little things that you didn't necessarily think would lead to somewhere. Like it kind of just built up over time. It just built this momentum where eventually it leads me to where I am today.
So you grew up upper middle class. You had every opportunity afforded to you and now you live in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods and one of the most dangerous cities in the country.
Right. How does that happen? I mean, what happened in between there, but I would say the biggest thing is I had to like really get to a place in my life where I got over myself. Yeah. And this is how I deal that we kind of I hold tightly onto the life that we think we should be living, but it's actually may not be the best path for us. So if you're willing to give that up, then you can basically find a superior life right.
In service and giving it that kind of thing. And I would say the rubber met the road in like twenty eleven just out of the Peace Corps. I was like living with my parents, trying to get acclimated to living in the United States again after I was like in Thailand for two years. And I just really had a quarterlife crisis, to be honest with you. I was just thinking, OK, what am I gonna do with my life?
Right. I began to think like, OK, moving forward, who should I really be trying to help? And particularly where people, right, because up until this point, I've never really lived in a black community like Madsen's mostly white community because of the Peace Corps. I was in Thailand. I was that's Asian. I went to University, Wisconsin, Madison, which is like 90 percent white. So know all this time I really was disconnected from my own people.
I like seeing and hearing about, of course, like the hood and the plight of African-Americans in this country. And I just really felt like, OK, you know what I've been giving of myself to all these other people groups, but what about my own people? Right. And that's really when I began to make a conscious decision that from that day forward, I will be very intentional about reconnecting with my own roots.
Had you experienced racism yourself because you said you you uncomfortably admit that you had racist sensibilities as a young kid, had you experienced racism in these predominantly white neighborhoods, white universities, even going even going to Thailand?
Is that your question? Because. Yes, I mean, go on, because there's an irony to it. Right?
Right. I mean, yes, I have experienced my fair share of racism, particularly in school. And you're right, there is an irony to it that's not lost on me, which I think has softened my heart in a way. I they saw my heart. I mean, like this idea that racism doesn't define you from my perspective. Right. I'd look at it as more of out of your like a disease or whatever else you want to call it.
But it's just something that small can succumb to because of ignorance, because maybe you're not happy with your lot in life. I mean, there's a million reasons why you could succumb to it. And it's not exclusive to just white people. Right? I said I participated in myself. You know, it's very easy these days to really have, like, a chip on your shoulder and focus on the ways you've been hurt, folks, all the ways you've been slighted.
We never really think about the ways you slay other people, the ways we hurt other people. Right. We always want grace and always want to pass on that. And I've been like, you know what that's using me today, despite the fact that I did some things in my life that I'm very ashamed of, I'm not proud of. So who am I to basically say, hey, because you're white and you did X, Y and Z?
To me, I'm a whole that gives you forever. And I know that's a very easy thing for a lot of people to hear, but like, that's a strong conviction for me, that we do need to live our lives in a way where we have grace and forgiveness and understand that like, hey, you know what? Like you don't know people's full story. Like, I guarantee you before you go on this call with me, you didn't know that I threw rocks at Asian kids, you know what I mean?
Like, you never guessed that. And I could have totally got by with this interview without admitting that. Right. But it's just important to me for people understand, like, hey, you know, I'm flawed just like anybody else. But there's a grace that God has for my life and other people so that you can still be used because I feel like there's a whole piece to it that gets lost when you begin to, like, really judge people for their worst moments.
What I find so interesting about your story is this recurring theme of narrative, you know, where we have a narrative of what our lives are supposed to be.
I'm supposed to go to college. I'm supposed to get this kind of job. I'm supposed to live in this neighborhood. And you talked about letting go of that story, right. And letting go of that narrative of what I, quote unquote, should be doing. Right. Based on parental pressure, societal pressure or made up pressure. Right.
And I think we've all had that. We've all found ourselves on a path that we didn't want to be on.
But this is the path I'm supposed to be on and your ability to let go of that narrative, which opened in a whole new set of opportunities and experiences for you. And this idea of narrative that somebody who did an act is I'm going to judge their character based on the act that they performed. Rather than saying maybe they succumb to something because, again, there's a narrative, there's self-loathing or displeasure with my lot in life, or maybe I learned the wrong lessons as a kid, like, you know, there's a long list that would cause someone to act in these what we consider horrible ways.
And the ability for you not only to let go of your own narrative that opened up a whole new path for you, a path of conviction rather than, you know, sort of predestiny, I guess, you know, predestined to live an unhappy life like this.
I did that. And then also your ability to let to recognize that you don't understand somebody else's narrative. Right. To be to to work. And it's not easy to be free of judgment. It's much easier to judge. Yeah, I definitely think like that, definitely created like a great crisis of identity and like really bad crisis, I think started in Thailand. This is my first time overseas. I've never been overseas and my family really been overseas and my whole context have been identified as an African-American within the United States.
So when I went to Thailand, there's totally different. There's more by the national right. So as an American, I'm like top of the totem pole. This so idea of like, who am I? Right. I got good grades in school. I went to college. I'm supposed to get a good job and get married or predetermined narrative that really was foisted upon you. If you think about it, you don't really question it like that. Really kind of gave me a space when I was in Thailand to begin to think about, well, who am I and why did I buy into this narrative?
Is this really who I am? Is this something I really want to be? And that was a very, very difficult process because, you know, you really have to break yourself down at that point in order for you to be able to build yourself up in a way where it's really scary. Because think about the narrative you're talking about is like there's safety in it. Oh, I know who I'm supposed to be. I know the directions to go because everyone else is doing it right.
It's a herd mentality thing. But when you basically decide to buck that trend and now it's like, hey, you have to basically break down who I am inside to build myself up, where am I going to live? What's my job going to look like? Right. So that is the scary part. I made a promise to myself that regardless of whatever path I made, I wasn't going to quit. So I'm going to see this through come hell or high water.
If I ended up homeless, I end up homeless. If I end up flying, I end up flying. But what was more important to me was being true to myself. And I think that more people, if they had that courage, really just face themselves and break themselves down and be honest about that. To build themselves up again, we'll have a much more peaceful and prosperous world.
You're offering something that is damn near impossible to do. I mean, let's break this down. You're proposing to instead of following the predetermined path of quote unquote certainty, even if it leads to your unhappiness, to take a risk to get off that path, to follow your true joy, your true conviction, even if the outcome is homelessness, right?
Yep. Most people will say I'm going to stay on this unhappy, unfulfilled path. All right. I'll take this certainty versus that risk.
Right. So where did the courage come from? I mean, this is basically what you're talking about is an entrepreneurial venture, but with your life.
Yes, that's exactly you know, because when when somebody goes on an entrepreneurial venture, they could become a multimillionaire or they can in a bankrupt or something somewhere in between.
And so you're taking an entrepreneurial risk. But with your life, which is even scarier than an entrepreneurial risk with your career. Right.
And full and full disclosure, I was homeless. I was hungry. I mean, I remember when I first came to Chicago, I basically sold everything that I had. I moved here and was like, hey, look at this is my conviction. I feel like this is what God is asking me to do. And I had nothing. And I say nothing. I mean, literally nothing like my first place. I just had a one month lease in this flooded basement because I only had a couple hundred dollars to my name.
And then after that, I was basically just living on the generosity of other people. And that was both humbling and scary. I like that. Why'd you bring me here to just fail. And yeah, it was it was emotionally distraught because, like, all I knew was comfort. Right. So basically, it's one thing to be poor and to go through that because circumstances, like, forced you to it's another thing for you to voluntarily go through that right into the stick with it.
But once again, I made that commitment that I'm not going to quit. So even though the temptation to basically call my parents at that time and say, hey, I'm struggling, please bail me out, because I had that I had that get out jail card that most people don't have. Right. I could have easily at any moment go back to that life. But I was like, you know what? I'm going to commit myself to this path.
I mean, when I look back on it, I really just think I was curious. That's why I know if I stick this thing out, what's going to happen. Right. And I remember thinking to myself, OK, you know, like in those moments, there are many moments I want to give up, trust me. But in those moments I wanted to give up. I remember thinking to myself, OK, when I'm like old and gray on my deathbed, am I going to look back on my life and have this massive regret that I gave up only a couple of years into a hardship and not really sort of seeing it through and seeing, hey, what would have happened if I stuck it out and just that persistent thought in my head kept me going through those hard days.
You talked about living off the generosity of others. Can you tell me the name of someone who without this person, you probably wouldn't have made it through, you probably would have quit.
So there's this person. Her name's Michelle. Michelle Munoz, Michelle Wilson, who I met at the church that's going to air in Chicago. I didn't know where a total stranger. Right. They know me from Adam, but she saw that I was struggling. I mean, close. The Poles and the whole nine yards, she likes or struck up a conversation with me one day trying to get to know me in my situation, I come to Chicago, that kind of deal.
And when I told her that, OK, yeah, like, I only got a few more days at my place and then after that, I got nowhere to go. She was like, well, hey, you know what? Let me call my sister because I think she may have a room. Maybe you could crash there for a few weeks until you get yourself on your feet. And she did that like, you know, her sister Alina.
Let me stay at her place for a few weeks. And that was a godsend because it did give me, like, a little stability in this chaotic situation. And then when I was able to upgrade to renting a room more than a month to month basis, I still was like having a hard time with food and clothes and that kind deal. So Michelle, like, offered to, like, buy me groceries, like take me to, like, different Puerto Rican restaurants.
But she really was like one of those angels in those early days that kind of came out of nowhere. But she just had uncommon generosity. For whatever reason. I'm even to this day, I don't know what moved her to help me out, but I'm definitely thankful for it.
I think this is so important, which is it's one thing to take the risk. What has to be stressed here is you didn't do this alone, though. You were lonely at times. You didn't do this alone. And your courage wasn't solely internal conviction. But rather, the love of others and the uncommon generosity of others in some way, shape or form fueled your conviction. Is that a is that fair?
Yes, I was. That's a very astute observation because like the thing is, when you have people who show that kind of generosity to you, it's very important. Right. I literally just got done crying to God and crying in my bed where I am. I meet Michel a day or two after that. It was just enough of a spark to keep me going, to make me feel like I didn't make the wrong decision. It make me feel like, you know what?
I can live to fight another day and fight with. You're saying like I'm not in this by myself, that there's other people who are looking at my struggle, who see me and who are willing to help and like, yeah, that's definitely my life is definitely not a solo sport, you know what I mean? There's been many michels along the way. I mean, she just stands out because she came at a time that was very critical to me in the early days, because when you start out for the most part.
I want to underscore what you just said. You said something very profound, which is life is not a solo sport. Yes.
Which is, I think, an incredibly profound thing, because we all think of ourselves as individuals trying to make it in life or make a life for ourselves. But the reality is it's not a solo sport. It's my life. Your life, our lives as individuals is actually a team sport, right?
Yes, exactly. And you know, the thing about that is, don't you never know who's on your team? And, you know, I don't think I was on my team. And then there are people who I thought were on my team who weren't on my team also. So, yeah. And that's where, like, it's just been really cool. We kind of talk about this idea of humanity and people supporting you and then, of course, won't pay it forward.
You know, like that's what really helps me to continue to live the life I'm living because I remember those strangers who helped me along the way. So I'm like, who am I not to help a stranger? Because they helped me out.
I think you may have offered the best definition of faith I've ever heard, which is that you're on a team and you don't know who's on your team. And we talk about certainty. We think that the people who we can rely on will be there for us, but we don't really know until it's tested.
We create this narrative. It's the exact same thought process that is this is the life I have to live. It's this choice of certainty, even though it's really uncertain.
That's the irony. What you traded as one kind of uncertainty for another kind of uncertainty. They're both exactly the same, except one has a narrative which is a fiction and the other one was literally an unknown. Yeah. So you traded a fiction for an unknown. The life you chose is actually the same.
And Faith is accepting that I am on a team and I don't know who my teammates are and the faith that the team will be there to support me, even though I don't know who they are when they're going to show up, which is kind of amazing.
I'm going to steal that, even though I said it. But, you know, now that you've kind of packaged it, that's totally not what I was thinking.
But you're 100 percent correct on that. Yes. Like, faith is literally being on team, but not knowing who's on your team. Yeah, 100 percent true. Yeah.
So I have to ask, there's all this buildup. How did you get to do what you're doing now?
You now grow flowers in the inner city, yes, no one expected to hear that.
Yes, I am the flower man.
So get to how you got to what you're doing now. I'm having a lot of fun. I like talking and the feeling is mutual.
But, yes, once I really started to get established here and really get comfortable with sort of the unknown and I like the accounts that they yes, I basically perceived fictional certainty for this. And and once I got more comfortable with that, then I began to realize, oh, there's a lot of power, right? Like what game? Like who's going to come out the woodwork that's going to open up some door. Who's going to help me out?
You have more freedom, right? Because you don't actually have to force your life to obey the fiction, to obey the preconceived path. Everybody has the same freedom.
But you actually created a mechanism that allowed you to take a step off the fiction and actually appreciate all the opportunities and relationships and generosities that actually were in front of you, ironically, that are actually in front of everyone.
And that's true. You know, and the thing is like what I'm doing, anybody can do, it's literally just like the way you perceive your life. And that's where the power really came from, is I felt liberated for the first time in my life. I'm like, oh, I'm free. I mean, you look on the surface and I didn't look for it because I look broke and I was broke. But mentally and psychologically and emotionally, spiritually, I felt like there was nothing that hindered.
So then when that happens, taking risk becomes a lot easier. Right. So when you talk about how you go from being this like Bumi guy, just kind of barely making it to all of a sudden having this prosperous flower business is essentially because my mindset changed that, hey, I'm just getting to go explore. I'm going to get more curious. And then one day I find myself staring eco house. This is like twenty fourteen because I find myself like tutoring here at a school in Inglewood on the south side.
I get more connected with people in the community. And one of the things that people are saying is, I would like you to know them is, hey, you know what, Kēlen?
If you really want to help jobs, you know, and not just like any jobs, but jobs that are here, here in our community that are accessible, I think that's a thing that a lot of people don't recognize, which is poor people don't need money, poor people jobs.
Yes. I think a lot of people underestimate that jobs is more about just making sure that there's a dignity to creating something that adds value to other people. Yeah, people want to give, you know what I mean? And if you work your job, you work it well, like you're giving you're enhancing your communities.
So what is eco house?
So Eco House is an organization that has a mission of using sustainability to alleviate energy poverty. And we do that by taking over vacant lots and converting them into these off grid, sustainable flower farms that create jobs for at risk young people. So we work with a lot of gangbangers, a lot of kids who are come out the system, a lot of kids who basically are living on the margins or in extreme poverty. But the whole idea is to essentially induce bottom up economic growth in the hood.
So instead of taking these kids and training them to be like computer programmers and trying to export them to work in the West Loop or downtown, the whole idea is to really try to build industry at home. Right in the cultural context that these kids are growing up in. And that really just plays into this idea of affirming the dignity of not just the kids we hire, the kids come to our program, but also the community. Right, because our farms are very visible residential neighborhoods for those of you who aren't familiar with Chicago.
Chicago has tens of thousands of vacant lots. Most of them are concentrated in black communities on the southwest side of the city. So it's not uncommon for you to be driving on the block. And there's like six, seven vacant lots on that block. That's like a few abandoned buildings. Right. And no one really wants to live like that. So we come in and we take all these vacant lots like these beautiful flowers in the summer. It just helps bring back a sense of community pride and beauty back to the community.
And then you sell the flowers to whoever wants them. Yes. Or a social enterprise. So our model is basically we grow on flowers and then we have our own in-house flower shop called Southside Blooms. And then we sell our flowers direct to consumer through our website delivery anywhere in the Chicago area. It's fantastic.
And so the kids who go through your program now, I understand when you talk about eco house, it's a double entendre. It's not the eco of the being, ecological and self-sustaining and off the grid. It's not the ecological of a flower on the life of a plant. You're creating a new ecosystem in the neighborhood.
Exactly. Yes, that's correct. Yes. So now walk me through this ecosystem. So a kid goes through your program, learns the dignity of work and sees the joy of teamwork, creates new. Family, then what? Yeah, so in terms of the ecosystem, so first we have to understand the existing ecosystem because we're really trying to do is displace an inferior ecosystem. Right. So the current ecosystem is you kind of have a kid maybe grow up in a very rough situation, single mom household, for whatever reason, they find themselves being drawn to the street because like street gangs operate as families.
For a lot of the youth that we work with, a corner boy, you're making money. I mean, a little bit of money dealing drugs, that kind of deal. So that's like the current ecosystem, little current way things work. So with eco house, essentially, we try to compete with that by doing a lot of the same things that you see gangs do, just trying to redirect them to a more positive conclusion. Right. Good old fashioned capitalism going to fashion competition.
You have a choice over there or you might have a better choice over here if you're just offering an alternative.
Right. That's very accurate. You know, it is it is like an inverted sense of capitalism.
It's community capitalism. Well, yeah.
I mean, it's true. Like our biggest competition out of the gate, that's who we're competing against is not other flower shop. It's not other non-profits. It's a street gangs. Right. So basically, like looked at like, OK, well, what's appealing in that ecosystem, in that sort of world or that subculture and how we basically recreate that on our farms eco house also started out of my house. So it's very community oriented. So if you were to come to eco house, you'll see my kids, though.
They're around my personal kids. You know, my wife loves to make meals for them. It's a very family, community centric atmosphere. It's not like this sense where, hey, you got work 9:00 to 5:00 and all we care about you is from a vocational standpoint. No, it's a more holistic we care about you as your family, as your your employer, of course, rules. I mean, gangs have rules, too. But there's this idea that you're more than just a widget in a large machine.
Right. And then like so much of the game is like we're right here in the block. So our farms are right in the community. So there's kids who literally live across the street from where they work. They get up, roll out bit at like nine fifty five a.m. They got to be at work at 10:00 and they're right there just like any other job.
These are still like 19, 20 year olds. Some things some things never change. And the other thing too is like the guillotines. But we tell them on day one, our goal isn't to get rid of you're not performing, so you're fired and we're forever done with you. So a lot of our kids, like even if you're underperforming, reduced hours, you're not being scheduled as often, maybe get demoted to our K through 12 youth program for a while or we try to find some other resources to help you out, because as you can imagine, a lot of these kids are coming from some very traumatic situation.
So there's a lot of trauma that we have to work through with a lot of these young adults. But the whole idea is like they understand that this is a place that can come to for help, to make money, to be a part of my community, to kind of open up and talk about my problems. It operates similar to gangs because that's the kind of stuff that happens in the game.
What is your success rate? Not financially, not as a business, but what is the success you have that the people who go through your program stay with it, that they don't go back to the competition, they don't go back to the gang?
At this point, I would say we're probably around 70 to 75 percent of retention and it's improved over the years. So essentially what? Well, basically what we found is like the more we can develop and refine the business aspect of our organization, the better of a draw it is for the kids we're working with. Part of the reason why we are putting so much time and energy and resources into selling our flowers. Right. Because ultimately, that's the hook.
It's the same thing for the game. Right.
You have become that unknown, generous spirit in the lives of these boys and girls, these young men and women. You have become the unknown team member. I think in some way, shape or form. You're teaching them faith. I never thought about it like that. Hold on. I'm just digesting what you just said. But, yeah, that's there's there's a lot truth to that.
There are people who who didn't realize they had a choice. They didn't realize there was another path other than the fiction that they were following. And through an uncommon act of generosity from an ostensible stranger, they find themselves with more choice and more opportunity than they realized they had. Which is exactly your story.
Yes. I mean, the reason I'm kind of pausing is because it's kind of like hitting home a little bit of like, oh, wow. Like a weird sort of way, me going through all those trials and going through, like, my own story to get to this point was so that I could do what I'm doing today. Know, I never really thought about that. It's almost like, you know, you had to kind of go through this rough road and experience, say all this uncommon generosity for you to then become generous yourself in a weird way.
And so I was just like coming full circle. I just never connected it like that before. And it's emotional. Yeah, I hope that's the impact I'm having on these kids. You know, the way people who come into my life at strategic points really help me out and give me a chance when I didn't deserve a chance. Yeah, I hope that's how they feel. And maybe that is how they feel they keep coming back. Yeah, it's very humbling to think about that.
Have you sort of seen in your sort development of personal professional where there's been a team of strangers that have helped you out along your path 100 percent?
Of course, I struggle to take credit for my own career because I think that's madness. Clearly, I played a part, but only a small part. The people who many of whom I didn't know, who heard me or read my stuff and shared it with someone, gave it to someone, invited me back. I was not a part of any of those conversations, without a doubt. People who gave me opportunity out of the blue, people gave me constructive advice when I didn't want to hear it and no one else was giving it to me.
There were tons of strangers, some of whom I've become friends with. By the way, those friendships are really deep, loving friendships because the thing that connected us was an act of generosity when we were strangers. Right.
So let me sum up what I think I've learned today. And first of all, I have to say this. You are magical and you have a contagious laugh. You are just magic. And you have taught me so much today. I have learned about the fact that life is uncertain. Any certainty. We think we have some predestined path based on where we're from or the life we're supposed to live is entirely a work of fiction.
And to choose a path of conviction, to choose a path of passion has as much uncertainty as the fiction that we thought we were on.
It was a false sense of certainty. And so why not choose the path of passion and conviction? I've learned from you that life is not a solo sport and the team is a large group of people, many of whom we don't even know who our team is, who's on our team. And I find that actually very relaxing, actually very calming, to be honest.
This belief that my team is there, even if I can't see them, it actually makes me feel a lot safer that I'm not doing this alone. And the more we put ourselves out there, the team will show up. But if we hide, the team doesn't know where we are. Right. You went to church as opposed to staying in the basement? Yes. You showed up. You gave the team the opportunity to serve you. And the other thing I learned is how funny life is, how much of an ecosystem our lives are, you know, you have all these definitions of ecosystem and what you're doing now is basically your origin story.
You know, you were a seed. Now you've grown and now you're replanting the seeds that you grew from. And by the way, that should be for all of us.
Yes. Yes, 100 percent.
And if we all keep planting the seeds that we came from before you know it, we're living in a beautiful garden filled with color and bees and birds. And life is bright and colorful and beautiful. If we all just remember to keep planting our seeds and not eating our CNN, getting depressed, you know.
And on that note, yeah.
Thanks so much for taking the time. I can't tell you how grateful I am. Oh, yeah. Totally appreciate your assignment. So fun. If you enjoyed this podcast and if you'd like to hear more, please subscribe wherever you like to listen to podcasts. Until then, take care of yourself. Take care of each other.