I'm in the desert, scantily clad and a beautiful piece of cloth wrapped around me, adorned in jewels and bindis. Now, mind you, this isn't my usual attire. You'd usually find me in a business suit, walking into offices of CEOs as a management consultant, giving them advice on what to do. But this isn't any desert. It's Burning Man. And it's the first night of my first burn, and I've lost my friends. And I'm in this world of strangers and lights who are practicing these rules of radical self-expressionism and radical acceptance.
And in that place, I'm just lost with how at home I feel. And I feel this urge, both a physical urge and an emotional urge, to push the edge. You see, I had to pee, but I don't wanna go and find a bathroom and leave this behind. I'm almost wondering if this is a place for radical self-acceptance. "I should just pee right here." And I begin to think, What if someone points at me or tackles me, or the cops come out, or a helicopter comes out with a spotlight on me. And I begin to think, I wanna know how much me can I be here, and still be accepted. So I pull over a little piece of this loin cloth that I'm wearing, raise my hands up to the air, yell out a loud scream and just begin to pee right there in the middle of the playa.
And courage was born inside me again. You see, I lost my courage very early in life. You can say it was yelled and beaten out of me by my parents. You can say it was strangled out of me by cultural expectations, religion, and society. You can say it was washed from me slowly from eighteen years of school. And I found myself as an adult without much courage, living a very mediocre life. Of course, it didn't look that way to others. I had a beautiful high-paying six-figure job and a condo in downtown that was part of the Parade of Homes and my dream car. And everyone said, "You're doing it," but I knew it was mediocre. I had also succumbed so much to being the good boy, to doing all of the things that lacked courage, that I had actually taken a vow of celibacy blocking out those things which today I use so much—love, connection, pleasure, bliss—all so I could be the perfect virgin husband for my perfect virgin wife that my family would arrange a perfect marriage for me to be in.
But it didn't turn out that way. I'm in bed in a room in the dark with a naked man beside me. And in this moment, I'm feeling more free than I've ever felt before. And I feel so much energy moving through me, through the room, through us, and something comes over me. You see, I met Corey in Cleveland, Ohio. He's a twenty-two-year-old white boy from Texas that I met on a night out with my coworkers at work who wanted to go out to the gay bars. And I said, "Sure, let's do it." And at first, I didn't think much of him, but as the night went on, something happened that I felt this deep desire to take care of this man. Maybe be taken care of by him as well, but to love him and to just be there for him.
And inextricably, not knowing what was pulling me, I found myself knocking on his door to borrow a drill just so I can hang out with him. And over time, our connection got deeper and deeper. We began spending so much of our time together. We even began traveling together, and it was in Peru where everything came to a head, and he said to me, "Jaymin, I want you to be my boyfriend."I could just feel the looming dooming feeling of judgment and finger-pointing and all of this. I don't know. Ugh. It's too much to think about. But another part of me felt really brave, and some courage lit up, and I felt more alive in me than ever before. And without worrying about what this meant about me and who I was or what all this is, I just said yes to him. And so we're here in bed in the dark, laying together. And before I can even think fully, some of the most truest words I've ever said just fall outta my mouth into this dark void. And I say to him, "I love you, man." And in this timelessness, I heard a voice come back from the other side of the universe, and from within me, and from his mouth all simultaneously saying, "I love you too, dude."
And I felt more free and alive in that moment. You could feel the courage break apart all the walls around my heart that held me back to all the things I wanted most. And in this brave moment, I let it all in, and it changed my life. I've had many choice points throughout my beautiful life that I'm so grateful for, which have asked me to be courageous. I left my corporate job and started to become an entrepreneur that led me to incredible success beyond anything that I could imagine for myself. I had the courage to marry the woman of my dreams, even though it meant my mom not talking to me for five years and never meeting her grandchildren. It gave me the courage to show up when my second son was being born in an emergency situation where no one could get to us, and we couldn't get to anyone. And I had to look at my wife and just say, "Baby, push," and catch this baby as it came into this world. It gave me the courage to leave behind everything that was keeping me in mediocre shackles and come here to Bali, halfway around the world, where I live with my wife and my kids and our dog. And we live courageously every day.
I can't imagine a life without courage because of these moments that have cultivated the courage inside me even though it was my normal for so long. I can't imagine a life that I'm living that other people think is great, but I know is mediocre. After cultivating this courage inside and committing to living it every day, I can only live a life that is fully lived. A life where I allow miracles to happen every day, and I have the courage and the audacity to believe that everything is possible.
There's a knock on the window. Joshua, the tallest boy in my class, comes through it. First, his long blond hair followed by a Metallica T-shirt, ripped jeans, and combat boots. He's late. And if he comes in through the main entrance, he'll get detention. The thing is, he didn't oversleep. He works an early newspaper round to financially support his family. We all know it. And it's actually the teacher that opened the window for him because what he and I understand is that the rules are made up. Some other teachers—they don't get this.
And I often verbally disagree with how they run things. You know, I'm not the quiet type. "Sandra, another zero." My German teacher would crinkle her nose when giving me back a vocabulary test. You see, I inherited my mother's wicked way with words and my father's wicked brain, but somehow their desire for education escaped me entirely. I was bored.
I'm eight years old—in more pain than I've ever been in. My mother wasn't home. She was working late at a convention. My dad is lying on a couch with me. He's holding my head. He's crying. "Please give me your pain. Please give me your pain." The thing is, I've got an ear infection, but he's too drunk to get up and get me ear drops.
I'm seventeen and in the final year of high school. Even though it is a school night, all my closest friends are sitting on this huge circular couch that my mother and I picked out together. We talk about what teacher made a stupid joke and who's crushing on who. No one really wants to talk about what happened earlier that day.
Earlier that day, I'm sitting in the second to last row in a nondescript classroom. You know, the row where the average troublemaker usually sits. The door opens, and the head of my department walks in. He looks straight at me, and I laugh a little guiltily because what happened was I skipped some classes the week before. He and I, we had this fantastic system. I would write a note pretending it was my mom's saying that I was sick. He would accept my note and pretend to believe me. He asked me to follow him into the hallway. And I think Uh oh, I've been to the dentist one too many times this year. Instead, in the hallway, my mother is there. "Your father passed away earlier this morning," she says.
I'm six years old, and I'm learning to write. And it turns out I'm ambidextrous. I sit on my dad's knee in his tiny home office. It still smells like the cigar he just finished smoking. "Daddy," I say to him. "I can learn to write with my right hand or my left. Just like you." He swallows and looks at me solemnly. "When I was in the orphanage, they would hit my left hand with a ruler every single day because I couldn't write with the right hand."
After high school, I enroll in the Bachelor of Economics. Now I really wanted to study something way more unemployable and interesting. But after my parents got divorced, the once or twice my dad and I spoke, we could only talk about school. And I remember telling him, "Dad, I'm doing actually pretty well in economics." And he joked how I would end up as a fancy business lady in an expensive SUV instead of a muddy 4x4 that he would prefer. So when my mother suggested maybe I study something useful first, that's exactly what I did.
It's the first Monday of university. I am ready for a fresh start. A place where no one knows who I am and where I can be anyone other than the girl whose dad just died. However, after three days of math classes, I am utterly befuddled. "Why would anyone want to learn math that has both the regular alphabet and the Greek alphabet mixed in?" We're in the kitchen. My mom's on one side of the dining table, and I'm on the other. By then, I am so angry. Tears are coming down my face, and I'm screaming. "I don't get it. This was supposed to be fun. It's just math." She takes a deep breath and sniffs back at me. "So quit. I don't want you living in my house if you're gonna be like this."
It's the second Monday of university. I'm in a small room with only forty students. A small lady is in the front. She's got this ramrod straight spine and short dark hair. There's gray in it and pain in her eyes. She's lecturing under the early beginnings of Judaism. And she carries the history of her people with her every single day. For the very first time in my life, I'm starting to think that maybe I'm not the smartest person in the room after all.
You know, there's this thing that students always need more of, and I'm sure you can guess it's money. So what happens is I end up working in the Amsterdam airport and, if you've worked in hospitality, you know about this, we don't have clients or customers. No, we have guests. I'm not sure what kind of guests would leave their croissant crumbs all over your house and yell at you when their flight is delayed. It's more like feeding an army of angry two-year-olds.
And in this job, my female managers—they don't like me much. I don't know. Young, pretty, smart-mouthed—not everyone's cup of tea. Clang! I'm in the back slicing tomatoes. The cute dishwasher tells me about his weekend, and I'm relieved to be away from our guests. There's three managers huddled behind a computer. My favorite male manager speaks. "We need to order Mountain Dew." The nicest female manager that stole three bar shifts from me the week before after we had a disagreement speaks next. "Um, Mountain Dew. Do you spell that with M O U or M A U?" That's when I decide I never want to work for someone who's dumber than me ever again.
It's 23rd August 2017. By then, I've finished seven years of university. I'm officially an engineer. I've helped neuroscientists figure out where God lives in the brain. I've done research about tourism in India. I've presented on people going on pilgrimages to Elvis Presley's house. Surprisingly, I can't find a job. So what happens is that I enroll as an entrepreneur at the Chamber of Commerce.
For the first time in my life, I feel like my dad and I have something in common after all. You see, when he was sober, he was working, building, selling, inventing, tinkering. And actually, by the time I was nine, our family home was paid off. And it's this thing where we share maybe a hunger to decide what we do with our time. A hunger that did not have to listen to what anyone else wants for us and a desire to get paid for the stuff our brain comes out with. I'm utterly clueless as to what I'm doing. And although my dad would've known nothing about online marketing, for the first time in my life, I miss him. And I wanna tell him, "Dad, even though I didn't end up writing with my left hand after that little speech of yours, maybe we're the same—you and I.
It's 27th February 2021. And in the past three and a half years, I've signed clients, and I've lost clients. I've left friends behind, and I found a new family here. I've messed up more than I can count, but I've also done really well for myself. Most days, I still have no clue what I'm doing, but I do know this. No one else chose my life for me.
You see, I love words. Words are powerful. And sometimes you hear some words from some friends and they will stay with you for quite a long time. Like these three words a friend shared with me, "Revealing is healing."
So today, I would like to reveal to you the story of how I began my journey into this life. And to be quite honest with you, everything I'm gonna tell you I wish I didn't tell you, but I'm gonna do it. When I was six years old, I'm starting to journey into life and into school. I'm just like every other boy of my age except I've a strange name, my hair is very red, and I've got many freckles on my skin. No big deal, but I'm also the only one like this in the school. And one day in the playground, a group of boys come and they stand all around me. There are many, and I'm alone. And they start to scream at me some very intelligent stuff like "Carrot hair, carrot hair, you've got rusty skin." I'm six years old. The only thing I get is that I'm scared. They continue. And one comes and pushes me, and I'm falling. They are laughing, and I'm crying on the floor. To be honest, I hated it.
So imagine this on repeat over many years quite a few times. I had to learn to live with this fear looking down. And I never know when the next treatment of humiliation would come around. At some point, I told myself that I need to talk about it and ask for help. So who's the first person you talk to? Your mother. "Mum, at school, there are boys. They always make fun of me. They call me names all the time, and they hurt me. Mom, please do something. Help me." "Listen, it's nothing. It's just words. They won't kill you. Get over it, okay, and stop it." Now you see those words—they felt like they were killing me. I felt unseen, and unmet, and unworthy. And I get it. My mother—she's a schoolteacher. And the only thing that matters to her is the good grades. And I can do that quite well but for the rest. The shaming, the humiliating, the bullying "doesn't matter" means to me I do not matter.
So, as you can imagine, I had a poor level of self-esteem as I grew up, and I had to live like that because life goes on. So me and my good grades, we had a mission—destination; find a job. And eventually, I did. I ended up working and as an executive in a bank, and it's not exactly the dream job. I'm working far too much, and I'm burning out. My dad passed away, and my girlfriend at the time had a great idea. She disappeared overnight. Not happy. I'm depressed.
One day I'm waking up, and everything feels blurry. My mind is foggy. I can't make sense of anything. And I can't recognize where I am. All I hear is beep beep beep, beep beep. Somebody comes. This man is a nurse, and he tells me, "You're in hospital, in the intensive care unit. You had a bad accident. You cannot move for the moment. Be patient. We're taking care of you." I don't understand. All I know is that I'm in this bed, and my body's plugged to many machines, and there's many pipes in my body, and I can't move.
I'm just waking up from a coma that lasted fourteen days. And I'm on my way to the third of three surgeries—long, complex, and major surgeries. So days go by in this intensive care unit. And eventually, with time, things got a bit better, and I'm taken to a patient room, and one day a doctor comes, and he tells me, "We think that you intended to end your life when you drove that car into a tree." "What are you talking about?" I have zero memory of anything. Zero. But there's one thing I get is that to him, there's something wrong with me and I'm trouble.
And again, here I am filled with shame and guilt. To be honest, I felt crap. And I start to understand that they have a plan for my life—a plan that I don't like—and I start to feel the trap. And there's no way I'm gonna let myself go there. So a few months later, as soon as I could, I found myself a place somewhere, anywhere. And I got myself out of hospital, and I left behind all the medical programs. I'm twenty-nine. I'm rather crippled. I'm alone, and I'm scared for my life. But I know I have to do something. I have to fix myself. And I have no idea how I'm gonna do that.
Eventually, at some point, I managed to pick myself up, and one step at a time, day after day, I got there, and it wasn't like I go from there to there, more like this. I had to bring myself back up many times, and I received some very mysterious help along the way. And I learned a lot. So I embarked on this journey of self-healing and bodywork. And eventually, I got there. I spent the last seventeen years trying to fix this body so it can be functional. And this is now part of my daily life. And it will always be. And I kind of like it like that, in fact. But what happened to the other part of me? What happened to this scared boy, the part of me that was keeping me hiding, taking no risk, and playing little in life?
I realized that instead of walking towards life, I was walking away from life. So I still had to fix that part. And something had to happen. Early this year, as I'm enjoying my morning routine, not the one you're thinking of—the French one, coffee, croissant in a café—I meet a very inspiring person, and I feel extremely motivated when she talks to me about her upcoming course starting in two days. Something inside feels this is right for me. So within five minutes of knowing her, I said, "Deal. Please sign me in. I'm coming." And I'm excited. I'm gonna start a course learning to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time—if not all of my life.
So we are halfway into the training and my initial excitement changed a bit to slightly uncomfortable, embarrassment, and fear. I think I've made a mistake. This wasn't for me. I don't have what it takes. And naturally, I opened up to the teacher about it, and she listened. She said, "I get it. Why don't you go home and watch a few more videos of other students who did the course and try to find inspiration? See if it works for you. And we'll see how it goes from there." Sounded like a good idea.
So I go home that night and get on my laptop and get online. I watch one video after the other, one video after the other. And as I'm watching, I can see there's one thing in me that says, "Oh yeah, me too. I'm gonna do that." And there's another part of me who says, "No way. I don't have what it takes. There's no chance I'm gonna do that." So you see, that night I'm split, and I can't sleep. I'm anxious, and I'm nervous, and I don't know what's going on. I'm in my bed. I'm tossing and turning, tossing and turning. And I'm trying to figure out what is this all about?
And in the middle of this tossing and turning, I start to have flashbacks and some vague memories. And I start to connect the dots. I'm afraid that I can die from shame and humiliation. It's all about my initial trauma of public humiliation in school. That night there's a frightening monster just came out of the dark, and I'm scared. So at this point, I have two options. I go for it, and I face it. Or I quit. I resign, and I give up, which will feel like I'm driving my car into the tree one more time. And also, I would have to tell everybody, and I would have to face the shame of telling them one more time. And that's not me. That's the old me.
So I consider that. "Trust me, trust the process. Use the framework I'm giving you, and you'll be just fine. Do as I tell you. Trust me. I know my stuff." Those were the words that we heard at the beginning of the training from our coach. And it sounded doable, and it sounded easy. So I had to remind myself of those words, but also of my intention that I had taken many years ago to transform myself and to overcome the hurdles that were in my way—my own limiting beliefs. So I took a firm decision that I'm gonna go for it. And eventually, with the practice with the team, I crafted my story. Not one time. God knows how many times I repeated over and over again. And I got there. I mean, I got here. I got here, and I didn't come here alone. I brought with me a six-year-old child.
And me speaking in front of you here is him beating the beast from the past and taming the ghosts. When I was a child, I loved any kind of superhero. We do that, right? But I thought about it many, many times until I understood that it was just because I wanted to be like one of them—out of my wound of feeling unworthy, inadequate, or not enough. So I met a superhero, and he's six years old, and I know where he lives. You see, life has extremely mysterious ways and powerful ways to make whole again that which was once broken.
And my mom was right. These words didn't kill me. Though they nearly did. And my friend was right that "Revealing is healing," but I found something else. That "Healing is also revealing." Let me explain. My journey of healing myself has revealed to me my strengths within my weaknesses. My termination within my fears. My capacities within my doubts and my beauty within my vulnerability and my many scars. Now, I am no different. I know that all of you, all of you here tonight, without exception, you all have many scars of many types, and they're beautiful. They make you beautiful. They can reveal your inner gems, your inner treasures, which I hope you'd see for yourself. But more importantly, they do not define who you are. Our scars do not define who we are because it's up to us to choose how we're gonna write the story. And in life, a real story never has an ending. It only has new beginnings.
So my new story goes like this. I'm forty-five, and I'm a lucky man living on the gorgeous island of Bali surrounded by amazing inspirational people. I'm coming back, and I'm ready. I've got two powerful and amazing friends that will be always there for my life. Fear—hello, fear. Vulnerability—hello, vulnerability. With these two guys, I'm walking towards my life, and I'm willing to welcome what's coming my way. I know I might have to pick myself back up again more than one time because that's life. And I know also I will. My beautiful heart is now open and willing to share more of it. I'm ready. And now if you were to ask me, "How do I know I'm ready? How do we know when we are ready?" I think I would simply tell you that I was born ready for my life.
I'm five years old. And I find myself wearing my first suit. It was a matching replica of what my dad was wearing. Just think classic Men in Black. We were in Las Vegas at one of the most iconic hotels in the entire world—the MGM Grand—at my father's company convention. While holding my dad's hand, walking through the casino, we saw it. Lit in bright lights, surrounded by people with their film roll cameras taking photos. As we got closer, my grip got tighter, and there it was—the grand prize that the casino was advertising—one million dollars in $20 bills in stacks of $10,000. Now gripping my dad's hand with all my might to get his attention. In his face, I can see the excitement that we shared. Smiling, I said next, "Dad, I'm gonna be a millionaire."
Once we made it back home to the Boogie Down Bronx in New York City, where I was born and grew up, I started sharing my excitement of becoming rich without having a clue what that would entail. My excitement got so bad that my mom one day snapped at me and said, "Look, boy, shut up."
After this experience, I felt it was no longer safe to express. I isolated myself. I couldn't relate to others. They just weren't interested in talking about the same things that made this heart beat a little bit faster, that consumed this mind day and night. You see, while the other kids were sitting up straight doing what they were told and getting high out of getting good grades, I was daydreaming. I was doodling. I was masterminding in my mind what I deemed to be a compelling future. When I got home from school while my sisters were doing homework, I was listening to my dad's personal development and business tapes in Spanish. Over the years, hundreds of them. What resonated about these tapes and what fueled my drive was that everyone that I listened to shared how they were just like me, often misunderstood, misfits, rebels, troublemakers, the ones who saw the world differently and who weren't fond of rules.
Thanks to this habit and others that were later developed, before my nineteenth birthday, I made my first $100,000. Before my twenty-second birthday, I had broken the sales record at one of the most iconic brands in the entire world. Before my twenty-fifth birthday, I had helped my clients generate tens and tens of millions of dollars.
And I was miserable. In fact, the moment I knew it was after leading a two-day, all-day and night business seminar, which I call a top lion, for over two hundred people who had traveled from all around the country to be there. It was the fifth time in a series that was supposed to be hundreds all around the country for thousands of entrepreneurs. And because it wasn't New York City this time, I invited my family cos I wanted them to share this experience with me.
After two full days, it was the closing ceremony. And I asked everyone to stand in a massive circle around this grand ballroom with beautiful chandeliers. And I asked who would be willing to share what the last two days were like for them. Person after person after person said, "This experience changed my life. My life will never be the same. I've been to every event under the sun and this by far was the best." After everyone shared what they got out of this training, I looked at my dad, who was standing by the entrance of the ballroom to my right, and I see tears falling down his cheeks. In his eyes, I saw what I can only describe as proud. And I imagine if I can hear his inner dialogue, it would've said something like, "That's my boy."
In that moment, I felt something I lost when I was nine years old. As I arrived home from school, out was walking my father suitcase and bags in hand. I knew. I immediately dropped my book bag and ran to my dad with all my might, and I dropped to my knees, and I grabbed my father's legs. As I looked into his eyes as I was crying, I said, "Pa, please don't go." I knew my parents were going through a hard time, but none of us expected this. My mother grabbed me, and without saying a word, he walked out. I blamed myself for my parents' divorce.
And now here we were in this grand ballroom with tears falling down his cheeks. I finally felt I did it. Everything I ever wanted to do with my existence to make my father proud, to have him witness me having done it—the materialization of that moment we shared when I was just five years old. I felt the tears coming before I stopped them. And in that moment, an undeniable feeling of truth arose inside of me. And it was that I had been living my life to get my dad's love, to get my dad to come back.
Every action surgically taken to show him that I am worthy, to show him that I am significant. And in that moment, I can clearly see that none of it mattered to me at all. And this was confirmed when I woke up the next day, feeling my entire body sore in every part of my body from giving my heart and soul on that stage for over thirty hours over the course of two days. And I remember the first thought that arose in my mind, and it was Now what? Now what? I had just done everything I thought I ever wanted to do with my existence. And I felt nothing.
That's when I knew I couldn't do it anymore. That was the last time I facilitated that training. One week later, I find myself on a plane to a tiny island in Thailand. This is me walking away from it all. Everything felt like it was crumbling, including my identity and who I thought I was. I had to get away. Maybe this is how my dad felt when he walked away from me, my mother, and my three sisters. My experience in Thailand only intensified things. I literally could not focus and do basic tasks that my business required to thrive.
I became a person I did not recognize and found myself in a love affair that broke me open in ways I now see were necessary but were so painful. One day I'm sitting at a busy cafe attempting to get some work done that my team had been waiting on for weeks. And it started to rain. And when it started to rain in walked this couple and they see two empty seats positioned directly in front of me and they say, "Can I sit?" Then the next words outta this guy's mouth whose name I would later find out was Chris was, "It looks like you're working on something important." "You could say that." And just like that, we went on to have a beautiful conversation.
Now when I say we went on to have a beautiful conversation, what I mean is we spent all the time talking about me, which is something I would only realize much, much later. And somewhere in that conversation, I asked, "What's your story? What do you do?" I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of, "I help people who are ready to wake up wake up." Looking at the clueless look on my face, he went on and said, "Basically, it's the next step from where you are now." Now I was very intrigued. I asked him to tell me more. "Well, it's hard to explain, man. It's really something you have to have a direct experience of to understand. If you feel called, I can give you an introduction section." "I feel called. How do we connect?" And we exchanged contacts, and I walked out.
The longer I stayed on the island, the more lost I felt. During a sunset walk on the beach, I remember hearing my inner voice say, "You need help. You need help." And in that moment, I remembered what Chris said. "When you're ready, just get in touch."
Now I was ready. And what Chris put me through next, I cannot put into words. What I experienced that day was the beginning of discovering who I would be if my father was dead. I was confronted with questions I could no longer ignore. Who am I beyond my father's approval? What might I discover about myself? What would life demand of me? And how generous would I be with my one wild and precious life? What Chris started to teach me that day was a very simple practice to take total responsibility for my inner world. To let go of what no longer serves me by relaxing into my heart's truth, no matter what, no matter what over and over and over again, especially when I don't feel like it. Whenever I was lost in my mind wrestling with my ego to find the comfortable place to rest, Chris would have me repeat a simple mantra, which was, "I don't know. I don't know anything."
Sitting there in the unknown. Empty with no desire to fix, prove, protect, fight, or even blame. That's when a drive infinitely more powerful than any other force I've ever experienced in my life arose. It whispered into my mind a question. "Do you or do you not want to know what's beyond yourself?" "Yes. Yes, I do." Now in life's infinite wisdom, she met me by showing me where my limits were, where my openness and presence stopped, where I was seeking certainty and significance rather than growth and contribution. Going through this was the hardest thing I've ever gone through my entire life. It was an ego's death, but I leaned into it despite the uncertainty of it all. And the more I did, through how I showed up moment to moment in my life, the more life showed me it's not about me.
It revealed to me how, when I get out of the way, my presence can impact the web of life and my existence matters by itself. And how to the proportion I hold this presence, I can experience what it's like to feel free from the chains of suffering and how when I'm free of suffering, I can contribute to breaking down the walls of separation between myself, others, and how others relate to their mission— to create a more connected humanity and world through my God-given gifts, which is a whole new way to do business and build brands that matter for generations to come. Because what's business about at the end of the day? Is it about validating our own egos, or is it about creating a dream come true result for those we have the privilege to serve?
After this realization, I wanted nothing to do with this stage until I knew it would be different. Until my clarity of purpose was so abundantly clear that it radiated out my presence so intensely that it could not be ignored. Until it was no longer about feeding this monster called my ego, which I created to meet my need for certainty and significance. Until I cared more about what the universe wanted from me than feeling safe in this fragile heart.
Well, now here I am. Here I am. Was it easy? No. In full transparency, it still isn't at times. I had to give up the safety of the illusion of control, which means I had to master the terrifying act of being vulnerable—the one thing I wanted to avoid since I was five because it wasn't safe. To be different and to be generous. Shutdown after shutdown after shutdown. Rejection after rejection after rejection.
It never felt safe to be me. And let me be clear. I don't want it to come across as if I have it all figured out or that everything always works out because it doesn't, but life is not here to be lived perfectly. It's here to be lived generously. And to me, what that means is what I give while I'm here matters. This is not a belief or a knowing. Through experience, it is my truth as I've seen the miracles. So here's my generous invitation to all of you. If you're anything like me, and you too know you're here to be generous with your existence and a vessel for other people's growth in some way, some shape, or some form, I say, let's do that. Let's not let our past or our current awareness of what's possible limit how generous we can be with our existence.
I believe part of our destiny is to align and lean into the vastness of our future, especially when our mind says, "That's not a good idea!" But you know. You know. It's step by step, experience by experience, to become the person you've always wished to be. To get out of the way and let life be generous through you.
My name is Pedro, and I believe in the power of being generous.
I'm twelve years old. I'm on the school bus I ride to and from school every day—that big yellow bus with the double-seater seats with the little kids in the front and the big kids in the back. Well, today I'm in the middle of the bus. I'm talking to all my friends, having our usual banter bouncing up and down. And I hear a voice. Tanner Johnson. Ugh, your standard school bully. Well, Tanner yells from the back of the bus as loud as he possibly can for everyone on the bus to hear right at me, "You are a brown cow." Brown cow—attacking everything that's different about me.
You see, I'm your star child. I get straight A's. The teachers love me. I don't wanna stand out for any reason. I'm already the tall girl with big curly hair, dark skin, dark eyes. I've got the middle Eastern nose. I don't wanna stand out. In that moment, I flashback to years ago.
I'm six years old. We're at the Calgary Stampede, this big citywide event. We're in this crowded room, shoulder to shoulder. And with my family, we shuffle onto this escalator, and this woman turns around and tells my parents to go back where they came from. And as slowly as the escalator is moving down to the floor below, this feeling of sadness moves up and wraps me up. And this knot that had never existed before has now formed in my stomach. I don't remember what my dad said in that moment, but I know that he stood up for us. And I also remember that my heart broke, and I never wanted to feel this shame or sadness again. And so, this belief that I had to fit in to survive was solidified.
You see, my parents came to Canada in 1982 as refugees from their home country of Iran. At the time the newly formed government was persecuting my family and thousands of other families who were members of the Baha'i faith. The newly formed government was giving them two choices, recant your faith or face prison, and oftentimes even death. And so my parents chose to give up everything that was familiar to them, including their own family, and leave to find a life that was better for their children. My parents sacrificed everything to seek out opportunity, security, and acceptance. And the sacrifice that they made has informed every single decision that I have made in my life.
I'm back on the bus. And I remember the courage that my dad had in that moment. I take a deep breath like I'm breathing in the courage that my parents had when they were forced to leave their home and leave everything that was familiar to find a new life. And I look Tanner right in the eyes, and I yell as loud as I can, "At least brown cows make chocolate milk."
It was that moment that my warrior spirit was sparked because I knew that what I had to say in that moment was bigger than just standing up for me. It was about standing up for every kid on that bus that was different—to tell them that their differences have value. And to tell me that I don't have to be ashamed. The impact that I had on that bus and everyone around me was unforgettable. And I knew it was because I showed up as my authentic self. Being a member of the Baha'i community, I grew up with this tight-knit community. It was awesome, but I also had formed some really strong beliefs. And I had drawn some really deep lines in the sand. If you were this, you were good. And if you were that you were bad.
And when I was twenty-one, I finally moved out on my own to go to university. But that meant that I had to leave that community that I was so familiar with and comfortable with. Now I'm in this new city, and I have to make new friends. And all of a sudden, these people aren't fitting into the boxes that I had once created. I'm meeting people who are gay, straight, bisexual, non-drinkers, drinkers, weed smokers, weed-growers, weed trimmers, doctors, yogis, teachers, artists, cultural creators, and some who are all of the above. And unexpectedly, they're all inspiring me to be my best self which is incredible and eye-opening and heart-opening. And also really scary because that meant that I had to reidentify the way I saw myself moving through this world with this new understanding and this new empathetic heart. The world went from being easily black and white to completely gray. And I was scared, and I felt like I was being a traitor, particularly to my parents and this community that loved me so deeply because they also brought so many incredible things into my life.
And so I retreated. I needed time to understand and figure it all out. Well, what did that look like? I stopped meditating. I stopped praying. I stopped reflecting. I was drowning in sadness. The guilt was overwhelming.
And then one day I'm sitting in my room alone, and I look over at my nightstand, and there's this Baha'i book of meditations that I used to read from daily, and something was calling me that it was time to pick up the book. So I reach over, and I open it. And this is what I read. "The more difficulties one sees in the world, the more perfect one becomes. The more you plow and dig the ground, the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree, the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding it, the better it cuts. And therefore, the more sorrows one sees, the more perfect one becomes."
In reading these words, I realize that the pain of this past year wasn't for nothing. I am the earth being plowed. I am the gold and the fire becoming more and more pure. I am the steel being sharpened. I started reading these words every morning, and every night I would breathe these words so that every cell in my body could feel these words because they reminded me that you don't have to be afraid. You don't have to be afraid of pain or confusion. It wasn't all wrong. I was coming out stronger. I was forging my new own path. I wasn't being a traitor. In fact, I was just being really honest with myself.
And the biggest thing that I realize is you don't have to forget your past to grow. In fact, it's the foundation that you are growing upon. The values that I grew up with are still within me and play a role in my life because nothing in life is a mistake. Looking back, the twelve-year-old me could have been quiet on the bus, and I didn't have to follow my heart. And I would've still been of service today, but I know it wouldn't have been with the same impact. And most importantly, the feeling of righteousness that I have in my bones. And it feels so good to know that this is my truth. The path of creative service is not dissimilar from the one named in the Baha'i meditation. It's not always an easy one, but the more I am willing to plow, the more I am willing to have my branches cut and to face the grind, the more powerful and impactful it becomes. I need me. Not the condition me. Not the one trying to impress, not the one feeling unworthy. I just need me. I need the authentic me to shine through. And that's why I'm here today to share my authentic truth with you.
February 20th, 2016. I'll never forget this date. I'm at the Vancouver International Airport, and I just got my ticket stamped. I'm feeling hopeful. I'm about to start my life over. I'm getting out. I'm leaving Vancouver. I'm moving to Bali. I'm starting over, starting fresh. It's my full reset.
See, for the last eight years, I had been getting sucked deeper and deeper into organized crime. I grew up in the area. It was normal, but I wasn't that type of guy. I was fucking my life up. And if I didn't get out then, I wasn't gonna make it out. I could feel it coming. I was with my girlfriend, Leah, at the time. We were making it out.
I got onto that passenger bridge, you know, that little weird walkway to get to the plane. And what I saw floored me. It was six border security agents and a police dog. What they saw? An inked out brown boy with a Louis Vuitton T-shirt, diamond earrings, and a Ferragamo man purse with a hot bombshell girlfriend. They looked right at me into my soul and said, "You. Come over here. We've got some questions for you." And I was like, Oh shit. You see, I was way too high to handle this situation.
My best friend gave me a bottle of THC weed oil to have a pleasant trip. And I took way too much by accident. He said, "Where are you going?" And I was like, "Ahhh, Bali?” I could barely speak English. He goes, "Okay. How long are you going for?" Meanwhile, while he was asking me questions, I was surrounded by the agents. And one of the agents was poking my pockets so the dog could sniff them. So I was trying to answer questions head-on with this dog sniffing in my pockets behind me. And I looked and was high as fuck.
So he goes, "How long are you going for?" And I'm like, "Uhh, two, three months." He goes, "How do you not know how long you're leaving for?" I was like, "Well . . ." He's like, "Are you running away from something?" I was, yeah, absolutely. See, for the last three months, I thought I was under investigation. Things were hot for me. I needed to leave. I was paranoid. I was freaking out, and I thought he could see right through me. I was bombing the situation, and he could smell fear. And I don't know what that dog could smell, but I had drugs on me. See, I was a drug-addicted drug dealer. This was the lowest moment of my life. I was addicted to opiates. I had eight oxycotton in my man purse right there. I had a bottle of methadone in my carry-on luggage.
I was going to Bali. I was getting clean. I was done, but I needed enough to get me to that detox center. I'd be sick on the plane if I didn't have it. I was, Can that dog smell this stuff? I don't know. But this guy said, "You're acting suspicious. Let's go to secondary questioning." We're going away from the plane now, off that little passenger plane, back into the terminal. And I'm like, Fuck, this is it. They're not gonna let you leave. This is a sting. This is where your worst fear is. You're done, buddy. You're going to jail. You're not passing Go.
So I get to that airport terminal, and that East Van punk kid in me, he was like, Take it like a man, bro. Don't look like a bitch in front of your girlfriend. So I go to that security agent and I go, "Look, man, if this is just for me, let's get this over with," as tough as I could. He looked back at me, and he is like, "Why would you say that? This is a routine check." They pulled over somebody else right beside me. I was like Fuck! Leah's like, "Shut the fuck up. You're ruining the situation." And I was. This other guy was some forty-year-old Vietnamese-looking dude, kind of sketchy looking. So he goes, "If I was to pull your suitcase, what would I find?" And I'm like, "Uhh, clothes." What he would find was more oxycotton and a set of fake identification that I used to rent work spots with. Add fraud to the charges, I would cop right then and there.
He reaches out for his walkie-talkie. He's gonna pull my suitcase off. Fuck! I see him reaching for it. If that suitcase comes off that plane, I'm fucked. I'm going to jail. I'm done. I'm not making that flight. No Eat, Prey, Love for me. Just as he is about to punch the numbers, I hear, "Fuck you! You're taking my liberty." The Vietnamese guy's freaking out. The entire airport stops and looks—international departures lounge of Vancouver airport. What the fuck? It's me—sketchy-looking brown guy. Sketchy-looking Vietnamese guy. Hot bombshell girlfriend, six border security agents, dog barking. "Sir, are you threatening me?" says the agent. The Vietnamese guy goes, "Fuuuck yooou!" I'm Damn!
The agent that's dealing with us is looking at the situation. This guy gets pounced on by the other cops. The other one's pulling back the dog. He's resisting arrest. The agent dealing with me is trying to figure out what to do. It is a scene. I'm there. "Hey man, we're just trying to go to Bali. Can you let us go?" The agent looks at me, looks at the scuffle in the corner. Looks at me. He goes, "Okay, go."
I get back on that passenger bridge. I look at Leah. She's like, "Shut the fuck up and get on that plane." I'm like, "Yes, ma'am." I'm walking back to that plane. The entire stewardess crew is waiting for us at the door. We are the last ones on the flight. Everyone on the plane is seated, ready to go. And what they heard outside was, "Fuck you. You're taking my liberty. Are you threatening me? Fuck you." A dog barking. I walk in.
The stewardess takes my ticket. My hand's trembling as I come in. She's like, "Yeah, 84 F all the way to the back in the middle." Fuck. I have to go past everyone looking at me. Holy shit, what the fuck just happened? I have to ask a little old lady to get outta my way cos I'm in the middle. I sit down. She looks at me. "What happened?" I'm like, "No, no, don't, not right now."
Waiting for that flight to take off was an eternity. Finally, we lift off. I'm sitting there having a panic attack in that seat. As soon as I hear ding from the seatbelt sign, I rushed to that bathroom. Locked the door behind me. And that's when I had a come to God moment. I almost didn't make it. I almost didn't get here. I was laughing and crying at the same time in a little airplane toilet. I couldn't process the emotions. I almost didn't get this life. I almost didn't get that second chance. I remember I made a promise right then and there on that toilet seat. It was a serious moment!
Fighting back tears and laughing, I went to thank the universe. This was divine intervention. This was guardian angels. This was something special that just came down and was like, "You're almost not gonna get it. Here you go." And I had to honor that. I had to thank that moment. "Okay. I get it. I promise I'm gonna be good. I promise I'll make a difference. I promise I'll help others. I promise." Right then and there, I'm gonna make a difference. Just I didn't really know how. I grew up in East Van around thugs. I didn't know what to do. How do I be a good guy?
So I spent the next ten months using that addictive personality I had to personal development, spiritual journeying. I did everything possible I could think of to try to get spiritual. I did the yoga teacher trainings. I did the tantra trainings. I did the meditation retreats. I danced ecstatically, really awkwardly. I did the cacao ceremonies, the plant medicines, the mushrooms. I did all sorts of weird spiritual things the guys in my hood would've kicked my ass for.
I traveled. I went through all over Southeast Asia, and I found myself in this random Bhutanese Himalayan Vajrayana Buddhism Conference, surrounded by monks. And I still had my Louis Vuitton T-shirt on and the same diamond earrings. I lost them now, thankfully.
I was at this conference, and I was still outta place. I locked eyes with a guy across the room. He wasn't really a guy. He was someone special. He had long salt and pepper hair. He wore a white robe. He had big Rudraksha beads. He looked like he could fly. I walked over to him. I sat in his presence, and it was different. He was radiating love. I felt so comfortable around him. He was an Indian guru known as Guruji. And when I connected with him, things shifted. He invited me back to his ashram in India and, when a guru invites you to his ashram, you go.
So I rock up at this ashram a few months later. It was a powerful time for me—around a bunch of other yogis. And one of the days, the staff had the day off, and Guruji asked us who could come with him to go buy vegetables. I was like, "Yo, me." I push all the yogis outta my way. “I'm going with Guruji. He picked me.” I was like, "Fuck yeah. Just, yeah. I mean, Namaste." Chill. So we get outside. Guruji has a car. I'm like, Guruji has a car? What did I expect? A carpet or something? I don't know. So we get into his car, and I'm in a fucking white compact car with a guru driving through the streets of India, watching him drive like, Yo Guruji just shifted gears. Guruji just used the turn signal. Guruji just merged into traffic. I was watching a spiritual dude do normal people things. That was cool.
We get to this Indian market, and it was hectic. Like ten thousand people, ducks, dogs, chickens, pigs, cows. It was a lot. When I got there, I saw how he acted and how I acted. See, in between dodging piles of cow shit and trying not to lose Guruji in this crowd, I had the most spiritual moment I ever had. See, the way that he rolled and the way that I rolled were different. His presence was that of love and compassion. It was radiating on everyone around him. And I had presence. I had intuition, but it was from the dope game. I was constantly surveying the area around me. Where are the exits? Who's behind me? I'd never have my back towards an entrance. I'd constantly be sizing everybody up. You a threat? You trying to rob me? What are you? A cop?
And it was tough. I was filled with anxiety. I was never safe. I didn't trust anybody. He was love. It was as if he floated through the crowd. He was buying cucumbers with love. He was buying eggplants with love. He bought oranges with love. Seeing him do normal people things with this presence, that was spirituality to me. That was the shift. Okay. That's what I want. Yeah. I want to be bringing that energy to people. See, I still had the paranoia in me. I still had the fear in me. I had left the dope game, but the dope game didn't leave me.
And it was from that moment I started to shift, and I asked him in his little white car on the way back to the ashram, "How are you so peaceful? How do you manage that? How do you have that presence? And he said, "Love." Okay. Okay. I thought about that for a while. Okay. What does that mean? I was still wrestling with so much from back in the past. And I realized, from then on, I had to bring that love to it. I was fighting demons within me that whole time. And when I brought that love within myself, into my own demons, into the shadows, things shifted. I was able to start creating again. I was able to start doing but from a place of love—loving my shadows, loving the parts of me I hated. From then on, I was able to create four businesses in four years. Start giving. It was a big part of me that just wanted to give. It was cos I found love and peace with myself. 'Cause behind all that fear, that paranoia, that wanting to take, when you send love to it, you end up just wanting to give.
So now I was coaching people how to integrate these shadows, but I'm still a hustler. I'm creating hustlers. But now we hustle with heart. See, loving my own demons and doing that work—that's what shifted for me. Our greatest faults, our deepest shadows, our darkest demons can become our greatest allies. The worst things that ever happen to us can be our greatest gifts. I'd be so embarrassed and ashamed to tell all of you that I was an addict until I integrated that. And it became one of my superpowers. If I didn't do that, if I didn't have an airplane toilet breakdown, I wouldn't be here on this stage with this presence, bringing you my love.
So I'm sat there. I roll another joint, even though I'm already brain-dead from the four Tramadol that I had for lunch. My company's falling apart, and I barely slept for the last few months. I haven't been able to pay any of my staff for the second time over the last three months. Some of these staff are my friends. They're people that are close to me. I'm feeling crushed by the feeling of failure that's overcoming me. The first time this happened, I assured them that I was more than capable of dealing with the situation. I felt like I had it under control. The second time this happened, it was abundantly clear that it wasn't something I had under control, nor was I able to stick to any of my promises.
My mind's still buzzing. And I'm sat perfectly still underneath the heat of a 400 watt light with sweat dribbling off the end of my nose. The twelve five-foot-tall cannabis plants that are sat in my garage needed some water, and I needed the fucking money from them. It wasn't a good spot to be. I wasn't happy where I was. I also wasn't looking forward to returning back into the house. I took out my phone. I looked at the time. It was close to 10:00 p.m. I managed to ignore all the unread WhatsApp messages that just represented more and more problems going on in my life. I had no desire to walk back into that house at that moment. I would actually rather have stayed in that sweaty, horrible little tent rather than go back into that house and listen to my girlfriend tell me what a useless man I'd become.
Despite that pain that I was going through, I slowly picked myself up. I finished the watering process and started slowly trekking my way back into the house while smoking the joint, obviously. As I entered the house, I'm greeted by exactly what I expected. The not-so-patient girlfriend was there, ready to have what was clearly World War III, possibly World War 1,003, by this point. And I knew exactly what to expect. I knew exactly what to go through. It was the exact same argument every single time. Had different variations, of course, but there was the same essence.
"You always put your business before me. I'm not a priority." I know. "You're selfish. You're a narcissist." That I also believe I know. (Thanks guys.) I was getting dramatic then. "You need to close that call center. It's a toxic environment. It's not doing you any good whatsoever." This one was a little bit more difficult to accept. I wasn't as clear on this one. The reason being is I was so scared of failure. My ego was so kicked up around this subject. I was so scared of failing in that business. It was so attached to my identity that I absolutely refused to accept that one even though there might have been a shred of truth in it. We've all probably been in that spot.
So this time is a little bit different. The argument begins. I'm not even hearing any of the words. I'm in a really still place. And then, all of a sudden, I become overcome with a different type of emotion. I start to feel a wrenching feeling in my stomach that starts to double me over. I start to feel tears well up in my eyes. I couldn't even remember the last time that I'd actually cried. This whole sensation was totally alien to me. I was sat there thinking Men don't cry. This isn't what I should be doing. I don't understand.
As I sat there with pain coursing through my body—I had my face in my hands—the last remnants of my ego was dripping through my fingers. And I was sat there just feeling like a scared, upset little boy. It was in that moment that I realized one really, really simple fact. I fucking hated the person that I'd become. I fucking hated myself at that moment in time—everything that I was doing, everything that I was a part of. I'd spent months and months trying to pour buckets out of the sinking ship that I'd been trying to ride that were full of false hope, lies, empty promises.
I'd spent years and years trying to acquire things at the expense of people, trying to be the man when ironically, what I'd actually achieved was being further from being the man that I wanted to be every single day.
I went from being a coke dealer to running call centers. And it was a really interesting transition. I decided that I wanted to get out of the coke game. And initially, I thought it was because it was the right thing to do. What I quickly realized is it was all for self-serving gain—the narcissism kicking back in again for sure. I realized what was happening. And I tried going into call centers. I got into the coke game because I was interested in money, power, and status. I then moved to the call center game because I was interested in money, power, and status. The strange thing was when I was involved in the coke game, the people that were buying things off me, they really fucking wanted the coke. Like there was no two ways about it. They wanted it. Nice and simple. In the call center game, I very much doubt that the older and vulnerable people that we were selling dodgy insurance products to really needed what it was that we were offering, especially when the products that we were offering were pretty much the same price that you would pay for a new TV or a new fridge.
It was in that moment that I kind of realized that legality is not synonymous with morality. And when I sat there in that moment without any of the shiny badges of honor that I had—all of these things that I thought made me successful—all I was left with was myself. I'd spent twenty-eight years chasing after things that really didn't fucking matter, chasing after things that I didn't even like. I was in a really horrible place. I felt broken. I felt lost. But the only thing that was different in this particular moment is that I felt a certain level of hope, and that little piece of hope came from a space of understanding.
I knew who I was. Don't get me wrong, I was not happy with who I was, but I was aware of where I was at. So I had a starting point. Just having that starting point to me was a little glimpse of hope. The fact that I was in the place that I was in, that I felt the way that I did, meant that I wanted to be somebody completely different. And this gave me a choice. It gave me a different option. It allowed me to choose people over things. It allowed me to go into a position where I could empower rather than have power over. This simple, simple thing allowed me to start creating the world that I want to and become a person I actually respect.
I'm about four years old. I remember that time. My grandfather woke me up very early every morning, and he'd tell me, "Gede, go and wash your face. We will go soon." After everything is ready, he took the equipment he had—hand knife, dirty rice bag. That was all our equipment every morning. We were going to the jungle and the rice field after that. He leaned down and told me, "Gede, jump on." As a four-year-old kid, he always put me on his back. Sometimes he put me on his shoulders to make me comfortable. As a kid, that's the only dream that kid has. We went into the jungle, played in the mud, played in the water. But that's not how the story will begin.
Along the way, we passed many other farmers—young farmers and old farmers. Along the way, my grandfather always told me stories of his life, how he lived, how he struggled to keep the family alive with hard work—physical work. And at that time, I really wanted to know the purpose of him telling me these things. It seems like he wanted to tell me very early. He said I wouldn't always be on his back. And "Life will not be easy for you soon when you grow." And I realized quickly, too, that I will not always be there on his shoulder or on his back. I saw many people working and working at the age of seven years old, eight years old. I know I will be there soon doing those things. And the reason why my grandfather always told me about life, about being strong physically, about working with the hands, about putting everything on the head and being responsible for your family.
Time flies so quickly. When I was six to seven years old, all changed. All things turned to me then. Seems like what I'd imagined a few years ago happened very soon. I saw myself needing to wake up every morning. So I realized something very important—why my grandfather always woke me up so early. He wanted to train me to not always depend on people to wake me up. So I got used to waking up every morning so early, taking my hand knife, taking my rice bag. Exactly the same as he did.
So as a kid, I went to primary school, and every kid had a bicycle. I asked for the same to my father and my grandfather. The way they treat me is so different. "Gede, you will have that, but you need to do something. I will give you one cow to take care of. And then one day, when you keep and take care and treat this cow well, you can make this cow fat, and we will sell it. And some part will be used to buy your bicycle." So us kids were motivated, fully motivated every time, every morning before going to school—not going too far from home because we are living in the forest in the countryside of our village.
So there's so many sources of cow food we can get. I got that cow food, gave the cow food, gave the cow a drink. Of course, speaking a little bit with the cow! I said, "Cow, grow quickly so I can ride my bike by your sacrifice. So now you are my boss because I'm sacrificing my time every morning for you. And one day I will sell you to get my bike, so I can go to school with it and save my uniform. So I don't use my feet and wear out my shoes because the time is coming." I have just one hour or forty-five minutes to get the food.
You know why I must go that early in the morning? Because when I'm back from school, I'm not doing the same as many other kids in my village. There are two parts to the village. There is the center. And then the outside of the village or the countryside. I'm not one of the kids who lives in the center with a parent who can provide everything because tourism has come since the 1960s to our historical village. So I'm living behind the door, born from a low-class farmer. So that's how it goes.
After I'm back from school, I need to take off my uniform very quickly. My mom says, "Gede, you know where your father's working?" "No. Where, Mom?" "In the corner of the village, two kilometers from here. Change your clothes. Run. Help your dad." I even didn't get lunch. You know what my father's job is? He's Spiderman.
He's a coconut climber and harvester since a very early age, like me in my story. Every day of his life, he climbs many coconut trees on people's land and property. Drops the coconuts. And then my role is after school I bring some food for him. We have lunch together there. And then the new story begins. So my role is to collect all the coconuts he drops with his friend from the trees. Picking them up one by one and then putting them in a place where he orders. The job is not done yet. The place where we harvest the coconuts is almost three or four kilometers inside the jungle. And then in my village, there were no highways as we were an old village. So they parked four kilometers away. And then the next job is to collect those coconuts and carry them to the truck.
Don't be shocked, guys. Now you realize why I'm not tall like you guys. I got pinched a lot by coconut grass in my head and on my shoulders. So night comes. In that time, I wasn't sleeping with my parents. Our house has a very small space, and we don't have so much room. We have several rooms and a kitchen with a fire stove, still using a wood fire. And it burns every night to keep us warm. I was sleeping with my grandfather in the kitchen. So we took the coffee wood every afternoon and burned it, as coffee wood gives constant fire and warmth for the room. And then, every night before we slept, he always put his right hand on my forehead and started the story to forget the big day we had—all the work we'd done. So he always told me about how to struggle in life, how to keep my spirits up, how to keep motivated. "Look straight, find what you want to reach in life."
But in the same time, I always said to my grandfather, "I'm a young and small kid, seven years old to eight years old. I'm a normal kid." I'd compare myself to every other kid in the village. Some other kids had good bicycles. When they went back home, they played with marbles. They played other things. They played what we call Tactic or they used sticks made from wood. I'd ask my grandfather, "Why are you forcing me to work? Why are my parents forcing me to work?" I know that it's with a good purpose. But you know how he replied? He holds me by my forehead strongly, and he said, "Gede, don't blame anybody for what you feel now. Don't regret any of it and how life treats you hard today. It will impact you in your future. Maybe you are not as lucky as other kids today not having what they have got easily. You're doing hard work since an early age. And that will have a very good impact. You are the one who will carry on this family in the right way. You will be strong in your knees and carry all the problems of this family on your back. And you are the one who will be changing the family situation in the future."
And that same conversation day by day, every night the same. When I'm complaining those words are coming. Until one day, I stopped complaining and just did it because I know that they're coming every time. And I know that's for the good of me. He always said, "Life is a mystery. When I'm gone, you will grow. And you will realize and say thanks when I'm in heaven." That he always said, every time we went to sleep.
Time flies. 2011. I graduated from the Vocational School of Tourism—amazing for a kid living somewhere with no phone, nothing. Just playing with the cow, speaking with the cow every day.
Sometimes I met my friend just for a few minutes before my grandfather called me. "Gede, take a shower in the river. Don't speak with your friend. We have something to do."
So I had all those plans in my mind of how to escape from this situation and change my family life. By going to Denpasar. You know, it's not the USA. It's not Europe. But it was a big thing for me at that time. So I say, 'Denpasar.' It's my European version. You know why? Because the kids living in the forest, in the countryside of the village, in the same situation as me were thinking of going to Denpasar because it's the capital where all the money is, where all the hotels are, where we can get sources of living to change our family life. But new things are coming. I'm facing two big problems. How to go. And my mom's permission.
Normally other parents will say, go, but in this case, I'm Balinese, and I don't have a brother or sister in this family. So I'm the only young guy. I have a cousin, but he married early and never went to school. Actually, he stopped going to school. So I am the one who graduated well in that time. And my mom always said, "There are so many fields to work in the village. Why do you need to go to Denpasar? There are so many people can get jobs around here. Why you need to go there?" I know the reason why my mom said those things. Not to hold me from going or stopping me from escaping from this village. She wanted me to stay with her. She had a big fear. That the only one son she has, who will be responsible for the family, will leave her and maybe a fear of the city because she never went. She was uneducated.
And she was thinking I would lose my way in friendship. Maybe take drugs or have to get married early because of a mistake with a woman. That often happens now in Bali. But I said to my mom, "This is my dream. I want to chase my dream, changing our family situation." And then suddenly, a few days later, I get a call from my friend Made, which changed all the story. He called me in the morning. "Gede, you still want to go to Denpasar?" I said, "What?" "I will go in two days. Are you in?" Okay. Now the real challenge is coming. What I needed to say. And I said to Made, "I will use my gentle voice with her. I will go." And I said to Made immediately, "Yes, I will go."
Stepping up to my mom's room, she sits in conversation with my dad. And I said, "Sorry, I'm interrupting. Mom, this is gonna be the last conversation we have about this argument. A friend called me, and I need to go to Denpasar in two days. All the papers required, all my clothes are ready. I will go." My mom looked me in tears, and she said, "Okay, I cannot hold you back anymore. If that's your dream, as long as you can keep yourself safe, you can go."
And the tears story is coming. Everybody knows we are coming from the low-class of farmers, but the good thing is we are really good in family relations. I didn't have money to help my friend to buy the petrol. So my mom took her small savings from her candy box to give to me. My auntie gave money to me. My uncle came giving some money. And then my grandfather gave me some money. And the one who's strong and the tough guy in the family, my dad, which I never expected. He was crying. Yes. He always treated me hard, like, "Gede, don't let that go. Take that, do that." But in that time, he's crying. In that moment everybody gave me a big responsibility by giving that money. And I believe in their mind, "This guy will change the family and give that money back in a different amount."
I carry that responsibility as I have all the basics; I'm strong after working, have good shoulders to carry any problem. A top childhood taught me to be strong in my personality, strong in mentality and physically, to hold any problem, to carry any problem.
Finally, we went to Denpasar. Lively. Not that friendly yet. For a jungle kid, it's not easy to get a job in the city. We needed a connection, someone we knew. Trying from one hotel to the other hotel. The power of patience. They refused in many places. And I said, "No problem, Made. We will try." Made always complained like, "Oh Gede. This is so hard. Let's go back to the village." "Wait, we sacrificed so much to come here. We had so many arguments before we came here." And then one day a friend called me, another friend. "Gede, there is a big company opening recruitment for employees." And I said, "Where?" I wrote by hand and brought my papers.
Then Quiksilver, in collaboration with Savrical Bali, built a big store in Nusa Dua and hired me in the warehouse for three months. I worked so hard, and a new recruitment came for a sales promotion boy. I'm climbing. I got that position. I worked so hard. And I got a quick promotion from my boss, but life is still a mystery. Four years seven months, or almost five years. After all those feelings I get in the city, I feel this is my life. I got friends. I got money. I paid off debts of my mom's from the lender by sending money every month. But June 2015, everything began. I think this is the reason why my mom never liked me going to Denpasar. I got a call from my dad. My mom had a big problem with her health.
And I'm the only one guy. Like he said, I will be responsible. Like my grandfather said, I will be responsible for the family. In that time, I'm facing the biggest decision of my life. What do I need to do now? I'm happy with my life in the city. You can imagine for a young kid who went from jumping to seeing clubs, many women from other regions. I did not see them a lot in my jungle. Honestly! I saw so many Australian girls. I was even working with them. Listen to my language. You can imagine where I could find them in my jungle!
So this is a big problem at that time. These are the people I love most is the problem. There is no other woman I love more than my mom with all that she sacrificed for me. I need five months to think. I don't sleep well. My work capacity is going down. My boss asked me "What happened, Gede?" I said, "My mom is sick. I love my job, but I love my mom." So finally, with the support of my friends, they said, "Anytime you want to come back, the door of this store is always open." So I decided to go back to my mom. And then I imagined since I've been in the city, I needed to prepare myself to go back to that jungle, but that's not hard for me. It will not be so hard. That's where I began my childhood.
I went back to the village. Everybody looked at me with my new Quiksilver T-shirt, Ripco shorts, Havaianas sandals. And you know what? Some Balinese joke with us when we're back from Denpasar. "Hey, boss, when you go back?" "No, I'm not going back. I will stay. My mom is sick." The first week was so hard. What to do? I'm here. All my skills don't work here. I tried to find a job nearby. That's still hard. Everybody's got the same problem as me.
So one day I'm standing in the big door to the village when a guy from Holland approached me. His name is Harold. "Hey, young man. Can you tell me what is behind this door? I see just a jungle. Is it a cemetery?" "No, that's where I live. If you think that's a cemetery, I'm a zombie. "You wanna come in to check?" "Yeah, I'm interested. I want to see." I said to him, "You will like this place. The center is just eight hectares, and the rest is nine hundred hectares, sir. We have rice fields. We have people weaving. We have people making baskets." And in that time, he told me, "You are doing a good explanation, and you have such good English. Where did you learn?" "I practice. I never did a course or anything. Even listening to something in bed is so hard." So I said to him, "What do you think?" "You can do something with it if, as you say, you don't have job." So this is what my grandfather said. Life is a mystery.
So I started thinking about what Harold said and then created something, which I'm still doing today. So I built a trekking activity which explains all the history of my village, which is the oldest village in Bali. It exists since the eighth century, and then a new mystery appears. So the trek I'm using is the one I used to hold the coconuts, to bring grass on my head for my cow. I'm using that same track today for trekking.
So since I was a kid, my grandfather always said, "Life is a mystery. We never know what will happen." So whatever I've done as a kid, I can use for something in the future. So for the trek, normally I'm climbing, I'm working hard, with a heavy weight on my head. Now I'm using it to earn something. I even teach some of the young community to do the same trekking as me, and then we do it. I train them to do the same to earn money, train them in English, build their confidence. And we can do it. We are not just kids in the jungle. We can do something.
I'm therefore beekeeping with my cousin in the jungle, which I'm doing today as the next story. And then something happened really big for myself. I was elected to be the Youth Community Leader in my banjar because of all my ideas—everything. I'm not proud of myself for that, but the people are proud with what I'm doing. So I said to them, "I'm not leading you. We will share the direction, how to do everything. I am not a leader who gives you orders. Let's find direction together."
So we created something. We created trekking activities speaking a lot about the equality between the outsider and the original who lives in the center. Not all people like me, honestly, because I speak a lot about that. I'm really happy with this thing going well. The honey is going well. I'm helping my cousin with marketing to people that start to come to the jungle, tasting our honey, buying our honey, doing basket workshops, got enough hours coming. And then we never imagined that would come, this big, epic story. For Bali. Everybody in this room knows we got a big hit. We hang on and depend a lot on tourism. I cannot lie about that. So at that moment, I start thinking again. What to do?
A few weeks later, my friend from Canada—her name is Suzanne—she often comes to Bali and really loves Bali and been to my bee farm, which I'm developing with my cousin, calls me. Life is a mystery. She tells me, "Gede, I remember your honey has a medication purpose and an old historical Balinese medication with a natural base. Why don't you join with the things I'm creating together with my beautiful friend, Colin, with my inspiring friend, Made, and Steve—Stephen McCluff. And then I said, "Yes, I will join in with your purpose."
I went back to my ancestors' village nearby Slove of Monagune, where my grandfather originally came from. Every time I go back there to pray in ceremonies, I see so many people have these hives, these black beehives. So I said to Suzanne, "Yes, I will be involved in this Togetherness Project with the spirit of togetherness and make an income sustain an income for my community in this village and my ancestors' village.
I went to Ubud to speak with Steve and Colin and brought some product and put this beautiful stuff in Bags of Hope. The coffee from the north, the recycled bag from North Gianyar. There are some herbs from my friend Futu. They are beautiful weavings—the process of which had been laying down for twenty-five years and woke up because of COVID-19. So we are in the same team with the spirit of togetherness.
And then, after a few months working, this thing goes well. Many people came to support and remembered all about our purpose. So this is what I say. Life is full of mystery. We never know when we are doing something hard in the past, it can create something beautiful for our future and supply strong knees, a strong back to hold everything, to show to people that we can.
I can feel a togetherness spirit in this room. You are very kind to have me here, and I hope this pandemic will pass soon, and we will meet in a different situation—in a good situation. Let's keep the spirit of togetherness, and let's spread it. Hold each other's hand. The solution is there. Life is good when we are together. Thank you so much. I'm Gede.
Thank you. Thank you for letting me see you, the deeper imperfect, perfect parts of you, not just the paradigms of the world you were born into. And I gotta say it takes my breath away. And sometimes we speak because we have nothing to say. No words needed, though, because presence is your essence. And essence is your beauty—the only kind of beauty capable of bringing a warrior like me down to his knees.
For as long as I can remember, the way that I got love from my mother was when I got good grades. You know, the problem was that I rarely did. In my best year, I was a C+ student. It wasn't that I was dumb or uninterested. It's just that no one took the time to acknowledge that I was different. You know, not like the other kids who sat up straight, did what they were told, and got a kick out of getting gold stars. And it was all good until I turned nine.
Then my elementary school, P.S. 211 on the east side of the Bronx, the boogie down Bronx in New York city, started sending home progress reports, basically saying that I was failing. I don't know what got into my mother that night. She must've been contemplating it the whole way home. She stormed into my room with her leather belt and then proceeded to beat me. And she threatened me if I didn't get my act together. And she pleaded me to be more like my sisters Taisha and Clarabelle, the ones who were everything I wasn't. You get beat one time, two times, three times you cry. I cried. You get beat ten times, twenty times, fifty times you learn to block out the pain. Cry? What's that? I got beat a few hundred times. When that happens, you learn to laugh. You learn to build an amor that says, “YOU CAN’T HURT ME.” My mom saw this. So she just started beating me with the metal part of the belt. I cried. It hurt like hell until it didn't. Now, the boy isn't a boy—the boy is a man. And I would be lying if I were here to say that it still doesn't hurt like hell.
So God, tell me what's real. Tell me what's fake. Why is everything about you a fricking debate? What's the point of love? Because every time I've shown it, it's only brought me pain.
Right after I dropped out of college . . . (College? That was my father's idea). . . I wanted to be a marketer, a storyteller who changed the lives of people through products that I believed in - business being my vehicle. I have my dad to blame for this. When I returned back home from university, one of the first places I went was to visit my cousin. Historically, a safe place for me to be me. It's also where my aunt and my uncle lived. Moments after finding out that I dropped out of college, my aunt looked me directly in the eyes and said, "You'll never be anybody without a college degree." I immediately laughed because I thought she may be right.
So God, tell me what’s wrong. Tell me how to feel.
One day, I kid you not, I walked out of my house where I was living on the beach, and I go for a walk. While on the walk, I see my outrageously beautiful German girlfriend with long blonde hair in the darkest corner of the beach, cuddling another man, stroking his chest so gently. And I would be lying if I didn't say I wish it was me. I heard they were dance partners. She said it was nothing. I found out months later she cheated on me.
So my God, tell me if you’re real, why do I hurt? Why is there pain? Why does everything good always have to fade? I hope it’s cool I’m being real with you. I just want to let you in. My God, I’m calling. Are you listening?
Dear Pedro, my child, I'll keep this brief. You need gratitude. Maybe just a sample. There's reasons for my actions, even if I never showed you. I remember when you were five years old and proclaimed to me that you wanted to be free, that you wanted to be a vessel for me. So I gave you the grace of not one or two but three motorbike accidents that left you with permanent tattoos, left you crippled for weeks at a time, so you can contemplate who are you. I gifted you chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain. My son, did you really think that these were coincidences?
How insignificant that these moments that you were having a hard time surrendering to now become. Can you remember how that changed some things? How grateful and present and resilient you magically became? My son, do you need me to go on? I can do this all day. Just look at your hands. Three crooked fingers. All the times your hips and knees will lock up for no apparent reason. The too many toe bangs to count, the headaches, the migraines, the heartbreaks, the toxic thoughts, the two emergency surgeries, the asthma, and random blackouts growing up that left you hospitalized for weeks at a time, divinely orchestrated to help you live into your destiny and allowing the infinite wisdom you already have inside of you to pour, pour, pour out of you into a limitless cup of pure potential. Pedro, it's time you woke up. My son, I know you're confused, so why don't you take a seat and let me pray for you.
My prayer is that you live your life in such alignment that at any moment, you can hear the words that you have a week left to live, and you would not do anything differently because you are already full. It's why I keep taking things away from you that you think you need to show you where you're not free, to show you where you're not capable to lead. So my son, when I make things hard for you, just know this is me celebrating you. Stop wishing things were easier. Wish you were better. Let the moment take you to a level of depth that you've never been. You are growing from this experience of life if you choose, and to quote Napoleon, "Death is nothing, but to live defeated is to die daily."
My child, my prayer is that you bring a sense of alignment into your world that is bar none. That you be the exception. And if things keep coming into your life that are outside of your control, just know I'm giving you a gift. You are growing at a different level of depth than most people will ever go in their life so that you, you could be the person who leads. And I'll let you in on a little known secret. You can't take people to places you've never been. So go and penetrate the world, my son, with all you have to give and allow it to penetrate you back at your deepest core of being because you are so beautiful and you are complete, and you are the beggar you meet on the street and you are inclined to be. And I pray to God that you will be free because I want you to run and feel the grass on your feet. Hi, my name is Pedro and I'm waking up.