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Embrace Your Passion and Leap into an Extraordinary Life
By Pam Grout
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC Copyright © 2001 Pam Grout
All rights reserved.
Thinking Big: The Attitude of Boldness
Not to dream more boldly may turn out to be, in view of present realities, simply irresponsible.
When you were five, you knew you were the Queen of Sheba. There was no doubt in your mind that you were going to do big things, that your life was important. You paraded around like the gallant human being that you are, driving your parents crazy with your "Mommy, mommy, look at me's."
Unfortunately, at some point between the ages of seven and thirteen, most of us shut down and decide to go shopping.
Living Big means regaining that five-year-old audacity. It means finding the gall to stand up and say, "Hey, over here." You've got to be bold in your actions. Outrageous in your dreams. And to remember that you are capable of anything. Believing anything else is denying who you are.
Some might protest that boldness is impudent, that being modest is the attribute to strive for. But modesty is nothing but a learned affectation.
Robert Fulghum's now-famous essay, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was recently made into a stage play. In one of the first scenes, the kindergarten teacher asks her fresh young students how many of them are dancers:
"I am. I am," they all shout exuberantly.
"And how many of you are singers?" she continues.
Again, all of them wave their hands wildly.
More unanimous hand-waving.
In fourth grade, another teacher asks the same questions of the same students. Now, only a third of the students are dancers, singers, painters, writers. By high school, the number who are willing to claim artistic talent is down to a paltry handful. Where did the confidence and enthusiasm go?
Some well-meaning parent or teacher probably told them they were not painters. Some aptitude test with a fancy title gave an official score that said they had better give up that misguided ambition of being a writer. Try accounting. Some guidance counselor broke the news that only a chosen few have artistic talent.
Very early on, we turn over the reins to something outside ourselves. The coach tells us if we're good enough to be on the basketball team. The music teacher tells us if we have the talent to sing in the choir. Our teachers give us arbitrary grades that tell us if we're smart enough to make the honor role, bright enough to get into college.
Our art teachers give us the rules: Grass is green, skies are blue.
Why did we listen? How can anybody else know what color your grass is? How can anybody else know what notes you're supposed to sing? They know what's right for them. But they haven't a clue what is right for you.
Only you know that. And you do know. You don't need another workshop, another book, another psychic reading.
By stepping forward—even when you're not sure you're ready—you'll find genius, power, and magic. Your way will become clear. Oftentimes, we're foggy about our purpose, not quite sure what we want, and it's only because we've been too timid to stick our necks out.
When we're bold, when we challenge the status quo—both in ourselves and in others—the answers to all our questions will gallop in on charging stallions.
Being bold is a simple matter of claiming your inheritance. Saying, "Hey look what I can do!" is simple acknowledgment of who you are.
I am not great because I am Pam Grout, an author, a tennis player, a 5 foot 10 inch mother from Kansas. I am great because I am a human being, part of a proud and noble tribe that includes Gandhi, Shakespeare, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The same heartbeat that pulsed through Picasso and Thomas Edison pulses through me.
Any one of us can be anything we're bold enough to claim. It's why we see quadriplegics painting beautiful pictures, brushes clenched between their teeth. It's why we see blind people snowboarding down mountains. The only thing that holds any of us back is ourselves. Opportunities clamor from every side. But many of us are too fainthearted to see the possibilities.
When we refuse to be bold, when we forget to say, "I count," we might as well hand in our keys. Without boldness, life is little but rote recitation.
When Walt Disney was in grade school, a well-meaning teacher, peering over at the flowers he was scribbling in the margins of his paper, tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Walt, honey, those flowers are nice, but flowers don't have faces."
Walt turned around, looked her straight in the eye and pronounced boldly, "Mine do."
This is the boldness with which we must live. We must refuse to listen to anything or anybody except the inner urgings of our soul.
As for Walt Disney, well, his flowers certainly did have faces. In Alice in Wonderland, his eighteenth animated feature, the flowers not only had faces, but they had voices, opinions, and a chorus that entertained Alice with the whimsical song, "All in the Golden Afternoon."
People Who Live Big
If We Build It, They Will Live
We have to challenge the status quo to allow for a better future.
Samuel Mockbee had it made. He owned a successful architecture firm. Many of his designs won prestigious awards. He was taking on projects of an international scale. He had enough free time to paint and pursue other hobbies. But something bigger was calling him.
A fifth-generation Alabaman, he knew firsthand about the long-lingering problems of race and poverty in his state. And while many of us would shrug and say, "Well, it's certainly a crying shame, but what can I really do?" Mockbee took what he could do—design homes—and put it to use.
A professor at Auburn University, Mockbee not only wanted to put his money and his time where his heart was, but he wanted to make sure his first love—architecture—was being used for a noble purpose.
He started the Rural Studio to help his students understand what architecture was really about. He believed people should live in harmony with their environment. He believed architecture could address social values as well as technical and aesthetic values.
The idea for Rural Studio started in 1993, when Mockbee, frustrated by student projects that were built only to be torn down, had a bigger idea. Why not build walls in real homes where people could really use them? Why spend all this time coming up with designs that are only theoretical when we could spend the same amount of time designing things that are useful?
He and his students headed to Hale County, Alabama, one of the poorest counties in America, where a good 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Surely, they could use some unique housing ideas. What if we could build them homes and try our hand at innovative architecture at the same time? What if we could build these homes ourselves for people who could not otherwise afford them? What if we could offer them for free?
Needless to say, a person has to think out of the box to come up with an idea like that. And, in fact, Mockbee and his students have completely torn open the envelope on what's possible in building homes. Rather than follow old forms that say, "Homes are made of wood, brick, or stone," they came up with innovative designs that used offbeat building materials, such as old tires, hay bales, bottles, and even cast-off license plates.
Suddenly, people who had lived in substandard housing their entire lives had not only warm, safe homes, but homes that Mockbee likes to call "warm, safe homes with spirit." A home, Mockbee says, should be a shelter for the soul as well as the body.
His students do all the work themselves—from the design to the pounding of nails. They literally live for an entire semester in this impoverished county that's an hour from the closest movie theater.
Mockbee says Rural Studio is a far cry from normal college life, where you attend classes with fellow students a couple times a week. At Rural Studio, they live together, cook together, eat together, and create wonderful homes together. The studio is a converted 1890s farmhouse.
Over the years, Mockbee's students have built chapels, basketball courts, and several homes, including a wonderful 850-square-foot home from hay bales. Alberta and Shepard Bryant, proud owners of this new home, were living with three grandkids in a leaky shack with no plumbing until Mockbee and his students showed up.
The students also built a backyard smokehouse out of broken concrete curbing and multicolored glass. Ringing in at a mere $20, the smokehouse where Shepard smokes fish is beautiful, with light coming through the colorful glass. As Mockbee says, "We take something that is very ordinary and make it extraordinary."
His goal? "I want to jump into the dark and see where I land."
It is the only way.
People Who Live Big
BRUCE POON TIP
Not Leaving Footprints, but Leaving a Legacy
I was born to be an explorer. There was never any decision to make. I couldn't do anything else and be happy.
—Roy Chapman Andrews
Ten years ago, when Bruce Poon Tip decided to start his own adventure travel company, he could have focused on the fact he was only twenty-three years old, a virtual kid in the eyes of most potential customers. Or he could have dwelled on the fact that he'd been fired from the only two jobs he'd ever had—Denny's when he was sixteen and McDonald's a few months later. Or he could have remembered that the last business he tried, a mail order company selling yarn bookmarks that told the weather, was closed down by his school principal because his classmates were skipping school to fill orders.
But instead of "facing facts," this gutsy entrepreneur said, "I know I can," and launched what turned out to be a revolution ary leader in the booming travel industry.
Not only is Poon Tip's Toronto-based G.A.P. Adventures a money-making leader (it pulled down a cool $16 million last year and consistently ranks in Canada's Profit 100, an annual ranking of fastest growing companies), but it lives the socially responsible philosophy it promotes.
"Leaving no footprints," a common mantra for ecotourism operators, is not good enough for G.A.P. Yes, Poon Tip limits his trips to twelve people, relies solely on local transportation—trains, horses, dugout canoes—and insists on staying in small guesthouses and B&Bs, but he also makes sure his "footprints" make a tangible difference in the lives of the people he works with. Thanks to Poon Tip, the Pimpilala Indians, a small tribe in the rainforest of Ecuador, have been able to purchase sacred tribal land. No longer having to rely on logging to survive, the tribe has been able to halt oil and mining exploration that was stripping their lands.
All G.A.P. clients are offered the chance to "adopt" a kid from the country they visit.
And if trips do not follow Poon Tip's environmental, ethical, and social codes, he'll dump them—even if they are successful. A popular gorilla tracking trip to Uganada, one of Poon Tip's bestsellers, was canceled when it became apparent that tour operators he worked with weren't treating guides fairly. Another time, he pulled out of Burma when government officials wouldn't let him work with—and therefore benefit—local people.
Back at the office, Poon Tip also lives his noble views. All seventy-five employees start with four weeks vacation. Each gets a free trip a year. And to follow the low-impact philosophy, each employee gets a free bus pass or is encouraged to walk, copy paper is used on both sides, and Poon Tip pays nearly double for fair market coffee.
Poon Tip's decision to Live Big all started after two mind-opening trips to Thailand.
"The first, an expensive five-star bus tour, led me to believe that Thailand was filled with yuppies and fancy hotels. I went back, and on my own for $5 a day, discovered hill tribes and small villages. I saw the real Thailand. I realized on the first tour I'd been trapped in a Western environment. I figured others might want the same thing I did," he says.
He was right. The company has grown exponentially in ten years. And while it might be tempting to rest on his laurels, Poon Tip just launched an adventure television series, the pilot following a ten-day trek through Borneo, at the Bampf film festival.
Young, ballsy, and unwilling to fit into ruts, Poon Tip is a visionary, and his mission is nothing short of "saving the world." He's an advisor to the World Bank in Washington, and his ethical beliefs earned him last year's Ethics in Action award.
He knows it's not enough to have big cars and big homes (although he certainly lives life with joie de vivre —he flew fifty of his closest friends to Ecuador for his wedding last year at a remote resort, a three-hour boat ride away from Coca, in the middle of the rain forest). What matters to Poon Tip is making a difference, leaving a legacy, making the world a better place.
People Who Live Big
Helping Annie Oakley Sing, "Anything You Can Do ..."
Not often in life we do we get opportunities to make a change and we should think of it that way ... as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
When Bev Sanders was in high school, her dad gave her an office job in his driving school. "Forget college," he said. "Girls don't need an education. What will you do with it once you get married?"
Even though she loved her dad and understood that he was only the product of his generation, Bev quite wisely packed her bags and moved west.
She got a job in Lake Tahoe teaching skiing, a passion she'd had since childhood. That bold move, that decision to abandon old ways of thinking and leap into a new possibility, set the stage for an incredibly big life.
Not only did she start one of the first companies to design and manufacture snowboards, but she is doing everything within her power to change the way women see themselves—particularly when it comes to sports.
"Look at the ads. Even today, 99 percent of them show men doing the sports," she says. "Where are the women? My mission is to level the playing field."
Even in her own company, Avalanche Snowboards, a business she co-founded in 1982 with her husband Chris, it was tough getting recognition for "girls'" snowboarding needs. She had a terrible time convincing Chris and other designers to build a performance board for girls. She had to really work to justify the initial $20,000 mold expense. Even avid female snowboarders would say, "Well, this is what my boyfriend says I should try."
"But I felt I had a social responsibility to do what I believed in," she says.
Finally, after much hell-bent determination, Bev convinced Avalanche to come out with the Sanders 148, the first snowboard designed solely for women. Within a year, it won an award for best free-riding board and established a trend for women-specific boards.
"People always say to me, 'You're just one person. How can you affect the world?'" she says. "Well, I believe I can."
She certainly has affected the ski industry. When she and Chris first started designing snowboards on the back of bar napkins, snowboarding was a renegade sport. Most ski resorts wouldn't even allow snowboards on the slopes. Bev and Chris had to put up their dukes just to find a place to "test ride" their products. Today, of course, snowboards are everywhere, and in 1998, sixteen years after Bev first held fast to her belief that snowboards were possible, it became an Olympic sport.
In fact, snowboarding finally became so mainstream that Bev lost interest. She and Chris sold the company in 1995. "When MTV picked it up, I knew it was over for me. Gap might as well have been selling snowboards," she says.
Her current passion is a girls-only surf school that she started on a beach north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Called Las Olas Surf Safaris, the company's mission, says Bev, is to empower women through surfing and snowboarding.
"Women bond in a special way," she says. "I especially love to see these corporate women show up. Within twenty-four hours they're acting like a bunch of monkeys. I always joke that I'm running a reverse finishing school, that I make girls out of women."
The seven-day programs, best described as a cross between a slumber party and an empowerment seminar, incorporate yoga, massage, and daily surf lessons. For Bev, it's a way of helping women claim their power.
"We need strong women. Women are the ones who will stand up for the environment, who will do what needs to be done. We need women's strength to change the world," she says.
After years of snowboarding, Bev discovered her passion for surfing only by being bold. She and Chris had standby airline reservations to Milan. When their plane was sold out, they went to the next counter, and a flight that happened to be going to Maui.
"We didn't even have swimsuits or shorts. We checked into a hotel, I picked up the phone book and saw an ad in the yellow pages with a dog on a surfboard. It said, 'If a dog can surf, so can you.' We went and got the boards and didn't bring them back until seven days later. It changed my life," she says.
"I feel so privileged as a human being to be at the beginning of two different things: first snowboarding and now bringing more women into sports," she says.
Excerpted from Living Big by Pam Grout. Copyright © 2001 Pam Grout. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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