All posts by Toan Lam

About Toan Lam

Toan Lam, the creator of www.GoInspireGo.com is living proof that inspiration and hope trumps the unfortunate situations many of us face today. After nearly 10 years of television industry experience, both in-front and behind-the camera reporting in San Francisco as well as ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates around the country and California Heartland, a statewide, syndicated PBS magazine show, he was laid off from his major market news gig. Toan decided to stop his job search and combine his journalism chops and gift of connecting with people, to help his community. That experience led him to create a website featuring inspirational videos via a YouTube channel. At the end of the videos, there are resource links where viewers can go to help the featured people. His goal: To help everyone discover their power and inspire them to use their power (their resources and talents) to help others. When Toan is not on TV, he is blogging about his website content for the Huffington Post's Living and Impact Sections. Additionally, he is sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience as an adjunct professor, teaching on-camera talent and production classes at the University of San Francisco (his alma mater) and the Academy of Art. Toan is also a member of the Asian American Journalists' Association.

Starting 2012 in a Funk? Diluting Your Inner Debbie Downer

There’s a lot to be grateful for in life. Just look around you. Look inside yourself.

Since the start of 2012, I’ve received several calls from friends – and met up with one who I will call JC – who are rich on so many levels, but live in a mental state of poverty. The complaints endless were endless – “I have no money” or “this job or project is all I have” and, my favorite, “I would be so happy if ______ (fill in the blank).”

This prompted me to post this FB:

As Byron Katie would say, “is this true?” I’m sure that the truth or reality is only as true as the energy you give it or believe it to be. What’s more accurate: a) I’m poor, b) I’m broke, or c) I’m destitute? If any of those are true, then why are you sitting across from me at this trendy café, sipping on a nice cup of coffee and eating an egg and cheese bagel? (Note to my friend aka JC: you know who you are!)

Many conversations I’ve had ended with this bottom line: Many situations are just a mind game. It is what it is. And what is, is.

Need to get out of that funk? Here are some things that have helped me stay present and circumvent mental misery in 2011:

1. Put it in writing. I love to write and even if you don’t, just try this easy exercise. Write down exactly what you hope to achieve or what you need. Then take action or baby steps to get to that goal. Beware: it might just manifest.

2. Keep a gratitude journal. I just bought a two year journal: Building the Best You by Caroline Harper. It asks you five simple questions on one half of the page, then next year, you will write on the same page on the same date – and watch your blessings multiply. Here’s a picture of one thing I’m grateful for today. (Thanks Devyn Rush for the recommendation!)

3. Focus on the present moment. Don’t let the past define you. Likewise, don’t let the future dictate your happiness. All we have is this present moment. As a student at theUniversity of San Francisco, I used to think that if I got a job as a TV News Reporter in San Francisco one day, I would be so happy. I did it. It didn’t bring the happiness that I thought it would. I don’t do it anymore!

And if all else fails, be grateful for your breath, your life. Again, there’s a lot to be grateful for. Just look around you. Feel inside you – you may be surprised! By the way, after my meeting with JC at the coffee shop and telling him about the three aforementioned things I did to get me out of a funk, he turned over a new leaf and started to tell me about all the blessings in his life. I guess he wasn’t a, b, c or any of the above. In the words of my friend, “Thanks for slapping me around and telling me not to be a Debbie Downer.”

Surprising Secret Santa Movement

If you’re feeling down this holiday season, here’s a surefire pick-me-up to lift your spirits. Just Google Secret Santa Kmart and see the brimming news of a philanthropic phenomenon that has spread across America.

I love surreptitious surprises and movements of kindness, so I couldn’t help but get the chills after reading personal accounts of peoples’ stories of and reactions to anonymous Kris Kringles who are secretly paying off customers’ layaway accounts.

“I was surprised. It seemed so amazing to me,” said Annette Pride, who works the layaway counter at a Kmart in Colorado and has witnessed acts of covert generosity since late last week.

“One woman stopped at the pawnshop and pawned something” to pay off her balance, Pride said, “but when she got here she found out that someone had already done that.”

While all of the anonymous donors are different, there’s a common thread (besides good ole holiday cheer) – they’re paying off Christmas gifts other families couldn’t afford, especially toys and children’s clothes set aside by impoverished parents. These anonymous donors are leaving a one cent balance so the account doesn’t get closed out before the customer can pick up the goodies. Many have also been urging other strangers to follow their example.

From Washington to Florida, Kmart stores in more than 15 states have been hit by Santa’s helpers.

Take action:
Some recipients say they’re going to find a way to pay the act of kindness forward, while other Kris Kringles are encouraging people to be inspired to do the same. If you’re moved by what these anonymous donors have been doing, follow their lead! If you don’t have the means to do this, think of ways you can give this holiday sans the cashola.

    • Send a nice, hand written note to someone to express your gratitude. While I love using the power of the internet and social media to inspire social change – that’s why Go Inspire Go exists – go offline and write a thoughtful card. The details go a long way. Trust me on this.
    • Volunteer at a local charity this holiday and give the gift of service. During this time of year, food banks and soup kitchens need man and woman power!
    • Give your talents. Are you good at baking, singing or making people laugh? Give your time to someone in need. I know plenty of people who need help with chores, babysitting and errands this time of year.Still don’t know what to do? Look at this example of how my students are sending 29 kids to school in Haiti, just by using their talents – they made videos (we’re still trying to send 52 more students; it only costs $85 per year for books, uniforms and tuition!):

 

Gifts That Give Back: Gift of Compassion & Education, Help Us Send 62 Kids to School in Haiti

This week on Intentblog, we will be featuring 1-2 new blog posts a day that will give you ideas for gifts that give back this holiday season: charities you can donate to, products you can buy that give back to worthy causes, and more. This holiday season, Toan Lam of Go Inspire Go wants you to consider giving the gift of compassion and education for 62 kids who can’t afford to attend high school in Grande Saline, Haiti. 

To everyone who cares about our youth and education,

I was heartbroken when I found out that 62 students couldn’t attend the new Institution Mahanaim High School that Rev. Lemaire Alerte and his Jersey City, N.J., community worked to build in his hometown of Grande Saline, Haiti. It’s the only high school in this area. (Since the high school was completed last year, the need for education was so high that the school is now serving grades K-12.)

I was even more saddened when I found out that it costs only $85 a year to send a child to school. This important opportunity includes a uniform, shoes and books.

I was compelled and empowered to relay this news to my classes at the Academy of Artin San Francisco where I teach a myriad of multimedia classes.

Immediately, hands shot up in the air — many students were adamant about helping. Some students said they were going to follow my lead this Christmas and instead of asking for gifts, they too would ask loved ones to fund a child’s tuition.

One class creatively brainstormed and with very little help from me, they created this video to inspire people to open their hearts:

This ripple of kindness started during the summer of 2010 by another student –- Julian Cohen, a junior at a high school in New Jersey when he participated in a five-week summer program at the Academy of Art University. At the end, Julian told me he was inspired by my nonprofit, GoInspireGo, and wanted to do a story that he had researched about Alerte, whose mission was to build a high school in his hometown of Grande Saline.

There are only two junior high schools in this town. “Every time I go back to visit, the people tell me, ‘Reverend, we need a school,’” Rev. Alerte explained. There are no high schools, so after junior high, the students don’t have a choice but to travel five hours away to attend school. Students whose parents can’t send them to school are resigned to a junior high education.

With fundraisers and community help, Rev. Alerte started to build the school, but had to stop after running out of funds. He needed $18,000 to complete the school.

Mahanaim during construction

 

Mahanaim after construction

Julian was moved by Alerte’s efforts and created this GIG story about it:

A few months later, across the country, band students in Kenny William’s class at Willow Glen High School in San Jose, Calif., saw the story. The students wanted to help, but they didn’t know how. Their teacher told them that GoInspireGo’s mantra is “What can YOU do?” so he asked them that simple question. The students decided to orchestrate a winter benefit concert to help Rev. Alerte. Some volunteers helped me produce this follow up video:


The students raised $1,643.85. When I called Rev. Alerte to tell him the news, he was overjoyed. “Thank you, God Bless you!” he said. I was pleased to learn that his church helped raise the money to complete the school.

Recently, Rev. Alerte told me the bittersweet news – 177 kids enrolled in the Mahanaim High School, but only 96 were able to attend. 81 are still waiting to get in.

I told Rev. Alerte that the money raised from the Willow Glen High School band class will send 19 kids to school, leaving 62 students needing funding. I made it my personal goal this holiday to send as many of the 62 kids to school as possible.

I’ve never seen my students this excited and take ownership over any philanthropy project. Likewise, many Willow Glen parents told me they too have never seen their children so enthusiastic about anything (especially because this wasn’t “me-centric.”) Meanwhile, my students are using social media to inspire social change and are tweeting, Facebooking and blogging the video to everyone who will listen.

We need your help!

Rev. Alerte hopes to raise enough money to buy desks, furniture and food for the Mahanaim Students

Please go to Haiti Enrichment Foundation’s website for more information and send a check made out to:

Haitian Evangelical Church
2030 Kennedy Blvd.
Jersey City, N.J. 07305

Please specify on the check memo “Mahanaim Student Tuition – gig”

It’s nice to see that my students using their power (and the multimedia skills I’ve taught them) to give back to other kids who have less resources and privileges. It’s joyful to witness the shift (from me to “we”) that I see in them. They’re learning compassion and experiencing the gift of giving.

Thank you for giving the gift of education!

Happy Holidays!

Sparking Kindness with Socks. GIG Spark: Technology + Storytelling = Action

Who doesn’t love socks? They’re warm, fuzzy and for the most part, inexpensive — unless your phalanges are of the fabulous kind. As a journalist, I’ve covered many stories about homeless people — and guess what? Socks nearly top their wish lists.

With that said, GoInspireGo is excited to share our first GIG Spark submission. Way to go and thanks Sierra Sanchez for warming our soles and our souls!

Gigster: Sierra Sanchez

Spark: Buying socks for the homeless in San Francisco, California

Your Turn:
 It’s simple – buy socks and give them. No strings attached. One of our favorite organizations, Just Give has a list of 35 things you can you to help the homeless. It’s easy, inexpensive, and a good GIG.

We hope this video sparks (and knocks) your socks off:



FEELING INSPIRED? GET INVOLVED! make your own GIG Spark
:

WHAT’S A GIG Spark & CREATE your own!

As a part of GoInspireGo’s mission to inspire our viewers to discover their power, we’ve joined forces with Youth Service America (YSA)Lil’ MDGs and Miley Cyrus’ “Get Ur Good On” to bring you GIG Spark: A Lesson on Compassion.

A “GIG Spark” is a short 1-1:30 minute video that inspires viewers to take action and help others after they’ve watched the video. The video will feature you showing and telling viewers what you want them to do on video. It’s simple, quick and can generate inspiration for others! The goal: a fun, easy way to inspire action.

We’re inviting YOU and your community (school, organization, friends, etc.) to use your passion and creativity to produce a “GIG Spark” and inspire viewers with your story. This is for anyone who can shoot and edit short videos. Get Started on a GIG Spark now.

Inspiration can be fun and infectious! We believe in the power of small acts and using technology to crowdsource ideas, capture it on video, spread the word online, and inspire immediate action. We know that people (especially youth) care and want to do something good for others, but just don’t know how. So why not teach compassion to kids and adults in your life? This is a quick way for you to use your power to spark civic engagement and inspire a small ripple of kindness that will create a domino effect…

We can’t wait to see inspiring acts popping up all over the state, country, and world! What can YOU do?

*Follow us on: LinkedInTwitter & Facebook

Socrates Spoke: Riding Out Fear

For one full minute I want you to sit down (preferably in silence) and think about what you have accomplished in your career thus far.

Now ask yourself, “Is my life any more meaningful?” If the answer is yes, you’re luckier than many people I know.

Recently, I’ve been talking with a lot of people who are experiencing the same situation: good job + good pay + good title = still not happy.

Many have admitted that they’re lucky to have good paying jobs with fancy titles but at the end of the day, they’re feeling uninspired, unhappy. The mental pendulum of guilt swings back and forth. I should be grateful… but I’m not… to and fro… the emotions go.

This is what happened to Casey Miller who, by all accounts, seemed to have it all: a good education, a good career and a good life. After graduating from Harvard with two degrees, Casey built a successful company that turns garbage into energy. He made money, was able to travel the world, acquired stuff, but still he felt empty.

“By most accounts, I was what I thought success should look like. Yet I was not any happier. And my life was certainly not any more meaningful. Like many people of my generation, I was stuck between the allure of capitalism and the painful realization that more does not mean better. I felt empty, even though my life was surrounded by wonderful places, experiences, and things.” Casey admits.

So he quit and moved to San Francisco (partly for love), but then he was dumped. He then couldn’t find a job and fell into depression.

Several conversations ensued. Casey told everyone that he was going to do something he was very afraid of: ride a bike (he hadn’t ridden a bike since elementary school) across the country – from Oregon to Massachusetts and along the way ask people some simple questions that delved deeper into the journey of finding meaning: What inspires you? Are you doing it now? Why not? His journey was aptly named “Socrates Spoke”:

Taking this risk helped him get the wheels of inspiration turning and, for once, Casey says he “found his meaning of life” and is now empowered to use his experience to help others discover what matters most to them. He’s even created a website (CaseyAdamMiller.com) to inspire people to live the truest, biggest, most meaningful lives possible.

Socrates once said: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Casey read this, listened and is riding high on these words of wisdom.

Take Action:
If you’re feeling unfulfilled, make a list of what you can do to find meaning.
1. Many people say, “I can’t quit my job.” However, you can spend a little bit of time outside of your work to engage in a hobby or passion project that enlivens you.

2. What would excite you out of bed in the morning? Take baby steps doing what brings you joy. Check out Casey’s website for inspiration: CaseyAdamMiller.com

3. Stop talking about it. Do it now. This was the best advice several mentors gave me when I wanted to leave my TV career and pursue my nonprofit GoInspireGo.com

Steve Jobs Inspired More Than Technology

Many of us remember Steve Jobs as a technological visionary — a modern day Edison. But aside from his inventions and accolades, he seemed to be a man with very inspiring and insightful views. In this Stanford commencement speech, Jobs poignantly shares three stories or life-defining moments in his 56-year journey and the knowledge he garnered from his experiences. 

For me, it's a coincidence that Jobs speaks about connecting the dots -– I've often used a similar analogy. I believe that all of our experiences are like scattered dots: as we're sprinkling each dot, with each experience, we can't see or understand how they connect at the time. But as your life unfolds, and you collect more dots, you're able to connect them and eventually discover your path. Each dot, whether you perceive them as failures, bad luck or poor timing, all lead us to the next place we're supposed to be. 

From the beginning of my life, some think I had a sordid start. I'm an immigrant who grew up in the ghetto and on welfare. I've lost four family members in eight short months. I've been laid off. I've quit a job that paid well and with a nice title. I've been done wrong by some family members and some friends. But now I can see that all my experiences, my struggles instilled the "hungry" immigrant work mentality in me. The losses inspired compassion and pushed me to leave the bright lights of the TV industry -– all of my dots have led me to where I am today. 

By the age of 28, I reached all my wildest dreams and then some; as a TV reporter in a major market, I've been a reporter for a statewide show on PBS and of course, teaching at the university level. After nearly a decade in TV news, I left the biz and I've also passed up many lucrative job offers with great perks to pursue my passion projectGoInspireGo (GIG) –- because this is what brings enlivens me and brings me joy.

Jobs fervently said, "You must do what you love" and "trust." Trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to be now -– and that it will lead you to where you're supposed to be.

So in the wise words of Steve Jobs, keep spreading your dots, one day you'll be able to connect them, you'll love and lose; and you'll gain. Love what you do and live life to the fullest before it's too late because death is "a destination we all share." And don't forget to "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish."

Words to live by.


@ the Apple Store in San Francisco's Union Square

Thank you for making your mark Mr. Jobs and leaving behind a legacy that will continue to affect us all. May you rest in peace.

Take Action:
1. Do you love what you do personally and professionally? If not, take baby steps now. (If you've been putting off jogging, make a date once a week with a friend to start. If you can't quit your job to do your passion project, earmark a few hours a week to get the ball rolling.)
2. Tell someone you love that you love them now, before it's too late.
3. Going through a tough time or situation –- be present and still. Think about what lesson this experience is teaching you and learn from it.

How were you inspired by Steve Jobs? WE want to know. Hit us up on Facebook orTwitter!

Happy Social Good Day (And Week)! How You Can Take Action…

 I whole heartedly believe that everyone has the power to make positive change in someone’s life or in your community – that’s why I left my TV career and dedicated my life to my passion project GoInspireGo (GIG). Today and this week, I’d like to you to join my team and Mashable in celebrating Social Media Day

 – Yay!


Here’s how you can use social media to make difference – now!

1. Mashable is an amazing, intrepid and innovative platform that inspires individuals around the world to make good use of social media to benefit their communities via fundraisers, viral videos telling moving stories and awareness campaigns. 

2. It’s quick and easy, just click here → Mashable Meetup on Social Good Day to find out how you can partake in “Using social media to inspire social change.” 

3. In celebration of Social Media Week, please check out three of our inspiring GIG videos that exemplify how easy it is to make a difference, please watch, check out information at the end of the videos on how you can create change and of course sharing is caring especially this week – please join our community and please share the goodness on Twitter and Facebook


PHOTO (cc): Flickr / veo_ 

 

London Riots Won Over by a Nation of Tea Lovers

What happens after your life has been threatened and in danger and you’ve successfully run to safety? According to Jonathan Walker and his wife, Philippa Morgan Walker, "Put the kettle on!" That’s exactly what this Camden, London, England couple did – they served the police tea after being stuck in the middle of the recent riots.

Watch how they inspired hope in the UK and beyond with their new found mantra, "Make tea, not war!"

I’m back in the United States after spending over a week in England, where order seems to have been restored on the London streets.

 

Most people here in America seemed to be unaffected by the mayhem and aftermath of the damage – broken glass, burned down cars and buildings and the harrowing stories of those caught in the thick of the senseless rioting in the United Kingdom.

 

 

My hope was to incorporate a Go Inspire Go (GIG) story during my travels in the UK. I went to England to witness a magical wedding of my friends Cathy and Julian. Their wedding was enchanting, with special elements and inspiring new friendships. The backdrop: Durham Cathedral, also familiar to many in “Harry Potter,” as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Like the magic of Hollywood, this new GIG story also unraveled in a fairy tale fashion, starting with meeting new friends at a Lumley Castle reception.

 

Fiona Pattison, with happy4pr, was inspired by GIG and is now helping us launch in the UK. We immediately connected. With warmth, she asked, “Are you going to do a story on the riots?" Right when we met, we were on the same wavelength — it was amazing. She introduced me to Oli Cohen, who founded Resonate Productions.

We immediately joined forces to produce a GIG video. Fiona had the perfect GIG story in mind and quickly connected me to her friend, Jonathan Walker and his lovely wife Philippa Morgan Walker who are now well known for their kind act amidst the chaos that erupted from the rioting.

 

 

Like many Americans, the Walkers felt distant from the rioting – despite their close proximity to the brimming violence and looting that happened just neighborhoods away. “We didn’t think it would happen here,” admitted Jonathan.

They did not expect that soon their lives would be in danger, taking a couple of turns along the way. After desperately trying to get back home to safety amidst the riots, they wanted to do something nice for the officer who eventually offered to escort them home.

They asked a simple question, “Would you fancy a cup of tea?”

It’s amazing how this simple act of kindness inspired the country, the community and the Prime Minister. The London riots are literally won over by a nation of tea lovers!

 

No matter where you’re living, you’re a part of humanity – so in effect this does affect you. “It’s empowering to know that you actually have a lot of impact on your surrounding. Just please please, please, please, always do something. Just the tiny bit of light ceases darkness to exist,” emphasized Philipa.

“Life is full of moments, good and bad. And in those moments they can change the world’s consciousness, make people aware of the world they are living in. A community has a voice and can make a difference, even if it is to help clean up what others have tried to destroy. The riots have simply made people stronger and helped to restore faith in human kindness,” Fiona believed.

This is what I found remarkable: That out of chaos came togetherness. The riots simply showed people’s sense of community and many small acts of kindness — from kind acts with cupcakes, volunteer community cleanup crews and others chipping in to help the victims — added up to create a lot of change that helped to restore faith in human kindness in a time of great fear and loss.

While many people blame the rioters – I ask you to hold your judgment – my question is where do we go wrong as human beings? Where were the family members and role models in their lives? What if someone said or did something small, something kind that could’ve thwarted their actions?

What can YOU do?

Three Steps to Generosity and How It Benefits YOU!

When was the last time you gave unconditionally – with no strings attached? What about receiving with gratitude for the abundance in your life? And what does dancing have to do with being generous?

According to my friend and one of the most inspiringly generous people I know — Nipun Mehta, founder of CharityFocus.org, a fully volunteer-run organization — these are the three stages of generosity.

Please watch Nipun share his sentiments about generosity in this TEDx video and be moved to action.  Think about what you can do to give, receive and dance:

You have the power to be generous. How you do it depends on you! What are you doing to make someone else’s life better right now?

Still don’t know?

Here are some ideas on where to start:
Karma Kitchen
Karma Clinic
Smile Cards

Thank you Charity Focus Family for your generosity!

In gratitude,

Toan

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