I’ve spoken in front of tens of thousands of people. Billionaires. Celebrities. Some of the greatest people in America.
I’ve never been nervous giving a speaking engagement…. until the day came when I had to speak in front of the most impressionable group in the world.
The people in this particular audience weren’t going to hire my company. They weren’t going to put me in the media limelight. And yet getting in front of a few thousand high school students earlier this year was perhaps the most daunting keynote speech I’ve ever given.
I was blessed to have the opportunity to fly to Utah to speak at “Hope Week” at a high school in the little town of Vernal.
The topic? Suicide prevention.
I’m flown all over the country to give keynote speeches on everything from marketing to patriotism… but there’s one thing I don’t often talk about. Growing up poor. And fat. And being bullied and beat up.
And for the first time in my life, I was forced to speak to a group of kids about a topic that had the potential to fundamentally impact LIVES in front of me… not just businesses.
As I stood on the stage in front of thousands of kids, the responsibility of what was in front of me was terrifying.
Many of these kids struggled with their own identity issues. Many weren’t “cool”. Many weren’t “good looking”. Many were overcompensating for having a difficult time at home.
There were kids in front of me who were just like I was at their age. Alone. Embarrassed. Scared.
Then there were those who were the kids I hated. The know-it-alls. The tough guys. The ones who made the lives of others miserable.
I had 60 minutes to somehow reach both audiences. I had one hour to use nothing more than words to talk some kids off a ledge and talk other kids into being the ones to talk others off a ledge instead of pushing them off of it.
What can you possibly say to two entirely different groups? What message could resonate with both friend and foe? Bully and victim? Rich kid and poor kid? Boys and girls? Fat and skinny?
And so I gave them the only gift I could think of – authenticity.
I didn’t talk about the excitement in my life… I talked about what it took to get there. The real stories that nobody else is willing to share.
I get hundreds of emails and messages a day of support and praise. I’ve been blessed to be thrown into the national spotlight and get to meet some of the most incredible people in the world.
And yet underneath it all is still a kid. Because aren’t we all kids at heart?
I’m still someone who wants to make his parents proud. Who wants to do the right thing. Who is guided by love and faith and isn’t afraid to admit that the true CEO of the company he runs is God.
Someone who admires those who serve and protect… and who is angered and seeing justice not prevail – whether that justice is on the playground or in the court of law.
Someone who wants to help others. Someone who still gets excited on Christmas morning. Someone who is still a little afraid when he looks over the edge of a cliff… but who knows that sometimes you need to trust that you packed a parachute appropriately to make the jump.
I think we underestimate the power we have on children. I’m not just saying this as a speaker. I’m saying this as a father. As a Christian. As an American.
I watch my daughters mimic me and my wife – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. And standing in front of those kids in Utah… I knew I needed to give them a message.
The world isn’t always sunshine and Oreo cookies. There are lots of bad people out there.
But it’s also a world filled with love. Goodness. Hope. And people who want to help others.
It leaves only one question. Who is it that we want to be? The bad person… or the one who makes the lives of others a little better?
Perhaps the only way we can answer that is to find the child in each of us once again.