Higher Ed Marketing Blog

Empowering Students For Success - Conversation w/ Sam Thiara

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I recently spoke with Sam Thiara to explore what we can all do to help empower students for success. Sam is an author and educator who has spent the last 17 years at the Beedie School of Business in British Columbia. He’s also a founder of GradusOne, which is an organization that helps recent graduates in their career journey.


 

 

If you’d like, you can listen to our conversation in podcast form here:

 

Ian Evenstar: I'm here today with Sam Thiara. And we're looking at the big question about how we empower young people in their life to be their own bosses and really have a life of meaning and a fulfilling career. Sam is a speaker. He's an author, entrepreneur, and educator. He spent the last 17 years at the Beedie School of Business in British Columbia as a lecturer. And over the last 25 years, he has mentored hundreds of individuals and worked with 45 or more nonprofits in that time. So, he really specializes in student development and the coaching of high school post-secondary and recent graduates in their career journey. He's also a founder of GradusOne, which is an organization that helps high school, post-secondary, and recent graduates in their career journey. GradusOne recently merged with League of Innovators, or here Sam to discuss League of Innovators and really hone in on this idea of how to empower young people to be their own bosses in life and in their career. Sam, welcome to the show.

Sam Thiara: Thanks for having me here. And I look forward to sharing and hopefully, there are some insights for your listeners.

IE: Now, let's start just with the first question, lay some groundwork here. What can you tell us about League of Innovators?

ST: Yeah. League of Innovators, it's an organization that's nationwide in Canada. And the idea and the focus is this whole aspect of engaging young people in the avenue of entrepreneurship and how to resonate, how to build, and how to lay down the foundations of what that would look like. So League of Innovators, what they've done is they've created chapters around Canada, and then the League of Innovators from a base point will work with the various chapters, but they've also created these online courses and programming.

I believe that if they haven't already, but the idea is to train the trainer pieces, just anything, and everything to provide the tools for young people on entrepreneurship, but there's also this added component about personal development and how ... Because I think one thing that's really important is, you don't just go out and start a business, you are the business. And as a result, how do you build your solid foundation to align with the solid foundation that you would like to create for your business?

IE: Yeah, that's true. And as a founder, anyone who's gone into a venture on their own and founded a business, they will quickly see that you are the company. I think it was actually Jay Z who said, "I'm not a businessman, I'm the business, man." So there's a lot of truth to that. I love the idea of working on yourself or empowering yourself in order to empower your venture, the company that you're founding. Is there one specific group or is it a pretty broad audience of those who the organization is looking to help?

ST: Yeah, I would say that it's about 15 to 25-year-olds is that category that we're looking at for this area that is on this journey to build their selves, as well as building out their business ideas as well. And there's been some really great engagement with regards to those individuals. And the creation of those chapters, it's been very rewarding. And over the years, so it's now about three years old, I believe. I'm on the board of advisors for them and just offer insights whenever they need from a standpoint of logistics or strategy or even student engagement.

IE: And so, you've given your life to service. And I'm wondering where that was born. What was the genesis or initially prompted you to want to pursue a career where you're helping others, helping young people specifically navigate their life?

ST: Yeah. I mean, part of it is the fact that, in Vancouver, there used to be a program, it doesn't exist any longer, called Leadership Vancouver. And it wasn't a program that said, okay, after this, you are now a leader. But what they did was they brought community and topics so that we could learn about the various areas, even in our own community. And if you looked at my resume prior to Leadership Vancouver, really nothing there.

Afterward, it just ignited because it provided me an understanding of community, but it also provided me the tools that I could use, and then combine that with the work experience and strategy and building out. That really helped me. And one thing I realized, at a very early stage, when I started doing all this work is a lot of nonprofits, they struggle. And again, this is where that entrepreneurial mindset comes in to say, can we build an entrepreneurial mindset into your nonprofit, so you're more sustainable? And so, that's where that nonprofit side came in.

The idea of why helping young people and why that is so important to me is it goes back to when I graduated many, many years ago. This is before the age of the internet and before the age of email and cell phones, and I remember sitting at graduation, and I graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in Business and Political Science. And it was the whole idea of, okay, I'm ready. And that's a great combination who's lucky to get me. And I sat down and I thought, okay, I'm going to walk across the stage, and I shook the hands of the dignitaries.

But it felt like this giant virtual door slammed behind me because everything familiar to me was behind the door. And I went back and I sat down again, and I said, okay, I'm going to start applying for jobs. So it wasn't done with any sort of strategy or any sort of thought process, but I just said, okay, here's 12 companies that I'm going to apply for. And we'll see which one is lucky to get me. And I sent these letters out. And after maybe two weeks, a letter arrived. And it was from one of the companies.

And it basically, when I opened it up, it says, well, we don't have a job for you, but good luck in your search. And I thought, well, that's okay, you're not lucky, but I've got 11 letters out there and I'm going to send three more out. Well, Ian, it became like the tide. The more letters I sent out, the more letters came back. And what I have are 86 rejection letters, and it's about the size of a brick.

IE: Wow.

ST: This stack of letters. I don't know why I kept these letters when they arrived, every single letter was a nail in my coffin of self-confidence. But I kept the letters. And then suddenly, the narrative switched from who's lucky to get me to, am I lucky to get a job? And my realization was, I wasn't prepared. But fortunately, I did get my first job. And it was an entry-level government job. I mean, business and political science. That makes total sense. But my job was being a janitor in a hospital, emptying rubbish bins and mopping floors.

And it really hammered home that I was not prepared and not ready for this next step. I do want to share that there were three valuable life lessons that I pulled from being a janitor, that actually still carries me to who I am today. In the first lesson, my father said, "I don't care what you do, you make sure you do the best job possible because your reputation is on the line." I carry that to anything I even do today. The second valuable lesson, there were times I would get on the elevator with nurses, doctors, administrators and I'd be ignored.

Because you know what? I'm a janitor. I know what it feels like to be ignored or to have a position that no one really pays that respect to. I will never do that with anybody. I will talk to everybody. And this is why it's been about 5000 conversations to date, because I will never let anyone sit there saying he's too busy. And the third valuable lesson is, in any of this, in anything we do, it taught me that instead of looking at it from an absolute perspective of it's good or bad, peel that onion skin away. What am I learning from being a janitor? And those three lessons still carry me to today.

But what's really important is to realize if one of those letters would have materialized, I wouldn't be with you today. My life would have gone in a different direction. And I reflect on many of those companies, many of those companies no longer exist, but I still do. I outlasted the companies and we are resilient. All of this just brings me forward to a realization that back then when I graduated, really, there were limited resources and focus and we were always lost. You would think that by today, it was different.

Unfortunately, it's exactly the same as what it was when I graduated. This is why I'm holding three to eight conversations a week with people who are feeling lost and doing countless presentations, teaching in school because people are still lost. And it just goes to this aspect of instead of thinking of what you're going to do, focus on who you are because I think that's the biggest lesson here, is really discover who you are. And I've got the tools that I've created to help young people figure out who they are.

IE: That's wonderful. What a great story. Thank you, Sam, for sharing that. And I think it hits home on a number of different levels. One, the rejection letter or the no. It translates to not yet. It's not necessarily a no and it ends there. It's just what you do with that no and maybe you go on to improve your education or your life experience. And then you come back and maybe ask again, and that no is now, oh yes, yes, absolutely. The other thing that you mentioned was these three lessons, and I jotted them down as any job worth doing as a job worth doing well.

Treat everyone with respect no matter any kind of socioeconomic status and learn from all life experiences, even those that are a little unsavory. Now, are those three lessons found within the curriculum or maybe part of the mission and the vision? In this current venture of yours, I mean, does League of Innovators adopt some of these life lessons?

ST: They do. And they've embraced it. And that's the reason why the original company we co-founded, I co-founded with two other people, GradusOne. That's how we merged with the League of Innovators, because the realization was they were missing a component of that personal development, personal realization. And we had created a strong foundation in the Vancouver area of the successes that we had built the relationships with various organizations and schools, that the League of Innovators said, "Okay, here's an important component that we need to build in."

But it also reminded me of the fact that many of these educational institutions need to have similar access to these types of programs, programs that are beyond just the regular curriculum and development of these and having the experts come in and talk about it, of how to blend the academics as well as the engagement and enrichment piece. I mean, think of it this way. I mean, most employers are not going to be asking about letter grades, transcripts, degrees. That's not what they're asking. What they're looking at is you, as an individual, and can you articulate who you are.

And as a result of who you are, can you articulate and can you relate to people? What's your process of going through and doing this job? Can you problem-solve? Can you think critically? Or can you strategize problem-solving? So these things, I feel we need to put a lot more emphasis on so that it provides a strong foundation to complement the academics that we see in the academic institutions.

IE: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me as well. I mean, college, higher education in general, not dependent on your age, I think this applies at any age, the primary value, one of the primary values of higher education is that it is a formative process. It allows you to discover really who you are and get to the essence of who your identity is and ultimately sets the direction from there. But is that something that you can accelerate? Or is it merely time-based? Can you accelerate one's discovery of who they are to help enable them with that career direction?

ST: Absolutely. I mean, I think a lot of what happens in that university post-secondary setting is people wind up going from high school and automatically, just by some aspect, picking a track, and they're not sure if it's the right track or not. You may get into business or I've had so many of my students who are engineers saying, well, now I know what I don't want, which is engineering. It just doesn't connect. I think we need to put a lot more emphasis on this aspect of who we are.

And even in my class, one thing I share with them is there are three concepts, myth, theory, and practice. Myth is what we believe the world to be. The theory is a logical explanation of what the world is, but it's based on research. But then let's take that theory and make it into the practical side and the practice side. Does it work in real life? And I'd like to have them play around with it so that it follows that stream. But oftentimes, what I'm encountering are individuals, whether they're first-year students who are about to graduate, who basically are like, okay, what now?

What do I do now? And you're having these conversations and really trying to pull it back. And I think what often happens is they go down a pathway and they're not sure what it means. So what I did was, and this actually was what I did to help me realize the who, as opposed to what, is I came up with what I call the five core elements. In other words, what are the five things that you are not willing to compromise in life and career, not just life? Sorry, not just career, but life and career.

And the idea is, there are five things that are critical in my life that I'm not willing to compromise, servant leadership, story sharing, activator igniter, champion enabler, and community do-gooder. The clarity that emerges when you focus on who you are allows you to then look at opportunities and balance it against these five core elements. And the way one comes up with these five core elements, and I bring this up in my class, is to say what courses have you done that you liked or didn't like, but ask yourself, why? What jobs have you had?

What did you like about those jobs and didn't like about the jobs? Why? What do you like to do in your spare time? Why? And through that process of self-reflection, introspection, you start hopefully pulling some words, and it may require a coach to help you with that. But oftentimes, young people might be afraid of what you're making me pick five things. What if they're not the right words? Well, I always say you need a starting point. And as you go through life, as you go through academics or whatever, you can change the words at any time.

So you're not bound by these, so don't worry about that. But the idea is that it enables them to realize, am I on the right train? Do I need to get off at the next stop and then find the right station that'll get me to the next? And it's the journey, not that destination, but to get on that right train. That's the process I go through with so many young people, is to share that five core elements piece.

IE: I love that. The five core elements, to me, sound like your guiding principles or possibly your values. I know that Ray Dalio writes about principles and how they can be those guiding forces, and is it true that those five core elements are similar in that regard?

ST: Totally. I mean, I only called it five core elements because I just said these are five elements in my life that I'm not willing to compromise. And it's actually really interesting because oftentimes, when I sit with anybody and I would go through this exercise with them, a lot of times, they'll be like, family is really important to me. I'm not willing to compromise family. Said, "Okay, why is family important?" There's the why piece. And they'll say, "Well, it enables me to have these relationships and connectedness with people who really matter." Said, "Okay, wait a minute.

Those relationships and connectedness, does that also apply to your school?" And they're like, "Oh, absolutely." "Relationship and connectedness, does that also apply in the work environment when you're at the job you're doing and all that?" And they're like, "Oh, for sure." "Does it also apply to your social setting?" And they're like, "Yeah, it does." I said, "Okay, can we replace family with relationships as connectedness as one of your five core elements?" And they're like, "Oh, now I get it.

So you just are really trying to nail down that anything that I do has to focus around relationships and connectedness because that's important to me or to them." That's the way you go through and do this exercise. But, Ian, have fun with it as well. I mean, I was working with someone in Los Angeles and she was telling me how the environment is really important to her. I was asking her why. And she's explaining it all. And at a certain point, I just said, "You sound like an environmental ninja." And she was like, "Oh my gosh, I love that word. Can I use it?"

And I said, "Well, yeah, that's your word. I mean, you're an environmental ninja." And I said, "Have fun with it." How innovative and creative is it if you go to a job interview? And I mean, Ian, we go to these job interviews, and I've interviewed a lot of young people, and I say, "Tell me about who you are." First, they look up to the ceiling, because that's where the answer is. And I'm a hard worker, I'm a team player, I'm a great communicator. And then they start struggling with the next ones.

But could you imagine if an individual says, "Well, there are five things that guide and direct me in life, servant leadership, story sharing, activator igniter, champion enabler, and community do-gooder? Let me explain each one of those and why those are important to me." That's a much more profound statement.

IE: Yes, yes, it is. It provides clarity and direction. And I'm sure within there also are personal stories that could then come out. And of course, we all connect to stories. You mentioned one thing earlier that there were these three levels, if you will, myth, the level of myth, the level of theory, and the level of practice. Sometimes I'll refer to it in my classrooms as you need to have that 30,000-foot view, but then you also need to understand the boots on the ground level and bridge the gap between those two elevations, if you will.

Now, one myth, if we just hone in on a myth for a second, one myth is that we're not good enough when we maybe enter the workforce or as we're looking to apply to college. And that imposter syndrome. It doesn't sound like you had it, because you're like, who's lucky enough to hire me? But many of us do have that imposter, the myth of that "we're not good enough." What advice do you have for young people that are struggling with that myth in particular?

ST: Now, Ian, I live the imposter syndrome. I did. Because, for example, when I was in high school, and I mean, I wasn't the best student, but I wasn't the worst. I was this person that just faded into the background. And I remember going to my high school counselor in grade 12, I was about to graduate, I had just applied to a local college, I just wanted to let him know that, "You know what, I did this, I applied to college." And his comment back to me was, "I don't know if that's the right setting for you." And it wasn't because of marks.

It was because he said, it's more of because I really was awkward, shy and quiet. And he said, "I don't know if he would thrive in that setting." And I just remember thinking to myself, do I reach out to the college and withdraw my application? Because that's what he said. I said, you know what, I'm not even going to worry. Why would I embarrass myself? The college isn't going to contact me because they're going to see right through this. There's where the start of that imposter syndrome came. Well, here's the challenge.

A month later, I got the letter from the college saying, congratulations, we will we look forward to welcoming you. And I'm sitting there, Ian, going like, what do I do now? Do I reach out to them? I said, okay, you know what, let me just give it a try. And I went in, but that first semester, I really felt like I shouldn't have been there because someone told me, you weren't good enough, or you weren't going to be suited here. But you know what, though, it was interesting. I mean, the first semester, was I the brightest? No. Was I the worst? No.

But just I managed to get through that first semester with this imposter syndrome. The second semester, hey, it improved a little bit. Still, my marks weren't the best and they weren't the worst. But I thought, you know what, I'm going to apply to Simon Fraser University. Two semesters of the college, I could transfer. And maybe if they don't accept me, I'll just stay in the college that seems to be comfortable. Well, the university accepted me. And I mean, a total of five years later, like six years later, I walked across the stage.

And I remember sitting there as well as saying how lucky these companies are. But the other part was, I can't believe how wrong that person was. And then years later, I went and I did my master's in leadership at a university in England. And I sat at graduation going, wow, I can't believe how close I was to withdraw that application. Ian, now I teach at university. I mean, how wrong was that person? I just wanted to really provide that as a bit of a story because when you look at this individual, and that's often what happens in the classroom, they don't realize, my students don't realize the imposter syndrome I had.

They don't realize that this guy actually, with a degree in his wall, was a janitor, mopping floors and emptying rubbish bins. The way to overcome imposter syndrome is you need to find what I call champions and enablers. There are enough people telling you what to do. And there's enough noise out there. But embedded in that environment are these individuals who are champions and enablers, who are going to encourage you in a realistic way on how to support that journey, how can I help you in what you need to do and where you are.

For example, I mean, I call myself the difficult monk because people actually come to me looking for the answers to life. They think that I sit on top of a mountain with an orange saffron robe and a beard and you come to me and I will say, "You will be best at this and go do this. Or I've had people ask me, "What business should I start?" I'm like, "Well if I knew, wouldn't I start that business myself?" I call myself a difficult monk because the idea of a champion enabler is they will ask critical questions because the monk that you seek when you go to find those answers lie within you.

And my job is to just ask the questions, to get that out of you so that you realize this is who you are and your journey. So find those champions enablers who are going to support you so that that imposter syndrome is mitigated. But be careful, they're not there to tell you, "Oh, yeah, no, you're fine." And then they walk away going like, "Man, this person's just going to be a train wreck down the road, but that's okay. I made them feel good today." Champion enabler is there to say, "Okay, what do you need to work on? What would you like to work on today?

How can I support that journey? And I think the other thing to keep in mind, Ian, is we talk ourselves out of opportunities because we aren't good enough. And all too often, and these are many conversations I have, people would be like, well, I'm not going to apply to that job or that employer. The employer is not going to look at my resume, and they give me reasons. And it's interesting because my reply back to them as the difficult monk is, "You're not applying to the job because the employer is not going to look at your resume, right?"

And they're like, "Yeah, the employer is not going to look." I said, "Okay, who's this employer, male, female, tall, short, young, old? I'd like to talk to them. Who's this employer?" Because you're categorizing an employer as this generic person. No, no, an employer is a spectrum. An employer isn't going to look at your resume. Sure, there is a category of employers who won't look at your resume, but there are employers who are waiting for you, but you got to find them. But you have to make sure you connect with the right employer.

So don't talk about that employer as a singular person. If you are interested and it's important to you, go ahead and apply. And the other thing I just want to share, and then I'll end that comment there is, again, the noise always tries to make a weakness into a strength. And my thing is, forget that. Don't make a weakness into a strength, bring it to an acceptable level. But you're actually going to burn so much fuel trying to take something that you are not comfortable with, not interested in trying to make it into a strength. But bring it to an acceptable level.

I'm not saying ignore it. But really then focus on what is it that resonates with you. Because once you focus on that, the magic is going to happen. So for example, finance and I don't get along. In university, that was my nemesis. It was literally like Jedi vs. Sith. But my realization was I hired a wealth manager. However, I do need to understand the components and aspects of finance as opposed to being totally oblivious to it. So I've taught myself the key thing.

So when he's telling me about finance, I can articulate and understand, if he can articulate it, but I can understand it when we're having that engaging conversation. And that's an example of bringing it to an acceptable level. But you've got people out there that are experts in an area. So hopefully, that provides some feedback on that.

IE: Yeah. What I heard was one way to address your imposter syndrome is to shore up your weaknesses, bring them to an acceptable level, and then lean into your successes and your strengths and emphasize those, and also ask that important, difficult monk question of why. Why do I want to pursue these strengths? Looking for champions and enablers, I think that's also very sound advice. We all need to find those mentors. Sometimes it's incredibly difficult for a young person to reach out and get over that hump of asking somebody to ... That hesitation to ask somebody to be a mentor. Any advice in that particular area?

ST: Yeah. One thing I do in my class, I would always say to my class, are you ready to mentor? And these are secondary students. Are you ready to mentor? And they're like, "No, of course not." And I point to people, "How about you? Are you ready to mentor?" And they're like, "No, I mean, I need a mentor and whatnot." I said, "Okay. So you're not ready to mentor?" And they're overwhelmingly, "No." And I said, "Okay. But if a high school student was coming into this university, could you help them succeed?" They're like, "Oh yeah, I can do that."

I said, "Okay, you're ready for mentorship?" And then I started guiding them to, why don't you do that? Because now you can help somebody as you are going to be seeking help in the future. And all of a sudden, I get that eye-opening piece going like, oh, man, yeah. Because I think sometimes we're just focused in one direction without realizing we have something to offer as well. And by doing that, by saying, okay, I have something that I can offer somebody, first-year student.

Or go back to your high school and talk to grade 11 and 12 students, what's that journey like and everything, you're going to start building that confidence base so that you can understand what it means to be that mentor. But it's interesting how they're not thinking of it from that perspective.

IE: Yeah. That's great, Sam. Flipping that perspective and getting us to see as both the learner and the teacher were appropriate. Now, a lot of the audience that listens to this podcast, in particular, their senior administration, faculty, deans, how do you apply some of the frameworks that you're sharing with us today that are really directed at the youth and the learner? How do you apply some of these frameworks to advice for senior administration?

ST: Well, I think what you really need to do is balance. In other words, when I got hired at the Beedie School of Business, I did, for eight years ... I mean, when I went to the interview, they said, "Engage the students. They're coming to school, going home, but engage them." So they gave me a budget and they gave me free will to do what I needed to do. And it was amazing, because I've got students that were, let's say, second-year students when I arrived, and then they graduated two years after I was there, and we've got students who are there now.

The students who now have no idea how the culture had shifted of disengagement. Because all they're seeing is, there are so many opportunities for me to be involved. And when I started, I looked at it and I said, okay, what is it that we need to do here? And I came up with the five core pillars of student engagement. So we looked at the academics, and then we balanced it with the five core pillars of student engagement.

And those five pillars were made up of club activities, conferences, or sending students to conferences, or putting on conferences, academic case competitions, the international exchange program, and a catch basin of student engagement or student development, which was orientation right to graduation, scholarships, bursaries, awards, anything that didn't fit the other four areas. But the important part was, it wasn't me imposing this on the students, it was actually getting the students to be active.

So for example, I remember a first-year student came to my office saying, I heard about these academic case competitions and I really like to do this. Where do I get the experience so I could do it? And I looked at him going like, "You know what, you're right." I went home that night and I created the rules for peak performance, which is the first second-year case competition in-house, which is still running today, like 17 or maybe 14 years later, it's still running.

I think that's what allowed the opportunities, the university said or the business school said, you know what, this is important. And now what we have seen are the students are really gearing up to get involved in club activities, conferences, international exchange, academic case competitions. But you have to have them in charge. But you need to have a responsible faculty member, not to tell them what to do, but that's the consistency piece.

Because what happens is with club activities, for example, you get a new president and vice president, the executive, and they'll spend a year doing what they do. And then the following year, you get into a whole new executive team coming in. These people have gone. Now you have to start back from scratch. So you have to have a consistent faculty member who's going to jump in and say, okay, I'm going to transfer all of this knowledge back, but we're also going to bring these people in. And the important part about student engagement is it leads to alumni engagement.

If you engage them as students, they're going to be even further engaged as alumni. And when I was in the alumni relations piece, I came up with a concept and an idea because I did my focus groups, asking the alums, what's important to you? And connections were important, connecting back to the school, connecting with employers, connecting with each other, opportunities. In other words, it's the responsibility of the school to provide opportunities to engage the alums, to be judges for academic case competitions, speakers in the classroom, panel members, et cetera.

Development is they want to continue to personally and professionally develop, so create programs. And engagement is the fourth one, which is this need to create enthusiasm and pride, and passion in your school. Now, if you engage them as students, they're going to become engaged alumni. It's actually a really cool process because I'm still connected with literally thousands of these alumni who have gone on to do amazing things, and I'm still connected back to the school. So we're always just ... It's just that formulation.

But right from bringing those alumni's right to orientation and throughout the process, but creating something that balances academics with student engagement programs, and also I can appreciate that certain faculties have a budget for it, certain faculties find it more challenging. I was actually creating platforms or tools and things that actually cost almost minimal or no money at all. And it was just the students really found it. That's what they were really looking forward to, to complement and balance their degree.

IE: That's great. That's really wonderfully said on a number of different levels, engagement from the student level all the way through to the alumni level. Of course, that's going to provide a tremendous amount of value in the educational experience and also increase, I would say, the brand equity or the perceived value of the university or the institution long term. Because then, as you mentioned, those alumni stay engaged, they continue to connect further and the program builds. Did I hear you correctly, that faculty play an important aspect in all of this?

ST: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when it comes to academic case competitions, you need coaches. So the faculty will coach academic competition teams. It's like varsity sports, but academics. Faculty members to take on a club, for example, if you are in finance, then maybe be the faculty person for the finance club. It's not as huge a commitment as you think it is. I mean, I can understand from a faculty standpoint, they're researching, they're teaching, but just to have the ability to oversee and support and guide.

But I think it's also really important to have a place which, fortunately, we built called student engagement, the Student Engagement Office in the business school. So that I could reach out to faculty members, faculty could reach out to me. And so, what I would do is master coordinate it all. But then I'll find various coaches for academic competition teams. I mean, I wound up being the faculty advisor for all these clubs, but that's because I was keeping everything together and consistent. But you need faculty member buy-in.

And the thing is, I would say, try to find the easy pickings first. You're going to have some people in the school that you're working with. That's what they really would love to do to complement their teaching. So, for me, I teach, I don't do research. But that student engagement piece really resonates with me. So look at your faculty members and find a few champion faculty members. And what happens is they start talking about how much fun they had, I mean, taking a group of students to Maastricht University and we competed in an academic case competition.

And man, this was really cool. And the university paid for that and all that. And the other faculties are like, wait, can I get involved in this? And then next thing you know, you've got a small army of faculty members. And it starts to spread out. The benefit here is, more news that filters through the faculty to say we're not just a research faculty and a teaching faculty, we are also this engagement faculty.

IE: Yeah. A faculty of champions and enablers, in fact.

ST: That's right.

IE: Excellent. So in some of the research, the pregame research that we did, we learned that you don't refer to goals necessarily, instead you have intentions. Tell us about that.

ST: I think society sets up goals for us. And I'm not comfortable with goals personally, because I find goals are absolute. I mean, here you are, setting something that's one, two, three, five years ahead, even though you don't know who you are. Now, what if an opportunity emerges that doesn't line up with your goal? Do you give up the goal or the opportunity? It's very absolutism. Instead, when I say intentions, I go back to those five things I shared in the beginning of who I am as an individual.

If it hits servant leadership, story sharing, activator igniter, champion enabler, and community do-gooder, I have to do this. So for example, writing. Seven, eight years ago, Ian, I was nothing to do with writing. And when it emerged after doing my first TEDx speech, people said, "You should write a book about personal storytelling." I looked at it and I compared it to those five things, the five elements, and it just resonated, it made sense. So I pursued it. Even teaching actually, it was never a goal or objective of mine.

But when I was working on my master's, my associate dean tapped me on the shoulder, he says, "While you're working on your master's, you do know you could teach with a master's. Do you want to try that?" And I was like, "Oh." And, okay, it hits all five, I have to do this. So that's where I think, for me, I balance it. And I call those intentions to say, instead of absolutism, I look at it as those five things. If it hits five out of five, for me, it's a simple straightforward, yeah, I've got to do this. Because it is going to connect with me, it is going to resonate. And oftentimes, it doesn't even feel like work.

IE: Wonderful. You've expressed to us how your identity and that clarity on who you are, why you matter, what you intend to do in life, how that can set a course of action with those intentions. And then ultimately, they produce their own results, which are then in alignment with everything else that makes you, you. So I think it's a really effective and beautiful framework that you've laid out for us there. Now, there was another story that we learned, which is about how you carry puzzle pieces. You carry these every day, apparently. Tell us about that.

ST: Yeah. Well, my first TEDx speech that I did was discovered the extraordinary in the ordinary. In other words, embedded in the ordinary are these tremendously extraordinary experiences, and people think extraordinary has to be epic. And I'm like, no, no, it's minuscule. But embedded in it are these tremendously extraordinary experiences. So for example, I carry with me puzzle pieces. So, at the end of my last lecture, I bring up this puzzle analogy. And the idea is, it's ordinary. If I was to give you a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, what can you do with one piece?

Not much, it's one piece. But this is what our students, our young professionals, even our alumni feel like, they feel like that single piece of a jigsaw puzzle. They don't know where they fit in, they don't know what the bigger picture is. But I transform it into extraordinary because instead of focusing on the single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, I carry with me a satchel. And the little black satchel has puzzle pieces in it. And I give it and I say, if I give you have a piece of my puzzle, do you realize my puzzle will never be complete without you? It's permanently incomplete.

Do you realize how important you are to me? And I can actually physically see a transformation on the face of the individual. And what's beautiful is I've had people tell me it's pinned to the mirrors, so that every morning they wake up, it reminds them somebody said I was important. It's traveled in backpacks around the world. It's in curio boxes, it's in wallets, and they see me at events and they pull it out. Or a random note that says, I still have your puzzle piece. And it's just a simple reminder of how important an individual is.

And I think that, as I said, in my week 13 class, I talked about that puzzle analogy. And after I'm done and after I do my last half hour of wrapping things up and I talk about the puzzle analogy, I start putting my stuff away without knowing that there's a lineup of students who want to shake the hand and grab a puzzle piece. And it just really matters. And I think that's just a simple tool that we can remind people in our classroom, in our work environment, that everybody has a part to play, and they are important.

IE: That is such a great story. I love that practice. I would love to borrow that. It's absolutely wonderful. What a great metaphor. I've heard a similar sentiment in ... You may only ever think of yourself as one person in the world, but you're also the world to one person. And I think it's that power of being part of each other's puzzle that is so profound. That's really, really nice.

ST: And just to that point also, what I remind people is instead of trying to change the world through your eyes, spend the time, and this is why I do teach and spend time writing and working with nonprofits, is change the world through the eyes of the people you help. Because I don't need them to see the world through my eyes. But if you change their perspective and they view the world differently because of your presence, you've changed the world because they will never see the world the same way.

IE: Wow. That's great. That's great. And again, I think that touches maybe a higher level of advice for senior administration and people in charge of curriculum design. That really leaves us with a beautiful sentiment there. Now, do you have goals and tensions of your own? What's on the horizon for you? You have your hands and so much, I know, what's next for you?

ST: Yeah. I mean, the idea is that I've really greatly enjoyed podcast speaking like as in a guest. It's writing another book, it's continuing to teach. And there are other avenues. There's another book that I wrote called Lost and Found: Seeking the Past and Finding Myself about my own personal identity with an ethnic background, which I had lost and ancestral roots that we couldn't find. Maybe that's now a screenplay, I don't know. There are so many things that I'm really enjoying right now.

And at the same time, I'm really appreciating it, the opportunities that have been presented to me in life and working with educational institutions. I mean, if I can work with an educational institution to get them to invoke a little bit of that student engagement piece and whatnot, this just engages me, because it's like you've created a much richer environment for your students who are going to go on to do great things. So working with educational institutions is something I greatly enjoy as well. And letting that freedom move forward, I know that sometimes it can be locked in bureaucracy and whatnot. But think of the possibilities. So, those things.

IE: That's a really beautiful legacy. And thank you, thank you for the commitment that you've not only applied to the youth, but also to the commitment that you've applied to education in very broad strokes. I think it's wonderful, always an inspiration to meet someone of your caliber and authenticity. So thank you for that.

ST: Thank you.

IE: Yeah, my pleasure, Sam. Is there anything that you would want to leave the listeners with?

ST: Yeah. What I would love to do is just my signature tagline. There are two that I would always like to instill. The first one is obstacles are the necessary bricks on a road to success, goes back to the original, you will be rejected, you are going to hit hardships and things. Embrace those because embedded are in those are key insights and learnings that are going to help you in the future. So don't fear the obstacles, embrace them. And finally, the signature tagline that I live by is, everyone's life is an autobiography, make yours worth reading. Everybody is a living story. We're writing our own chapters, we're writing our own books. Your autobiography is worth sharing. Don't be afraid to share your autobiography.

IE: Thank you. Wonderful to meet you, Sam. Just absolute joy to talk with you and have this discussion. Come back anytime. I feel like we could go on for hours. But really, thank you for your time and sharing your wonderful ideas, and giving us all that extra motivation that we need.

ST: Well, thanks again. Appreciate it.

 

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