Storytelling and kindness are a huge part of my life. As I sit here and reflect on the last year, I get shivers down my spine. Kindness has completely changed my life. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s saved my life. This time last year a gentleman whom I didn’t know, Marc Winn, from a little island I’d never heard of, Guernsey, U.K., got in touch to ask me if I would appear at an event there to speak about what I’d done with Suspended Coffees, and also to tell some of my own personal story.
At this point, I wasn’t in the best of places personally. I’d had my electric switched off yet again. I had zero belief in myself. I was struggling to put food on the table for my family. My own wife was in a really bad space with her mental health and I was extremely lost and depressed.
That, coupled with the fact that I’d never spoken in public and didn’t really understand how it worked, left me feeling scared to death, and I was terrified of accepting his offer. I remember the conversation with my wife. I said to Erin, ”I can’t do this” to which she replied, “But you have to; we’ve nothing to lose.”
The date I landed in Guernsey was the 22nd of October, which holds a pretty big significance that I’ll share with you later. I landed completely in the unknown. I was terrified and convinced Marc had gotten it horribly wrong in bringing me over.
He asked me to prepare a talk approximately 20 minutes long. I thought there were going to be a few different speakers. It was only 90 minutes before the talk when Marc and I were walking around beautiful Guernsey that he told me the talk needed to be approximately an hour long. He also told me I was the only speaker, and to really compound my nerves, told me that he had a cover change of £15.50 for people to hear me speak. I nearly fainted, I asked him how in the world I could do this, and I even told him, “You’ve gotten it terribly wrong.” He simply smiled and said, “You’ll be fine, do what you do best, talk.”
I rushed back to my hotel and phoned my wife and said I couldn’t do it. I told her I was going to hide in the hotel. Erin was watching telly at the time and started to give out to me. She said that I had no choice but to do it, that I’d be fine, and to please get off the phone because she was missing her weekly soap that she loved. She also said something that really struck me, and still helps give me confidence to speak at all these events I get invited to. She said, “John, all we have to our name is our story, we’ve nothing else, we’ve nothing to lose”.
So while I was still terrified, I decided to return to the event and tell a room full of strangers my story…the good the bad and the ugly. I just went for it and told them everything. Over 90 people had turned up to hear me speak. They each paid £15.50 for the privilege. The talk itself is still somewhat of a blur, but I ended up speaking for just over one hour and 30 minutes. People laughed and they cried, and after my talk they came up to me saying how inspired and blown away they were by my story. They told me I was an amazing human, something at the time I really struggled to believe. I couldn’t believe it. I’d spoken in public, even though it terrified me. I quickly realized my story was something that was much greater than I ever dreamed or dared to believe. I realized that I was something much greater than I ever dreamed or dared to believe!
During my talk I spoke a lot about the ‘pay it forward’ concept. I’d also gotten creative and placed a very small amount of money under 5 chairs in the room, and I asked everyone who found the money to gift it to 5 people in the room they didn’t know. I then asked those people to think about the biggest impact they could have with that money, after hearing my story and all I had to say, and find the best way to pay it forward. After my talk, they had arranged to screen the film “Pay it Forward”, which is an incredible film featuring actors like Kevin Spacey, Jon Bon Jovi, Haley Joel Osment, and Helen Hunt to name but a few.
As I sat in my hotel room the night of my talk, when everyone had gone to bed, I cried my eyes out. I cried and cried for well over an hour. I was sad because I was always made to believe I was worthless, and as a person I had no value or worth to anyone, but that talk changed everything. It changed me. I realized everything I’d had to deal with growing up wasn’t actually my fault. The beatings I got from my teachers, the constant bullying I faced for all of my school life, the non-stop barrage of abuse from people who bullied me for trying to stand up to being bullied – none of it was my fault.
I’d grown up feeling like I didn’t have a friend in the world. I was so sad. How had I let these people dictate my life? I promised myself in that room, there and then, that I was going to make a stand. No longer was I going to let people put me down and stop believing in myself. I swore I was going to use the ‘pay it forward’ concept and kindness to completely change my life. I didn’t know how, what, why, or where. I just knew I was going to make it the core of all that I do.
Fast forward to today, as I write this. I think about this amazing year and the craziest amount of things have happened. I’ve spoken at another 20 events. People are flying me all over the world so I can tell my story. I’ve spoken at TEDx, I’ve gotten qualified as a Coach, specializing in Kindness Coaching because we all forget to be kind to ourselves. I’ve surrounded myself with only beautiful people who lift me up, people who love me for me. And every single action I take on a daily basis is with kindness in mind; kindness is in everything I do. Life is still hard; people still try to bully me and put me and the work I do down. I still cry and get sad, but now, I believe in myself in a way I never dreamed possible. I do it to inspire others because I have to. It’s the reason I was put on this earth.
I now realize storytelling and kindness are two of the most important resources we humans have. I know this because it’s been my life for the last year, and I want to share the impact of this with the world. I want to share how it’s saved my life and how I know it will save many others, too. This realization is the inspiration for the world’s first 24 hour virtual global kindness conference, GenKind24 that I’ve put together with some other amazing people I’ve met on my travels.
This time last year, I was close to ending my life, until kindness saved it. On October 22nd, 2014 I landed in Guernsey to tell my story. This year on October 22nd my partners and I are hosting this event which will be the first of its kind. It strikes me that the dates are more than a coincidence. I only realized they matched when I went back to check my dates to tell this story. But that’s not the most amazing coincidence. What might that be? The very first person I confirmed as a speaker is none other than an incredible lady and author by the name of Catherine Ryan Hyde, who wrote a book called “Pay it Forward”, the very same book that the film was based on. The film they played at the end of my talk in Guernsey.