I created the #BecomeYourHero presentation because several years ago I realized that my ambitions seemed crazy to other people. When I tried to justify my goals, conversations inevitably turned to my motivations and the underlying belief that what I was attempting was possible. So many expressed to me that they felt inspired that I eventually realized that my way of thinking is unique and helpful to others. But, where did it come from?
I was born in Poland in the 1980s, meaning I experienced a country still gripped by communism and limited opportunity. It no longer is, but was a place where the possibility of growing up to do what you love was just a child’s fantasy for most. Then, I moved to the USA where “you can be anything” including becoming an astronaut, the president, a movie star, etc.!
The shift in the culture of opportunity, going from limited to limitless, was magnified on me as I developed. At home I lived with parents who cautioned against risk, yet popular media and school glorified those who risked it all. Inside my head the two didn’t make sense and for many years I struggled to figure out how to appease my parents, my family, and my elders; but I also wanted desperately to fit in with my new community. The challenge lay in the time I had, and the question of whether to spend this precious limited resource doing one thing or the other. My solution was simple but ridiculous – I tried to appease everyone to the extreme, completing a double major in Math and Economics then going to Law School and becoming an international attorney ultimately based in New York City.
But, the journey did not end there; at 29 years old with massive student debt and no experience, I chose to believe that it was possible to become my childhood fantasy of becoming a world explorer. This journey, my successful journey of going from a child who was told his ambitions are fantasy, to earning a coveted social and professional rank, to leaving it all behind and pursuing that old fantasy, proved to me what is possible if we believe it. But, what is more important, is that this journey equipped me with the perspective and understanding to guide others who find themselves trapped behind invisible walls of their own history.
Cambridge International School in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq
Iraq is not an easy place to get to. Most easily available information about the country paints a different picture, and international trade and resources are extremely limited. However, the people of Iraq are incredibly ambitious, resourceful, curious, and joyful. This is best demonstrated in the children that I met when I presented #BecomeYourHero at the Cambridge International School in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.
I organized my lecture to show the children images from the most un-Iraq places; sailing off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, dog sledding under the Northern Lights, deserted on an Island off the coast of Brazil, surfing big waves, etc. The rest of the lecture, I spent explaining how today’s technology has opened a portal for them to become anything they dream. The reaction was explosive – children nearly jumped out of their seats watching images of this incredible world. They asked questions, shouted answers, and were transfixed on what I was telling them. I explained that they could start their own social media profiles and become their own stars, write for magazines on the other side of the world, study to lectures recorded at the best universities in the world for free on YouTube, connect to communities of people from all over the world, and more.
Their parents world, the one that was limited by what you can reach geographically, is gone. The limitless world without boundaries is here now, in Iraq, and it is inevitable that they will be the first generation to become professional athletes, international celebrities, world-changing scientists, reach the summit of Mt. Everest, and even travel to space. The difference is what they believe, and as someone who came from a world with invisible walls, I was there to tell them that it is just a matter of changing the way they think.
The reception was so powerful – I cannot express how energized the children became. To watch an entire room go from polite and orderly children, to a mass of laughing pushing hands to get their questions answered, pose for a photo, or get an autograph… it was just a taste of what awaits Iraq in the future. There is an entire country that is emerging from the past and will rapidly catch up to the world soon, and be a part of that with our Climbing School is a privilege I never imagined.
Thank you, Cambridge International School, I can’t wait to come back!
Click on the link below to learn more about our project to establish the first climbing school in Iraq
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