Toan Lam – Our Friend of the Week
Toan’s What – I always say that if I didn’t become a journalist, I would’ve been a designer of some sort. I love all things design: architecture, interiors, fashion. I’m naturally inspired by nature’s design: how the sky and clouds are never the same, the water, mountains, animals… I see these natural elements in the design we humans create. But my real WHAT lies in connecting with people. Oprah says, “Your passion leads to your purpose.” While I love design, my gut tells me that my passion lies in connecting with people and inspiring them to be better and do better for themselves and others.
Photo courtesy of Coco Tran Photography
FRIEND OF THE WEEK: 11 QUESTIONS
WEBSITE: GO INSPIRE GO
- Where do you live? San Francisco, CA
- Nickname(s) “T”, “TL”, “Inspirator.” Some people call me the Asian Male Oprah or “Toprah” (flattering, but I think I’m more of an Oprah/Ellen/Jimmy Fallon combo).
- How do you spend your days? As I get older, I focus on doing things that bring me joy: motivational speaking, teaching blogging and digital storytelling at the Academy of Art University, discovering everyday heroes to spotlight on my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go. I’m all about giving, but I believe in “Me time,” too. Almost everyday, I partake in my “spiritual practice,” which entails doing some innercise and exercise. I like to start my mornings with a cup of tea or water, yoga and meditation (where I sit and breathe while staring out of my apartment window facing Coit Tower). I’m currently working on a legacy project with AARP highlighting three Chinese Caregiving Heroes through short documentaries. This project spoke to me because I had once lost four family members over a year’s time. We were caught off guard and weren’t prepared to be caregivers for all of them. We also never documented their stories before they passed. This documentary has been cathartic because it inspires people to be prepared to care. The documentaries will be shared on GoInspireGo in April.
- What’s your drink? London Fog tea with whole milk. I love the frothy, light, subtly bitter and sweet taste. I don’t remember where I discovered it, but the taste, texture and depth is like a good conversation. It warms you up from the inside out. Amen to that!
- What do you wonder about? I love the word “wonder” because it evokes a feeling of surprise and admiration. One of my favorite words is “wonderment.” I’m in constant wonderment. I wonder why people lose their sense of wonder. I wonder when people will realize that the energy you put out comes back ten-fold. As a kid, I woke up every morning and thought, “What am I going to do today? What am I going to learn? Who am I going to meet?” Today, I still lay awake many days before the sun rises and think about the adventures ahead. My favorite cartoon heroes are The WONDER Twins.
- What is the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, watched, or read recently? By far, Kid President’s “Letter to a person on their first day here.” Life’s simple lessons summed up by the kid in all of us. My favorite life lessons from this video:
- Sometimes you get ice cream, sometimes you don’t.
- There’s just so much to do, singing, dancing, oh and laughing. Laughing is the best.
- Don’t worry though. You won’t be doing this alone.
- Just treat everybody like it’s their birthday even if they don’t deserve it, because we all mess up sometimes.
- If you could wake up with any superpower, what would it be? I love this question! I’ve always wanted to fly. But I believe that everyone already has a superhero power — it’s called their calling. It’s up to each of us to discover it and use it to our fullest capacity while we’re here on Earth. My superhero power is inspiring people through storytelling. Every story I’ve produced and shared on GoInspireGo has had an impact both small and large. For example, I heard about Phoebe Russell, a San Francisco kindergartener who wanted to help the San Francisco Food Bank feed hungry, homeless people. Her goal: $1,000 in two months. Adults and even her teacher tried to dissuade her. But she was adamant because seeing so many hungry, homeless people in San Francisco made her sad. She wrote 50 letters asking for aluminum can donations. She collected almost $4,000, which equals about 18,000 meals. We shared her story and asked people to donate or volunteer at the food bank, which inspired the community to donate more than $20,000, or nearly 80,000 meals. Who wouldn’t want to get behind Phoebe’s story? A viewer sent us information about a chicken company that had a “Feed the Hungry” competition. We submitted her video. They were blown away and gave her a special prize: 15 tons of chicken (that’s about 30,000 pounds). But it gets better! A year later, three kindergarteners at her previous school saw the story and replicated the project. They raised about $3,500. More than 200,000 meals have been served in Phoebe’s community so far! Phoebe’s story and other impacts can be seen at GoInspireGo.
- What qualities do your favorite people have in common? My friends are an amalgam of things I love. I appreciate people who are stylish, smart, sassy, funny, quirky, compassionate and kind.
- What’s the most awkward accidental text or email you’ve ever sent or received? Sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s what we need whether we want to hear it or not. One time, I sent a text to a friend about another friend who was dating someone who wasn’t good for her. We were strategizing a plan to get her to realize she was in a daze and that it was a toxic relationship. I accidentally sent the text to an existing thread she was a part of. I had some explaining to do, but in the end it made that friend and me stronger. She knew it was in her best interest. The truth always prevails.
- What would you like to cross off next on your bucket list? Inspiring others to find their passion is my motivation and my calling. A dream of mine is to be able to broadcast this message to larger audiences. I used to think my biggest dream was to become a TV reporter — check. After eight years of reporting on death and destruction, I was ready to finally use my power of storytelling and connecting with people to do good. Becoming the first Asian American talk show host is something I aspire to achieve! So many people tell me they’re sick of seeing bad news all the time. I’m inviting people to join me and do something about it. Tell us your stories and share the ones that inspire you!
- How are you friends with Gina and/or Amy? I was introduced to Gina at Rustic Bakery in Marin by our mutual friend and my soul sister Kala Shah who is also my Community Heroes partner. Kala is a real life supermom who inspires the kids in her community to be the next generation of heroes. Gina and I immediately connected over a myriad of topics for two hours: from family to fashion, personal branding to interior design and so much more. During our two hour conversation, I had a cathartic moment that led to a life-changing breakthrough in how I viewed my relationship with my late father. For years I struggled thinking I was a failure in his eyes. He always wanted me to be a doctor but I became a TV reporter. When I quit my job and moved home to take care of him, the first thing he said to me on his sickbed was, “When are you going to be a doctor?” I was crestfallen. Gina thought for a minute and said, “Well, isn’t that what you are? A doctor of the soul?” Old memories surfaced and I realized that my dad was proud of me, even though he never said it. Needless to say, we laughed, cried, and left each other feeling so much stronger. She and Kala embody Question 8!