Keith: Welcome back, everybody, to Growing as Grown-Ups. Sara, good to see you. I'm so excited about today's interview with Christi.
Sara: Yes, me too. Christi Gordy is the executive director and founder of Canopy Life Academy, and she has such a cool story of what she has envisioned and built over in Kenya. And she's going to tell you a little bit about her journey over there and some of the obstacles she's faced. But I just want to give a little context for what she's doing in Kenya to make it clear. Like she downplays a lot of what she's doing. She has built a school for kids from rural communities outside of Nairobi. They started with 12 students in fourth grade. They now have 39 students that span from fourth grade to eighth grade. They have three staff here in the United States, 13 staff over in Kenya. And one thing that's so cool is that she's been committed to staffing it with Kenyans so that it is built in line with what's going to help make a difference in Kenya. And really, the intent of the school is to break the cycle of poverty and unemployment in Kenya because it's staggering to know that less than 50 percent of students in Kenya even make it to high school. Most of them have to drop out to start working to support their families. And then even those that make it to high school, a smaller number make it to college. And even when they can graduate from college, there is a 42 percent unemployment rate in Kenya. So jobs are scarce and their education system is just maintaining the status quo. And so Christi's come in and said, we've got to break this cycle of poverty. I want to raise up a generation of leaders who know how to solve problems, lead with integrity, are committed to their families. And so they have built this school to teach these skills that are just not a part of the traditional Kenyan education. And so it's such a great mission that they have. And I just want to read you one thing that that I think really captures what they're doing. She wrote, “Kenya needs innovative leaders rooted in the community level to blaze a new trail and lead out of poverty. Leaders who are emotionally healthy, spiritually grounded, business savvy with a problem solving mindset.”
And so it has been a huge undertaking. Over the last five years, she has had some great wins and some big challenges, and she's going to tell us a few stories along their journey.
Keith: I cannot wait. Let's jump in and hear the interview. We'll see you all in a bit.
Sara: Hello, Christi Gordy. I'm so excited to have you on the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast with us today.
Sara: Christi, we have been friends for a long time, and your story has been so encouraging to me as I've got to walk with you through the last few years as you have built this amazing school over in Kenya. So why don't before we jump in, will you just tell us a little bit about Canopy Life Academy and what you are doing over there?
Christi: Sure. First of all, thank you so much for having me. I am so excited to talk with you. We have been friends for a long time, and you have been a big part of the story. So, I am so grateful to be able to share with your listeners.
Canopy Life Academy is a boarding school in Kenya for elementary-aged students at this time, and it serves vulnerable children from rural communities. We are working to empower them to become innovative, godly entrepreneurs who can lead themselves and their communities out of the cycle of poverty. So what that looks like is a very nurturing home environment, a very engaging classroom environment, an innovation program that gives them design and business skills so they can cultivate ideas to market and grow a healthy business and a spiritual program that ensures that they have a practical faith and strong character to back them up in their success.
And we launched in 2015 in a small little rental facility outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and we now serve 39 students and three grades in campus of our own, about forty five minutes outside of Nairobi, which I'm sure is going to work its story into this interview. And we're growing daily. Our goal is to have 250 at full size, grades four to twelve and all other kinds of goodness and whimsical beauty on campus, and I live here in Atlanta with my husband, Joe, and our headquarters for the US embassy is here and I serve as the executive director of the entity.
Sara: Awesome. I love it and I love that. I got to see your little rental house and now your big, beautiful campus and you all. She has done such a great job. And the kids that are in the program right now are just precious. I'll probably throw a picture of the ones that I got to meet last year on our website just so they can see their beautiful faces.
So let's jump into this conversation. We are doing a series right now on the podcast about how it's in the challenging situations in life that we have the opportunity to grow the most in some of those challenges are ones that just come at us that we have no way to get around, and some of them are ones that we choose to lean into. So when you think back over the course of your life and all the things that have helped shape you and turn you into the woman and the leader that you are today, what would you say is one of the biggest challenges that you have faced?
Christi: I would say for sure the biggest challenge, especially professionally within the last couple of years in 2017, our organization hit a critical barrier. We were forced to alter our programming. It's a long story. It involves all sorts of corruption and cross-cultural challenges. But basically, we were forced to alter our programming immediately for the safety of our students. We had to send them to live and learn at a different boarding school than ours.
Our teachers were still engaging and nurturing them, but in a sense, we were not running our unique programming for what turned out to be 18 months. And it was by far one of the greatest challenges I have personally or professionally faced, definitely one of the most formative of who I have become. Yeah, it was not in the far past, not the not too distant past.
Sara: No, it does. I mean, 2017 at this point does feel like forever ago. But I it wasn't in this story. So if you can put yourself back in your shoes of 2017 Christi, How did you experience the event at that time?
Christi: Honestly, looking back, it felt like a complete blur, like a paralysis, if I could describe it, it felt like a paralysis at first. And then as I began to understand the magnitude of the problem, the only visual picture that comes to mind was waking up every morning and pushing against a boulder that had blocked our path that was not going to move. But we were pushing against the boulder for the sake of building muscle. That's the only thing I know how to describe it, it was just consistent, persistent faith when it looked like nothing was going to shift.
Professionally, it was challenging, especially in the decision making. Kenya is a difficult place to get decisionable information. I mean, we just due to the cross-cultural aspect, due to the way communication flows, we had we were very small in 2017. We're only two years old, barely as an organization, have limited funds. And that meant limited options and zero room, like zero margin for error. And we had a fairly young donor base. As a non-profit, your entire success and stability is dependent on your donor base, but our donor base was very young, so we weren't sure if they were going to stick with us through this impediment or if they were looking for an organization that was going to create quick results. And so that created a lot of difficulties in making the right decision if there even was such a thing.
And personally, I was experiencing such extreme, I would call it shame and insecurity. I am an INFJ on the Myers Briggs. I'm sure everyone on the listening has probably been familiar with that. But I'm a Feeling decision maker. I was feeling everything every day, held a dozen decisions that had to pass through my gut or my instincts, and it was exhausting. Even when I made the right decision, I had no proof to know if I had made the right decision. And I was just riddled with self-doubt and shame. Should I have seen this coming? Do others see me as a failure? Am I being truthful to myself or others by casting vision of where we're trying to go? Am I being inauthentic about where we are right now? But I needed to cast a vision and will we make it through? It was just an incredibly emotional paralysis that we had to wake up and act and move through every day.
Sara: Yeah, gosh, so it sounds like it was a season with a lot of unpredictability, a lot of unknowns, a lot of obstacles bigger than you could have possibly anticipated. And you take that and combine it with the insecurity and lack of confidence that you had in yourself as a leader. Top that with just a dose of shame, of what am I doing? Right, like that is a lot. And so. You know, now, from the perspective of where you are three years later, having survived that season, can you identify what it was, I mean I think you kind of already did– the shame and the lack of confidence–was probably contributing to the paralysis, but can you identify what it took in terms of growth from you in order to get through that season?
Christi: Absolutely. I mean, there was more than just the shame. I was also experiencing burnout because two and a half years into a nonprofit, you're pretty much already running on flames. I was holding myself back by my need for creative control and a desire for perfection. I had a creative disillusionment already at that point that was wearing me out. At my core, I'm a visionary trying to create, or a creative I guess, trying to create something beautiful and life-giving in another culture. And my idealistic nature, which can be my strength, was playing against me because it was really struggling with the idea that all creative work is hard. And I gave in to complaining, which is death to the creative process. And one of the books I read, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Big Magic. And this isn’t a direct quote, but it's going to be my parenthetical is that basically all creative work is hard, so there's no point in complaining about it. Complaining only scares away the inspiration that you need to move through it.
And then the shame was compounded because I was comparing myself to other leaders who are not Feelers, aggressive leaders who can put aside their emotions to get stuff done. And I thought that that was my weakness. And I think one of the ways I was able to move through it is that I had to put aside the idea and the shame that I was never going to be tough. I'm not, as a Feeler, I'm very strong, but I'm not tough. And I had to embrace that that feeling passionate, tender self was my superpower, not my weakness. And I had to learn to draw from the toughness of others, the intellect of others, to push through hard decisions that didn't ever resonate in my gut.
I had to learn resilience, some equanimity in my emotions, just when to not let it– practices even– to not let those negative emotions get to you. And I had to learn to let go, to trust others to do the work, even if it's not the way I would have done it. I'm not a perfectionist in that kind of sense, but I am an idealist in that I want there to be a perfect value at the base of every journey and different people have different values. And so you have to trust that they can contribute their value, even if it's different from yours to still achieve a positive end goal. And I had to learn to communicate, as best as I could, my values and expectations so that we could unify under that leadership and vision. Yeah, I think also and I don't know if this will be applicable to all of your listeners, but I had to do a deep dive in my faith and my trust that what I was doing had a purpose and that the sense of calling that started it for me was worth persevering through, and drawing strength from a place outside of myself and for me that was in, you know, my faith. And it took all of that and a heap of encouragement and support from other people, you know, to push through and to grow as a person through that disillusionment, that shame and my sense of creative control or idealism to be a healthy person on the other side.
Sara: Yeah, wow, I mean, I watched some of that journey with you. It was it was a it was a season of you wrestling and really learning who you are as a leader and as a woman, as an executive director, as a boss. All those different things. And I think hearing you explain it right now, like it really is, you know, as we talk about it at the Lyceum, in terms of developmental transitions, right? You're at that stage in life, like me, where we are moving fully into ownership over who we are, right? And that comparison of, I think I know who I am, but I'm not doing it the way that other people are. And is that wrong and what are other people going to think of me, is still hanging on, right?
That I think about as like this like ball and chain hanging on my ankle, holding me back from really embracing the type of leader that I am, the personality traits, the values that I bring, the you know, your ability to be creative and visionary and whimsical and all those things are uniquely you, but aren't what you're going to see in the executive director of a different organization. So, you know, this season was tough for you, but to see you wrestling and all the things you just described as you, learning to see yourself as you are and not as much as how you see other people or how you wish other people were to see you. Is that a fair statement?
Christi: Absolutely. I'm a big visual person. So, like, as you're talking, it's very true to the visual image that the challenge when you're in a hard time is that everyone has advice for you, and you want to take that advice. You need that advice. You need that help. But if you have someone that tackles a problem like a linebacker and you are a ninja acrobat, like you don't have the brawn and aggression, then you often, if you don't know yourself, which let's admit it, most of us are going to constantly be on this journey of learning ourself. But if you don't know that that difference about yourself and own it, then you will try to tackle that problem like they wanted you to. And that works for them. And it will crush you, right? Potentially for good. Right? And then you have to try to figure out, OK, that's not my skill. And this isn't because I'm a failure. I might be a failure at being a linebacker, but I'm not a failure at this problem. I can still overcome this problem, but I have to own who I am and find other people who can teach me how to be the best version. And sometimes there isn't another mentor who's wired with that same combination in your life and you just have to test and fail. How do I be the female, feeler, founder, creative and tackle this really hard problem that other people would handle in a much different way? And how do I do it with confidence, but also humility? It's really challenging because you want to help other people have to give and it's not always helpful if they are different from you and you don't realize it.
Sara: Wow, such good wisdom, and I think just that growth mindset is such a valuable thing that that we all need to learn and embrace of just always saying, what can I learn from this and how can I get better next time? Right. What do I know more about me this now and what can I do differently next time?
Sara: So let's transition now to what's happening in life today. And just because we're filming these a little bit in advance in the world is changing so quickly right now. We're we are recording this at the end of August. And so, there's a lot going on in the world. And, you know, I'd love to hear what's the biggest challenge you're facing right now that is throwing you into another season where you have the choice to lean in and grow through it, or, you know, all sorts of other less healthy ways, bury your head and hope that it passes or just give up or any of the other ways. So what are you facing right now?
Christi: Well, right now, I mean, there is a lot going on in the world right now on every level. And I could talk about the tangible, but I'm going to talk with just about how it is impacting me personally. All of us are pivoting like tops. You know, we're just I'm sick of the word “pivot”. I used to love that word, but I'm tired of it. And I would say my biggest challenge right now is, again, working through the emotions that come with all the uncertainty and pivoting. I will say that I have felt so much stronger than I have in seasons past. And I think those seasons, I think the battle and that we faced in 2017, that crisis to overcome has really helped prepare me for all of this uncertainty.
But three specific emotions that I think most people can relate to that I'm having to overcome regularly is frustration, grief and hopelessness. And it looks different, right, in different people, but frustration that we're constantly having to change the plans. Hello, controller and planner in me, to accommodate all this ongoing uncertainty. Grief, we've all lost things, and I had to recognize early on that that grief could tank my creative ability if I didn't give it space. I literally have to give space to my grief every morning. I give myself a couple of minutes to write down something I miss or something that I feel like I've lost, just to give it space, because if I deny it, it will eventually come up and pull me down if I ignore it.
And then hopelessness. As a creative, this is technically, like a sense of hopelessness is a natural bent, especially when you're an Enneagram four and you're drawn towards these like unresolved issues and you hopefully will bounce off of it with a creative solution. But if you're not careful, it's easy to get sucked into that. And I have to ground myself. It's not easy to have no completion to our projects or to have nothing really to look forward to, that, you know for sure is going to stay on the calendar. And I have to ground myself daily and affirmations that remind me that this isn't going to be forever, that really good things can come out of these disruptions. They're really meaningful things happening in the world right now that I want to be a part of. And so continuing to seek out the part that I can play in the history that's being told right now without mission drift away from the students and communities I am drawn and focused on. And our service. How can I engage in the other things happening in the world?
And so I think it just takes a sense of balance and retaining the practices that will keep you in a place of hope, acknowledging your grief so it can be like daily dealt with instead of letting it build up and letting it sway me off course, and then constantly replacing frustration with a sense of patience and that hope. Hope helps a lot with the frustration as well, like, OK, you just need to be patient, this will eventually flush out. I don't think the world will ever be the same, so I'm not going to say it's going to all go back to normal. That's not the hope that I'm placing it in. The hope that I'm placing it in, that all of this disruption will lead to a new and better future where all of our organizations will thrive even better than they did before, where we will be stronger and leaner, more values-based, more priorities on what matters, better work/life balance. Like I have to believe and visualize those things on a daily basis so that I don't get sucked into some of that frustration, grief and hopelessness that can burden you.
Sara: Yeah, so as you know, we talk about growth in terms of competing values or competing commitments. We have the thing that we're striving for, what we call a bigger me value, or what I want to be true of my life, what I want to be the story that's told of me at the end. And then we have kind of our status quo self that goes into self-protective mode and says, but change is scary and I'm going to do everything I can to protect myself. And so it sounds like the story that you want to tell is that you grew and thrived through this season and that whatever– I mean, I'm getting to the point that I'm not even going to say when this is over because I just I don't think it's I don't know that it's that kind of season–but on the other side of the momentary struggle, you are somebody who has stayed true to your vision, who has been faithful with what's been entrusted to you, and to who you are without giving in to the emotion. Is the emotion the thing that is kind of fighting against you, that in some way this frustration, grief and hopelessness are in a way self-protective? Or is there something else that is in that self-protective space?
Christi: That's such a good question. You're definitely right on the aspirational stuff I want to be known after this is over as someone who valued what mattered and didn't waver in my certainty or hope that I allowed the disruption to create a better me and a better reality. I think without being held in place by my need for control or my doing-repressed self, because as an idealist I do repress action, I prefer to live in my idealisms rather than do the hard work sometimes that it takes, you know, to push through. And it is hard work to repress overwhelming despair or grief or even if it's not overwhelming, that creepy kind that comes along and steals your creativity. For someone like me, it's a fuel, right, so that despair creeps in it steals your fuel, your ability to go do what needs to be done to stay in a place of growth. I have a whole I'm looking at a whole whiteboard right now of a whole bunch of things that my visionary creative doesn't want to do to be stronger on the other side of this. But they need to be done, you know, and I have to show up for those things and bring my value system to those things and not be held in place by the uncertainty.
I think, too– I think you can relate to this– like it's easy to charge ahead into an idea when you know you can make it happen. But in this season, I mean, you plan an event. It doesn't happen. You plan a virtual event. Nobody shows up. You, you know, the technology goes out or a new mandate or a new data comes out or there's a new sense of unrest or there's new information that comes your way for how you would normally have presented a process. You're never actually able to just run full steam ahead towards an idea. And that can also be really impairing to a creative leader, because we have this idea and we just want to run after it. But you can't run fast in this season and you have to kind of like keep your stride because things are changing regularly, and it could really throw you over. So, caution and walking slowly or not strength of mine. And so I don't want to be held in place by the fact that I like to barrel ahead or do nothing at all. I have to find that steady rhythm every day of moving forward, even though it doesn't feel passionate and exciting. I can't let it keep me just sitting. You know, you have to actually get up and get stuff done and move towards the goal, even if it's slow.
Sara: So good, Christi, I love how insightful you are to what you're going through right now, and I think it reminds me a little bit of what we were talking about a few minutes ago in terms of what you learned back in 2017 is the importance of being true to yourself. And so even in the season where you've identified these three big heavy emotions, there would be some people to say the way that I need to get through being overwhelmed by emotions is to just stuff them and be a more logical person, right? But that would be, again, telling you to be a linebacker where it's like you have to learn to reconcile this tension within yourself of you feel things deeply, and that is what fuels your creativity in your passion and your vision. And as the executive director, as a wife, as all the other roles you play in life, stuff has to get done. And so learning to figure out what it means, the truer version of you that can be a person who values what's most important and achieves the visions that you have and has your feelings and keeps taking steps when it's hard. Sounds so easy, right? haha.
Christi: So many times that I wish that I fell into the feeling oppressed group and I could just push all those feelings aside and get stuff done. But you're right. No, that's part of growth. And self-awareness is learning how your own devices that strengthen you can also be your Achilles heel and how to manage those so that you can get through, how you can do hard things.
Sara: Yeah. So when you look ahead over the next–let's just keep it short, because that's all we can handle, the next two months–what is it going to require of you to come out on the other side being the person that you want to be?
Christi: I mean, I think for me, it has to do with daily practice. I think it has to do with making sure my mindset is in the right place. I have a very specific rhythm that I started in January, but it has picked up power over the COVID season. It's a journaling practice combined with a prayer practice combined with a little bit of yoga and visualization–things that allow me to get in the right headspace in the morning. I think getting through the season will involve lots of consultation with people who are able to think more logically than myself and help us set really good structures in place.
But I would say my number one impediment is getting paralyzed by not being able to see the future and feeling too much about that lack of vision. So I think it's constantly visualizing the future we're trying to walk towards and believing that it can happen. And not visualizing in the hocus-pocus sense. I mean, it just really does. When I was going in 2017, going through that very difficult time. I mean we didn't even have a square foot of land, much less a house that 20 kids could live in. We had to purchase and buy and put in water and build an international building project with very little expertise that we could afford. It was significant. And I would regularly sit down and morning and just imagine our school, as it was going to be one day, and of course, being myself, it wasn't super detailed, it had more of this wave of essence, you know, the way that you would smell things. So I imagined laughter and bare feet running up and down a big wrap-around porch in a home that felt like a home and celebrated who these kids were and wind chimes and stained glass and music playing between classes, all the things that, in its essence, represent– I don't think this will ever be true of Canopy Life–but in its essence, it represents the spirit of what I hope the school will be to transform the lives of these students. And not a shred of that existed, including our staff actually believing that that was something that we were aiming for. And so I would wake up and visualize that future as a way of reminding myself that the darkness we were in at that time, the uncertainty, the challenges in decision making, was just temporary. And so I think it's a very similar. It's imagining the future, it's reminding ourself of the person we want to be when this is over, the community we will have wanted to develop when this is over, however our organizations have to change in order to become that person in that community. We will change. You know, if you are a restaurant owner and you're wanting to thrive through the season, the kind of environment you want to create and the experience you want to create for people and the people you're trying to give that to, those are the two most motivational pieces, right, is depending on whether you approach it as an entrepreneur, as a creative or both. So, you just keep that in mind. And you've envisioned that community. You envision that leader that you want to be to help you get over the uncertainty of, is anything that I do today going to be worth it at the end of the day, or is everything going to change? Is it going to go away?
Sara: I think it's so important right now. Right, because what you're about is not the specifics of what is happening in the Canopy Life building, right? It's not the building, it's not the classroom. For you it is the impact on the lives of your students and then how they're going to go back and change their communities. And so I think it's so important and we talk about this a lot at the Lyceum as just being centered in your values because you have to pivot in how that's delivered. Right? If you've referenced restaurant owners a minute ago, that that they have to know, are you about having people in your building or are you about providing food for people to bond over and have good conversation? And so the more we can frame what we are about in terms of values and impact rather than tangibility, I think it allows us to have that shift when we need to, when the world says no, not only are you going to have challenges building your building in Kenya, but school’s just canceled, send and all the kids home! And how do you keep, you know, your kids are back in their villages right now and how do you continue to love and invest in them, learning at their home, whatever that looks like. And I think when you're able to stay grounded in that mission, it's easier than when it's in the specifics of how it's done. The why versus the how.
Christi: Absolutely, absolutely.
Sara: So I have two questions for you as we start to wrap up. The first one is if you have any words of advice or encouragement to other leaders who are on this journey trying to navigate this crazy world, what would you want to say to them?
Christi: I actually had a hard time, knowing this question might be coming down the pipe, I have so many things I wanted to say, but I'm going to I'm going to narrow it down to five things and I'll keep it short.
First, I would say remember your why. So when things get hard, when you're having to pivot, like I talked about earlier, take time to visualize the end goal. Like I said, I would imagine laughter and bare feet and banana trees and wind chimes. I imagined a campus that was thriving and I still do. Even now I have to. So imagine your end goal.
I would say two: know when and how to stop. I had a hard time knowing when to stop. I compromised my mental health and it almost cost me the organization because the number of times I wrote my resignation in my head was uncountable. My problem was that even when I stopped my body, my mind and emotions were still reeling. And about the time they calmed down, if they ever did, it was time to work again. And I have, due to the time zone difference and everything, there was 24-7 seven access to the people who needed me. I had to be available longer than your normal eight to six or eight to seven day. And I didn't know how to stop, how to get away and recharge. I've learned it now, but I would say that's one of the most valuable things you can figure out is know how and when to stop.
Number three: don't quit. Don't quit. When the campus finally reopened in January of 2019, I remember feeling like it was God alone that had done it. The only thing that I had done right was that I hadn’t quit and that alone had almost killed me. You know, I felt like I had been holding onto the back car of a roller coaster hanging on for dear life, and I couldn't take credit for any of the success of that journey. It felt like the experience had actually beaten me, had won over me, and I had the scars to prove it. But then I realized that perseverance is the only thing that separates those that make it from those that don't. It's the only thing that separates those that make it from those that don't. There's a quote. It's in my little folder of quotes and images by Calvin Coolidge. It says, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not because nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb, and education will not because the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." And I truly believe that. I think that's literally the only thing that divides the people who make it if you don't quit.
But that's going to sound in contrast to my number four which is: know when to quit. And that's a really scary one. But I just want to remind people, try with everything in you not to quit, but nothing, no vision, no business, no work is worth your emotional health and your actual life. If you can't figure out how and when to stop, then you have to know when to quit. Because I know leaders who have destroyed their mental health, their belief in others, their relationships, their marriages, because they don't know how to do it healthy, and whether that's delegation or a work life balance or understanding their strengths or how their poor decisions have led them to an untenable situation, they're scared it will mean failure or letting other people down so they don't quit. And you have to realize that even meaningful work isn't meant to last forever and may not succeed. The experience will always leave some good in the world. And even if it's just inside of you, there are lessons you will learn and you'll do it differently the next time. But burning out and damaging others, sometimes you don't get that back. It's not like you can give six or seven years of your life to a meaningful work that almost kills you. And then you can get that relationship and that time back. The cynicism that can set in, the relationships that can be damaged, sometimes you don't get that back. You never come back to your full self. And so I would just say, if you don't know how to stop, then know when to quit.
And then my last thing would just be to learn to forgive. No one is ever going to love your idea the way you do. Sometimes they will even hate your idea and come out in straight opposition to your leadership. Inevitably, that will lead to a lot of people who hurt you, intentionally or not. Sometimes it's even perceived. It's not even real hurt, but you perceive it as hurt and they will never always show up for you the way you hope, because honestly, no one can. Even you can't show up for yourself the way that you would hope. So getting through hard times will require you to forgive daily the big hurts, but also the dozens of paper cuts that you get every day from people who don't support or show up or understand what you're doing. And you have to forgive yourself because you will make so many mistakes and hurt people along the way. If you can't learn to forgive, you're not going to be the person you want to be in the end of it all.
So, yeah, those would be my five things. Remember your why. Know when and how to stop. Don't quit, but know when to quit. And learn to forgive. That would be my advice for anyone out there.
Sara: I mean, I need to post that on my wall. So good Christi. I love it. So to end on a good note, instead of what's bogging us down, tell me what is happening in your world right now that you're excited about.
Christi: Oh, I've got so much. There's so much innovation and pivots happening. But I would say the two things exciting me the most right now is that we are having some exciting projects coming for this campus that we're continuing to build and construct. We're trying to help as many students as we can, and we're looking actively, seeking out people to support some of those big projects. I mean, truly, life transforming opportunities for children living in poverty. And also we are recruiting the mentors and givers and encouragers who cheerlead our students through the years. So for us, what that looks like is people to sign up to be what we call Hand-Picked at some kind of a version of our traditional sponsorship program, but instead of a sponsor choosing their child or their student, they sign up, they agree to be a mentor and sponsor, and then we take those photos of all the people who've signed up over to Kenya and we let our students choose who they're going to partner with for their education.
And it is an incredible opportunity for these kids coming out of poverty who don't even often get to choose what shirt they're going to wear every day because they only have one or two, and that's a choice, right, to restore that kind of dignity and agency and the power of choice to a child in poverty is just so powerful.
So, yeah, I'm excited about recruiting folks to sign up to be to be Hand-Picked and be part of a team that's going to encourage and mentor and cheer our students on. And especially we're trying to get all these folks together, because when the school year relaunches in January, which is when the new school year will start in Kenya, we want to focus fully on our programs and on helping these kids heal from some of the mental health issues that will have inevitably developed over the course of a year at home. Over the course of being told, they have to now repeat, I mean, we have eighth graders who thought they were going to high school and now they're going to have to repeat eighth grade under a country mandate, you know, and so how do we get that team of people together that are going to encourage cheer on support and believe in these kids from the first day they're in school? So, yeah, I'm really pumped about finding those people and getting folks to sign up to be Hand-Picked as a sponsor for our kids.
Sara: I love that. And I love seeing the videos of the kids when they do get to look at all the sponsors’ faces and they find that one that, like, connects with them. And the joy. It's so great. It's so beautiful.
Christi: Yeah. We're going to be talking about that and sharing that video a lot in September. So by the time this airs, you should be able to easily find it on our social media, on our website.
Sara: I love it. Christi, I'm so proud of you. For what that's worth, and the work that you do and the faith that you have to keep going when times are hard, and the commitment that you have to your vision. I mean, you get a good year and then you get slammed and then you get a good year and you get slammed and you've not given up. And I think your story is going to be inspirational to a lot of people. And just to hear such good, vulnerable wisdom from a leader who is a Feeler, because there are a lot of us in the world, but we don't tend to be the stories that get told. And so I'm excited that we get to bring a story to the 50 or so percent of leaders in the world who relate more to that.
Christi: Let your feeling flag fly! You can be a feeler and still be a leader. It's hard and you're not accepted by everyone, but it is worth it to be your authentic self as you pursue your vision. It's worth it. Thank you for the opportunity to share this story because not many people get to hear the story of the feeler, so thank you for creating a platform for that, and thank you for the part you played in the story, Sara, From the leaders lyceum and the training that I received there to our personal relationship and the wisdom that you pour into it. There's no success that any leader has experienced that is in their own power. And I am the first to admit that. Like I said, I feel like I'm holding on to a roller coaster half the time. It's the people who join the story. You're only as strong as your community is walking through the story with you. And so you're a big part of that. And I'm grateful.
Sara: I'm so honored. All right, friend, thank you for your time. And we will make sure people know how to find you. And Canopy Life and all the information if they want to get more involved and get Hand-Picked by one of your sweet students.
Christi: Thank you.
Sara: So, hang in there. It’s going to be awesome on the other side.
Christi: It is! We’re going to be awesome!
Keith: Sara, great job. I mean, it was fun because I can tell you guys are friends, but isn't that amazing.
Sara: Yeah. She just has such a great story of perseverance. When we go back to the formula for change that we've talked about before, the amount of challenges she's faced in the amount of perseverance it's taken from her is just out of this world, and it really has, I've walked with her over the last five years of this journey, and it really has grown her up in some really awesome ways.
Keith: Oh, my gosh. I have to tell you, I think the thing that really moved me the most in the interview–and it was it was significant– is to hear her early stories of challenge and how the frustration and the fear and even the way she talked about the way she was built was like the whole world was coming in on her from the outside-in. It was like it was like she was even a victim to her own personality. But at the end of the interview, when you asked her what advice does she have for other people. And she rattled through that list, I've got it I've got it written down here, but it's remember your why, know when and how to stop. Don't quit and know when to quit and learn to forgive. And it's like, what book did she get that from? Is that not a transition to inside-out and such a testament to how challenges that are persevered through can really shape you and shape understanding and shape your effectiveness. So what was your favorite part of the interview?
Sara: Oh, I mean, I love that piece that you just highlighted. But then I think one thing that stood out to me, she mentioned kind of in the midst of this season that we're in right now, she said, I want to seek out the part that I can play in the story that's being told now. And you and I, I think we've maybe even mentioned it here before, we love the question, who do I want to be in the midst of this? What story do I want to tell? And it's like, that's just how she's now living. Things are crazy. Things are changing. How can I be a part of this? And then the idea that what she's wanting to be a part of is that this disruption in life is not going to then go back to normal. It's how do we then get to a new and better future on the other side of it? So this moving forward, embracing the challenges that we're facing to grow both herself and the organization, and the world around us, and not just saying I just want things to go back to normal, because that is kind of the opposite of perseverance. I mean, you have to persevere, but it's not embracing growth in any way. It's like, let me just stick my head in the sand and come out when it's over.
Keith: And she is so embracing of growth. I mean, that is, my gosh, she just exudes it. And I think that was the most inspirational part of the story to me is that is just hearing the way she sees herself and her role right now.
And again, you can hear through Christi's voice a person who is owning who they are, owning the difference they want to make. And I think that's what you're speaking to.
Sara: Yeah. And I think just to be like honest and transparent so our listeners can relate. These people that we've been interviewing, and I know just because I've walked with Christi through this, they don't embrace change and challenge with like “yippy! This is so fun. I love it.” Like, it is hard, right? She has had hard days. But she doesn't give up, right, and I think sometimes I can look at these people that I respect in terms of how they handle challenge, and I think it just it's easy for them. They're different than me. And they're not, right, they're not. She has hard days, you know, our other guests, the same story can be true. But she just knows that her why, her mission, this idea of really helping change the culture of Kenya is worth it. And she keeps she keeps hanging in there. Yeah, I love that.
Keith: So, Sara, that's so good. And those who are listening to the podcast, if you want some help figuring out where that point is on your journey to kind of take a step in the direction of who you want to be and figure out what's holding you in place and just some insights on how to lean into the challenges, we've got a great tool for you if you'll go to growinggrownups.com and download the growth gap tool PDF and worksheet and work through that. We'd love to help you do that.
Sara: Yeah. And a lot of what comes out of that growth gap tool you'll see in Christi's interview once you do the tool of of what I want to be about and what's holding me in place. And so it's a great resource to help give you some direction as you're pushing through your challenges, why it matters, and why it's holding you back. So check that out and we're going to have some other great resources to help you on this journey on our website coming soon. So stay tuned.
Keith: Yeah, so good. Hey, guys, until we the next episode, until we get to be with you again, I hope that you will find the challenges in your world and lean in!