I Felt I Had Nothing to Offer to the World. I Just Played with Kids.
I am grateful, because I get to share my story with you. The story of how I found my life’s purpose.
I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my mom says I came out laughing and smiling. Which I believe because 90% of the time, you’re going to find that I have a smile on my face and that’s been my character for my entire life. I love to play, I love to move, and to be able to interact with people.
For the longest time, I felt like I didn’t have any value, because all I was doing was play with kids.
I was a parkour instructor, made very little money and had very few opportunities. The company I was working for kept cutting my hours and I felt overall not very appreciated. I had watched my friends succeed in their careers, and I was still stuck trying to figure out what to do with my life. I didn’t know what my life’s purpose was and felt I had no opportunities to grow. I was just a nice guy that didn’t really know what he was going to do with his life.
At the same time, I had waitlists out the door for my parkour classes. Parents kept telling me, “Thank you so much. My kid is learning to be brave.” “My daughter is learning how to manage her emotions when she’s really upset.” There were all these different things that I wasn’t clued into because I was so down in the dumps about what I was really going to become and what was going to give my life meaning. I had parents coming up to me and say, “Curt, wherever you go, we’re going to follow you because my kid’s life is improving.” I’ve always loved teaching kids, but I didn’t know if that’s what I really wanted to do and if that’s really who I was.
Then, one day, a parent asked me to do an after-school program at their kids’ school. I brought it up to the company I was working for at the time but they weren’t interested. I decided to set up the program myself as a side hustle to try to keep myself afloat. I really needed the money because my hours were getting cut and it was getting hard to pay rent. I was on food stamps at the time. Once my boss found out about the school programs, he said I had to choose and that it wouldn’t be possible to work for them and to continue my side hustle. This placed me in a really hard situation. The company wasn’t just work for me, they were my community, my family.
I started looking more at what I was actually doing. I started reading parent testimonials and realized I was helping these kids grow and develop characteristics that are really necessary to become successful and to thrive. I had this big epiphany. I realized I have value. I can grow. I can do this. So, I took all of the money in my bank account, all of $3k, and bought a super cheap van and some parkour equipment.
Then my worst fear came true. I lost the support of the community. I felt alone and didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to succeed.
I felt more lost than ever, but I also felt that I had a purpose to serve so I went for it. Over time, I started gaining back the faith and trust of the community. Then the community miraculously came together and many became part of the Kong Academy team. More than that, one of the parents who’s my partner now, worked for free for a year because she believed so strongly in what we were doing. It was amazing and I’m so grateful to this day.
Business was booming. We were in over 50 schools and we were selling out programs. We got to see all these kids grow and I finally realized that accepting who I am was the greatest contribution to the world because there is no other me. Giving these kids the type of education they really needed, that they were lacking, and that would up their chances of success. It meant that I was adding value to these kids’ lives. It felt so good because for the first time in my life, I felt my life has purpose.
Everything was going very well, then COVID-19 hit.
Like so many other companies we didn’t know what to do. Everything we did relied on in-person interaction. My mission was to bring our program to kids, regardless of what the obstacles were. I am a parkour instructor and we teach how to overcome obstacles. When things get hard and the obstacles seem insurmountable, we don’t just back off and quit.
I took out my big scratch paper, and I wrote out this lesson plan for how we could turn a living room into a safe place for kids to do parkour at home. We tried it the following week. We didn’t know if it would work or if it would be successful. We didn’t know what was going to happen when we started teaching in an online setting. But again, parent support was overwhelming. Our parents were just so grateful and excited that we were offering our new program that gave kids an opportunity to play, move and socialize with friends. Parents were saying that in all of their other Zoom classes the kids just wanted to smash their heads into the keyboard because they were so bored. During our sessions, they moved, played, laughed and had fun. It was great!
Parents really appreciated that we offered a new way for kids to socialize, a new way to connect with their bodies, and a way to grow their character and their emotions through such a fun activity. It was so successful that we won a Best of 2020 Award from 6crickets, a national platform for enrichment activities. The silver lining to the dark cloud of 2020 was that we could now reach everyone, and that was so up-lifting.
After doing all of that, more than ever, I really realized that I actually have value. Who I am has value to give to the world. I’m growing these kids’ abilities to become successful by growing their confidence. Teaching them that overcoming obstacles is not just a physical thing that we can do in parkour, it’s what we do in our lives. If you believe in yourself then you can go out and do anything. I get to teach kids that they really can grow, because I’ve seen it a thousand times. It’s not something that’s unique to some special individual in the corner. This is something that we were born to do. We were born to play and grow.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to present these online programs to everyone. I feel overwhelmed by the gift to be able to give back in a way that is me, and that was not always my story. But it is now!
Watch my story on YouTube: https://youtu.be/RekA4cAmMI4