A Change Would Do You Good
In the spirit of New Year's resolutions, meet three people who made profound changes in their lives.
The top New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, work out and save more money, but have you ever thought about what your life would be like if you took a leap and made a significant change, maybe even one that scares you? 435 Magazine profiles three people who did just that.
Make an Impact
Growing up, Gary White says he had no idea what he wanted to do. He calls his upbringing the “classic Midwestern experience.” One of five kids in a working-class family, he lived in the suburbs out by the stadiums where Ray County and Independence come together. He went to grade school and high school in the area, and studied engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
After he graduated, White briefly worked in New York for a clean water and sanitation organization called Catholic Relief Services. What he saw stayed with him, even though his career path changed.
It wasn’t until 1990, while hosting a dinner for about 100 people in the Knights of Columbus Hall at St. Bernadette Parish, when White found his passion. During the dinner, he spoke of his experiences traveling the world and seeing the deadly repercussions caused by lack of water and sanitation. He advocated raising money to provide access to water for just one village. That night, $4,300 was donated and White says that’s when he knew he was going to work to help others.
Soon after, White founded Water Partners. He had seen a lot of failing sanitation projects and had a gut feeling that he knew a better way to do it. Water Partners didn’t have a big start-up grant, but White says the “more good that Water Partners started to do, the more people believed.”
White took trips to Honduras and wrote newsletters to his sponsors, and came back with picture slideshows to show them what their generosity accomplished. Slowly but surely, his organization grew. “It just happened organically. Before you knew it, we raised $100,000 a year, and we thought that was a big deal, and then we raised our first million, and we started getting million dollar grants.”
In 2009, Water Partners merged with actor Matt Damon’s charitable initiative, H2O Africa, to become Water.org. White’s established financial model for finding, evaluating and monitoring projects, combined with Damon’s access to the media and fundraising, has made Water.org a game-changer by providing clean water and sanitation for 8 million people in 14 countries.
“What we really do for people is help take away that barrier of finance so that they are empowered to get the water and sanitation solutions that best fit their needs. This drives down their cost of obtaining water and sanitation every day,” says White.
For anyone seeking to impact change in the world, White advises that life should be about finding the intersection between the world’s greatest need and your greatest passion.
“If you want to make a bigger difference, find a different insight than what others might have right now, combine that with tenacity, pursue and believe in it. Don’t think of it as changing the world. Think of it changing something about the world, or even changing one person’s life.”
Most people fear going to dinner or to the movie theater alone. The thought of occupying one side of a two-person booth, or purchasing a jumbo popcorn for one is intimidating. Then there are people like KMBZ radio host Jayme Monacelli. She’s traveled the world by herself for a decade.
Monacelli says she’s always had an intense curiosity about the world, but the daily grind of advancing her career pushed her wandering nature aside. Then, she says, when she hit 30, she realized it was go time.
“Now, there are very few places that I wouldn’t travel," she says. “I am pretty confident in my ability to have fun, no matter the place or situation.”
Her first solo adventure was a week spent driving through Acadia National Park. Monacelli says that experience brought her a feeling of exhilaration.
In 2014, she jumped on her biggest adventure yet. “I gave a 20-day notice on my lease, sold 85 percent of my stuff and moved out. I traveled full time with no real plan. I didn’t know how long I was going to be gone, or where I wanted to go. I just knew it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
After being offered a full-time freelance job, Monacelli took advantage of the opportunity to work remotely. Over 10 months, she did three big loops across the United States: through the southwest, the northeast and around the Pacific Northwest. She spent time in 22 states and put 27,000 miles on her Chevy Cobalt. All with very little planning.
Friends and family expressed concern. They asked her what she was going to do about her mail, or if she was going to get lonely. “Maybe so,” Monacelli told them. “But when an opportunity like this presents itself, how do you not take advantage of it?”
It was the best year of her life. Now Monacelli craves the freedom of traveling alone.
Since her monumental road trip, she has driven the 800-mile Ring Road in Iceland, shared Guinness with strangers in Ireland, watched soccer matches in Chile, bartered for spices in Morocco and eaten pho from a little roadside stand in a small village in Vietnam. And she’s done most of it solo.
Whether it’s going to the movies or going to Africa, she urges people to ignore the small details and just do it.
“Maybe it will be the biggest disaster, but maybe it’s going to be the best thing ever. Don’t you want to know? If it’s going to be the greatest thing that I’ve ever done with my life, I want to know. I think about the experiences that I've had by myself and it occurs to me that I could have missed that.”
Jill Tupper’s life is an adventure. She works as a keynote speaker spreading motivational messages to thousands of people at a time; she’s hiked Kilimanjaro, done charity work in Calcutta and run marathons. Despite a history of risk-taking and personal expansion, nothing has ever compared to the uncertainty of leaving everything she knows behind and moving across the country with her daughter.
In 2014, life hit Tupper and her two children hard with a series of curveballs. The native Kansas Citian was newly divorced and her family felt derailed and disheartened. When her daughter, Journey, expressed a wish to follow her dream of acting in Los Angeles and attending the Orange County School of Performing Arts, Tupper was receptive.
“I had this feeling that we had to go," she says. "Life’s disappointments had opened a door.”
After months of research and auditions, the single mom felt ready to jump. She organized an estate sale of their possessions and readied the home to be sold. Nothing went smoothly at first. The first night of the sale, Tupper’s house was broken into. She lost all the most valuable items that were to be sold, even her car, wallet and license.
The bumps along the way were discouraging enough to make anyone falter. But Tupper took it in good faith. She saw them as signs that it was time to leave without looking back.
Following an uncharted course, mother and daughter arrived in Laguna Beach. They found a beautiful home in a friendly community. “It’s really cool,” she says. “When someone needs a ride to the airport or a kid picked up from school, we’re there. We have each other’s backs. We share dinner, do yoga and go on walks together.”
Three years later, Tupper says watching her daughter live her potential has been the most rewarding aspect of the move. Personally, she has advanced her speaking career and developed new and healthy habits in California. Seeing it as a chance to make some like-minded, athletic friends, Tupper joined an outrigger canoe team. She competed in a 9-person, 31-mile race up the California coast, citing it as every bit as challenging as any marathon she’s run.
Tupper compares her outrigging experience with her move, confessing doubt about whether she would have followed through with it had she known how difficult it would be. “It has truly put my faith to the test,” she says.
As for regrets, Tupper says she has none, sharing that she would have vastly regretted not doing it.
“We give too much power to fear and let it stop us in our tracks. Life was meant to be lived as an adventure and if you don’t like the script, write a new one.”