Woman on a Mission Interview with CJ Scarlet,CEO, Courage Coach of Flashpoint International in Clayton, NC
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally.
I am an author, motivational speaker, certified Courage Coach, founder of The Kindness Cure Campaign, and President of The Healing Tree Foundation. My passion, my joy, is helping people who are facing the most difficult challenges of their lives (e.g., serious illness, caring for a parent with dementia, loss of a cherished relationship) to reveal their strength, courage, resilience and even joy. On World Kindness Day in 2008, I founded the Kindness Cure Campaign—a movement to motivate people to help me perform one million acts of kindness. To show people how very simple it is to spread kindness, I am performing 365 acts over the next year, many of which have been digitally recorded and put on YouTube and our social networking site (www.thekindnesscure.org ).
What do you enjoy most about your profession and why did you choose it in the first place?
When I was told by my doctor in 2002 that my debilitating autoimmune conditions (Lupus and Scleroderma) had caused me to develop a progressive heart condition, life came to a screeching halt. My life was already marred by a series of traumatic events and tragic mistakes, and my death sentence felt like an apt ending to an unfulfilled life. Desperately ill and debilitated, I struggled to make the best of my remaining time, but my overwhelming fear and misery overrode my attempts to be happy and robbed me of hope.
One day about a year-and-a-half later, I was given the opportunity to meet with a Tibetan lama. I poured out my tale of woe, fully expecting the Lama to pour sympathy upon my deserving head. But that’s not what happened. Instead, he ordered me with fierce compassion to stop feeling sorry for myself and focus my attention on the happiness of others. Although I had been a victims’ advocate for years, I had been so focused on my own suffering, that I had become oblivious to the needs of others.
I argued with the Lama, telling him I was too sick to help myself, let alone anyone else, but he insisted. So I began as I could, saying prayers when an ambulance would pass and letting the mom with the screaming baby go ahead of me in line at the grocery store. I noticed that when I did something to benefit another, I felt a flush of happiness. What I didn’t know at the time was that at the physiological level, each act of kindness caused my body to released pain-killing endorphins and depression-fighting serotonin, which offered a boost to my immune system and decreased the stress chemicals that were so deadly to my body. I began to do more, giving my cane to a woman who was struggling to walk and volunteering at the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina.
The real turn-around occurred when I realized, I mean really got, that I alone am responsible for my own happiness. This insight was prompted by a random act of kindness I did out of desperation. On this particular day, I was feeling really negative and angry because I felt like I wasn’t being appreciated by my family. My pity party was quickly evolving into a grand pity ball when I realized that I felt really awful being consumed by such negative thoughts. I thought about what would make me feel better and decided it would be offering a gift to someone else. So I picked up the phone and dialed a random local number, getting the voicemail of some computer technician. I left the following message: “You don’t know me, but I want to tell you that even if the people in your life forget to tell you, YOU are appreciated!” I hung up the phone with a huge smile on my face and genuine gratitude in my heart. In just ten seconds I went from feeling bitter and miserable to feeling fantastic, and it was all because I performed an act of kindness.
My next big opportunity came one night while I was eating alone at a restaurant. At the table behind me were two women talking about how hard things had become since one of the women’s husband had lost his job. The wife said she was working three jobs, but still didn’t have any money to buy gas to get to work the next day. She said she prayed all the time for help. The friend sympathized and then they got up and left, parting in the parking lot. I approached the woman and told her I couldn’t help overhearing her words, and asked if she would allow me to give her money to buy gas. The women looked shocked and stammered that she couldn’t possibly accept money from a stranger. I looked at her steadily and asked her if she really prayed for a solution. She said yes. Then I said, “What if this is the answer to your prayer.” Well, she started crying and I started crying, and she agreed to let me buy her a tank of gas. I truly felt like the universe was working through me to answer the prayer of this woman.
The more kindness I extended, the happier I became. I reached a state of such joy that it no longer mattered whether I lived or died; I was happy either way. And the happier I became, the better I felt, until, just two years later, my physical problems—all of them—began reversing themselves. This time when I presented myself to the Lama, he was amazed by my progress and commanded me to write books and give speeches about what I had learned that had so dramatically changed my life. Today my health is better than it was when I first became ill 19 years ago. I am now devoted to spending the remaining years of my life to helping others achieve the happiness they crave and deserve. My illness continues to present challenges, but I perceive it as a gift that has lead me to lasting happiness.
Tell us about the organizations your company supports and why?
I am a volunteer caregiver and ambassador (speaker) for Hospice of Wake County. I have never loved any volunteer role as much as I do this one! It is a privilege to spend time with people at the end of their lives and listen to their incredible and touching stories of who they are outside of their illnesses. I am just about to join the board of the Lupus Foundation of the Piedmont, and am excited about the opportunity to benefit and hopefully inspire others who live with lupus. I also sit on the board of directors of the National Association of Women Business Owners (Greater Raleigh chapter), where I have made some of my best friends. And, of course, my company supports my work on behalf of the Kindness Cure Campaign and Healing Tree Foundation.
What is the biggest risk you ever took professionally and/or the biggest obstacle you have overcome?
Eight years into my first marriage I decided I wanted to go back to school to complete my degree, but my husband refused to let me, citing our financial need for me to work full-time. I used to drive by Virginia Wesley College in Virginia Beach and just ache to go there. So without telling my husband, I arranged with the Veteran’s Administration (I am a disabled Marine Corps vet) to cover all my school expenses, got a part-time job and quit my full-time position with United Way. When I finally told him, he was furious, as I knew he would be, but it was a risk I was willing to take to achieve my lifelong goal. Happily, the VA also paid for me to get my master’s degree (an interdisciplinary Humanities degree with an emphasis on Human Violence). Still, the biggest obstacle I overcame was my negativity about my illness and the possibility of my death. Performing those acts of kindness as ordered by the Lama opened my heart to the suffering of other and filled me with gratitude. I reached a state of such joy and contentment that if you told me I had one more day to live feeling as I do now, or 10 more years living as I did before, I would choose that one precious day.
From where do you draw inspiration? Who have been your role models, mentors, etc?
My role models are my hospice clients, who teach me about dignity and grace. On the superstar level I admire Albert Einstein (I’m a quantum physics buff), Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Helen Keller. I used to believe that no helped me in my life to achieve my goals, that I was a lone wolf who pulled myself up by my bootstraps, but finally realized that I have been helped by every person I have ever met—especially my “enemies” (people who thwart my ego by not doing what I want).
How is the current economic situation affecting your company/organization?
I refuse to participate in the recession! I am fortunate because, especially during these difficult times, people are desperate for inspiring stories. In one day last week I booked six speaking engagements on the topics of kindness and how to practice it in the business environment.
What one thing would you like to learn this year?
What an awesome question! I would like to take more coaching classes, including those offered by Harv Eker (Peak Potentials Training) and Tony Robbins, to help me become a better coach.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In five years I see even more joy and gratitude in my life. I will travel all over the world giving keynote speeches and seminars, and spreading kindness. My goal is to become slightly famous for my coaching and my books. (I don’t wish for great fame because I believe that fame will mess a person up faster than anything else.)
What do you do for fun/relaxation/entertainment?
I read voraciously and have, literally, more than 60 business, physics and spirituality books standing in teetering towers beside my bed. I also like to spend time with friends and family. I live for NFL football season.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Yes, I would like to share the secret to a happy life—to get what you want, give it away. No matter what your desire is, if you offer it up to another, it will come back to you in even greater measure.
Which, if any social networking sites do you belong to?
Twitter: cjscarlet, kindnesscure
Linked In: cjscarlet
WEBSITE URLS: www.cjscarlet.com, www.thekindnesscure.org , www.healingtreefoundation.org