Behind the Billboard
(0:00:01) KL: What do you do for a living? How do you answer that question?
(0:00:04) Intro: Welcome to the Behind the Billboard Podcast, a living, breathing, interactive conversation about getting better as a leader, a team and as a person. We believe that success is all about people and we are on a mission to help you grow. Here is your host, Kris Lindahl.
(0:00:21) KL: In this episode, I had the opportunity to interview one of my lifelong friends, Cesar Castillejos. He is a speaker, trainer, and creative artist, but he does so much more than that. He has made such an impact for youth throughout the world. I just honor everything that Cesar is doing. I can tell you right now that this episode will go viral so make sure you listen to the entire thing. There are so many great words and amazing advice from Cesar.
(0:00:50) KL: Cesar Castillejos. He is a great friend. I grew up with him. He is doing amazing things throughout the country and I wanted to start with a question that I asked at the beginning, which is what do you do for a living. Cesar has a unique way of positioning that. So, welcome Cesar. Maybe you can answer that question the way you answer it because I am really interested in this.
(0:01:09) CC: Yeah, so when someone asks me it is in different contexts where someone will come up to me and say, “So what do you do?” My answer is always, “Well it depends who is asking because I am not just limited to one thing.” So depending on what we are I kind of have to play that out and hear it differently. If I am in church setting I tell them I am a youth worker and I work with Young Life. If I don’t know what people believe, I will lead with “Yeah, I run a clothing company.” If I don’t know what they believe I will just say youth worker. When someone asks me what do you do, I answer, “It depends who is asking.”
(0:01:45) KL: That is great. When you said that earlier I laughed and I wanted to share that with the listeners. For those of you that don’t know you… obviously I know you and I have watched your success and the growth of you as a person through the years, but for people listening that might not know, take us back to the beginning. Take us back to your youth. What kind of things were you doing? What kind of things do you love to do and what lead you up to where you are today so people get a little big of a context of who is Cesar?
(0:02:07) CC: Well, Kris and I went to middle school and high school together so we have known each other for years so you have seen a lot and I have seen a lot as well. But what I want to start by saying is, and I truly believe this, you live your life forward and you understand it backwards. As I was reflecting on who I am and who I am supposed to be and who I am supposed to become I have seen common themes and threads throughout my entire life. In the context of what I am doing now from when we were growing up, it echoes what I am doing now. I just remember in middle school just not really fitting in and that leads into just how I work multi-culturally. I grew up, and well, I still am Filipino.
(0:02:50) KL: Did you change?
(0:02:51) CC: That hasn’t changed. But, growing up Filipino with a fully Spanish name and when we went to Fridley, it was predominately white. People looked at me and they knew that I didn’t look like everyone else. When people would say, “Where are you from?” I would say Fridley but just knowing that is not an accurate answer, they wanted something more. Just navigating culture has been something that I have grown up doing. That is something that I do now. Just navigating who I am. My biggest insecurities in middle school are now my biggest assets because I can kind of float in between cultures because no one knows what I am and I am ethnically ambiguous. That is kind of my background and who I am. I just remember in middle school we would play Craps in the lunchroom. There is always something about having fun and just making money. There is this hustle that we have always had. I remember selling t-shirts at varsity football games out of my backpack, just making enough to go buy some snacks. This whole idea of produce, create and give back. That has been part of who I am growing up. Seeing different things and being around a lot of different types of people has changed everything.
(0:04:08) KL: So you get done with high school and then what happens?
(0:04:10) CC: So in high school, my whole thing was I wanted to go into film and screenplay writing and acting. I wanted to be famous and rich. That is the thing I wanted to do. I also wanted to play basketball so I gave that a shot. I played basketball at Bethel for two years and realized I had stopped growing and that there was more to life than basketball. For me, I just wanted to figure out how to give away who I was. I knew I was more than a basketball player. I went to Bethel, which was the closest college to Fridley where we grew up. I just remember sitting at Bethel my sophomore year and I looked across the pond and I literally saw my uncle mowing his lawn because he lived across the pond from my school. I was like; I can literally see my family from college. I need to get out of here. I transferred to Westmont College in Santa Barbara. As far away as I could, you know. On the coast of California. One of the challenges was I had never visited the school and I didn’t know anyone there. I wanted to go somewhere to see if I could be who I was around places I had never been to and around people I didn’t know. It was kind of a challenge to figure out who I was.
(0:05:24) KL: You move out there and you start to learn more, obviously about yourself, and about really what your purpose is. You sort of wrap up those days down in California and then where do you go?
(0:05:35) CC: Yeah. So I will have to go back to going to Bethel. When I was going there I had a really transformative experience my senior year of high school where faith really because integrated in who I wanted to become. My foundation was no longer just basketball or popularity or making money or just being cool. My foundation was somewhere else. When I was a freshmen at Bethel, I started volunteering with middle school and high school students. I wanted to help students understand that who they were was not based on whatever else everyone said about them. In college for two years at Bethel, I worked with middle school kids. I found out Young Life had a section in Santa Barbara, so I volunteered with Young Life there. All four years of college I volunteered with middle school and high school students. Just seeing the change that I saw in young peoples lives in that short period of time gave me a sense of purpose that maybe it is not about finding the right job but it was kind of giving back. I remember my senior year of college. I wanted to stay in Santa Barbara and not really knowing what to do with my life and I had committed to going on staff with Young Life until I found a real job. That position in Santa Barbara fell through and I called my old mentor and said, “Hey, it is two weeks away from graduation. I thought I was going to be in Santa Barbara. I don’t know what I am going to do.” He said, “If you want to come back to Minnesota, I will create a position for you to work with me.” So, after I graduated, I moved back to Minnesota to figure things out. I told my mentor, “I will give you a year. I am going to save up money and get a real job.” I have been on staff with Young Life for fifteen years. I have not left Minnesota. Like I said, you live your life forward and you understand it backwards. A lot of times the plans that we have is not the purpose we should be pursuing. That is kind of how I found myself where I am today.
(0:7:27) KL: So, you moved back to Minnesota and you are working for Young Life. I know there have been some challenges along the way for sure. The one that comes to mind for me is that start off and you don’t really have a budget for anything you are trying to do. I think some of the business leaders that are listening to this might not have the budget for something, or they have people telling them they shouldn’t do this, or that is not a good idea. I am sure you have dealt with so many of those challenges, so what happened early on?
(0:07:53) CC: For me, the thing that I needed to latch onto was calling. If I wasn’t called to it, I wouldn’t have put the energy in to stick with it. That first year that I got back, I remember meeting some guy that had been working with his organization for thirty years. I had just graduated college and I asked him “What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were my age just graduating from college?” I need some wisdom. He goes, “Well, let me answer your question with another question. How many things in your life turned out the way you planned?” I sat there and I just thought, okay, I wanted to be in California, I am in Minnesota. I wanted to have a real job. I am working for Young Life. And I said, “None.” He goes, “Well, what does that tell you?” I said hold on a second, you just ruined my life. I was sitting there like, I graduated from college. I think I should have my stuff figured out by now. I said, “I don’t know what that tells me.” He said, “Don’t marry your plans.” He said, “Ask yourself two questions your whole entire life. Do you love what you do and are you good at it?” You have to be honest. If you love something but no one every asks you to do it, you might not be good at it. He said ask yourself those two questions your whole life. Do you love what you and are you good at it? In that moment, that is when I really latched onto my calling. Do I love what I do? I do love working with young people. I do love inspiring creativity with people that have the potential to do the most, which are young people. Am I good at it? If I wasn’t, people wouldn’t ask me to come speak. People wouldn’t ask me to come teach their students. I had to be real with, okay; this is what I am called to do. This is who I am. Once you latch onto that calling, everything kind of comes easier. Back to your question of how do I get people to support what I do I just believed in it first. I wasn’t selling anything. I was just being myself. In that, then you create ways to have other people buy into the vision that you have. They might not even believe what you believe, but they just say, he wants to be this. I want to support him doing that. He is pursuing exactly who he should be. The creativity came around the calling. When you discover who you are, and you pursue that I think there are a lot of things that will begin to fall in place.
(0:10:24) KL: One thing that you just mentioned that resonated with me is passion. When you are passionate about something and you have a purpose behind what you are doing, to your point about having a calling, people are willing to help you. If you are in a position that doesn’t sound like that, maybe it isn’t the right position. I love that advice you received from your mentor. That is spot on because nothing in life goes as planned. This is all sort of connected to leadership. What has been built today? Obviously you have had a lot of help along the way to get here. How do you define leadership?
(0:10:56) CC: I define leadership as stewarding a platform of leaderships to help you and others around you grow. Leadership is not necessarily tied to a position of power. Growing up I didn’t always have positions of power. Realistically, too, in my experience being a person of color, you don’t always get picked for certain things. I have had to learn how to lead up; I have had to learn how to lead in the shadows. For me, leadership is not always about climbing the ladder of success so that people will then listen to you, it is creating a culture of influence. It is earning the right to be heard. It is gaining trust through relationships. Leadership takes that to the next level so that everyone around them can grow. It is not using other people so you can keep growing. It is saying, I best grow when we all grow together. That is leadership to me.
(0:11:49) KL: I have watched it as you have grown this organization from a really bottom up approach where you have grown a lot of youth into great leaders. Obviously this program you have developed… and when I say you, I mean you and so many others. The organization has grown into something way larger than it was in the beginning. When you first sort of started this position and you are growing people into leadership and you are putting things in place. As you started to invest in youth and they started to become emerging leaders, what started to show up for your organization?
(0:12:24) CC: I think the posture changed from creating a program or something that kids want to show up to. A lot of times even business or church programming, whatever it is, you come up with something that people will show up to. When you shift it to, who can I show up for? When you start serving and not just trying to gain more followers but when you actually start following others. For me and my team, showing up to a middle school kid’s basketball game and just seeing how their face lights up. How that tension is when you realize that their family is not there and you and three college kids showing up to their basketball game is the first time they have had fans in a long time. That is how passion gets built. So, it is just inviting other people into experiences like that. It started to grow when we started to focus on relationships. When we started saying, you know what, I don’t care if you show up to our group on Thursday nights or Monday nights. I am still going to show up for you. The byproduct of people knowing that you care is that they want to show up for your stuff too, so they eventually wanted to come and hang out because they have relationships with our leaders. When we focused on relational connections, that is when we started to see not only our impact change, but that is where our growth happened too. There is freedom when you don’t worry about numbers. There is freedom when you don’t worry about growth and you just do the right things. The byproduct of doing the right things is growth.
(0:14:04) KL: Doing the right thing is so important. I love that question. Who can I show up for? Cesar, maybe you have some advice, there are some people that are listening right now that maybe can’t even show up for themselves. So what advice do you have for someone who really isn’t in a place right now where they can show up for someone else? What types of small steps or advice would you have for someone like that?
(0:14:25) CC: That is great question. Here is the tension in it. I see great leaders leading teams but they are unhealthy. Organizations from the outside look great and they are growing but I have known leaders that are burning out. That has kind of been a passion of mine for the last three to four years. I see a lot of unhealthy leaders doing great work. For me that is a dangerous place to be. I have been there too. You say this in your head, “You are praising me but would you be praising me if you knew?” Then you knew and then you fill in the blank. If you knew I had neglected my family. If you knew how I got here. Even in your successes, you can’t celebrate them because you know because you are unhealthy. For any leaders that are out there right now I don’t want you to think you have to have it all figured out. We just need to understand we have to figure our stuff out first so we can be pouring out of a fullness and not leading out of deficit. It is possible to lead well for everyone else around you but at the end of the day you sit and look at the mirror and say I am the unhealthiest I have ever been. A couple of things I try to do is to do things that I love to do. For me it is going to the gym in the morning. It is playing basketball. It is grabbing a couple of beers with friends. I am thankful that I have a wife that knows me well enough that if there is something off, she will say, “When is the last time you have hung out with your friends? You need to go hang out with them.” We need to be filled up for we can pour out. We also have to understand what fills us up. Whether that is woodworking or painting. Whatever that hobby is. Don’t feel bad doing those. I know leaders that feel bad taking time to go do these things but they are actually better off leading when they do them. Leaders out there that are struggling right now and leading out of a deficit, ask yourself this question. What have you not done that brings you joy? You know brings you joy, but you just haven’t done it in a long time. Go do it. Prioritize that and see how much more you will have to pour out after you do that.
(0:16:46) KL: That is really great advice. I love your point where you mentioned you struggle at times as well and I do too. It is a constant journey of work we are trying to do to become better people. I think that is where… I know that I have even fallen in this trap where you start to see this image where everyone looks like they have it all put together and you are looking at social media and life looks happy and everything is great. You look at this company and they are leading great or in this cause or this non-profit, and then it’s like, wow, why can’t I be like that. How can I get to that level? There have been times in my life where I have been there as well. For those of you listening that is one area where I feel like I have become a lot stronger where I am no longer comparing myself to others. I realized that looking at that image or that social media life is just the tip of what is actually happening. There is so much that is so much further deep than what that actually is. The reason I bring up the social media piece is you are working with a lot of youth. There are a lot of challenges in our world today around cyber bulling and around social media. I just want to get your take on how are you helping youth, and how is your organization helping youth when it comes to social media and when it comes to this really false image that is out there?
(0:17:59) CC: Well, part of it is just naming it. Part of it point out and showing a picture of a famous person’s profile picture. I ask them a question. I have done this a lot with a huge room of students. I will show a picture of a famous person’s profile picture and I’m like, “Do you think this is the first picture that they took?” Everyone laughs and is like absolutely not. “Do you think this is unfiltered?” Absolutely not. They understand what they are looking at is a fabricated version of someone else’s reality. When you point out the deficit of how you feel when you compare yourself to a fake version of someone else it really illuminates the tension in that. Just to say, it is a hard deal because we are comparing ourselves to something that doesn’t really exist. That is the starting point. The other thing that I try to encourage students to do, and all people, not even just young people. I pour my life into young people because I think it is harder to get a 35-year-old person who has been thinking bad thoughts about themself every time they look in the mirror. That is hard to change, but when you have someone who is impressionable, you can start building a foundation. We just try to build a foundation on who you are and what are you gifted at? Who do you know yourself to be? Not around certain friends, but all of the time. So, really having kids ask the right questions. That is how we begin to build a foundation.
(0:19:23) KL: You mentioned something a little while ago… joy. I have talked about that on previous podcasts. You really have to find things that bring you joy. I love that your wife encourages you to do those things when she can recognize something is a little bit off. The reason I bring this up is that in especially in the area that you work in, there are a lot of youth that come from challenging homes and might not have a lot of joy, so what types of things is your organization doing to help bring joy to youth that might not have any joy at home?
(0:19:50) CC: Yeah. That is huge. For us, part of it is entering into their pain. Sometimes that is the door that is open for us. When you are working with a difficult student, or a difficult person, it doesn’t matter what age. The pain that they cause pales in comparison to the pain that they feel. Understanding that gives you just a little more patience for people that might rub you the wrong way or for a kid that might just blow you off. Understanding that reality that the path to joy often goes through some compassion first. When they know that we are willing to step into the sorrow, they know that we are willing to step in the celebration too. So, for us, relationships are not all about bringing joy and making someone happy, it is just being consistent and being present. Once you get to know somebody, you know what will bring them joy. Luckily, I am the size of a middle school student. I have size nine or nine and a half shoes. I don’t wear my shoes out. I know kids love sneakers. Even when I am purchasing shoes or buying stuff I think about Davion is going to wear these. He is going to love these. So when you get to know somebody you know what brings them joy and then you just find creative ways to meet those things.
(0:21:03) KL: So I had the opportunity to attend your annual Young Life event and I thought it was really well done. It is always fun every year to watch the progression of how much better it is each year that you put that on. One thing that really stood out to me is the amount of joy that is at that event. You get to dress up and play the guitar. There are very few people that can send me a text or call and every time you send me a message, I am like; I am going because I love what you are doing, man. I truly believe in what you are doing. With that, as I have been at those events, something that stuck out to me at the last one is the exercise that you had the kids do with the Post-it notes. They wrote how they saw themselves. What did you learn from that?
(0:21:37) CC: When I go speak, I often talk about identity. Not just talk about who people should become, but we need to come to terms with who we actually know ourselves to be. So, one activity that I have done, and I did it this summer, and it is heartbreaking. That is what it is. I asked students to write down a lie that they believed about themselves when they looked in the mirror. Then they walked up and they put those Post-it note on the mirror. What was heart breaking is that the Post-it notes didn’t just have one lie. Some of them were filled up. A common, common theme that I saw when I would go up and read these Post-it notes was that I am not enough. I am not good enough. I am not pretty enough. I am not smart enough. I will not amount to anything. That is heartbreaking to hear that this is in their words in their handwriting what they say to themselves when they look in the mirror. I need to know those things so I can figure out how to rewrite that identity and to name a lie a lie and say you are beloved, you are created with a purpose, and so the pathway to joy goes through some sorrow and goes through some pain. Pain is the precursor to change. Sometimes we try to numb ourselves to the pain but if we go through it we can actually grow from it. That is the hard part about what I do is as a speaker I can’t just tell you all of the good things about yourself. I have to give you space to become real with who you really are so you can grow from it and not just hide it or mask it or numb yourself away from it or escape from it.
(0:23:15) KL: You have had the fortunate opportunity to do a lot with youth and some people listening right now, maybe they have kids, maybe they plan to have kids, maybe they have grandkids, or maybe they don’t have kids at all but they want to make an impact. With what you have learned so far, where do you think there is the most opportunity to help youth around this country right now?
(0:23:37) CC: That is a big question and I think we do a disservice to students or young people when we give them decisions but no power. We give them a ton of options but we don’t really listen to them. If you look at it, the young people are creating culture. Fortnite didn’t start with a some forty-year-old dude playing video games. The dances that people are doing? You see old people flossing. They didn’t make that up. They are watching their kids do it. They are seeing it on TV. Really dignifying young people. That is the biggest thing I see. People look at young people and say when you are older then you will understand. I remember this was a transformative time in my perspective as a parent now, but I was not a parent back then when I saw this. I was walking around the Mall of America and I could tell that it was probably a teenage girl and her mother walking. The girl was talking about how her friends are making fun of her and didn’t save her seat at the lunch table. I am trailing this conversation and I am hearing it and then the mom just stops, grabs her shoulders, and says, “Build a bridge and get over it.” I just stopped and I could tell by the look on the girl’s face that her mom said build a bridge and get over it, but what the girl heard was “Your problems don’t matter.” And they walked and I just walked behind them quietly. It was painful because she was not dignified. She as pretty much told that her problems don’t matter and I am guessing the next time something came up with her and her friends she probably didn’t tell her mom. We need to build bridge and get into it. When we see someone struggling not to say, “What is wrong with them?” Ask, “What happened to them?” Flipping the question really changes the perspective. When I see young people, I don’t see a problem, I see potential. When I see fifteen kids hanging out on the parking lot. I don’t call the cops. I will stop in and try to see what is happening. Just like, “Hey, what is going on?” That is the difference. That is kind of where my heart is. The potential belongs to the people who can step into those situations and ask the right questions.
(0:25:55) KL: So you have worked with a lot of youth and you have spent a lot of time traveling around the country and speaking and I think one part you mentioned there is I think there is a relatability issue. I look and I see the older generation struggle to relate to the younger generations. I think we have this disconnect going on at times. You have seen culture in youth at probably the closest level of anyone I know. What is happening with the culture in our youth? What does that actually look like today?
(0:26:23) CC: It is fast. It is changing. Things that were cool and hot six months ago are not anymore. They are lame. The language changes but the needs don’t. That is the consistent thing that all people regardless of age need a safe place to discover who they are. That is not just young people. That is millennials. That is older people. People crave safety. They crave outlets to voice their opinion. That is why Facebook, Twitter. Everyone can have a voice now. I think that is culture is saying. We have been craving a platform to speak. We have avenues of ways to actually express who we are. But then that is the tension. Then we compare ourselves to all of these fabricated versions and so we have to figure out how to best use the technology we have. Culture changes, but the needs of people remain the same. They need something to believe in and something to belong to and a community to be a part of. Those things are consistent over time.
(0:27:28) KL: The biggest concerns that I have being a parents and looking at youth, or one of the biggest concerns, I should say is how most of our youth are growing up in a really internet distracted and device distracted world. How are you trying to make in impact and solve for that? I feel like, and this is not specific to youth by any means, it is just like you said, culture is going really fast but people are so distracted that they don’t even know what is happening around them. How do you attempt to help youth get better with this?
(0:27:57) CC: This is a bigger question, because like you said it is not just youth. I walked around the Skyway in Minneapolis and everyone had headphones in. Everyone had their phones out. We are over connected through social media and through our devices but we are under connected relationally with human interaction. We don’t even know how to communicate anymore. That is a leadership thing that we have to figure out too. We communicate on our own terms. You text me, I am going to wait until I want to text you back. The art of conversation is no longer. We all need to disconnect and actually go back to communicating. The one this is a little different, like you send me video messages. Which, I am like, what? I kind of like that because a text message is so limited to just words or emojis.
(0:28:50) KL: Yeah, you can’t feel the empathy of it.
(0:28:52) CC: Yeah! So I am like, I am going to do this back. Kris sends me a video message, and I am like, this is kind of weird. I don’t do a lot of selfies, but I am doing selfie videos back to you. There is something in that. I am a communicator so I like that. I like to call people. It is frustrating because people don’t like to answer their phones.
(0:29:09) KL: They respond right back like, “Hey, sorry! What’s up?”
(0:29:13) CC: Yeah. So I think with young people and older people if we are leaders can go back to human contact interaction. We can shift the culture in a way we can help young people navigate what does it mean to have conflict and not just run from it or not text back? No, actually work through it through conversation.
(0:29:30) KL: What is the thing you are more excited about and where you think you have the greatest opportunity when it comes to Young Life and the work you are doing with youth in the Richfield area?
(0:29:38) CC: Well, the Richfield area specifically I can speak to because we bought a house two blocks away from the church I work at. I have been in the schools for ten years volunteering and serving. Richfield… I think there is a lot of potential there. I have gotten to know the Mayor the last couple of years and now she is in her position and platform of influence. I consider her a friend. There is a lot of construction. There is a lot of attention being brought to Richfield and I have to be the best steward of the experiences I have had in the last ten years. That is exciting because I don’t know what is going to happen, but there is a movement there and there are young people there that are really motivated to do something positive.
(0:30:20) KL: You mentioned volunteering and you mentioned serving. I have always found that when I am going through a slump or things are difficult for me, family, or my life is to get out and help more people. I feel like I get back to where I need to be. It is not always easy to find out where to go volunteer or where to serve. For someone listening who has not made a commitment to that, what are some recommendations or some areas where you think they could get out and do something of impact?
(0:30:46) CC: I would encourage people who want to give back to get in this posture of, I want to be a servant. Whatever that looks like. For me over the past couple of days, it has been someone calling me and just saying, “Hey, can we grab coffee? I am going through this job transition and I just want to talk.” Yes. I want to be generous with my time. I will make that happen. Call it what you want but it is just being in a posture to give back all of the time.
(0:31:10) KL: So in your leadership, you have also grown in more people. You have teachers that have stepped up. You have had superintendents that have stepped up. You have had a lot of support. How do you keep everyone going in the right direction because as this thing scales and grows there are a lot more moving parts than when it was just you stepping in and starting at the beginning.
(0:31:29) CC: Yeah. So that is a culture question. Once you set the stage for culture to happen, it becomes what it can and you can’t really control it, but you can set the table for positive things to happen. When I look back at what I have been part of creating I just kind of step back and sit with joy like, wow. This is pretty cool. I got to be a part of this. I don’t say, “Look what I did!” Part of it is that whole mindset of what it is. It is creating a safe space for people to discover their purpose in whatever you are doing and make it more than about tasks. That is how we have grown the culture. You are not just hanging out with students on Thursday for a couple of hours. It is casting the vision in my leaders and saying, “You are transforming the lives of these young people.” They might not thank you. They might not thank you five years from now but you are creating a safe space that ten years down the road when they thing of a place they felt most alive they are going to think of a conversation with you. It is casting vision. As we continue to grow I am going to keep casting the vision. That is not going to change. This is more than just a task and that is how you invite people into a movement. That is the biggest thing. Then you can set back and see where the movement goes and just make sure it is going in positive direction. Here is one think that I kind of banked on from the very beginning. It is that you can’t really create a positive environment without being a servant. That is what is comes down to. We didn’t grow our program because we wanted more numbers. We wanted to serve more people. In those ways we have gained trust, because teachers would say, “Well, is he just trying to get people to go to his program?” No because we are serving people who don’t even come to our stuff. That is how you create a culture. You step in and you say what are the needs and are there any ways I can help meet those needs?
(0:33:22) KL: You mentioned I word… movement. That is what I would describe exactly what is being built in that organization you are a part of. Within a movement there is also the community aspect. Tell me some of the things that have happened within the community that are building that community. You mentioned that you moved to Richfield, but there are also other things that are happening that are showing up in that area that are really bringing a strong sense of community.
(0:33:46) CC: I truly believe that in the next five years, the companies and organizations that are going to lead are the ones that create community. You were talking about it The WeWork whole idea. What is that doing? It is not just creating a space I can go work. It is creating a space where community can happen. People crave it so much that they are saying I am going to go to that. I am going to do my work but I also want to be part of community. Breweries don’t just have one table anymore. They have these long tables and you are drinking around people you don’t know and you are building community. We are so disenchanted with this individualism but we still gravitate towards it but our soul is craving something deeper. I think overtime, what you might have seen is yes we are growing but also our souls are really thirty so any actual community that we can be apart of, we want to be part of. Richfield specifically, they call it the urban hometown. It is really. It’s not weird. I mean, it was weird at first but I have grown to love it. It is a small town vibe in the middle of the city. Even when we moved to our house we got a chocolate cake from our neighbor with a Xerox handwritten recipe card. I’m like, “This is awesome!” There are a lot of things happening in Richfield but I think holistically as a culture you are going to see more communal things take off.
(0:35:17) KL: I wanted to bring up something else, and I am not bring it up for you to get any sort of recognition. I know that you don’t want that. I want to talk about what lead up to you doing the store. Right? So what lead up to that because that story is super impactful. Not necessarily like, “Hey, look at Cesar. Look what he did.” But more so what lead up to that actually happening?
(0:35:35) CC: What Kris is talking about is there is a free clothing store in the basement of Richfield Middle School that has been built. It has grown to love to share the story more because it has grown beyond my efforts because now I feel better about talking about it. I went to the middle school a couple of years ago and one of our students was crying and he was unable to tell me why. I was asking what was wrong. I wasn’t sure if there was some family thing wrong with him but then another kid at the table said, so and so keeps calling him homeless because he wears the same clothes everyday and I’m just thinking that cannot happen in my school. The byproduct of relational ministry is when you see someone else’s problems; they are now your problems. When you are in a relationship with someone, it is not his problem anymore it is my problem. I left the school that day thinking A) I have a clothing company. B) I have the same size shoes as he does. We are about the same size. He has clothes. I am going to bring clothes to him. So I brought a big bag of clothes for him the next day. Realizing, though, as I was in the lunchroom at a school with 70% free and reduced lunch, that there are probably a lot of other students in the school who have similar needs. Then I realized that there was a room in the basement, an old locker room that was just a graveyard for things that were broken. Old desks, old ovens. I went to the assistant principal and I said, if we can clean out that room can we build it into something that can serve the students? She said yeah all that is is junk so move it around. Over the course of a few months and talking to friends and going through my own closet and taking overstock from my company that I didn’t sell, we built a free clothing store in the basement of a middle school. I went and got garment racks and hangers. I wanted to provide a dignified shopping experience because the alternative was kids would go down to the locker room and dig through an old box of lost and found and try to find something that fit and wasn’t dirty. When they walk into this room it looks like a store. Students for the first time they get to pick what they want. So that is how it got started, but then the Assistance League, these little old ladies from Richfield heard about it they raised money and they came back with a check for $8,000.00 and they said, “This is for The Vault.” They called it the Richfield Middle School Vault. You can only use this money to stock this store. Other people around the community heard about it and they are dropping off coats and mittens and stuff like that. It has just been fun to see it grow over the last few years. Now, we are in the works of building another one at the STEM school at Richfield. It is just fun to see something that started as a bag of clothes for one kid turn into a store that is serving dozens of kids each week.
(0:38:21) KL: Such an incredible story. When is that next store going to be done?
(0:38:25) CC: It is a funny story. Last week we had an organization come in and they wanted to come in an volunteer and help. Leadership Vision Consulting. They came in and they were helping and restocking and putting clothes on hangers and I just said thank you so much for helping out. I did the math and it would take only about $500.00 to buy all the garment racks and hangers to build another store at another school. Brian, who is the Founder and CEO of this company said, “How much?” I said, “$500.00”. He pulls out a pre-written check to me for $500.00.
(0:39:00) KL: Wow.
(0:39:02) CC: For real in that moment, I started tearing up. I did. A moment like this makes it hard to quit doing what I am doing. It was just a reminder that God provides and that I just need to step in and do my thing. We have the funds to do it. We have the space. We just have to do the time. Moments like that when you pull people into a movement that support it, it is hard for me to say, “Okay, I am going to find a real job.” No, I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.
(0:39:29) KL: What we would love to do right now is for everyone that listens to this podcast, whether you are a subscriber or not, it has been posted on the Behind The Billboard Facebook page, if you put a like or a comment on there, we will donate for each one to that store. That will be neat to see how many people come around and like and comment on this episode. I think it has been amazing and I am really excited to be apart of it and I am looking forward to it. We want to for sure make a difference and help everyone in that community too and be really supportive of it. So the future. You have a lot of big things that are happening. The foundation has really been laid for this organization and what you have done in this area. What are you most excited about?
(0:40:03) CC: That is a really good question. For me, you asked me before, what do I do? What is my job? Technically this is how my job breaks down. I am full-time on staff with Young Life. Two thirds of that time I am the Area Director for Richfield Young Life, a third of that time I am the National Director of a project called the Student Leadership Project. In addition to my role with Young Life, I am a Minister for Preaching at Hope Church. So, once a month I get to preach on Sunday mornings. Beyond that I run my clothing company and I do speaking on the side through Live Up Speak Life. That is my website. I don’t burn out because in my head I have one job and one purpose. It is to speak life into other people and live a full life. That is my purpose and I get a bunch of different playgrounds to play in. Whether it is the church or the school or creatively through my clothing company. The thing I am most excited about is just what is next. I don’t know. I don’t know and I am just waiting but I also know that the best way to wait is to prepare. The next thing is always going to be oddly familiar but bigger than ever. That is what calling is. I am not going to get a phone call from someone saying will you sing the national anthem at the Timberwolves game? I’ve never sang before. No.
(0:41:21) KL: We are going to make that happen.
(0:41:22) CC: No. Please don’t. But, something that is oddly familiar is, “Hey, will you come speak to this organization?” Or, “Will you come to this school and talk about the school store?” It is going to be something oddly familiar because I have done it but it is going to require more faith than I have ever had. I have this posture of expectancy. I don’t have anything on the forefront but at the same time I trust that I am not done. In a lot of ways I feel like I am just getting started.
(0:41:50) KL: Perfect. A lot of leaders end up in opportunities and end up in speaking engagements or at some point have to take steps towards speaking in front of small crowds, or medium sized, or even really large crowds and arenas. What sort of advice would you give to leaders that know that the position they are going into is going to require them to make a bigger impact and speak in front of audiences? What steps can they take?
(0:42:12) CC: The advice that I would give to speakers is to be confident. You are supposed to be there. Then, as you build confidence in that, know what you are talking about and then be yourself. That is it. Once you figure out what you are talking about, you can speak with more confidence, then you can be who you are while you talk about those things that you already know.
(0:42:30) KL: Knowing what you have learned to this point, what advice would you give to a younger Cesar?
(0:42:37) CC: Oh man. Be patient. I think that is one of the things that I have learned over time. There are certain things that I thought I would be doing by now. If I rest there, I am disappointed with myself. If I have a realistic expectation of myself, like I said, the best way to wait is to prepare and be patient and just trust that an opportunity to be who you are is coming along the way. I think I would have rested with less anxiety. I think earlier on I wish I would have taken the perspective and posture of a steward. That word has really shaped me in the last five years. A steward is someone who is entrusted to care for something or someone. They are not the owner. A steward is someone who has been given the opportunity to care for something. That gives a difference perspective of how you hold everything. I am a steward of everything. I don’t own anything. That changes the way I use it. The posture in which I have been trying to pursue is I just want to be the best steward of my gifts that I can be. I want to give away what I know. I want to give away who I am. At the end of the day I just want to be able to say I left it on the table. I didn’t hoard it. I didn’t save it for some people, and not give it to these people. I want to give away everything I have and all I am and there is a piece that comes when you have that type of posture.
(0:44:04) KL: Great advice. So for people that are listening to this and they loved what you shared, how do they get ahold of you? You mentioned your company earlier. Then secondly, if they want to make an impact and they want to help out Young Life and some of the work you are doing there, how do they find out information about both?
(0:44:18) CC: Yeah. We will start with Young Life. If you want to supposed Richfield Young Life, our area is MN87. That is in Minnesota. But, Young Life is doing a lot of great work all over the country. Reach out to your local Young Life person. I don’t mean to promote just Richfield. Young Life is doing a lot of great stuff. To get ahold of me, you can use [email protected]. That is C-E-S-A-R at liveupspeaklife.com. That is one of my contacts or through you. I mean I am hanging out with you all of the time. My greatest joy would be to hear a story of someone that listened to this podcast and really decided to do something to better themselves and to be a better leader and be healthier and if I said anything in this podcast that you want to learn more about I would love to grab coffee with you and kind of be present and say, “Hey, let me help you navigate this struggle.” That is kind of who I am and what I do.
(0:45:13) KL: Or send him a video email since he loves the videos now. Someone listening has to send Cesar a video email because then he will have to reply with one. It’s the Law of Reciprocity and Fair Exchange. I am going to give this to you and I know that you have to reply back.
(0:45:26) CC: I felt weird like texting you back after that. I am like I have to do a video now because he did a video to me. This is weird.
(0:45:34) KL: I just want to say thank you, Cesar, for being here. You have made a huge impact in my life. I am confident that you are going to be able to make a huge impact in everyone who listens to this podcast. If you loved this podcast, make sure to give us a five star review and leave some kind words in the rating section. Make sure to share it socially, and if you don’t want to listen to it audibly and would rather read the show notes, we transcribe the entire episode at Behindthebillboard.com. You can just click on podcasts and you can just read the entire thing. Just one last note, I mentioned in the interview that for everyone that likes or shares or makes a comment on this episode we are going to donate to the new Richfield store that is coming soon. We want to make a huge impact, so hopefully everyone will go and take that action. Like I said, it is on the behindthebillboard.com or you can go to the Behind The Billboard Facebook page. I just want to finish up and say thank you so much to everyone listening. It has been really, really amazing to hear all of the feedback. I love Cesar’s point about how he would love to hear someone’s story about making an impact. We have had so many people that have listened to guests we have had on the show that have done amazing things and so thank you for your support and thank you for tuning in to Behind the Billboard. Thanks Ces.
(0:46:37) Exit: If you loved this episode give us a great review. Subscribe and share us socially so we can spread the word and build the community of difference makers. If there is a leader who inspires you, send your suggestions for future guests to Kris’s team at behindthebillboard.com so we can get better.
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