Live For AWESOME: Lessons we can learn from Cam Calkoen

In San Francisco, every day is another day, or so it seems. Normal for us, is not normal for the rest of the world. We live and operate in a perceived fairyland. It’s not fairyland, it’s just filled with a community of people from all walks of life, hustling beyond the normal means of hustle. What we do every day is defined by us, always pushing, stepping out of the comfort zone, myopically focused on what’s in front and around us, never settling for comfortable, always striving ahead to get further ahead, doing the impossible or fail trying. Our normal becomes normal because we do it every day, but when taking a step out of the bubble you realise how not normal what we do is.

Being a playground for the ambitious, we attract like minds who all have a dream and something to prove, a big idea, a big personality, a mission, and more often than not they’ll either do it, or fail amicably. But at least they can say they tried. Such is life here in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year we had the pleasure of having Cam Calkoen join the wider San Francisco community for three weeks. We didn’t know too much about Cam before we met him, but wow what an imprint he has left here. He’s a natural born hustler, a ruler of the mind and conqueror of the body. A man born with Cerebral Palsy, who is possibly the least disabled person I have ever met. We live in a world where our biggest challenge is our mind, what we learned from Cam over the three weeks that he was here was amazing and inspiring.


Cam’s parents were told that he would be dependent on support for his entire life, he wouldn’t ever be independent, he might be successful in walking with the help of a walker, or at the very most be a modern day Forrest Gump. Not settling for this, they helped Cam by treating him like every other kid by finding ways for him to do what everyone else was doing, for example the classic egg and spoon story that makes me laugh every time I hear it: Cam signed up for the egg and spoon race, a wobbly pursuit for most people and even more challenging for Cam. At the last minute, Cam’s dad calls him over, tells him he can do anything he wants in life, spits out a piece of chewing gum and sticks it between the egg and the spoon. Not only did Cam finish the race, he was also the only kid able to defy gravity in doing so. Cam’s parents never doubted the ability of his mind and gave him unconditional love and support to be the person he dreamed of being.

We learned so much from Cam during his time here, he’s become a friend and we’ve welcomed him into our community with open arms here’s some of the lessons that we learned that we think all of you will find useful, or at the very least it’ll be a good reminder:


Lifes Challenges

We are all presented with challenges in life. What we do with these challenges is what defines us. It’s about embracing challenge and also our individual uniqueness to exceed expectation always. It doesn’t matter if you walk funny or talk funny like Cam. It’s not because he’s drunk, it’s because he was born with a disability that affects how messages move through his brain. When talking to Cam at length you realise how advanced his thinking is, and thus understand how he combats the challenge of him mind, body and the challenge life has given him.

Life is about becoming the you that you could never imagine. When the doctors looked at Cam they didn’t see beauty, they didn’t see power or strength. They saw something entirely different and failed to believe. We can all relate to this, having challenges that we need to overcome and deal with constantly on a daily basis whether it’s the voices in your head telling you can or can’t do things, an overwhelming adversity to taking risks or fear of failure, death, loss, sorrow, insecurity, life meaning or lack of it, body ailments, mental conditions, you name it, it exists, it’s up to us what direction we take it in.

One of Cam’s favourite quotes by Dr. Suess: “hang-ups and bang-ups happen to us all,” isn’t that the truth.

Master your body and your mind

Cam is a walking talking example of what happens when you master your body and your mind. What happens if you build so much strength that your body walks differently, carries differently and your mind is greatly affected by how your body feels. We would say, get out there and exercise the body and the mind. So much power comes from this. Cam, born with confusing mental messages and a weak frame, is now a pillar of strength both mentally and physically. If we want to succeed in life we must look after our two biggest assets, they are what carry us around and allow us do what we want to do, allow us to communicate, and do do do.

Cam realised this through being a New Zealand athletics champion, the stronger he got, the less disabled he became. He’s in better shape than a lot of other humans in the world. He’s represented New Zealand in many tournaments, including the Junior Paralympics and World Championships.


As a community made up of entrepreneurs, dreamers, people all working hard to achieve their goals, too often do we see people who aren’t taking care of themselves. While, yes we understand that you have a business to build or a promotion to get or you’re taking over the world in some way shape or form, your ability to sustain this lifestyle and get what you want faster is by fueling your body and mind to cope with the journey. Part of the reason there are so many recovering or burnt out entrepreneurs out there is because they didn’t look after themselves at the most vital times. Balance and health is not something we openly champion in the hard grind of the entrepreneurial life but from our experience it makes a lot of difference in the decisions that you make and also coping with the hard stuff. When the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and you have to claw your way out. Think about it, strength, endurance, mental clarity, winning the battle of how long you can keep going for. Be your biggest fan by being your best trainer.

“We all need to ignore the voices that say I can’t, and embrace the one that says I can. Stepping outside our comfort zone and striving towards our personal best each and every day.”


Find your biggest fans

It’s no secret that the people you choose to surround yourself with have the most influence on your life. The ability to either help make you or break you. Make sure you have your biggest fans around you if you don’t have them right now find them, if you do, look after them and listen to them. Look at the effect that the people in Cam’s support network had on him. Part of the reason he has been able to live out his dreams is because of the fundamental support that his parents provided him with. Challenging him to live out his dreams and being there to pick him up when he failed or when things got too hard. Having people to encourage you to keep going and hold your hand until you get there. Support doesn’t have to be a burden on people, many people quite enjoy it. Most importantly, let people in, allow them to see you and help you. Sometimes it might just be a phone call, or a person to talk to, someone there who’s not going to judge you but more sit with you while you admit defeat or someone to quietly celebrate your successes with. Find those people, they make all the difference, the world is a big place you don’t have to do it alone, what’s more, is no one expects you to.

“Find the people who give you support but also let you do your thing, the people who encourage you to be the best you that you can be and help you get there.”


Be a Hustler

The last big lesson that we learnt from Cam is not one that he talks about a lot in his talks, as humble New Zealanders it’s not a word that we like to be associated with. His last lesson was to be a Hustler. For Cam, after everything he’s been through thus far in life, sending 250 emails to get meetings and speaking opportunities with many great people is no big deal. Just Hustle. Keep that big dream and those goals in mind and do whatever it takes to get there.

“Have passion, don’t be blinded by short-term missions and impairments, have a long-term mission that you can take control over – and own it!”

Be so passionate about what you do that you want the world to know about it, live for that purpose that is beyond yourself. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to be defined by the status quo unless your status quo is AWESOME.


So there we go…

Summing Cam up and what you can learn from him in 4 main lessons is pretty hard. To me he is a walking, talking life lesson, someone who will inspire me and many more people throughout his life.

From Cam, we have learned that the best thing you can do for yourself is to celebrate your differences and enhance the things that make you unique. Don’t under live life by doing what’s comfortable, step out of the box, get past those short-term impairments and play a long term game. You can only listen to one voice at a time so listen to the voice of your best mate and ask yourself that question – what do you really have to lose or rather, look at it differently and ask yourself what you have to gain?

Cam has overcome many of life’s challenges and is living his dream and will continue to do so, he tells simple lasting human truths and has been speaking for 12 years now, inspiring, uplifting and making many things happen that most of us won’t. What I find impressive is how he has managed to combat his mind, spending a great deal of time talking with him, you’ll see that despite the mixed messages going around his body, he’s a true master of the mind and an incredibly deep thinker. He lives and breathes all things AWESOME, speaking words that inspire actions, and greatly influence how we feel.


“The world doesn’t only exist for the elite; it exists for the dreamers, doers and developers who are walking examples of what is possible when we dream big and execute on those dreams.”


Written by Sian Simpson, Community Manager @ Kiwi Landing Pad

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