“Because of you, I am alive.” Victor Palomares has heard this sentence more than once. As a motivational speaker for teens, a teacher and anti-bullying coach in Los Angeles, inspiring youth has become his personal mission. Kids call him “Mr. P.”
He was only in kindergarten when he found out his father passed away from a drug overdose. “My father didn’t have mentorship, and he wasn’t making the right decisions,” Victor says. He was taken out of school to bury his father in Mexico, and when he returned, his kindergarten teacher comforted him with apple juice. She also said something he never forgot. “It won’t always be this bad. You can cry as long as you need to.”
Reading books and writing in journals saved him. Raised by a single mom, he struggled with depression and pessimism throughout his adolescence. He thought his future involved professional baseball, but instead, he got involved with teaching after college.
“I was madly in love with a girl. And she said to me, ‘If you are going to marry me, you have to have a good job.’ She told me they were hiring kindergarten teachers down the road. I am 6 feet tall and not a small dude. I said, ‘Do you really think I am going to teach kindergartners?’ She said, ‘They pay $28 an hour.’ I said, ‘What street is it on?’”
Using humor to inspire, Victor did take that job down the road—first as a teacher’s aide and then several years later as a kindergarten teacher. Sitting in those tiny chairs, he sang the “Apples and Bananas” song, played with Play-Doh and taught kids to read. Soon he thought, “This work is filling my heart.” Today, Victor calls himself the Kindergarten CEO, and he speaks at workshops and in schools to empower teens to make smart decisions.
“Stop trying to impress your friends. They aren’t thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves,” he shares in one of his talks. “Focus on being 1 percent better tomorrow. Where will you be in 30 days?” Victor encourages teens to make smart daily decisions as detailed in the book The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness. In the book, author, entrepreneur and (full disclosure) Live Happy founder Jeff Olson shows readers how to use everyday tools and activities to build confidence and create success. Victor says the advice that change comes from within resonates with young people and gives them a sense of control.
He pictures his father in the crowd when he speaks.
“That’s what drives me. I am doing this to honor my father. He had a tremendous personality but he was sad, too. He was just 21 when he died. He didn’t get to play baseball or follow his talent as an artist,” Victor says.
“I know someone is battling something that they are afraid to talk about, and they woke up with that unexplained sadness. I want to reach them in the crowd.”
Victor uses his own life as a case study and shares stories and hard lessons so kids can start to believe in themselves and speak up about their own sadness or anger. He talks about heavy topics like depression and abandonment with humor and baseball metaphors.
“I’m like, look, can I be real? Are you going to hit an HR? Are you starting your day striking out or hitting a home run in life? What are your habits and what are your rituals? Did you wake up and tell yourself it’s going to be a great day and things are conspiring in your favor? Or did you wake up like a human burrito all wrapped up in a blanket thinking, ‘OMG, I don’t want to get out of bed, my teacher hates me, my mom is always bugging me.’” And he lets teens know he’s been there, too.
His best advice for kids is, “Feel what you need to feel and you will heal what you need to heal.” Just like his kindergarten teacher encouraged him.
Victor makes heart-to-heart connections with teens and even calls them “my kids.” In the future, he hopes to reach even more of them. His mission is to be for someone else the person he needed when he was younger.
Victor’s Lessons for Teens
- Habits equal happiness and rituals equal results.
- Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself: “Did I exercise today? Did I eat clean today? What are my habits?”
- Don’t let the inner you become the enemy; that’s what a bully is.
- Hang out with people with big dreams.
- You are enough.
- Channel your anger into words.
- Ask yourself whom you need to forgive.
- Share your story because it can help people.
- It’s not always going to be this bad.
- Sharpen your ax by always reading.
Sandra Bilbray is a contributing editor for Live Happy, and the CEO and owner of themediaconcierge.net.