“Kyle, do you really think that, at 16 years old, young people are really interested in finding their purpose?”
It was a simple question, posed by speaker Kyle Willkom’s editor during the production of his second book, “The Thinking Dilemma: A Manifesto on Living a Life of Happiness, Satisfaction, and Purpose.” To anyone else, it might have just been 19 words, strung together in a passing criticism. But for Willkom, it solidified a decade-long passion for motivating teenagers across the nation to better their lives.
“That’s exactly the time that we start to build the foundations of our purpose and where our lives are gonna go,” Willkom said. “I think this misconception older people have that young people are just going through the motions until they’re into college is totally false. I write for younger people because I think that not enough people do. There’s value in trying to seek out your purpose or find happiness at a younger age.”
Willkom delivered Character Strong speeches on Oct. 16 and 18, pushing students to show kindness through engaging activities and his trademark sense of humor. For junior Mariana Fauteux, it was a mind-changing event.
“Sometimes, you feel like you don’t have enough time to help other people, but when I left the speech, I was thinking about how [good it can be] to go out there and help people with homework or studying, or just be there for them,” Fauteux said. “I want to thank him for coming to our school. I think it’s really important that we have someone talk about things like that.”
Fauteux wasn’t the only one touched by Willkom’s speeches. He estimates that he’s helped hundreds of thousands of teenagers through his two books, development company Action Packed Leadership, and the hundreds of speeches delivered in 46 states throughout his nine-year career.
“At Seven Lakes, I had someone come up to me and say, ‘I really needed to hear that today. I’ve just been dealing with a lot at home,’” Willkom said. “Some of these talks on kindness can hit right at the core of what it means to be human because we all desire kindness on a deep, meaningful, human level. And if we were given a little more kindness, and if we’re able to give more kindness, it can affect even our family dynamic.”
Although Willkom assured that he’s “not that old,” his stories have reached crowds of all ages, including an 80-year-old woman who he recalled had once approached him in tears over one of his books. His speeches, however, are mainly targeted toward middle and high school students.
“I feel like young people still want to learn, whereas sometimes adults get stuck in their ways or form habits,” Willkom said. “Young people know they have a lot of life in front of them, and I have always felt passionate about helping them build the best, most fulfilling lives they possibly can.”
But before Willkom became the author, renowned speaker, and entrepreneur that he is today, he had to start as an intern at Focus Training, a leadership development company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By the time he graduated college, the company had offered to publish his first book, “Wake Up Call.”
“The main character has one specific thing that he has to overcome,” Willkom said. “The idea behind it was not that I had gone through this personally, but that everyone in the world has gone through something difficult. Through his journey, hopefully we all can learn something about how to build more positive habits like compassion in the midst of this crazy world.”
Through his work, Willkom hopes to leave his audience with a greater drive in their lives, even if it’s just one or two small lessons learned.
“I love to provide what I see as a spark, something in someone that inspires them to be different, to do something on a more positive note, to live with more character, to build better relationships,” Willkom said. “The progress that someone can make over time is what’s going to truly be valuable to them in the long run. Kindness is not some great ideal that just resides in our heads. It’s something that has to be alive in the way that we treat other people and the way we live every day. If we can take action on that, then there’s no telling how much can be accomplished if we do this as a school, as a team, as a community, as a culture.”