From the archives: Frank Basile “Achieving What I Imagined”

It’s not an overstatement to say that imagination changed my life. Over time, I became  convinced that if I could imagine it, believe it, think it, want it, I could achieve it. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives and our character.”

While growing up poor in New Orleans, I would imagine having money to do all the things my five sisters and I couldn’t, like attending arts and cultural events—though I had only a vague idea of what those were. Being poor wasn’t the only issue—art and culture simply were not on our radar.

Since we took no family trips or vacations with the exception of visiting nearby relatives, I imagined traveling to far off lands like New York and China.

Virtually tongue-tied when called upon to speak in class, I imagined speaking in front of an audience and actually being applauded. As a boy, it was my job to watch my dad’s fruit stand. Since there weren’t a lot of customers, I relied on my imagination for entertainment. Little did I know that these daydreams, as my mother called them, would take seed. Through the years, I gradually accomplished or became much of what I had imagined, experiencing many ups and downs along the way.

I enjoyed the challenges that came with having to make things happen for myself, and the resulting self-confidence and feeling of accomplishment. I believe meeting these challenges helped in my personal growth. Those who don’t have to fend for themselves frequently miss out on the struggle and the thrill of overcoming.

I vividly recall being told by the principal of the Catholic high school I attended that my tuition was overdue, then learning from my sobbing mother that my dad had gambled away the tuition money she had given him to take to the school on his way to the market.

There was not time to brood. I drove our old pickup truck to the farmers’ market near the French Quarter, got a load of watermelons from a farmer on consignment and sold every one of them by the side of the road at my uncle’s farm just outside of New Orleans. I had earned my own way and was able to pay the tuition the next day. That was not only a thrilling accomplishment, but the beginning of the realization that I was the master of my fate.

Imagination is important to success, but it’s only the beginning. Realizing one’s dreams requires focus, determination, and drive, with a little help from others along the way—like the Christian brother at De La Salle High School who saw how frightened and incapacitated I became when it was my turn to speak or read in class. He convinced me that the only way to overcome something I feared was to do it. He cajoled me into joining the debate team. That was a defining moment in my life, without which I would never have become a professional speaker or succeeded in other areas in which the ability to communicate is important.

Although I imagined having money, I recall that it was not for the sake of being rich or to own a big house, like those in the Garden District of my hometown, or to drive an expensive car. I wanted to be able to live comfortably and enjoy experiences like travel while having enough left over to help other people.

My wife, Katrina, and I are happy living in a modest condo, driving a 2001 car, wearing  bildeoff-the-rack clothes and dining at moderately priced restaurants, with our one extravagance being travel. But our greatest joy comes from philanthropy, especially being able to give a boost to talented individuals to help them achieve their own dreams. Gloria Steinem said, “It’s more rewarding to watch money change the world than to watch it accumulate.”

My early experience growing up with my imagination keeping me company also helped shape my life-long personal mission, which is to help others grow and reach their potential. For about 30 years, I tried to do this through writing books and articles and giving speeches and seminars, most of which were motivational in nature. Most recently, I’m trying to do this through philanthropy and volunteer work with nonprofit organizations.

But it all started with an over-active imagination while minding the fruit stand.


Frank Basile is a professional speaker, author, philanthropist, community volunteer, and retired business executive.

Peru+Risk= Sabbatical

By Alison Schumacher

Leave our friends, family, comfortable existence and move to South America? Sure, why not? When do we leave?

Two years ago, my family moved to Peru for a year-long sabbatical. At that time, my husband, Sam, had been running Global Gifts for 11 years and wanted a chance to learn more about fair trade from the other side of the supply chain: working with artisans instead of solely selling their products.

We arranged our own volunteer stint with a fair trade exporter in Lima. They had several projects for us; our main responsibility was to interview their artisan partners and put together marketing materials based on their life stories and photos of their handcrafts. And while many people thought we were nuts to move to a foreign country with a toddler, we figured our son would roll with the punches. And so it was.

Interviewing reverse painted glass craftsman Apolonio Alejandro while my son rolled with the punches by sleeping his way through the visit. Photo credit: Sam Carpenter

Interviewing reverse painted glass craftsman Apolonio Alejandro while my son rolled with the punches by sleeping his way through the visit.
Photo credit: Sam Carpenter

The only real “risk” I anticipated was that of our personal safety. Somehow everyone who had ever been to Peru found us and wanted to share their experience of crime, danger, or attacks. While they were well-meaning, their stories were not helpful. Although we count ourselves as seasoned travelers, I was terrified by the time we arrived.

Having a young child along helped us establish warm interactions with others. Here, our son is with Emilio Hurtado, a carved gourd artisan in Huancayo, Peru. Photo credit: Sam Carpenter

Having a young child along helped us establish warm interactions with others. Here, our son is with Emilio Hurtado, a carved gourd artisan in Huancayo, Peru.
Photo credit: Sam Carpenter

I am happy to report that those stories were not our experience. In our year of traveling to every corner of Lima and across Peru, we felt so cared for. People on the bus overheard our conversations and helped us navigate. In the middle of sketchy neighborhoods, people saw our son as an invitation to talk. Asking questions about him quickly segued into help with directions or sharing about their lives and asking about ours, which usually began with some version of “Why in the world are you here?” We were always out of place and noticeable, but perhaps we were so obvious that anyone wishing us ill steered clear.

On the way to an artisan’s home in San Juan de Lurigancho, a poor district in Lima, where residents have built homes into the side of a mountain Photo credit: Sam Carpenter
On the way to an artisan’s home in San Juan de Lurigancho, a poor district in Lima, where residents have built homes into the side of a mountain
Photo credit: Sam Carpenter

I choose to believe otherwise. I believe that people opened up to us out of kindness and curiosity. I think some people were so surprised to see a white family navigating around places where tourists (and many residents of Lima’s more affluent areas, for that matter) never go, that they wanted to protect us and make sure we had a positive experience in their world.

In the end, the risk was NOT getting out and exploring. We met plenty of other expats who had luxuries of private cars and chauffeurs and still never left their own, safe version of Lima.  They were shocked when they learned we took public transportation each day with a toddler, and that we routinely visited certain dangerous, impoverished areas without a Peruvian escort. I remember being that afraid, so I don’t blame them. They had no reason to push past their fears, while I eventually had to in order to do our job. But I am so thankful I got past that fear; we would never have known Lima otherwise. And that was a risk I couldn’t afford to take.

Explore other views of risk during the 18th annual Spirit & Place Festival, running from November 1-10, 2013.

Alison Schumacher is the editor of MennoExpressions, a bimonthly publication of First Mennonite Church. She also volunteers as an ESL teacher, reads anything she can find by Louise Erdrich and Ann Patchett, and is on a lifelong quest to become fluent in Spanish.

The Space Within

Ellen Mail

The Space Within By Ellen Mail, Intern, Growing Places Indy

The body.  Such a word more often than not evokes a sense of physical form and space.  But I am inspired most by the space within.  The space filled with thought and emotion, with memories and dreams, with ideas and visions. 

This space within is dynamic. Mine draws inspiration from those who surround me, from travels, from laughter, experience, and observation. 

Earlier this year I worked and traveled throughout Ireland with a very dear friend. For three months we submerged ourselves completely and with total abandon in the country and its people.  Despite having been home now for nearly five months, my Irish jig continues to resonate and influence my internal space.  Relationships formed, memories made, laughs had—they whirl and twirl their way into my daily thoughts.

I kept a blog of my travels as a means to document and share the experience in its entirety—time and space, people, serendipities—in short, the subtleties that enrich and transform place into much more.  I recently re-read the opening blog post I wrote before leaving in March.  It began as follows:

Dance. Sing. Floss. Travel.

Four words.  And yet, when I saw them displayed in a window the other day, I was inspired—and clearly enough so to let them guide me through my debut into the blogging world. 

I am an observer, often struck by the simpler bits and pieces–pieces that are too often over-looked despite adding a necessary element of awe, wonder, and depth to a day.  Lavender grey skies of Indiana winter afternoons.  Reflections of trees in puddles, framing the intricate designs of their limbs and branches, appreciated only during a post-snow-melt-run.  Wispy clouds.  Twinkling stars.  Bits and pieces.     

Dance. Sing. Floss. Travel.  Each word reminds me of something more.  And I just love that.  

Dance.  Unwind, be carefree, let your inner spirit shine through.

Sing.  Laugh, be joyful, seek happiness in all that you pursue.  

Floss.  Run, be healthy, achieve balance of body, mind, and spirit.   

Travel.  Explore, be curious, desire to expand your knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of different people and cultures.

As I reflect on the time I spent in Ireland, as well as the experiences and opportunities I have had since returning home, I realize it is through the sharing of experiences, ideas, and dreams from the internal space that enliven, enrich, and influence the external space surrounding the body of community and community members.  The space within is great, to be sure, as is the knowledge, growth, and development that stands to be gained—at personal and community levels—from sharing it and listening to each other.