Friendships Take Initiative

By Sam Demma - Entrepreneur and& Keynote speaker

At 22 years old, entrepreneur and keynote speaker Sam Demma doesn’t let his age define his drive or credibility. His goal is to provide students with the tools and strategies they need to become servant leaders in their schools, businesses, communities, and in the lives of those around them. Sam co-founded PickWaste, a grassroots initiative that brings people together to pick up trash in their communities. Sam has delivered over 200 presentations. His young age makes him extremely relatable to youth audiences and utterly inspiring for educators. He’s delivered two TEDx talks and is the youngest board director of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. There’s no limit to where small actions will take this big thinker.

My work with youth

There are three ways I currently work with youth; keynote speaking, online courses and

podcasting. Through keynote speaking I can share personal experiences and stories that will

educate students on topics including servant leadership, kindness, and personal development.

When keynote speaking, I’m often working with the administration of a school or conference to

create a message that will align with their desired goal or outcome.

The second way I work with youth in through online courses. The High Performing Student is a

7-video self-leadership course that teaches students about goal setting, visioning, weekly

planning, organization, and accountability. Over 400 students have engaged in the free

program and we’re building the second iteration of it right now. This course enables me to

share helpful advice and ideas with students from all around the globe at whatever time and

pace works for them.

Lastly, I always leave some time open on my calendar for one-on-one calls with students who

are looking for some advice or someone who will listen. I don’t have hundreds of hours to give,

but I always take the time to listen and respond to everyone who reaches out with questions or


Over the past three years, this work has taught me that today’s youth are resilient, creative,

and willing to proactively search for information that will help them improve the quality of their

present and future lives. Through their excitement for life, and their passion to learn, they

remind me to remain curious. Curiosity is the starting point of all innovation, and a short 15-

minute conversation with a student will remind you how quickly the world is evolving and how

much learning is available if you remain open-minded and curious.

I’ve learned that youth are also great at reading non-verbal communication. In my experience,

students can often determine whether you are sincere and genuine, or putting up a front. They

appreciate honesty and enjoy having one on one time with people who truly care about them.

More than anything, sometimes they just need someone who is willing to listen for the purpose

of understanding.

My message about mistakes & failure

I do! This important topic is usually covered while sharing a personal experience about learning

how to dance the Bachata, one of the most popular Latin dances. On vacation with family in

Costa Rica, I made the decision to visit the night club. The DJ was playing western music that I

could sign and dance to. It wasn’t until 12am when he changed the music from Drake to

Romeo Santos. From Post Malone to Prince Royce, and all these Latin artists that I knew

nothing about. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, I approached someone in the club

and asked them to dance. After 20 seconds my dancing partner said “un momento”, which

means “just a moment,” and she left me to dance with someone else…. My face turned red like

a tomato from embarrassment, and I immediately left to return to our hotel room. Most would

have considered this situation a failure. Instead, I used it as motivation to learn how to dance

before leaving this resort.

I began watching YouTube tutorials in the hotel room and learned how to say teach me in Spanish – Ensenam  – so I could ask a local to teach me how to dance. Fast forward to the end of this vacation, not only did I successfully learn to dance, but I realized it's something that I love doing. My message to youth about failure is that with a positive mindset it can become a steppingstone to your future success. Failure is nothing more than feedback because of a decision you made. Proactively use that feedback to inform your next decision and you will continually improve.

My advice to youth who don’t feel like they have a trusted adult to help them in times of need

If you don’t have access to a trusted adult in times of need, I would recommend listening to and

reading the work of authors and people who you aspire to be like. The amount of free

information on the internet and on the shelves of libraries is astounding. Search for people

who have overcome what you’re going through and consume as much of their beliefs and ideas

as you can find. If success leaves clues, these people’s beliefs will be your blueprint. The

coolest part is that these can be individuals who you’ve never met and maybe never will.

Weeks after getting my driver’s license, my parents trusted me to drive to and from soccer

practice on my own. Practice started at 9 pm, ended at 10:30 and the drive was 45 minutes, so

every day I spent an extra hour and a half in the car. That quiet time alone is what inspired me

to begin listening to podcasts. I found a show that was specific for athletes called the “Sports

Motivation Podcast.” It was hosted by a professional football player named Niyi Sobo. In each

episode he would breakdown the mindset and habits you need to dominate your sport and

reach high level performance. I made a habit of arriving at practice 15-30 minutes early so I

could jot down notes from these interviews in a notebook I grabbed from the dollar store.

I still have those notes and as you read this, on average, I consume 2-3 hours of music and

interviews daily. You want to listen to and watch videos that reinforce powerful thoughts and

help you build positive beliefs. These are people I do not know and do not have access to but

hearing them speak helps me build my self-esteem and confidence. For me, this includes artists

and entrepreneurs like Russ, Eminem, Nipsey Hustle, Jay Shetty, Charlie Rocket, Gary

Vaynerchuck, Niyi Sobo and many more.

Find role models that you relate to and listen to their content until you embody their set of beliefs. Don’t underestimate the power of podcasts, books, and other media to reinforce positive beliefs and mindsets into your day-to-day life. It has changed my life and it can change yours as well.

My TEDxTalk about making new friends

Upon starting university, I was alone. As a result of taking a gap year and fifth year of

high school, all my friends were in their third year of university when I was just

beginning my first. This meant my classes were filled with seeming strangers and I had

to try to make friends. The first few weeks of university were very lonely and isolated.

It seemed like everyone on campus was glued to their phone screens and not interested

in meeting new people and making friends. Realizing that nothing was going to change

unless I began acting, I came up with my own personal challenge; One Day, One Person.

The challenge was simple. Introduce yourself and attempt to have a full conversation

with one new stranger every day. I started by introducing myself within our Facebook

student group and to my absolute surprise, over 200 students liked and commented on

the post expressing that they had experienced similar feelings and challenges when it

came to making friends on campus.

This little experiment helped me get out of my comfort zone and made university a

much more enjoyable experience for me. It taught me that every human being has a

desire to feel connected and included in community. Even the students who are glued

to their phones want to experience connection and may be too shy or nervous to

approach you, so instead they stare at their screens and engage online. If you feel

nervous introducing yourself to a stranger, congratulations you are human! It is very

likely that everyone you meet also feels the same way. The quicker you accept this

uncomfortable feeling and approach new friends anyway, the quicker you will make

new friends and enjoy your schooling experience.

The importance of friendships

As a soccer player, my position was known as midfielder. My main responsibility was to

receive the ball from the defense and successfully pass it forward to the offensive

players so we could score goals. My coach would always yell at me, “Sam!! Check your

shoulders!!” He wanted to ensure I was aware of who was around me so I wouldn’t

receive the ball and turn into an opposing player. Being aware of your surroundings

was required to make you successful on the soccer field. Similarly, your success and

happiness in life also hinges on who you surround yourself with, in other words, your

friends. The people you spend time with will rub off on you. Whether you like it or

not, you will slowly begin to assume their habits and beliefs. This doesn’t mean you

need to cut off all your friends and become a lone wolf. Just take note of how the

actions of your friends influence you.

You want friends that will keep it real with you while also being your biggest

supporters. When I made the decision to drop out of school and pursue my dreams,

this was my best friend, Lucas. He was one of the only people who believed in my

abilities more than I believed in myself. He constantly reminded me to bet on myself

and we would make time to meet up and talk about our dreams. I’m so grateful for our

friendship. You don’t need a large circle, but you need at least one person that will

hold you accountable and believe in you.

Friends are extremely important because by nature, human beings are social creatures.

We not only want community, but it is also necessary for our development and

fulfillment throughout our lives. There was a fascinating study based on a story in

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, about a community called Roseto Valfortore. The

people that lived in this community had a strong sense of belonging with one-another

and a surprisingly low death rate from heart-attacks. Correlations have since been

made from studying this community that physical health cannot be measured in

isolation of someone’s culture and the community in which they live. Yes individual

actions and decisions are important, but this study proved that culture and community

also affect your well-being.

In conclusion, friends are important because they will be there to lift you up when

you’re felling down, cheer you on when you’re succeeding, and provide you with

memories and experiences that will last you a lifetime. Friends will provide you with a

sense of community, more fulfillment in your day-to-day life and according to Malcolm

Gladwell, better physical health and well-being.

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