MY JOURNEY, FULL CIRCLE
Like too many children in America, I was brought up by a single mother on welfare. My mother, sister and I lived in a 300-square-foot studio apartment in a converted motel room with one bed and a hotplate. It wasn’t much, but living in that motel located us in one of the better areas of Los Angeles where public schooling was well funded.
Mom knew that getting a good education was our only chance to get out of poverty.
The transition to a nicer neighborhood had its benefits, but we were still poor. Trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table was a daily challenge. I was ashamed. I didn’t want my mother to struggle. All I could think about was how I was going to help get my family and myself out of poverty.
I spent the next twenty years focused on how to become financially independent.
After a series of jobs, I took a leap in 1994 and started my own wellness company. It was a big risk, but the timing was perfect. I tapped into our nation’s need for wellness just as the country began to realize how desperately we, as a society, needed a new way of thinking about our bodies. Plant medicine became my life’s work and, over a fourteen-year period, I worked every day, all day. With a great team, we built one of the country’s largest private nutraceutical companies. While we made some mistakes along the way, we were a commercial success and I had accomplished my childhood goal. I was able to provide for my mother and my own growing family, and I was happy.
Even so, I wasn’t fully fulfilled. In my drive to gain the security that money could offer me, I started to realize that my life was focused on work. It left little time for my family and for exploring my true passions.
In 2008, something shifted.
Just as I was at an inflection point in my life, I met Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X PRIZE Foundation and Singularity University. Peter is a medical doctor, an aerospace engineer and a consummate optimist, entrepreneur and educator. Peter also happened to be the co-founder and executive chairman of Zero Gravity, a company that operated weightless flights. Zero Gravity’s planes were emptied-out commercial airliners outfitted with padded walls and floors in order to allow people to escape Earth’s gravity and float weightlessly by doing a series of parabolic flights, just for fun.
For her tenth birthday, I treated my daughter, Kessely, to a Zero Gravity flight.
It was one of the most memorable activities that my daughter and I have ever shared together. It was spectacular. As the pilot maneuvered into the first of fifteen parabolas, 30,000 feet over the Nevada desert, we started to levitate off the floor. Peter led us through the whole experience, catching globs of water as they floated through the air and playing catch with Kessely as she flew through the air like Superman.
I had long had a deep interest in physics and technology, and this catalyzing moment, watching my daughter move through air like an astronaut, caught me off guard.
I wanted something deeper out of my own life, something different, something that would push me to my own limits just as Kessely had been pushed to hers.
What I didn’t know, touching ground after the high that Kessely and I shared, was how pivotal meeting Peter would be to my future. A mere few days after that experience, Peter asked me if I would be willing to participate in an inaugural meeting at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley to discuss the formation of Singularity University—an institution he wanted to create to explore the convergence of exponential technologies to solve some of the world’s grand challenges. Peter had pulled together an all-star group of thought leaders including Larry Page, Pete Warden, Chris Boshuizen, Keith A. Powers, Sonia Arrison, Barney Pell, Joshua Schachter, Alex Fielding, Ray Kurtzweil, Moses Znaimer, Keith Kleiner, Michael Potter, Bob Richards, Stephanie Langhoff, Will Marshall, Philip Rosedale, George Smoot, Gary Martin, Mitch Menaged and many others to discuss how Singularity University could help create social impact at scale. The plan was to try to synthesize the convergence of exponentially evolving technologies like genome testing strong artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology to do good for the world.
This was really the first time that I was exposed to this kind of thinking and, in that moment, at that meeting, something clicked inside.
I realized that I had been working so hard for so many years, but that it was now time to refocus my energy on how I could give back. I became completely enamored with the idea of exponential change and where our grand experiment of technology and humanity is heading. After exploring a variety of ideas, I realized that, deep at my core, I was drawn to fundamental physics. The reason for my interest in this area, so desperately needed and so incredibly underfunded, was that I understood that grand unification theory could help us to address some of the world’s most complex and challenging issues related to energy, our role in nature and our connections to the universe in which we live.
Herein lay the crux: I didn’t have a formal education in fundamental physics or mathematics. I knew that, in order to make an impact on the field, I really needed to understand it first. The next day, I went to my office at Irwin Naturals and announced that I would be leaving.
I walked out, and for the next eight years I never went back. For some magical reason, I was able to let go. Once I let go, it was like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders because I had found my passion. For the next three years, I spent all of my time studying fundamental physics, reading as many papers as I could and surrounding myself with as many wonderful scientists as possible. During this period, my company was doing well. I was able to use the profits from the company to fund research in the area. The result was the creation of Quantum Gravity Research, which is one of the largest groups in the world working on grand unification theory. We don’t know if the grand unification theory we are working on will result in a major breakthrough, but we do know that it is a moonshot worth taking.
During this long period, I had never thought I would plunge back into the plant medicine business again. But then I met CBD.
I had heard about cannabinoids, but it wasn’t really until I started taking CBD for back pain, and my mother started taking it during stage 4 of her cancer treatment, that I started to appreciate the power of this molecule.
I dove deeper and started researching and reading about how other people were using CBD and experiencing beneficial results for a wide variety of physical ailments. I was struck by how cannabinoids can affect our psychological and emotional state, and I realized that there was a connection between CBD and my physics work. It may sound a little crazy, but here’s how it all fits together for me.
My physics mission is ultimately about an expansion of consciousness on the planet so that we can feel comfortable, satisfied and compassionate enough to share resources and make the world a better place. When we have a country in mental and physical pain, we can’t achieve that goal. We’re tied up in stress, strain and barriers to positive change. I believe, having done all of my own personal research on CBD, that it and other plant medicines provide us with a pathway to alleviating that pain, and I feel a grave responsibility to share my experience with the world.
Unfortunately, during my research into CBD, I also found that there are several major market challenges. First, most people don’t know about CBD, and if they do, they can’t access it easily. Even when they can access it, they most likely can’t afford it.
We need more education, easier access and cheaper prices in order to give people an alternative solution to what ails us, to provide the nation with effective plant-based medicine. I know a lot, based on my personal experience, about not being able to afford medicine and basic needs, and that’s why I decided to step back into Irwin Naturals in order to carry out this promise.
My quest is to make CBD as affordable as we can make it, so that the people who need it most can access it. There are many new companies entering this space that are focused purely on profits, even if it means making CBD so expensive that most people can’t afford it. My hope is that, by providing a higher quality product at a fraction of the cost, we can drive down CBD pricing across the board so that consumers will benefit. In order to provide consumers with more options, in addition to Irwin Naturals’ core offerings, the company is also launching several new product lines including HydroCanna, a plant-based line of skin care products; FloChi, a food and beverage line; and LoveMyPet, for the pets we love. We view this as part of our social impact mission.
Society tends to believe that corporations are about making money and nonprofits are about social service, but I know we can do better. Companies can and should provide a service to society, while still making a fair profit. We can come together and use corporations to make the world a better place. We know that, more often than not, companies that have a higher purpose have happier employees, more satisfied customers and better results.
Today, our company is buzzing with the excitement of a new purpose for coming to work: service to others, service to themselves and, most of all, love for their community and for people in need of health assistance.
I hope that you can join me in a call to action: take on the challenge of centering love in yourself, your family and friends, your business and in all aspects of your life. Together, we can reimagine what it means to be rich: rich in community, in wellness and in a dynamic, positive hope for the future. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what you find.