Choosing Love Over Fear

Interview with Ammar Kandil | Co-Founder, Yes Theory

Portrait: Tom Kubik

We sat down with Yes Theory Co-Founder, Ammar Kandill, to talk love, fear and getting uncomfortable. Yes Theory is a social movement and content platform dreamt up by four friends from four different countries who have committed to showing the world what it looks like to constantly face their fears and seek discomfort in order to learn and grow.

What is your personal mantra/motto right now?

Seek Discomfort.

It is Yes Theory’s motto. The first iteration of this was “Embrace Discomfort”, but in my mind that seemed more passive — to just wait for discomfort to come and then embrace it. But there’s so much value in going after discomfort. And that’s been my experience with Yes Theory — in the times where we felt the most uncomfortable were the times we grew the most. That’s why it’s so worth it to seek out discomfort, constantly make sure that you never get comfortable in one place and always look at new experiences that add value to your life. So, seek discomfort.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Egypt until I was 15, when I got a scholarship to attend boarding school in South Africa at the African Leadership Academy. I moved there not really knowing how to speak English and thrown into a very rigorous academic program for 2 years, but I made some of the strongest connections I have ever made with other humans. I met people who were just as passionate about their dreams and their aspirations as I was, and that was super inspiring. That’s exactly where I needed to be at that stage in my life.

After that experience, I wanted to pursue tech. I actually wanted to go back to Egypt to build tech products and get involved with the startup scene, but the Egyptian revolution had just happened, and I wanted to get some experience first. I decided to go to San Francisco and did an internship with a tech startup over there. During that year things went downhill in Egypt, so I decided it wasn’t yet my time to return to Egypt. I was also not really interested in going to University.

I was never an academic person. I was always more about human connections, and I had a lot of learning disabilities coming up, an extreme form of ADHD. I had a very hard time reading, that’s how bad it was, until I found the perfect school for me, Quest University in Canada.

So I decided that I was going to only apply to one University and that was Quest. However, tuition was $42,000 which, of course, I couldn’t afford. The same week that I got accepted to Quest University and realized I couldn’t pay for it, I was nominated for and awarded a MasterCard Foundation Scholarship. MasterCard paid for my entire college education and supported me in the summers with internships and my flights home. I got super lucky in that way, and I ended up going to school for 2 years.

In the summer of my sophomore year, I met 3 strangers who I immediately bonded with over a shared desire to live a life that challenged and excited us. After knowing them for only 5 days we decided to move into a one-bedroom apartment together and to do 30 things we had never done before in 30 days. We made a video about it every single day and that’s when I realized the value of seeking discomfort and how much new experiences and feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable had such a tremendous value on my personal growth and in my life in general.

Share a moment in your life that made you passionate about making the world a better place?

The Egyptian Revolution. The Arab Spring, in general, as a movement, and as something that has failed miserably, but that was the first time in my life where I realized “wow, I can make a difference”. I had always thought previously that things were impossible. I grew up constantly scared, constantly frustrated with the system and that’s why I wanted to escape it. But then the Egyptian Revolution, especially in that it was led by young people, that’s when I realized there’s so much power in us as young people and in leveraging technology, to truly go big and make history in a country that is known for its history.

That was the point of my life where I just decided to dream big and really go far with my dreams and aspirations. Even though it failed, it inspired my three greatest dreams, which are:

  1. First, build the world’s greatest incubator. I’m still defining what that is, but I just know that right now I have the nucleus to something so goddamn powerful — 4 friends from 4 different countries, together building this movement. We see so much potential in what’s going to come out of the movement and see how many people are already pursuing big projects and their dreams, inspired by Yes Theory. There’s a place where we can incubate people and ideas and I want to continue to build and incubate that for the rest of my life. I want to be a connector of talent and ideas and resources.
  2. My second dream is to finish the Revolution in some capacity. I’m glad that through my work with Yes Theory we’re leading a grassroots movement and that’s exactly my definition of what the revolution is. The revolution impacted me. It made me realize that what I thought was impossible is actually possible, and I think that’s what we at Yes Theory are doing: we are helping a lot of people realize that the alternative lifestyle or the nontraditional way of living, even though it seems so unattainable, it’s actually pretty attainable if you just start with small little “yeses” in your daily life.
  3. My 3rd dream is to become the youngest person to ever run for presidency in Egypt.
Portrait: Tom Kubik

Patrons of Progress is all about showcasing people who are using their influence for good. What does “doing good” mean to you?

Doing good is being kind to people around you, honestly, it comes down to that. There’s so much value in showing that kindness to another human because that pushes them to also be kind to the next person they meet.

What sparked your interest and passion to get involved with and start Yes Theory?

The revolution is one, but to me the principal behind Yes Theory was always there. My interest has always been at the intersection of media and technology and how they can empower so much change. To see the revolution rise through social media and then be destroyed through traditional media. That technology versus media — there was a huge pull between both.

I see so much value in merging both and that’s what I tried to do with Yes Theory — how do I leverage technology to put out a message that would traditionally require me to have a TV show and follow a traditional format based on what the advertisers want. Now it’s a bit of a free-for-all democracy, with the presence of YouTube and other social media platforms, and we’re able to put out a message without any restrictions. The potential is endless.

The fact that there is space for that to happen right now was really the space that social media has created. The fact that we can do so much more with it was really what inspired Yes Theory.

If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

Ambitious as fuck. That’s 3 words…so Ambitious-AF. I have really, really big dreams that sometimes scare me, but I try to recognize that these dreams come from an incredible place, a place of love, because every dream that I want to accomplish is beyond myself and is for a bigger purpose. That’s what keeps me going.

What do you hope our readers will gain from your story and/or Yes Theory’s story?

To realize the value of seeking discomfort and hopefully doing something about it in their daily lives. It all starts with little “yeses” that we say to things that we would usually not say yes to. I think that’s the biggest thing. That’s the message in my life right now. I’m trying to put that out there.

Resources and technology aside, if you could make one remarkable change in the world by 2020, what would it be?

I would connect every part of the planet to the internet.

We were recently in a rural village in Nicaragua, building homes for eight families there with our partners with We Journey & Techo build transitional housing for families living in unsafe & unhealthy living conditions, and I realized that they have perfectly good internet there. The Internet is the gateway to opportunity, resources, growth and so much knowledge.

There’s so much value in connecting the world. Of course, there are so many other challenges to address, whether it’s ending poverty or ending inequality in general, but I really think that in giving everyone the internet, you can empower everyone to learn. Education becomes the root of solving other problems.

It’s such a challenge to penetrate governments, to try to change educational systems, but the internet creates an equal opportunity for anyone to find information on whatever it is that they’re looking for. There is so much power in that. That’s how I ended up where I am today — leaving a small industrial town, literally in the middle of the desert in Egypt. It was through constantly looking on the internet for opportunities and for things to be apart of.

Having that access changed my life one hundred percent.

Share something that you’ve learned along the way that has helped guide you in your journey.

It’s one of the core principles of Yes Theory — choose “love over fear”. There are so many instances in my life, when it would be easy to lead with fear — whether it’s my U.S. immigration status or the fact that I moved to a foreign country not knowing how to speak the language. When I first moved to South Africa, I would sit at school assemblies not understanding what the fuck they were announcing. Choosing “love over fear” in those moments is the most powerful advice that I could provide for anyone.

In any situation in life you can either decide to act based on love or on fear and usually love ends up creating the more fulfilling outcome.

Portrait: Tom Kubik

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