This is your world and you need to nourish it. Be intentional about caring for and protecting our freedoms. Care for yourself and care for others. With neglect, society and the world grow weeds. Weeds are strong and deceptive. They take over everything. They might look okay at first, but they’ll destroy and choke all the beautiful flowers around it until you see that nothing but the weeds are thriving. That’s a dangerous place to be. At the same time, rest in knowing that you are only human. Even our best efforts and intentions will be limited in scope and ability; which means we can lighten up a little as we care and nourish for our society. The job should be to act where you are with what you have. Do it with joy and what you feel called to do.
I had the pleasure to interview Devin Almonte.
Devin is a Wellness Lifestyle and Product Expert, On-Air Host, and Mental Health Advocate. She is on a mission to help people live better and fuller lives. Her passion and understanding of living a wellness lifestyle stem from her deep desire to see people live wholly well, having dealt with her own struggles in adolescence to live well. Through her faith and conscious determination to live within the bounds of a wellness lifestyle, Devin saw her life dramatically change for the better and she wants to see others live better and fuller lives as well. She also works tirelessly to end the stigma that surrounds mental health and to support those in need of help. www.devinalmonte.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us Devin! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
Sure. I am originally from the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland; born and raised. And yes, I still say “Baldamore,” like a true Baltimorean, even though I haven’t lived there in over fifteen years. My family and I lived in a very rural area outside of Baltimore city until I was about six years old. I lived with my two loving parents, an older brother, two cats, one dog, and a rabbit. It made for a wonderfully simple childhood: neighborhood sled adventures on the hilly field behind our homes during the winter months and casual walks to the local farm stand for fresh corn and tomatoes during the summertime. A fond memory I have is shuffling off to my weekly piano lessons at a local woman’s home, where we would often have to wait for the cows to cross the road so we could continue on our drive along the unpaved gravel road to her home. It was a wonderful way to grow up. After six years of rural living, we moved a bit closer to Baltimore city, where I also enjoyed growing up and enjoying my childhood and adolescence.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am an avid reader. I read about a book a week, and I always have a pile of about six or so books on my nightstand that I’m reading simultaneously; mostly nonfiction. The book that has had the most significant impact on my life is the Bible, which I mostly ignored and actually scoffed at in my teen years. The Bible completely changed me. I think I was twenty-three or twenty-four years old when I actually picked it up and started to take it seriously. And being the avid reader that I am, I reasoned that I’d be foolish not to pick up and read the most read and best-selling book of all time.
But let you tell me why I really picked it up: I spent most of my teen years in the throes of alcohol addiction. Yes, I came from a loving home and had a loving childhood. I went to great schools and had good friends. And I was happy! But alcoholism doesn’t care about those things. While there are various schools of thought around alcoholism, I do believe that it is truly a disease. And for myself, I do believe I was born with a predisposition to it. For me, it was a perfect combination of genetics: living with severe anxiety, obsessive and compulsive behaviors, and my own biological wiring: an introverted, impulsive thrill-seeker.
Alcoholism cares about consuming you and becoming your number one idol. It masquerades as your closest friend — someone you never want to be apart from, but also someone who can never satisfy you. My alcoholism had consumed me at such an early age, and I had no idea how to escape it. Sadly, my older brother, with a similar disposition as my own, was unable to escape it and lost his life to addiction in the summer of 2016.
I became sober in 1999 because of my brother. He had gotten sober for a few months at one point and being the competitive sister that I am, I was ready to “out-sober” him to prove to myself that I wasn’t as “messed up” as he was. At least, that’s partially true. It was that and a final drinking and driving accident that led me to a point of surrender like I’ve never experienced.
In early recovery, I was searching — searching for something to satisfy my soul beyond the rooms of AA. I tried every self-help and self-actualization method around. I put the deep study and thought into the works of Carl Jung. I read all the works of new-age guru Wayne Dyer. Buddhism, Taoism, Kabbalah. Check. The list goes on and on.
But before I continue, I want to state that the works of these talented individuals and these faith explorations affected my life in an immeasurably positive way. And they still do. I have nothing but gratitude for my journey through it. Yet this did not ultimately satisfy the longings of my heart and questions about this world and our place and purpose in it. It wasn’t until I started reading the Bible that everything about the world began to make sense. I began to understand the world, its people, and myself in an entirely new way. “I was blind, but now I see,” as they say. The Bible and my new belief system had completely changed me; a total of three hundred and sixty-degree change in how I approach life, work, and people. It infiltrates every part of my daily living.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
One of my favorite Life Lesson Quotes is “Start from wherever you are and with whatever you’ve got,” by Jim Rohn. This is entirely relevant to my life and work — it’s almost a daily mantra for me. In recovery, you often hear of so many who want to wait until they “get their act together” before they get sober. This never works, because you’ll simply never have your act together! You just have to start where and how you are. This applies to anything. Think about weight loss: “I’ll work out and lose weight once I can afford a treadmill.” Why not just start walking if that’s what you’ve got? Work: “I can’t start my business until I have the fancy website and all the tools to help me be successful”. Will the fancy website really make that much of a difference? Start where you are and with what you’ve got. For myself, I think of how I ventured into television hosting and the wellness field.
I never felt ready to apply for a job. I need more hosting classes first; a better wardrobe. I need a better camera, better lighting, and better sound equipment. I know wellness like the back of my hand, but I’m not technically trained in wellness (even though I’ve lived it and my life is dedicated to it more than any wellness certification could ever provide). However, I can hear my husband speaking in the background, my biggest cheerleader and encourager: “Start with what you’ve got. Just start.” And so l began with a shoddy camera, dim lighting, a background submerged in wellness from life experience, and subpar TV hosting skills. It didn’t take long before it blossomed into a career in broadcasting, TV hosting, and the birth of my own business, Product Mill, a boutique wellness product consulting agency.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
Yes, I would love to share with you two areas that directly affect wellness as a society that we felt called to address during this COVID-19 pandemic. Given that I am a wellness expert, this was quite a natural focus for me. Here they are:
Hello Senior!. A Private Facebook Group supporting Senior Citizens in isolation due to COVID-19. It breaks my heart to think of the number of senior citizens who are in isolation due to COVID-19; whether they are at home alone or in a senior home facility. All visits and activities have been abruptly cut off, which they greatly depend upon for basic human contact.
To fill this void, we created a private Facebook group, called Hello Senior!, as a way for children and adult volunteers alike to virtually say, “Hello Senior!” in a variety of ways:
Senior citizens across the nation are invited to join this private Facebook group. This includes any senior; whether at home, in a nursing home, or senior home. Most senior facilities have a Facebook business page and can share our content from that page with their residents.
Volunteer content creators (adults, families, and/or their children) are invited to join this group. These volunteers create video content for our senior citizens who are also members. For example, we took a video of my son reading one of his favorite books to the camera and we posted the video in the private Facebook group for senior citizens to watch and enjoy. Other video contents from our volunteer content creators include video post topics like All About Pets, Read-to-a-Senior, Show + Tell, Craft Time, Music, Dance, How-To, Jokes, In the Kitchen, The Great Outdoors, Well-Wishes, Prayers.
Hello Senior! is a way to bring joy to senior citizens and create a place of connection during this very difficult time. So instead of physically going to visit elderly family members or community senior citizens, we come to them virtually.
Fitness.At.Home is a public Facebook Group supporting the Fitness Community during COVID-19. The fitness community has been drastically affected by COVID-19. I feel great sadness for fitness instructors and trainers that have lost their jobs or have been furloughed. I also have concerns about everyone’s state of physical and mental health without their fitness routine and regular exercise. My fitness community is a strong crew that greatly depends on workouts for their physical, social, and mental wellbeing. With many of my fitness friends feeling this struggle, we worked together to create a way to help fitness instructors locally and beyond who are currently out of work due to COVID-19. Our group connects fitness enthusiasts with fitness instructors for incredible, on-demand virtual workouts.
With gyms and fitness studios shut down, online fitness classes have exploded on the scene, and it’s hard to figure out where to look for one that fits you. The most important thing you can do is get yourself into a scheduled routine at home. The intent of our group is to connect fitness instructors and their virtual, on-demand workouts with fitness enthusiasts. We’ve found a way to do just that through the development of our online schedule, calendar, and a public Facebook group that helps encourage accountability. All classes are live to help us foster a deeper connection with one another. Some classes are free, some are for a fee, and others are donation-based. However we can support one another, we do so! Through our simple, online calendar schedule you can easily see who is teaching, what they are teaching, and when they are going live. No more excuses for missing a workout!
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
When I hear the word hero, I think of some of the most courageous people in the world who act for good in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Most often you’ll hear that heroes act simply out of duty or calling and are rarely — if ever — chasing the glory that comes with hero status. It’s just something they do. I also find that most heroes are meek in nature. To be a hero requires incredible discipline with unbreakable strength.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
- Meek. George Washington displayed great meekness as a leader, president, and national hero. First, he never really aspired to be such a leader or hero and felt others could do just as good of a job. He was also known for his great humility; preferring the title of “Mr. President” as opposed to the louder, and more tyrannically-leaning titles, such as “Your Highness” or “Your Majesty”. He had selfless intentions and used his authority to care for others, all while exhibiting the most intense, consistent, and level-headed strength.
- Self-Sacrificing. I remember reading a story in the news years back about a skydiving adventure gone wrong. A woman did her first-ever tandem skydive with her instructor, Dave Hartsock. When the instructor pulled the cord to release the chute, it failed by not opening properly. None of the reserve chutes worked as they had hoped either and this left them tumbling rapidly to the ground. With a clear-headedness and strength in the midst of a freefall, the instructor’s goal was to save his student. Just before crashing to the ground, he told his student to lift up her feet so he could position his body beneath hers to act as a cushion on impact. His quick-thinking and act of heroism saved her life. And thankfully, he too survived the accident, though sadly, he is a quadriplegic. And as most heroes often say, “I’m not a hero, I just did the right thing.”
- Protective. Chesley Sullenberger is the definition of a protective hero. Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger is the pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after a flock of geese struck and shut down power to the plane’s engines, saving one-hundred and fifty-five lives. When the plane engines failed, it was his quick thinking and a calm, steady hand, that led him to successfully land his plane in one of the busiest rivers in the United States. I believe it was his deep-seated desire to protect and secure the safety of others that led him to save the lives of his passengers. When you learn more about his character, it is clear that he is a protector. He cares about people’s safety and will do anything to ensure that this is achieved. This goes well beyond airline safety — it’s his life’s calling.
- Moral Integrity, Dr. Tim Keller was my pastor for many years when I lived in NYC. He is, arguably, one of the best Christian preachers of our time, but you will never hear such words uttered from him. His integrity is carried with a singleness of heart, full of honesty, truth, and right living — which can be costly at times. Getting to know him is to witness the moral integrity he exudes. Who you see publicly is who he is privately; unchanged and unfathomed by the winds of cultural and societal trends. For example, he rejects the desire to build for himself a modern celebrity-pastor platform, which is so commonly accepted today and something he could easily achieve. He could whip up popular books to further saturate the market like so many newbie pastors do to get their voice heard. Not that this is necessarily wrong in and of itself, but the fact that Dr. Keller recoils from this speaks volumes about the depth of his character; having purposely chosen to not write his first book until much later in life, when he was close to sixty years old. His moral integrity invokes a deep understanding of right and wrong and the singleness of heart.
- Helpful, Heroes like to help. One of my favorite quotes about this very characteristic is by Arthur Ashe: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” You want to find a hero? Go where the helpers are. There you will find heroes who are driven by compassion, empathy, and a desire to see change for the betterment of someone or something. Heroes like this know that helping others can often be costly. It can cost you your time, your energy, your finances, and even your health. And it’s often thankless, which requires one to look deep into the reasons why they actually help. Heroes see themselves second and the others they are serving first.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
Good question. That leads to another thought I have on this subject — are heroes born, or are they made? I think both can be true. In my opinion, born heroes simply act — often blindly and often without really knowing why. They know their own life might be in danger, but they don’t really ruminate on that for long. Picture a group walking down the street and they see a house on fire. One says, “Danger, run!” The second says, “Call the fire department!” And the third…he’s already in the house looking for people to help get out of the house.
The third has an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction to help others. At other times, I think heroes are formed from their life experiences. Many people we classify as heroes are those that have experienced some form of suffering or pivotal moment in their lives that propel them to an entirely different sphere of living. Because of this, they think deeply and tend to have an inner strength that propels them forward to take action. Whether your journey has included disability, abuse, addiction, loneliness, sorrow, cancer, homelessness, relationship struggles or some other struggle, using those experiences can help bring light to dark situations. Taking action is not easy. It carries significant risks and great responsibility. Yet each day, ordinary people consider it a duty to respond in heroic ways.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
Hello Senior! started with my ten-year-old daughter, one of the most compassionate souls on the planet. She was desperate to do something to help seniors in isolation, something we frequently talked about after the quarantine began. It started to eat away at me, tugging at my heartstrings. And I watched my own daughter willing to give of herself to serve others. Seeing her discontented heart, I knew I had to act. It’s how we operate as a family. If there is something we can do, we have the ability to do it, and we feel called to the task, then we just need to do it. That’s the way it has to be. I spent many restless nights poring over how to pull all the pieces together: the best format, how to engage, how to address privacy concerns, etc. But when you feel called to take action, you take action and see it through. You’ll always find a way.
Fitness.At.Home started with my sadness over the many fabulous fitness instructors who lost their jobs or were furloughed. For many, this is not their hobby, but their career. How could we support them, if at all? Secondly, I know how important physical exercise is for mental health. Personally, I exercise more for the mental benefits that I do the physical benefits. It’s my medicine. COVID-19 caused a drastic change to my exercise routine that has been very difficult for someone like myself who is prone to anxiety and so forth. And it can be a little embarrassing to talk about: “Gee, I couldn’t do my spin class today because the gym is closed and now, I don’t feel well.” It sounds extremely privileged and shallow.
But to be honest, it was greatly affecting my mental health; I became squirrely, as it’s defined in recovery rooms. I wasn’t liking the way I was feeling; out of sync with my regular workout schedule and routine. Speaking to fitness friends and friends in recovery, I knew I was far from alone. Hearing their stories and challenges, I knew I had to act. There had to be a way that we could help and care for our instructors and support our fitness enthusiasts at the same time. If I could find a way, then it just had to be done. Restless nights once again kept me up with my thoughts on how to make this work. But we got there, and it continues to evolve. We have a working fitness schedule that fitness instructors can add their workout schedule to, which also allows them to charge for their classes, take a donation, give to a charity, or offer their class for free. We created structure and routine for all fitness enthusiasts like me, so we can have a predictable workout schedule week after week; not to mention the support of the fitness community. It’s like a version of Class Pass, but at the instructor level and mostly free!
For both of these actions, I felt what I call my “gut punch.” I had this uncomfortable, yet simultaneously thrilling, “wind knocked out of me” feeling in my stomach. It’s a feeling that doesn’t go away, and I can’t let go of the idea floating around in my head. When I get to this place, I know I’m called to act.
Who are your heroes?
That’s a big list. I’ll give you two. Bob Goff is a hero of mine and someone I would absolutely love to meet. I heard him speak at a conference many years ago and he was the wildest, infectious, eclectic character on the stage. Whatever he is doing, you want to join him for the ride. His life adventure is all about giving, saving, helping, rescuing, and enjoying. It’s that simple. He lives boldly and not for himself, but for others. And it’s like you are on the greatest adventure ride of all mankind, spreading hero dust wherever you go and never taking credit for it. You must give his podcast, “Dream Big”, a listen. This podcast is all about discovering and taking action on the big ambitions you have for your life. And these are hero stories — really, it’s a hero interviewing other heroes about their life work.
Another hero I have is a client of mine in the wellness product space. HabitAware, Inc. has the most interesting product that helps people with body-focused repetitive behaviors such as hair-pulling, skin-picking, and nail-biting. Oh yeah, did I mention that in addition to being in recovery for alcoholism, I also struggle with hair-pulling, an OCD-like disorder? That’s how I discovered their product! Products like this fascinate me. The founder of the company suffers from hair-pulling as well, so we immediately connected. Here’s what impressed me the most. Instead of just suffering from her condition or waiting for someone else to help her, she rid herself of the shame that often accompanies these disorders and she took action — not just for herself, but because she knew that so many suffered like her, and she wanted to solve the problem for everyone. She even moved her entire family to China for a few years to work on a prototype to really develop their product. That takes sacrifice, commitment, and passion that few understand. The founder is a hero to me, and I am thrilled that they are changing lives for the better through their product, the Keen bracelet, and seeing much success.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
What frightens me most about this pandemic is the uncertainty of it all, which makes people grasp for a solution to provide a sense of stability, security, and order. You can see this on display from the sheer volume of ideas that have been birthed during this pandemic. While passionate ideas are incredible, many of these ideas and solutions are driven out of a need to feel a sense of purpose during a crisis. And it often comes from a place of fear. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of what this will really be like as time passes: What if we can’t go back to school or sporting events the same way? What will gatherings look like in the future? How will we go back to work again if the kids aren’t in school? Will I still have a job?
By inventing and creating, it makes things feel manageable and achievable; an “I can do this” mentality. But I am afraid of the ripple effect. I am afraid of what could happen when that motivation and sense of purpose wear thin, when job loss continues to rise, and when mental health struggles continue to grow. We are living in extremely challenging times where crises continue to mount, where the hill becomes even harder to climb. The breakdown of society worries me more than the actual virus.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?
My faith gives me my hope for the future. I lean into my faith during these uncertain times, knowing that I can place my life, my fears, and these concerns into something far greater than myself. I take great comfort and rest in that. It’s a relief to know I don’t have to be burdened with finding the answers, but that I can be part of the solution by using my gifts and talents for good: “Start from wherever you are and with whatever you’ve got.” We’re not designed to control the world, but to do what we can to bring goodness to it.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
People usually react in one of three ways: they refuse to accept it (which ultimately results in more suffering), they surrender to it and become afraid, or they accept it and then rise above it. Of course, I’m most inspired by those that can accept the circumstances and rise above them. It helps us remember what is truly important in this life. It forces us to take a moment to pause and we see real goodness come into play from all around us: buying groceries for others, changing business models and formats to meet the needs of this pandemic, nurses and doctors who go bravely meet the needs of the sick and so much more.
I’m most disappointed in the behaviors I see from the first two ways. We see people hoarding supplies and price gouging, throwing gloves in parking lots, and arguing and fighting over a lack of supplies or lines that are too long. Fear causes us to act out in so many ways. We blame everything and everyone around us for these problems, which is the ugly side of human nature. I much prefer to be solution-oriented rather than ruminate on problems. Just act and we’ll start to have solutions.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
This pandemic has very much caused me to reassess my view of the world and society. I think this is sadly a great wakeup call for us. I think we’ve lost our foundation and what grounds us. I live and breathe what I refer to as my 5CORE, which focuses on the importance of whole wellness: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and social. These five elements must be in balance for us to function well. Twenty years sober, I am living proof that this works. And it’s crucial to live life well. If anyone of these areas is lacking, then we run the risk of being out of balance and getting sick. In society, we’ve run the risk of losing ourselves to things like work, superficial living, broken relationships, broken communities, isolation, addiction, and social media. We need to refocus on thriving purposefully instead of busily existing.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
Slow down! We are moving so fast through life that we have little to no time for introspection. We’ve got to understand ourselves better. We’ve got to understand others better. We’re worthy of that time. Don’t you think our inner-self is worth more than just a cliff note version that Google or our highlight reel says we are? Who are you and why?
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
This is your world and you need to nourish it. Be intentional about caring for and protecting our freedoms. Care for yourself and care for others. With neglect, society and the world grow weeds. Weeds are strong and deceptive. They take over everything. They might look okay at first, but they’ll destroy and choke all the beautiful flowers around it until you see that nothing but the weeds are thriving. That’s a dangerous place to be.
At the same time, rest in knowing that you are only human. Even our best efforts and intentions will be limited in scope and ability; which means we can lighten up a little as we care and nourish for our society. The job should be to act where you are with what you have. Do it with joy and what you feel called to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Given my personal history, my work, and my business, I am most passionate about helping people live wholly well, according to my 5CORE. I would love to see us get to a place where addressing our mental health issues is no longer stigmatized, but instead, is as common and routine as your eye and dental check-ups. No one looks at me in a funny way when I tell them I just came from the dentist. No one looks at me in a funny way when I tell them I just got back from the gym. But when I tell people I just came from my psychiatry appointment, everyone shifts in their seat a little. I desperately want to see these 5CORE elements (physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and social) merge so that each of us, kids, and adults alike, can live in a better, harmonious balance. This is what I have been practicing for over 20 years, and it’s been life-changing. I’ve got some other ideas up my sleeve, so if anyone is ready and willing to be part of my team in making this happen, I’m ready for you!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
That would clearly be Bob Goff. A lunch with him would be like going to see a movie where the whole world is saved in the most spectacular, adventurous way possible. You’d leave that lunch dumbfounded and awestruck by the captivating stories. Doesn’t that sound like the most amazing lunch?!
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you. The best way to follow me is on my website or social media. You can find me here:
About The Author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 1000 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His first book is a visceral, no-holds-barred look at worker safety, I Know My Shoes Are Untied! Mind Your Own Business. An Iconoclast’s View of Workers’ Safety. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. His third book, Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands is expected in June followed by Loving An Addict: Collateral Damage Of the Opioid Epidemic due to be released in August. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com