Our interview today is with Kip Kreiling, author of The Imposter, a story of how one man totally changed his life—when it seemed impossible to do so.
1. As a retired social worker, I am very much interested in the experiences that informed your life. What sets you apart, in terms of how you turned the negatives into positives…and what advice would you give to young people living through tough times?
The experiences that were most instrumental in transforming my life are in The Imposter. The primary objective of the book is to share these experiences and the change principles that I learned as a consequence. What sets my transformation apart is the degree of change that has occurred in my life. I was arrested 3 times before I was 10 and 11 times before I was 14. At 13, I was taken out of 2 schools, a shopping mall, and a bank in handcuffs. Because of my criminal activity, and the resulting chaos in my life, I moved 34 times from the young age of 11 to the age of 26. On average, I moved every 5 months for 15 years, in and out of jails, group homes, and street shelters, while my mother and father moved less than 4 times each. Today, I am an executive at the United Health Group, one of the largest and most respected companies in the US. I have also worked for Ford Motor, Hewlett Packard, and Vodafone. I have provided transformation and business leadership services to over 40 companies in more than 20 industries. Between my corporate, consulting, educational, and speaking engagements, I have had the opportunity to travel to nearly 200 cities in 21 countries on 4 continents. More important to me is the fact that I have been very happily married for nearly 20 years and have 5 very happy children. The best advice I have for young people living through tough times is contained in my book. The principles in my book are clearly not the final word on human transformation, I/we have much yet to learn on this topic, but the principles transformed my life.
2. Kip, given the circumstances of your young life, and how you were later able to make big changes, it might seem only natural to do so, but I’m curious: When did you first decide to write a book?
At 21 I knew I had a story. I also believed then that I had learned principles that could help others find greater happiness. However, I did not want to be like the person who sells you a book on how to make a million dollars in real estate and you later find out that he made his million dollars selling you the book. I wanted to prove to the world and to myself that I could come from a very disadvantaged background and reach success as a normal person, with normal jobs, etc. If I really believed these principles would work, I could prove it in my own life. I have now done that. Today, I have everything I have ever dreamed of and more. I can now share the change principles in my book with confidence because I have proven that they work, using my own life as the test case.
3. How did that process start to take form?
Because I knew that I would write a book when I was 21, I have been iterating several of the principles in my book for over two decades, as well as a couple of principles that did not make it into this book. One topic that did not make it into The Imposter, but will likely be included in the next one, is regarding the nature of happiness: can it be defined; if so, what is it; how does one know when they have achieved happiness; are there models we can follow to increase happiness in our life; etc. On that principle, I have surveyed and quizzed a couple hundred people on plane trips and in other places to advance my thinking, in addition to reading several books on the topic. I followed a similar process with all of the principles that are included in The Imposter.
4. When you finally had that finished manuscript in hand, how did you go about finding a publisher?
Because the background context of The Imposter is my life story, I was not willing to sell it to anyone, so I did not submit it to any publisher. Instead, I setup my own publishing company, Transformation Help Press. While this approach brought my book to market faster (it can take 18 months from the time you sign a contract with a large publisher before your book reaches the market), I am still stumbling through several challenges that I would not have faced if I had contracted with an established publisher. I have also made many expensive mistakes. I do not regret my decision to setup my own publishing company, but I have an extensive business background, which has been invaluable. I would not recommend this path to others unless they are ready to face the challenges of running a business in addition to writing a book.
5. It seems obvious to me that the changes you made in your life evolved as a process of discovery. How did you formulate these principles?
My answer to question 3 above provides some insight into this question as well. I think it is also important to remember that life is a journey more than a destination. So it is with the acquisition of wisdom. The ideas that affect us most profoundly arise through an extended process of discovery more than they do through sudden epiphanies. Epiphanies are forgotten unless they are substantiated and fed through additional validation. This is what I experienced through my two decades of reflection in preparation to write The Imposter. It took time to fully understand the path that led to the healing of my broken mind. One analogy that I relate to when I think about that journey is the fact that one can drive from one city to another in the dark using headlights which only illuminate the next 100 yards. We do not have to see our final destination to successfully complete a long journey, sometimes we only have to see the next 100 yards. Often, we will not know which detours we have to take, because a bridge was out or a road was flooded, until we complete our journey.
6. Once you decided to write the book, how long did it take to write? How long after that until published?
As mentioned above, I worked on some of the principles in The Imposter for two decades, and all of the principles for multiple years. It then took me four years to write the book, partially because I juggled many other commitments at the same time. I published The Imposter shortly after I finished it because I published it through my own newly-created publishing company.
7. What does it feel like having that first completed published book in your hand knowing it is yours?
I have heard other artists indicate that the process of creation was so painful that they never wanted to look at a screenplay or some other artistic creation again. After iterating through the creative process so many times, they were just tired of looking at it. This has not been my experience. Even though I have been preparing for this event for two decades and spent 4 years writing and rewriting, I am very excited to have the completed book in my hands and I still love sitting down and rereading a chapter or a favorite section of the book. Of course the book was only published 6 months ago. I am sure I will lose interest as my passion is redirected to other things, but right now I still love holding the new baby.
8. Are you working on a book now?
I intend to write a couple more books, but I am currently consumed with other commitments, including marketing and selling my first book. Fortunately, I have already completed a couple of chapters that did not fit into The Imposter that I hope will fit into a future book.
9. Who is your favorite author and why?
There are too many authors who have enriched my life to name a favorite. I do have a favorite literary style. My favorite authors combine fiction with profound insights into life or human nature. I read to be informed more than to be entertained, but prefer to get both at the same time. Some of my favorite authors, who have accomplished both of these objectives well, include Tolkien, Doug Adams, Ayn Rand, and even Dean Koontz.
10. What advice would you give someone who someday hopes to write a book?
Now that my book is published and experiencing success, I am being approached by friends with this question. My first response is “do not write a book if your primary goal is to make money.” There are much easier ways to make money. For me, writing a book was a life mission – I have a message that I felt like I had to share. I believe it takes that level of commitment to get through the process. Writing a book is also more like having a child than a career. Like having a child, the book will probably take more from you than it will give to you, but you may be proud that you created it. If you go down the self published path, be aware that there are more people making money by helping authors get published than authors making money. It is kind of like the gold rush. Many people made money selling picks, shovels, and blue jeans to the miners – very few of the miners made any money. I am glad that I published my book and intend to publish another, but my primary motivations were not connected to money.
11. What can you share with us about your personal/family life today?
If you were a fly on the wall in my home today, you would immediately notice the frenetic chaos. Your first thought might be “what did this idiot get himself into?” Looking past the craziness that is my life today (because we are trying to do too many things at once), I hope you would see happiness. I believe that everyone wants to be happy and the most effective path to leadership is finding happiness yourself. If you are truly happy, people will follow you. I particularly pay attention to this principle with my 5 children and a recently adopted 17 year old (which is another story). Too many people have worked hard to raise their children with good values only to have their children take a destructive path. One of the questions you must ask yourself if you want your children to follow you is “Are you happy?” Frankly, I do not expect my children to follow me unless I am. A couple of years ago a cousin stayed at my home for a week. After being with us for a couple of days, he approached me one morning and said “do you have to be so happy all the time?” He delivered the statement as an accusation, but it was one accusation that I was proud of. If you were a fly on the wall in my home today I hope you would see that our life is too busy, but despite our busyness we have found true happiness.
12. This may seem like an odd question, but the Dames love animals. Do you have any pets, and if so, what can you tell us about them?
A dog, a rabbit, and chickens. Our dog was supposed to be a Bishon Frise. Because he was supposed to be small, we called him Hercules. Later, we planned on getting a large dog and calling him Tiny. Hercules appears to be more of a poodle than Bishon. We now have a medium sized Hercules, which screwed up our dog-naming irony plans. Last year we decided to get chickens. At first we were hesitant (we are still trying to shake off our back-woods heritage). We then found out that many yuppies are buying chickens because chickens are environmentally friendly (Yuppies? Now that’s us). Our initial strategy was to save a little money on the food bill and provide our kids with a little business selling fresh eggs to the neighbors. Our strategy went awry when we designed their home. We now have more of a chicken condo than a chicken coop and spent more money building it then we would have spend on eggs in 10 years. We enjoy our urban chicken farm, complete with a super-hero dog.