I’m one of those people that wants to change the world – and sometimes, I get seriously overwhelmed with how much there is that needs to change for this planet to be safe and loving for all of its inhabitants.
A few years back, a mutual friend introduced me to Adam Braun at a Pencils of Promise event. After hearing Adam’s story and speaking with him briefly, where he told me, “Your footprint awaits,” I took on a new way of life. It was clear to me that in order to change the world, I needed to change myself (cue MJ’s Man In The Mirror). I dove deep into changing my thoughts and consciousness to a more positive state to better serve myself so that I could better serve the world. I know my purpose – I am here to help people learn to love themselves, awaken to their own self-worth, and teach them about their very own sacredness, so that they, too, can have better lives… which inevitably contributes to a better world.
I grew up without brothers, so when I became an adult, I made a choice to find strong male figures to fill what I missed out on while growing up. Now I find myself completely surrounded by men willing to step – and speak - up. It’s truly astonishing. In light of all of the #MeToo going around, it’s important to acknowledge the men that fight the good fight.
Adam’s words to me changed my life. And, don’t even get me started on my admiration of his brother’s (Scooter Braun) work. (Scooter – if you’re reading this, we’re going to need you to run for office. You have my vote.) My best friends Hunter and David are in the beginning phases of creating both of their for-purpose companies. My friends Ben and Nathan drove across the U.S. raising awareness and funds for domestic violence. My friend Hollis co-founded a community that brings together like-minded entrepreneurs, which usually happen to be ones trying to better the world.
As Katherine Henson said, “Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness.” I choose to be around big-hearted, courageous, powerhouse men like these men because they’ve incorporated the secret ingredient to ignite change – they have the courage to continually change themselves to change the world.
While always on the search for men with big hearts, it’s no surprise that I was recently connected to Elliot Costello, co-founder of YGAP and creator of the Polished Man campaign. I’d not heard about the Polished Man campaign but I had seen men wearing one nail polished as of recently.
While Elliot was traveling in Cambodia a few years back, he met an eight-year-old girl named Thea who had been physically and sexually assaulted by her male caretaker. Thea and Elliot bonded during his trip and when it came time for him to leave, she took his hand and drew a heart on his palm and then painted his nails blue. From this experience, Elliot created Polished Man.
The campaign is helping end violence against children by men wearing one nail polished to represent the one child who dies every five minutes as a result of violence. As their site says, almost 90% of sexual violence against children is perpetrated by men, but Polished Man isn’t about pointing the finger, rather it’s about empowerment and celebrating the men who speak up and take action. Given Elliot is on a mission, I wanted to pick his brain.
Heather: Your story reminds me of Adam Braun’s Pencils of Promise story – a personal experience where a young child impacted both of your views on life. For men like you and Adam, I’m always in awe that not only did something ignite inside of you but also that you took the courageous steps forward to create a global movement and bring awareness to it.
Elliot: It’s all about the innocence of children and how honest and objective they are. It reminds us as adults that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Heather: Isn’t that the truth. How do you grow and have forward movement within the campaign?
Elliot: Our campaign is all about engaging more men to understand this global issue. The reality is that one child dies every five minutes somewhere in the world. We are bringing more men to the table to understand this issue, to be educated on the levels of violence, to be willing to have these conversations, to ask men stand up in their own world – at their work place, in their communities and at home. The more men we can educate to advocate, the more powerful this becomes.
Heather: Nail polish on men – especially ones dressed in business suits or on sports teams such as yourself - is for sure a conversation starter. What are some interesting conversations you’ve shared with people curious about the nail polish?
Elliot: When I first started wearing the nail polish in 2013, some of the questions, most specifically from my local football club, were, “What the hell are you doing?” “Why do you have nail polish on?” That’s a challenging environment yet it enabled me to advocate and tell my story and the inspiration behind it while breaking traditional norms of masculinity, saying, “What the hell does it matter if I wear nail polish?” This is to build a conversation. More recently, we had a guy sign up for the campaign - he said he would raise money but not wear the nail polish. Men are being confronted. Some are too afraid to emasculate themselves with the nail polish. We’re not saying one size fits all and that all males around the world need to wear nail polish - it’s all about having the conversation about the issue and the nail polish helps to start the conversation.
Heather: I actually think the majority of the men in my life would wear the nail polish. Speaking of men, I’m a big fan! I have some amazing men in my life… but I do find that they’re often overworked and stressed out. Do you find that to be true in your line of work or since you have a very defined purpose driving you, do find it to be the exact opposite?
Elliot: I think we’re all living in a world full of stress – it is the way it is right now. It’s unfortunately a symptom of a deeply overworked society and world – Americans specifically – you guys work very hard and I think there should be more focus on a work/life balance. Where I’m from [Australia], we love being outdoors, and I always find coming to America intriguing – especially a city like New York – and how focal work is. We’re seeing more and more things about mental health issues along with physical problems pop up as a result of overstimulation and people working too hard.
Heather: Agreed. I’m a big advocate of self-care. Putting heart-centered work into the world can be extremely uplifting – and at the same time, extremely overwhelming. What are some ways that you take care of yourself? Do you have a specific routine, practice or discipline that helps you mentally detox while simultaneously prepping you for the next thing?
Elliot: I had to learn the hard way to look after myself. There were years of running at full pace and being so focused on building an organization that produces awareness on violence against children but also looks to the issue of poverty more globally, so that’s had a personal affect on me. After a little bit of burn out, I took a break earlier this year, which was good, and now have put myself back in at full pace. I’ve recently started meditating and have been able to explore other personal ways to look out for myself – including a healthier diet and a more balanced lifestyle. I don’t need to be at the office till 10 or 11pm anymore, and now I’m advocating that it’s okay to stop and have more of a work/life balance than what has traditionally been built within our society.
Heather: Meditation is a game changer. I often come across a quote by the Dalai Lama that says, “If every child in the world would be taught meditation, we would eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Which leads me back to change yourself to change the world.
Elliot: Yes, agreed. To change the world you’ve got to start with changing yourself. I think a lot of people assume that they can’t do anything to change the world and that’s just not true. There’s a lot of ways that people can engage in social activism. Violence against children is just one – but there’s a significant array of other issues that we’re facing as a global community. It does start with the individual. It starts with getting conscious that we live in globalized society. It starts with the issue of identity and breaking down walls against racism. It starts with the issue of acknowledging that we don’t have an infinite amount of resources and we need to be respectful of the environment that we live in. These are simple personal choices that we need to make in our own lives to realize that it’s not someone else’s responsibility to fix the problems – it’s up to each and everyone of us as individuals.
Heather: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. Can you share something – maybe a mantra or personal belief – that’s helped you push forward into change?
Elliot: What I often say to people is that it’s just about pushing open that first door. There’s a long corridor ahead in social change and activism and you just have to push that first door open. You may not be able to know exactly where the end of the corridor leads but have the courage to push the first door open, which might be simply volunteering, it might mean helping out a family member or friend… but once that first door is pushed open, a second door will appear. So instead of standing still and procrastinating, have the courage to say, “No, actually you know what? I’m going to do something.” Then take that first step today.
Heather: First steps are always the hardest, but so worthwhile once you’ve started the journey. What else do you think is important to impart to the readers of this article?
Elliot: A strong encouragement to acknowledge that it’s important that we look after our most precious resources and that is children. Denying kids the fundamental right to be what they are – children – denies them the opportunities to be leaders and have full capacity in the world. I encourage everyone to check out Polished Man and take that first step today.