S2Ep20: Create Your Business To Serve People

In this heartfelt interview, Allan speaks with Jeremy Van Tress. Jeremy was diagnosed with ALS in 2017 and is the Founder and President of Smile Inside, Inc., an online non-profit agency that provides a variety of services for people with ALS. Jeremy also just received his Ph.D. and was recently honored as a 2019 Pat Tillman Scholar. Jeremy speaks with the help of a speech-generating device using his natural voice that he saved early in his diagnosis. Jeremy speaks about his ALS journey and how he is inspired to be the best husband, father, and public servant he can be.  For more information, visit Smile Inside – ALS Counseling, Advocacy and Research (smile-inside.org)

Allan has started and grown several multi million dollar businesses. His mission is to help you do the same. Welcome to the Business Growth Pod, building the future one entrepreneur at a time.
I would just say that I believe business can be such a powerful tool for goodness in the world. The original intent behind core operations and business was to make the world a better place while also making a better life for ourselves. I just think it’s so important that we get back to the basic function of business and making money. More than ever, we need people who want to make money to make the world a better place.
Hey, everyone, welcome to the show. I’m Allan. I’m a family man and attorney and an entrepreneur. Each week, we provide resources and advice to help build your business. Are you ready? Then let’s go.
Everyone, welcome to the show today. I’m very excited about what we have in store for you. My guest today is Jeremy Van Tress. I have known Jeremy for it’s right around 20 years now. I met him while serving a volunteer mission in South America in Chile. And I always knew him as super positive hard worker, even when things were difficult. And over the last 20 years, Jeremy has had his fair share of challenges and so I’m excited to to chat with him a little bit today and and catch up. So just as a quick intro, Jeremy is the founder and president of smile inside Inc. It’s an online nonprofit agency that provides a variety of services for people with ALS. He is the 2019 Pat Tillman scholar, and he recently got his PhD. That’s crazy. Well, thanks for joining us today. Jeremy, will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, Allan. It’s great to be with you today. That’s been a long while since our time together in Chile. I grew up in a working class, blue collar home. My father was a construction worker and is now a truck driver. And my mother did clerical work. I learned the value of hard work at a young age working construction jobs with my father and mowing lawns. My parents divorced when I was about nine and then remarried. Long story short, my home life was pretty rough in many ways. My mother left when I was 14, and I ended up leaving my father’s home when I was 16. For the remainder of high school, I faced periods of homelessness while balancing employment and sports with schoolwork. Fortunately, competing in cross country at the track and being close with my coaches really kept me on the straight and narrow. After graduating high school, I learned Spanish and served the two year church mission in central Chile, where I help people grow in their faith and overcome their challenges. I am a first generation college graduate and was the scholarship athlete that Brigham Young University Hawaii after my bachelor’s degree, I worked in child welfare in Oregon for a year and then returned to Hawaii to get my master’s degree in social work. After that program, I started a job as a child welfare worker in value but was laid off during the recession in 2009. After a month of pestering her, my wife finally relented and let me enlist in the army. During my military career. I was the first second lieutenant to serve in the Joint Special Operations Command was a paratrooper. And during the Bronze Star Medal during my deployment in Afghanistan, during my deployment, I started having trouble with excessive salivation maybe again, at the time, I thought it was just the destiny conditions in Afghanistan. I got off active duty in 2015 and continued serving in the Army Reserves while I completed med school prerequisites. I attended one semester of medical school in the Caribbean and then withdrew. My regular symptoms continue to worsen in 2015 and 2016. And when I started to fall while running, I sought medical attention. I was diagnosed with ALS in February 2017 and was medically retired from the Army Reserves in August of 2018. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that prevents people’s neurons from speaking to their muscles resulting in paralysis, muscle weakness, loss of speech, and eventually respiratory failure. I was freaking optimized on September 11 2018. I now speak with the help of a speech generating device using my natural voice that I saved early in my diagnosis. Since being diagnosed with ALS, I started a nonprofit agency where I provide social work services to other people diagnosed with ALS. I was also the first person since Stephen Hawking to earn a PhD after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. In 2019. While enrolled in my doctorate, I was selected as a 2019 Pat Tillman scholar. Most importantly, I have a husband and father of six children, with whom I live in the beautiful town of Corvallis, Oregon. That’s the end of nutshell.
Thanks, Jeremy. That’s awesome, man. getting chills man. hearing, hearing your story. I think a lot of it’s because I knew you before you were diagnosed with ALS. I, you know, I got to walk alongside you on the dusty roads of Chile and, you know, serve with you and, and get to know you quite a bit. Man, I’m proud of you. I hope that if I were faced with similar circumstances, that I’d be able to accomplish a few of those things that you you’ve been able to,
hey, so we had some amazing times together.
So Jeremy, tell me a little bit about your webpage smile inside.org. Tell me a little bit about that organization and what you’re trying to accomplish.
I started to smile inside in the spring of 2019. After I had ALS for about two years, when I was diagnosed with ALS, I was already starting to lose my voice. And at the time, I was in a period of crisis and retired from my Social Work career and to the Army Reserves. Up to that point, I took a lot of pride in working hard to provide for my family and contribute to society. So when I retired, I had a hard time adjusting and really missed the fulfillment that working had always given me. I also recognized that many people with ALS didn’t have the access to ongoing counseling and mental health services. So with me being a clinical social worker, I started to smile inside to use my talents and skills to help others who were suffering from ALS. Since being diagnosed, I have felt incredibly blessed to have the backing of an army pension and Veterans Affairs, where I get excellent care. People with ALS here, military veterans there, and so bless it. So I volunteered all of my time. I provide all of my services for free to help alleviate the financial stress that many folks have while battling the disease. Right services include individual and family counseling psychoeducation about the disease, micro and macro level radically see and helping people through the decision making process for life sustaining treatments. Up to this point, I have volunteered nearly 3000 hours and have helped hundreds of individuals and families affected by the illness. That’s because my labor of love and my way of giving back to the ALS community.
That’s unbelievable, Jeremy I’m, I think what I’m most impressed with is the fact that as you’re going through all these challenges as opposed to be focusing on yourself, you appear to have been focused more on others than ever before. During this journey, what’s your mental process? How do you focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do?
Although I think my symptoms started in 2014. I was formally diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in February of 2017. At the age of 36. I have always been an inherently happy and optimistic person, almost to a fault. In fact, my nickname at three out of Young University Hawaii was happy. I came up with the name smile inside for my nonprofit in early 2019. When I started to lose the ability to smile. wry smile was a champion integral part of me. So I realized that I could still make a conscious decision and shift my emotional focus when I noticed I was losing Same ability. To this day. When I focus on that data to mental shift, I get a similar feeling I used to get after I would smile and laugh. Smile insight is about deliberately shifting a negative outlook into a positive one. focusing on what I can do, instead of whether I can do is an attitudinal shift. I won’t lie. Having a year less involves a lot with perpetual loss and grieving. I realized early on that if I wanted to live a fulfilling life with ALS, I had to learn to grieve and adapt quickly and regularly. But in actuality, it’s not any different from anyone else. Every one has to grieve and adapt to their unique experiences. Sure, grieving and adapting to als might be a different scale than most. But the concept at its core is the same. I have accepted that there are some things I can’t do anymore, I will probably never be able to do anymore. But with that comes an entirely new world of talents and experiences to explore.
I think it’s really telling about your attitude, toward all of this and, and the power of attitude. And we talk about that quite a bit on this podcast and, and how our attitude and, and our thoughts kind of shape our reality. Let’s let’s shift gears a little bit here. Jeremy, tell me what your favorite quote is?
Well, this is a hard one. There are so many amazing quotes that have helped me. I think I will stick to the Scriptures today. Romans chapter eight verses 38 and 39. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. I just love that scripture. No matter the good, bad, the ugly things that happen in our lives. Everyone has a claim to God’s love.
Perfect, I love that. And along those same lines, who inspires you,
so many people inspire me? Of course, there are well known people with ALS who inspire me every day, like Steve Gleason, Adi Nieto, Brian while at Petco and Pete freydis, and many others who have truly changed the trajectory of the ALS community. But even deeper than that, that’s still people that I work with. And see every day the people in the trenches of adversity with me, the people who aren’t famous, or delay on the respect, we give their whole hearts and souls to a cause. It’s those people who inspire me to be my best self. In a real sense, my wife and children inspire me. Despite all their weaknesses, we witness day in and day out. They continue to love me and inspire me to be the best husband, father, and public servant I can be.
That’s awesome. I think we take for granted sometimes the people that are closest to us, right, because it’s common, we get to talk to them every day, we get to interact with them on a regular basis. And sometimes the common becomes to us, at least we treat it with a little less gratitude than if it weren’t so common. And so I love that perspective. If you could change one thing in the world, Jeremy, what would it be?
There’s so much to change in the world. But if I had to choose one single thing, I think it would be the extent to which social media and the mainstream media bias contribute to widespread addiction, hate, impulsivity, compulsivity, division in society. I really think our society has some growing pains ahead in terms of figuring out how to live peacefully and humanely with the modern artificial intelligence that the big tech social media platforms have created. While these platforms have the potential for a lot of good, if we don’t put them in check, that actors can leverage it to dismantle government’s power and embolden autocratic power. Crash worldwide economies, exacerbate criminal behavior, disrupt and polarize political systems, destroy relationships, and even change the basis of truth empty seat as we know it. I think that kind of power and influence over the world It must be regulated and put it in check.
Yeah, I’m on the same page with you for sure. I you know, in today’s day and age we see so much, I think hurt and pain in the world. And I think the media and specially social media magnify, we don’t see as much of the good, right, because that doesn’t sell advertisement spots and things like that. But But I love that. You mentioned that you were the first person since Stephen Hawking to earn a doctoral degree after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and that you recently graduated from Walden University and wrote a dissertation. What was your dissertation about?
My dissertation was about the relationship between the resilience, self determination and decision making for life sustaining treatments of people living with ALS, because it was a mixed method study that collected open ended responses and statistical analysis. Live ideas gave a lot of detail in terms of the scope of resilience, self determination, and decision making. The study probably gives the most insight into the thoughts and feelings of people living with ALS than any other study to date. Interestingly, because I am also a person Wilfredo was, I learned a lot about myself as I analyzed the data and finished the manuscript. I was really happy with how it turned out. And it was certainly one of my crowning accomplishments.
That’s impressive. I think that a lot of times we don’t give ourselves enough credit. regarding how much control we have over things. And, Jeremy, let’s shift gears here again, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your goals for 2021.
My goals are pretty lofty for 2021. I want to continue providing clinical services to people with ALS part time for as long as I can. However, at some point, I will be taking a leave of absence when I start my political campaign for Congress. Over the past year or two, I have grown increasingly displeased with the divisive partisanship that many of our elected representatives, he’s to persuade their voters, I want to do my part to start changing that. I also think it’s crucial that the ALS community have someone living with ALS in Congress who can look their colleagues in the eyes every day and fight for access to experimental treatments, more research, funding, and resources that empower people with ALS and their families to live without being thrust into poverty. I am currently undergoing an exploration and chemo to determine my viability as a candidate. However, I anticipate that I will make a decision to file with the Federal Election Commission within the next several weeks. So the rest of 2021 is about building a campaign with the primary and general election in 2022. insight from that my goal is to balance my campaign with my family’s needs and continue to be there for them.
Wow, those are some huge goals. That’s impressive, just, you know, hearing that you want to run for Congress and that you want to effectuate some good in the political process. I think there’s so much bad that that stems from politicians. I know that not everybody that is in a political role, necessarily has evil intentions or they’re trying to do bad, but I think the few that are just ruin it for everybody else. You mentioned that you were the 2019 Pat Tillman scholar tell us a little bit about the Pat Tillman Foundation and your experience with it.
Pat Tillman left his promising career in the NFL to enlist as an Army Ranger after 911. Later on, and friends started the Pat Tillman Foundation after losing her husband, Pat, while deployed to Afghanistan in 2004. The foundation now selects up to 60 scholars per year who are veterans or veterans spouses focused on humble leadership, selfless service, and impacting their respective disciplines and professions. The foundation gives each awardee a scholarship and access to a diverse community of over 695 scholars. We have people from all walks of life and backgrounds and professions ranging from medicine, law of politics and behavioral health to astronauts, chefs and the liberal arts. Let’s An incredible honor to be a small part and pat Tillman’s latency.
I live in Arizona. And so Pat Tillman is, you know, I mean, he’s a hero everywhere. But he did his undergrad and played football at Arizona State, which is just down the road from me and, and he played for the Cardinals in the NFL. And so he’s a local hero here and national hero as well. I think people generally we love stories of people that are in a position where they have choices to make, and they make selfless choices. I think that’s different than those who are kind of forced into certain decisions. And that’s one of my favorite things about Pat is that he recognized that there was a need, and he didn’t just, you know, shrug his shoulders and, you know, wait for somebody else to do it. That’s awesome. What are a few things that you learned as an officer in the army,
I was away from my family. For almost half of that nearly six years, I was on active duty, which impressed upon me what it means to sacrifice myself for the common good. I had many experiences that shaped the kind of leader I wanted to to be, how I would treat people over whom I had power and authority, and deepened my understanding for defining values, light, duty, honor, integrity, and courage. I came to understand what it meant to put the needs of others before myself. And sometimes that meant having traumatic experiences to protect my whole identity democracy. I also learned that I can always give to a cause far more than I previously thought, the last thing I learned was how to pick myself up after failing and letting people down. The Army’s hierarchical structure exposed my flaws, sometimes very publicly, and being aware of my weaknesses forced me to develop a thick skin and pick myself up after my failures.
I’m so impressed with your kind of glass, half full attitude with everything. But I think you’re spot on. I think that through our trials and difficulties, we develop all these great attributes, we become more thankful, we become more positive, we become happier, which is interesting, when you and I were in South America, I know I recognize this almost on a daily basis. But folks living in poverty, right, they worked each day just just for bread. And I expected there to be a overall decrease in happiness. And I didn’t perform any actual studies or surveys conducting the surveys, but just my kind of general consensus is that people were happier there. And they didn’t have a lot of the material possessions, right? They struggled in a lot of ways that the average American doesn’t. And I was just really impressed with that. So Jeremy, what do you think it means to be a good person,
I’ve come to realize that if I am never going to amount to what we hope to become, I have to be willing to put in the work. To me, being a good person is more about being honest with myself and others and less about my accomplishments, titles, and exactly lights. I think it’s really important to be honest about whether or not the things I am doing are making the world a better place and whether or not I am being true to my values and my life’s mission. I don’t think being a good person is necessarily a yes or no answer either. That’s more about doing what I say I will do and recognizing when I don’t when I don’t measure up to to my values and mission. That’s about correcting those things and realigning myself to get back on track. Again, though, I think that requires brutal honesty, which isn’t always a pleasant mirror to look into. Yeah, that
makes a lot of sense for sure. Well, I wanted to wrap up with one final question. My audience is mostly made up of entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, people that are trying to improve their business that are trying to bless the lives of others through their businesses. And I get asked this question a lot. And I was really curious as to what you had to say about it. And that is I wanted to know what your definition of success is.
My definition of success is living up to my values, being an owner of a husband and father and play an active role in their lives and leaving behind a legacy built upon service that makes positive contributions to society. I think sometimes we get bent around to the act solely about money and possessions. Yes. While those things make us more comfortable, I don’t think they necessarily correlated to being more or less successful in life. That’s the perspective of someone who faces the prospect of death every day. Everything else beyond keeping my integrity intact is just gravy.
Awesome. I love it. Well, Jeremy, what final thoughts do you have for us today,
I just wanted to say thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to meet with you. After all these years of knowing, I feel like we connected more than ever. So thanks so much for that. To tie everything together, I would just say that I believe business can be such a powerful tool for goodness in the world. The original intent behind the corporations and business was to make the world a better place while also making a better life for ourselves. I just think it’s so important that we get back to the basic function of business and making money. More than ever, we need people who want to make money to make the world a better place. Thanks again for having on your podcast. It was amazing sitting down and chatting with you, my friend. That’s awesome.
Thanks, Jeremy. I love that closing thought that the purpose of corporations and businesses no matter how small or large is to, to serve others and make their lives better. And you know, the interesting part is that if the business has that kind of altruistic motivation, or why the money’s gonna come, it will, if you make pool toys, for example, and you want to make somebody’s life better, and you create something that doesn’t exist, or whatever, I don’t know, then people are going to want to buy that product from you. Now, the problem is, if you’re super selfish, and you’re motivated only by money, and you think, well, I’m going to do things for myself in the beginning, and then I’m going to change then I’m going to serve others, then I’m going to create something that benefits the lives of others. It doesn’t happen. So yeah, Jeremy, thanks for your time, man. Thanks for thanks for being who you are. Thanks for touching the lives of so many people and for sharing your voice with us today, although it’s not like the voice of my other guests. So I I think that’s awesome. I think your story’s great. Make sure to stay in touch.
If you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast, please leave us a rating and for daily inspiration and business tips follow Allan on Instagram. Until next time, remember, we build the future one entrepreneur at a time.

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