Follow your passion, and opportunities to serve others will follow.
It wasn’t until college that Kurtis discovered his passion for theater, because his high school didn’t have an arts program. This experience led Kurtis to discover he could use his talents for change – and his combination of theatrical skills and a desire to serve others led to incredible results. From leading “haiku deathmatches” in a struggling coal-mining town in West Virginia to staging Romeo and Juliet in Rwanda, Kurtis created moments of community building and change-making simply by following his passion. (Listen to the podcast to hear the full story of both of these experiences!)
Be willing to break the mold and disrupt the status quo.
Kurtis was the first in his family to go to college, and his family didn’t always understand why he’d choose to study theatre… or even have complete faith in him completing his degree. Proving everyone wrong and rising beyond the expectations others had of him were the motivations he needed to keep pushing towards his goals. His first small steps outside the status quo drove him to imagine a life path fully his own, first within his home community of West Virginia, and then in Rwanda.
Try everything and anything, with no expectations.
When Kurtis first got to college, a mentor told him to take a semester and try everything that he had ever been curious about doing. Some things didn’t stay with him, but his classes in English and theater became life-changing experiences. Kurtis stresses the importance of trying things just for the experience of trying. When the process is the purpose, it takes the risk of failure away, allowing more freedom to experiment.
1:20: The meaning of Ubumuntu: humanity.
2:20: Introducing Kurtis Dennison
3:40: Kurtis’s story - how he got from West Virginia to Rwanda.
6:00: How theatre helped Kurtis break out of his shell.
8:00: How resisting the status quo motivated him to change.
9:30: How a desire to make theater accessible led Kurtis to join Americorps, and how serving others resulted in deep self-discovery.
16:40: His experience of applying to the Peace Corps and being sent to Rwanda, knowing nothing about the country or its culture.
17:30: How Kurtis’s family responded to his unusual life path.
18:45: How Kurtis handles people who aren’t completely supportive of him.
20:45: Facing culture shock in Rwanda, and how Kurtis eventually felt at home.
23:15: How Kurtis navigates the differences between American and Rwandan approaches to time management.
26:00 What Kurtis believes are his biggest accomplishments since moving to Rwanda. (Don’t miss the incredibly inspiring story he tells here!)
30:30: How using the arts to inspire other people is at the heart of everything Kurtis does.
31:15: The advice Kurtis would give to someone who feels stuck in the status quo.
33:35: How Kurtis is making this his era.
Take Massive Action Now:
1) Try something new that’s outside your comfort zone.
For Kutis, going to college was an opportunity to try things that had never been open to him before – like theater, which ended up defining his purpose in life. College is a natural stage of growth for many people, but even after graduation, there are always resources available to learn new skills. What’s that one thing that’s completely out of your comfort zone you’ve secretly wanted to try? Throwing a pot, writing a book, learning to play an instrument? Try your hand at something new, following Kurtis’s model of having no expectation of success. You could surprise yourself at opening up a new passion. At the very least, the process may open your mind to new perspectives and expand your creative thinking.
2) Stop letting a lack of resources be an excuse.
In this episode, Kurtis tells a story about a time when he was designing costumes for a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even though he was given a large budget, he felt that spending the money would be wasteful – so he pulled it all off on a shoestring. The reality is, limited resources are often a key to unlocking reserves of creativity we didn’t know we had. If you’re stuck in the mentality that you don’t have the resources to accomplish your goals, re-examine that mindset. What is really stopping you? How can you achieve the same results with the resources you do have? The ingenuity required may make for an even better result.
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Pull quotes: (for quote cards for social media, click-to-tweet quotes, etc)
“I’m allowed to change, I’m allowed to evolve, I’m allowed to become someone you didn’t even know I was.” - Alexander Star