- Mr. Iland, you are the leading advocate on the topic of autism and how to help your audience to know, love, and be themselves. Tell us what inspired you to leave your CPA practice to start a public speaking career?
I left my career as a CPA for two reasons. First and foremost, I wasn’t happy in this profession. Day after day, I dreaded sitting at a desk crunching numbers for hours on end and would often go home exhausted and depressed. Even though I was good with numbers, I lost and wasted valuable energy dealing with office politics, judging various financial & ethical situations and ultimately being devalued as a person.
The second reason I left is I saw and heard more and more stories of my peers with and without autism struggling in regards to LIFE:
Love & Relationships
While I was in the accounting profession, on the side, I spoke about my life with autism to police officers, high school students and education administrators. I would share stories about my experiences and what I learned along the way. They felt good about what I had to say and I felt GREAT about myself! This was a win-win for everyone involved and was what I really wanted to do.
As a result, I said “goodbye” to accounting (along with a consistent paycheck, employment benefits, etc.) and now dedicate my life to helping youth with autism and other learning differences know themselves, love themselves and be themselves so they can become their BEST SELVES and live the life that they want.
2. Mr. Iland, your keynote in Malibu inspired not only everyone present in person but also many viewers on Facebook live & Instagram. What makes your method so successful so your audience relate to your core message and resources to the explore, experience, and evolve?
One difficult aspect of the lives of youth with (and without) autism is transition…specifically to adulthood. People with autism in particular fear and avoid change at all costs and may not understand the potential benefits of change and doing new things. As a result, they stay where they are (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) and continue doing the same things and making the same mistakes over and over again.
What I do in my award-winning book, “Come to Life! Your Guide to Self-Discovery,” is explain to my peers that life doesn’t come to you…it’s up to YOU to come to life! Even though it might be scary, venturing into the unknown, finding out what you do and don’t like and making decisions based on that knowledge will lead to better outcomes for you. This led to my creation of the concept of:
In times of transition, we ask youth questions like “What are you good at?” and “What do you want to do?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” They tend to answer “I don’t know” because they aren’t fully aware of their skillset, their options for the next step of their life or what’s available to them to be successful. This is why youth need to be given opportunities to find out what’s out there for them (explore), be granted firsthand exposure to things and places they’re interested in (experience) and be allowed to pursue more of what they love and less of what they don’t love while retaining the lessons behind their experiences (evolve).
Failure to follow these steps can and often does result in parents, teachers, etc. (or ‘allies’ as they’re called in “Come to Life!”) guessing what the young person wants and the young person leading a life of sadness, anxiety, rejection, and hopelessness because they’re living a life that isn’t theirs and that they don’t want. Instead, helping youth find their niche and find their voice through these processes of self-discovery will lead to better outcomes for everyone. This process is what helped me go from being a cashier at Blockbuster Video to a property tax intern at The Walt Disney Company to becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster in my new speaking career.
3. Tell us your success with the meditation technique developed by Bruce Lee. How it helped you to overcome internal issues at the root and deepest level? How it has help you to achieve healthy balance such sleeping 8 hours a day?
In April 2015, at the advice of my personal trainer, I visited Ekata Training Center in Valencia, California. This is a martial arts facility that specializes in mindfulness, Jeet Kune Do and other practices developed and implemented by Bruce Lee.
Ekata has a meditation room and offers free meditation classes every weekday morning.
My personal trainer and I attended these sessions before I went to work and I learned how to and why I should meditate regularly. There were many benefits for me including, but not limited to:
Lower blood pressure
Better emotional intelligence
I also began to find answers on how to create my own happiness. This included making the difficult decision to leave accounting in order to help others, which I did after just six months of beginning meditation. As a result, I’ve become a better person for it personally and professionally.
Shortly after leaving accounting, I enrolled in Ekata’s Jeet Kune Do classes that I continue to attend to this day. In addition to learning self-defense techniques, these classes have improved my physical fitness, flexibility, balance and stamina. Being in this program has also reinforced self-discipline and self-determination practices that I live by and I am the hero in my own life. People with (and without) autism have the potential to be the hero in their life, too, which is why I highly recommend exploring meditation and martial arts options in an effort to have better self-regulation and emotional management for these individuals.
Tom Iland’s achievements include graduating from Cal State University Northridge, becoming a Certified Public Accountant, and working in corporate America. Tom is now pursuing a professional career as a speaker and trainer sharing insights and practical advice with the Autism community. Tom is a Board member for the Art of Autism nonprofit. Tom’s new book ‘Come to Life! Your Guide to Self-Discovery’ (co-authored with Emily Iland) is now available to the public!to find out more about Tom visit his website — www.thomasiland.com.