Cameron Chell Shares Moving Life Lesson At TEDxMontrealWomen: Don’t Believe In “Impossible”

Cameron Chell will be the first one to tell you to wipe the word impossible from your vocabulary. Because, he insists, there is nothing that is truly impossible. His life has been proof-positive.

His stance is not only convincing, but inspirational and just plain rousing. So much so that it gained him a standing ovation when he spoke about impossibility at the annual TEDxMontrealWomen event last November.

Cameron Chell is chief executive of Business Instincts Group, a venture creation firm that curates tech startups internally before spinning them off. It’s only his latest effort – he’s been a serial entrepreneur since his first venture in the 1990s.

Chell’s story fits well with the overall mission of TEDxMontrealWomen: As part of the TEDWomen global community, the platform aims to inspire women and men and lead participants to a greater understanding of our behaviors and what lies behind our life decisions.This is what empowers change, the group says, and unleashes powerful ideas into the world.

Established in 2013, the Montreal forum has featured such outstanding inspirational speakers as acclaimed international singer Audrey DuBois Harris and Wanda Bedard, Montreal business owner and founder of 60 Million Girls, a foundation that aims to give girls in developing countries access to education.

Like many of TEDxMontrealWomen’s past speakers, Chell’s fortunes haven’t always been positive. But he has come back against what other people would call impossible odds. As he put it: “In the face of impossible situations, the big picture can be daunting and even paralyzing to think about. To achieve the impossible takes focusing on just doing the next thing. That’s how you create possibilities.”

Born in southern Alberta and leaving high school without graduating, Chell had, by the early age of 26, started his first business -- a company that ultimately became a cornerstone of what would later become the cloud computing industry.

But by age 32, his fortunes had turned. He had lost his business. He had become addicted to drugs. And he was living on the streets of Vancouver when he wasn’t in rehab.

“I had nothing but the clothes on my back and one possession,” Chell explained to the TEDx audience, pulling a key from his pocket. The key was to his car, a Jeep that his best friend bought for him during one of his recoveries so he could get to and from job interviews. The friend didn’t put the car in Chell’s name, in case he started using again. Which he did.

“Since I couldn’t sell it, I loaned it out to street gangs in exchange for drugs,” he recounted. They beat him up as part of the deal. Fresh out of the hospital after one beating, he saw a familiar-looking Jeep on the street, decided to try his key – and it worked. He got in, kept it pointed west and just drove, doing a series of “next things” to achieve his next impossible – getting and staying clean and getting on with his life.

On the city’s outskirts, Chell stopped in a mall parking lot. He was unwashed, unshaven, and was wearing bloody, dirty clothes. So he didn’t ask for money, but did ask to make calls and managed to reach a friend. With a Western Union in the grocery across the street, the friend agreed to wire him $12.85, an odd number but one that was small and unusual enough in its specificity that Chell could more easily claim it despite his disreputable appearance.

Chell drove for the next 10 days to his brother’s home in southern Alberta, hoping to get help to get clean. He stopped at Western Unions on the way to replenish his cash – and never without a struggle. On his arrival, he was stunned when help was freely given on his (final) quest to get clean.

The question is, are certain things truly “impossible”?

Simply considering the trajectory of Chell’s recovery from a life on the streets to one of an accomplished executive lends weight to the argument that, well, no, nothing truly is “impossible”.

You can watch Chell’s full talk at TEDxMontrealWomen here.

Published by Kaushal Shah


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