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From a love of nature to sharing with others to making a good living. How do we turn our deepest passions and interests into a comfortable lifestyle? Can we pay the bills with our true gifts and talents? And just what is our true nature? I share my story with you, not to say “Look at what I have done”, but if what I learned on my journey can help you live your true nature, then it is a story worth telling. ilan image ilan past friends
It Begins Here >
I think we are born with our true nature and our task is to not hide it, but to reveal it ... to set it free! While it wasn't always easy, I can now say that it was absolutely worth persevering to go through the obstacles to live my true nature. While we don't ever completely arrive, we do reach a level where life is in the flow. Maybe finding our true nature is finding our river, the course of our life. But once we know our river, we still have to steer around the rocks, watch out for the waterfalls and deal with the sometimes smooth and sometimes rocky day to day. There were lots of times when I struggled, but I just kept at it. I knew it was this time or never. Sure I could fail, but an even bigger failure would be to give up. Now life is wonderfully clear, productive
and the difficulties and tired past has become a faded memory. The doubt, fear, confusion and frustration were all part of the deal, but thankfully it moved beyond that. The support I received from others was so valuable. To me, living my true nature means taking my gifts (poet and artist), talents (product design) and passions (nature, trees, music) and using them to create livelihood for myself and those that are an important part of this company as team members or as our many suppliers. It means caring for others and the earth as a responsible businessman and steward. It means being of service and building something worthwhile that has value and meaning to others. It is a dream come true.
Most kids get a baseball mitt, train or a gift wrapped in bright paper for their 11th birthday. I got a Magnolia tree from my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Stanley! With great pride and excitement, I took the sapling out into the yard and dug a hole for it outside my bedroom window. I loved the Magnolia the way some kids love a puppy. We grew up together. I might put on an inch or two in a year, and it would grow a foot, two feet, and more the taller it got. I cared for it over the years with water and mulch and love, and it had shown me a simple dedication to life,
the unassuming practice of natural growth. The Magnolia taught me to be humble, patient, kind and caring, as loving another often will do. A year after the gift of this tree, my parents planted two eight foot tall Green Ash trees in front of Travis Elementary school in San Antonio, Texas. One for me and one for my brother. These early experiences shaped my love of nature and charted my green and leafy course in life.
I will start this story with camps since they had such an impact on my life. I treasured going to summer camp. Each summer for eight years I could hardly wait to pack the locker and know that I would be spending time in the woods hiking, camping and being in the community of others. The singing, the campfires, canoeing, archery and crafts fed my soul. After five years of being a camper, I was hired to be a counselor at Camp Champions in Marble Falls, Texas. Teaching sailing, trampoline, crafts and being a part of the camps was a summer job dream come true. All summer I was on a lake sailing, horseback riding, walking the dry river beds and being a leader to ten campers during each three week session. There, I met the legendary man: Hondo Crouch.
He carved spoons, had a pet deer and falcon and was truly himself. No doubt he was living his true nature. Throughout our lives we meet people that deeply inspire us. While at camp one year, he gathered his friends Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson who wrote the famous song "Luckenbach, Texas" and put that small town on the map. The slogan was "Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach!" There was a mailbox on top of a 30 foot pole with a sign that read Air Mail while the sign on the general store said "Sorry We're Open!" It was fun, it was alive and I was part of all of that.
I remember another time in June of 1969, Neil Armstrong dropped off his son, Ricky. In July, the air force helicopter arrived and picked Ricky up and took him to Houston to be with his family. Everyone at the camp gathered around to watch a small black and white TV as his Dad made one giant step for man, one giant step for mankind! The memory of my camping days still brings me great joy!
I attended college at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Although enrolled in the business school, my interests were more in astronomy, geology, art, art history, environmental studies, creative writing and Greek literature. Amazing teachers inspired me for a lifetime, not only with what they taught, but with their passion for the subject. The advice I gave to my daughter as she entered college was to seek out all the best professors no matter the subject and take courses from them. The tree-lined campus of Washington U was built for the 1904 World's Fair; it was wonderful and set the stage for learning. I found a way to bring the business school and physics department together by proposing an internship program where I would restore the historic Alvin Clark telescope built in the mid 1800's and reopen the university observatory after it was neglected for so many years. Another top ten college experience was my internship at The 7UP World Headquarters. The way I landed the internship would change the course of my career. I waited outside the headquarters at
lunchtime and watched as many of the 1100 employees filed out of the front doors. I could identify the sales, accounting, research, executive, advertising and marketing people by their dress and demeanor. I noticed one man who seemed to be so alive and almost glowing! I gathered the courage to walk up to him and say "I had put my intern application in at the personnel department—" and before I could say anything else, he said "That was your first mistake." I looked at him and found the words to say, "I would like to buy you lunch!" He looked at me, paused for the longest while, then said "Where do you want to eat?" We shared a lunch that would open up a new world to me. I learned he was the director of Advertising ... The Mr. UNCOLA! This was just at the beginning of the highly successful UNCOLA campaign that forever energized the soft drink world. After lunch he invited me up to his office and offered me a three month internship. I gladly accepted! Another great example in my life for thinking (or should I say drinking!) outside the box.
A few months later as the UNCOLA campaign gained momentum, Orville was promoted to Director of Marketing and he offered me the job to be his special projects right hand man. I was part of the UN-ovative, UN-ique, UN-credible UNCOLA campaign of the early 1970s, handling high profile projects such as the Jerry Lewis MD Telethon and all promotional items including the famous upside down UNCOLA glass! I say it was from the ground floor to the executive suite in thirty minutes! What I learned for five years was how art, creativity and fun could be successfully combined with business. Slogans like "Be True UN to You" and other universal messages were used to not only sell a soft drink, but to encourage consumers to live their true nature. The most creative moment was being involved with commercials. The one that stood
out above all others was Uncola Nuts. Jeffrey Holder did a marvelous job when he said "Cola Nuts or Uncola Nuts, now you choose wisely ... ho, ho, ho, ho" with his incredibly deep and memorable laugh. A fun commercial but also a reminder that we have a choice and that it is up to us to choose wisely. With a corporate take-over by Philip Morris Tobacco Company lost its creative focus and its soul ... not to mention Orville, me and hundreds of others. It was a shock to see the dismantling of such a great spirited company as it turned bottom line oriented. For me it was then on to Willy Wonka Company to design chocolate candy bars and work on the Giant Chewy SweetTarts project...that is until the dentist encouraged me to find a new career.
Time to rely on my own talents so I started my own company. I was in the post office mailing a letter halfway around the world to Kathmandu, Nepal when the person next to me was also mailing a letter to the exact same city. Not your everyday happenstance. We talked, I showed him my nature pictures and a few days later I joined Wilderness Travel to be a guide and photographer co-leading 25 day treks across the Swiss Alps. Was this by chance or tapping into the flow of the larger plan? As I look back on my life all I can say is that when I am living my truth amazing things continually open up for me. The trips were amazing as I experienced the beauty of the earth and literally walked away from a life
that no longer worked. From the Eiger to the Matterhorn on foot. I felt strong, connected and opened to new horizons. I was scheduled to lead a trip on the Arctic circle in Norway, but the trip was cancelled. My Icelandic Air flight stopped in Rekyjavik, Iceland so with a fellow from the Swiss Alps expedition, we explored Iceland together. Upon arrival he informed me of his plan to continue on to Chicago. It was either go back to hot and humid St. Louis in August or do something else. This was a no brainer! Not what I had planned ... but definitely part of the bigger plan.
Feeling strong from months of trekking in the Swiss Alps, the Iceland Journey unfolded step by step. As I walked the rugged and pristine land I felt more a part of nature and less a part of civilization. With each step the wind, rivers, waterfalls, rocks, geothermal vents, sky and sun became my friends. At seven and 21 days I noticed a marked deepening. I could sense the weather and was more in tune with the insects, birds, wild horses and feeling a part of the earth. I began to feel the rotation of the earth coming up to meet the sun rather than seeing the sun "set". Walking, walking, walking in peace even though the rain had come down for 14 days straight. Breathing, becoming, allowing nature to wash over me. To cleanse me from a lifetime of electricity, mechanical, and unnatural elements. I camped on the land and carried everything on my back exploring waterfalls, glaciers and the rugged land. My journal became my daily companion. I ate dried fish and collected berries and savored the packets of Miso soup. Then 30 days into the journey in a narrow strip of land between the North Arctic Sea and the immense Vajtnokul Glacier, the air began to slightly cool ... a bird flew by with an unnatural flight pattern. I immediately sensed something was happening. I scanned the horizon and saw a jet black band of clouds on the horizon. My ripstop nylon tent gave me the full illusion of protection from the elements. Suddenly a raindrop hit my face, the next one frozen rain. I scanned the horizon seeing the dark band grow in height and at the same time noticed something taller than the flat terrain maybe two miles in the distance.
I quickly made my way in its direction. The cold sleet was pounding as I began to run, full pack and all in hopes of its shelter. The wind picked up and at times I could just lean forward into the wind and it would hold me up. The last 100 yards I crawled towards the hut as fierce winds poured through me. Drenched even with all my raingear on, I sought refuge. I leaned against the door and went inside, exhausted. In Icelandic, Danish and English the sign on the wall read: “Shipwrecked mariners hut for the exclusive use of those in distress.” Works for me! The map posted on the wall indicated the nearest farmhouse was 175 kilometers away. I couldn't help noticing that small print in the corner of the map "US Defense Department of Mapping - St. Louis, Missouri"! For four days the forceful winds pounded and rattled this metal corrugated hut. The freight train sound shook my soul. One step outside and I would be blown across the tundra and into the sea like a tumbleweed. I savored one cookie a day, wrote in my journal and made promises in ink to leave my home in the midwest and seek a closer connection to nature. The wind subsided enough for me to hike to the iceberg lake where I encountered the BBC film crew that snapped the above photo. I continued on my journey and set foot in Akureyri on the north coast ... I truly knew how Lewis and Clark felt arriving at the Pacific, although I didn't discover an unknown body of water, I had discovered another part of my soul ... my true nature!
Doors open. Opportunities present themselves. How do you bring back what you know and make it a part of your everyday life? How do you follow through on the tough decisions? Somehow I mustered up the courage. Perhaps it was the escape from the humidity ... but I know it was my desire to live where nature spoke louder and yet gentler. I packed up after eight years and retraced parts of the path of Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail on my journey to Portland, Oregon. The land was green and the soil fertile and the rain ... well, constant. I again had a choice, take a high paying job as Advertising Manager for one of the big multi-national lumber companies or work for minimum
wage outdoors in a tree farm in Boring, Oregon. You guessed it, and how delighted I was to work among the trees. It definitely was not boring! However, with the wage, I decided that if I was going to eat, I better plant my garden. In the back of my mind I had the intention to combine business with nature. So one day in 1988, while out in the garden hoeing the beets, this idea popped into my head. Why not combine seeds and greeting cards...Greeting Seeds! I discovered a young artist in school who would create the art for the first cards and for many years. It became the greeting cards with seeds, teas, spices, herbs and other gifts of the earth inside. The idea took root. Sales climbed each year to top off at 25 million cards sold.
Selling so many Greeting Seed cards presented a paradox. The commitment was made early on to not only use recycled paper, but to replant ten new tree seedlings for each mature tree harvested for our products and business operations. If each of us could just take care of our part, then it would all make sense. I had the pleasure of connecting with John Denver, another tree steward.
Along with Gayan "Gregory" Long and Mary Herrick we started the nonprofit, Fort Collins ReLeaf, a community tree planting organization. Planting over 30,000 trees in Colorado the organization merged into Trees, Water and People which to this day plants thousands of trees and developed a unique wood stove to minimize fuel wood usage in Central America.
Before becoming a parent, I asked a number of fathers for their wisdom. "What would you do different?" was my question. The answer was "Children grow up so fast. I wish I had taken the time to be with my kids more, to be more present." With this information I decided to take off and be mostly at home with my daughter until she went into first grade. I loved it! Being so involved and
connected would be one of the best decisions I ever made. I didn’t feel so pulled in many directions as I had time to enjoy the gift of parenting. I don’t want it to sound like it was pure bliss, being with a two and three year old, but it was an investment of the heart in both of our futures. I wrote and planned and when Laurel was six, I would begin my new business adventure...Your True Nature.
It was one of those days. The winds of life were blowing so hard. I walked along the sidewalk and to a tree that I had passed by many times. This time I stopped. When I manage to get outside, my problems seem smaller and life seems much greater. I went up to this old Cottonwood tree and leaned against its bark to ask for advice. It shared with me its beautiful wisdom. "Stand tall and proud... Be content with your natural beauty... go out on a limb!" This advice from a tree and simplicity of nature began to smooth out the complexities and challenges I faced.
I wrote it down into the poem “Advice from a Tree” and that’s how it all started. It became part of my book “PoetTree-The Wilderness I Am.” I wanted to share my love of trees and stories with my daughter and to get down in writing what really mattered to me. I created a bookmark, then a postcard. Middlefish, the first store that carried the Advice, reordered within a week! Pretty soon we had posters and notepads. It was clear that many people were seeking some wise advice, too.
The river, mountain, garden and hummingbird wanted to share their advice too and offered their wise teachings. Then bear, moose, owl, horse, dog butterfly and now over 50 different advice givers all offer their true nature. I found that others had their own animal or part of nature that spoke to them and represented their essence. To bring the advice to life, I uncovered another part of my true nature with drumming and storytelling.
The problem, though, was that I wasn’t a drummer and I wasn’t a storyteller ... at least so I thought. With a simple drum beat and not having to tell the stories always the same way, I broke through my limited perceptions and tapped into something that was powerful and so much a part of me. It started with kindergartners at the library and grew into keynote speeches for large conferences.
So, like the “Advice from A River” says, “The beauty is in the journey.” This is my journey. One of discovery, choice, intentions, trust and being open. A lot about gratitude, appreciation and being close to nature. About perseverance, giving back, honoring one's true gifts and talents and looking at the world with UN-ovation in mind as day by day we create the life we imagine. Going beyond the obstacles into possibility. Socrates put it so well when he said, "Know thyself and to thine own self be true.” A while ago I sat in the theatre after seeing the movie “Into the Wild” and tears streamed down my cheeks. That was so much my story, the
journey into nature and into the depths of human nature. The difference was that we both went into the wild, but I returned and he didn’t. It reminds me of the preciousness of it all. The journey continues each day going into the wild, into the wilderness and bringing back the wisdom to honor nature, honor myself and offer a path for others to more fully live their true nature. We all have our story to tell and our story to live.
With his unique drumming and storytelling, Ilan Shamir has presented over 250 programs nationally and internationally for a variety of audiences. Programs include Living Your True Nature, A Thousand Things Went Right Today! and Developing Sustainable Products and Companies.
Ilan Shamir has been featured in over 100 major print and broadcast media including The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, London Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio-All Things Considered, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Entrepeneur Magazine, Success Magazine, and John Naisbit’s-Reinventing the Corporation. He is a member of the National Speakers Association, National Association for Interpretation and the National Storytelling Network.
Ilan Shamir founded Your True Nature, but it all began and continues to flourish through his deep roots in artistic expression. Below are some examples of his silk paintings, poetry, and drawings.

Visit his portfolio website to see even more works.


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