Having co- founded The Virtues Project in 1990 and authored several best-selling books on personal and global transformation, life has presented me with many wonderful opportunities. I am fortunate enough to have met and become friends with spiritual leaders such as His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and have appeared on many television shows, including Oprah. Speaking engagements have taken me and my husband around the world, and The Virtues Project is now in over 120 countries. In reflecting on my achievements, I must also reflect on my sufferings, because it is through experiencing both triumph and suffering, that I have found my strength and become the person I am today.
My childhood was marred with the trauma of sexual assault, and my mother, who was at times suicidal, was emotionally unavailable to me. This left me feeling rejected, sad and alone. Whilst battling to overcome these feelings I have a vivid childhood memory. I was five years of age and recall walking around our back garden, making a passionate plea, “Please God, let me help people when I grow up”. Out of my own need to be loved and nurtured, developed a deep sense of purpose and desire to help others.
Many years later I was enjoying an Easter holiday with my husband, Dr. Dan Popov, and my brother John Kavelin, when my childhood prayer began to blossom. Our holiday was nearing an end when John, who was a show producer for Walt Disney Imagineering at the time, told us he was tired of the glitz and that he wanted to be of direct service to the world. This sparked a serious discussion about the state of the world and we asked ourselves the question “what is it that the world needs?”. We were concerned about the problems encountered by youth: the spread of violence and the increase of youth suicide. So we decided to do something to counteract this.
My brother quit his job at Walt Disney and we spent the following summer reflecting on what would give children a sense of purpose and meaning. Tapping into Dan’s years of research into sacred traditions around the world, we had our “aha moment”, when we discovered that virtues are at the heart of meaning in every culture and belief system, from indigenous oral traditions to the world’s sacred texts. And thus The Virtues Project was born.
Our first book The Family Virtues Guide, took a year to write and was self-published in our garage, which doubled as a makeshift office. We printed the first manuscript on our old desk top printer and in less than two months, by word of mouth alone, it was in more than twenty countries.
Since then The Virtues Project has been honored by the United Nations during the International Year of the Family as a “model global program for families of all cultures”, and continues to spread the revolution of kindness, justice and integrity across the world. I now look back at my life and feel a sense of deep gratitude for the strength and courage of that little 5 year old girl who dared to believe she could help others. For, “strength is the inner power to withstand whatever comes. We stay strong when we recognize that suffering is a thread woven through the design of our lives, not to make us unhappy but to transform us with grace” (Linda Kavelin-Popov).
Linda, Cook Islands