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Cameron Chell on How to Do the Impossible

Updated: Jul 10

by Cameron Chell - As seen in APeeling Digital Magazine

Cameron Chell victory pose telling his inspirational story about recovery from homelessness
Cameron Chell Speaking about His Inspirational Story

I don’t believe in impossible because I have overwhelming evidence that when we search our stories, we discover inextricable evidence that the impossible does not have to exist because we find ways to overcome anything.

In My Life, Everything is Possible

Throughout my life, I unwittingly defied the odds and achieved what others believed was impossible for a rural Southern Alberta high school drop-out to achieve.

At 26, I was the head of a three-billion-dollar organization, which was the cornerstone of what we now call the cloud computing industry.

At 32, I was standing at the base of the World Trade Centers wondering why I was alive when so many people weren’t.

At 35, I was bankrupt and a hopeless addict living on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown East side.

At 42, I was in a loving relationship with a daughter on the way and a lymphoma cancer diagnosis.

At 45, I co-founded a company called UrtheCast, which endeavored to create an unabridged view of the world in one-meter video resolution by putting cameras on International Space Station. Deloitte & Touche called us the most exciting and important tech-company in Canada that year.

The Event that Changed my Life

In 2001, my life was out of control. I thought I was in control of everything, but it was just the opposite. I ran a billion-dollar company, I owned jets, and was on the cusp of bigger deals.

To gain this level of success, I needed to be in control, to do everything you’re supposed to do to be successful.

I was “That Guy”. The guy who was always going to be smarter, better, faster, and at the top of whatever I did. I’d get up early, run all the strategies, did all the self-help things we need to do to achieve more success, and then something happened to unravel it all.

It was the morning of 9/11/01 and I had a meeting at the World Trade Centre. When the plane hit we were in a state of bewilderment, then as events started to unfold, bewilderment was replaced with chaos.

At first, I didn’t understand what had happened, but I wasn’t all that concerned. My first thought wasn’t about the people or the situation. My first thought was: “I have a meeting in Midtown this afternoon and the traffic’s going to be terrible so, I need to cut this meeting short.”

That’s how self-centered I was. I didn’t think I was being self-centered. I thought I was being smart. I wasn’t in the moment, I was always thinking of my next move and how to be a step ahead of the game. That’s how you win, by staying focused on the future. Or so I thought.

All hell broke loose when the second plane hit. It felt like an earthquake. It didn’t feel real. It wasn’t possible. In fact, it was an absolutely impossible situation.

When I got outside, the realization of what had happened became real and I instantly realized I had no control over what was happening.

Here I was, the person who did everything every day to stay one step ahead, to control the situation, the narrative, and my destiny at all times. I was suddenly thrust into a chaotic situation of impossible and possible happening at the same time. There was nothing I could do to move forward, to get ahead, to be certain of my future.

If I stepped right or left, something could fall on me and I’d be dead. If I ran straight, I might live, but I didn’t know. If I stood still, I could live, but I didn’t know.

At that moment, I realized I was completely lying to myself. Every day, I felt I had done the things I needed to do to always be one step ahead, yet in that moment, I realized none of that mattered. I was not able to predict anything. I could not stay ‘safe’ and everything could end.

In the chaos surrounding me people were dying, they were jumping to keep from burning, they were running in different directions and I didn’t know which way was going to result in staying alive.

At that moment, I learned life is completely out of my control and it was the worst thing I could have discovered about my life.

In the Aftermath

I made my way from downtown into Midtown. The phone service was sporadic and it took awhile but I called who I could to let them know I was ok.

When I called California to check on my son, I found out he had taken his first steps. It was surreal. I should have been dead, yet, I was hearing the most amazing news in the world and I all I wanted to do was get drunk.

Up until this point in my life, I was disciplined with my body and my health. I drank in moderation and only socially. I didn’t do drugs and took obsessively good care of myself.

That night, I got completely drunk and that was only the start of my problems.

Over the next six months, my companies witnessed an unforeseen downturn as the tech market collapsed. Daily, I witnessed the stock price of my company go down and once again, I realized I was not in control of the outcome. No matter what I did, I could not change the stock market’s .com meltdown.

I’d done everything I was supposed to do to be successful, to increase the valuation of the company and create wealth for my investors. Yet, I could do nothing about the .com market correction or the regulations governments were putting into place, which slowed technological advancement for a few years.

I was supposed to be successful. I’d worked hard. Followed the process and there was nothing I could do, so I drank.

Drinking turned into drugs and the drugs turned into harder drugs.

I started disappearing for months at a time to get away from the impossible situation I’d found myself in. Whenever I wanted to escape, I’d get on one of my jets and go hide somewhere, I wouldn’t tell anyone where. Eventually, I went broke, completely bankrupt, and ended up on the street in the Downtown East side of Vancouver, Canada’s poorest and drug-filled four blocks.

I didn’t have to live there. I had friends who would come pick me up. In fact, they’d hired private investigators to find me, and forced me into rehab. However each time I’d let them down and return to the street looking for the next high.

Eventually, I’d pushed my luck too far. My friends realized they had to allow me to hit rock bottom because I didn’t want to be saved. I’d let them down too many times.

The Event that Changed my Life 2.0

While I was living on the streets of Vancouver I offended a local gang because I was still too arrogant and cocky for my own good. Whenever this gang would find me, they would beat me up for fun. One day, they beat me so badly, I ended up in the hospital. While lying in my hospital bed, I realized as long as I stayed on the street they would find me and the next beating would kill me.

I didn’t want to die.

When I got out of the hospital, all I had were the dirty clothes I’d gone in with and the spare key to my Jeep, which I’d miraculously managed to keep.

During one of my rehab moments a friend bought me the Jeep and for some reason I didn’t sell it for drugs. However, that didn’t stop the gang from taking it from me when they beat me up. Now, I needed it back because it was the only way I had to get out of Vancouver.

I found the Jeep parked on the street and the spare key still opened the locked door. As I was getting in, I heard a yell from down the street. It was one of the gang members and he was coming to stop me from taking the Jeep back.

At that moment - it was crystal clear, if he caught me, I wouldn’t live to the end of the day.

I didn’t know how close he was, I didn’t know if he was chasing me, I didn’t know if other people were coming after me. I just drove East.

quote Keanu Reeves broken kindness badass angel boat out in the water alone
Cameron Chell is a Badass with the Heart of an Angel

In the Aftermath 2.0

After I left the city of Vancouver, I pulled into a Safeway parking lot. I was shaking. I’d gotten away from the gang member, I’d taken my Jeep back, but I was a mess. I needed help and knew nobody was going to give me money.

I’d bee wearing the same clothes for weeks. They were cut-up, bloody, dirty, goodness knows what I smelled like. I hadn’t eaten for a couple of days. I had no upper teeth because I had knocked them all out during different seizures and overdoses.

I had no money. I was driving a Jeep I couldn’t prove was mine because I had no identification. I had no idea how I was going to repair my life, get clean, get my family back, and get out of bankruptcy. I didn’t know how I was going to live to tomorrow, let alone what to do when I got there.

At that moment I asked myself, “Cam what do you want?”

I wanted to be safe. I didn’t want to die. It was the first time in years I realized I didn’t want to die, at least not by getting beaten to death on the streets of Vancouver.

I decided, I wasn’t going to die. That was the only decision I had to make and the next question I asked was, “How do I stay safe?”

This is key to understanding how we achieve the impossible.

It’s three simple things. In that moment I answered those three simple things to do the impossible, live to tomorrow.

1. What’s important to me? – To live

2. What’s the solution? – I need to get to my brother’s place

3. What can I do right now in this instant to get closer to my brother? -- I need to drive East.

How do I make the Impossible Happen?

The only answer I could come up with was, I needed to ask for help. Everything in my entire life was about me doing it, me accomplishing it, and me being successful on my own. Standing there in the parking lot of Safeway, dirty, smelly, and scared, I had to ask for help.

I was finally at a place in my life where I had to ask for help and I still had friends willing to help me.

I knew the first thing I needed to do was call my friends and ask for help, so I went around the parking lot asking strangers, “Can I borrow your phone? I need to call and ask somebody for help.”

Amazingly, people let me use their phones to make calls. I couldn’t get a hold of some of the people I called. Some who answered hung-up when they heard my voice. I couldn’t blame them.

Finally, I got my former CFO Blair on the phone. Blair knew my shtick. I’d called him plenty of times lying about needing money for rent and used the cash to get high instead.

I’d let him down many times before. Blair’s a smart guy. He could have hung up on me or told me no. But he didn’t. Instead he said, “Cam I’ll do something for you. I’m going to send $12.95. First of all, you need to know the exact number because there’s no way Western Union will give you any money because you have no ID, you smell, you’re ugly, you’re an idiot. So, you need to know the exact amount of money. I don’t want to give you enough money to get yourself in danger, so I’ll send y