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SPI 671: The First Female Firefighter & the Power of a Story with Shelli Varela

This may come as a surprise, but your story ultimately has nothing to do with you. You see, when people hear about your journey, they actually feel the possibilities in their own life. When you share vulnerably, your story becomes a vehicle of hope for the listener!

That’s why storytelling is one of the most powerful skills you can develop as an entrepreneur. But don’t take my word for it—listen in on my conversation with Shelli Varela to experience it firsthand. By the end of this session, you’ll understand precisely why story should be at the foundation of any online business.

Shelli is a master of her craft. Today, she shares her inspiring journey: from 108-pound manicurist to first female firefighter in her city. This incredible transformation is now at the core of Shelli’s roles as a public speaker, author, and podcaster.

Don’t miss this unbelievably moving episode because, as you’ll learn, everybody has a story. Shelli delivers the tools and examples you need to hone this skill and connect with your audience on a whole new level!

Today’s Guest

Shelli Varela

Shelli Varela is a Story Alchemist, Author, 2x TEDx speaker, and host of the Forbes-featured podcast The YES Effect. She has also served as a front-line Fire Captain with almost 3 decades of service.

As a 3rd generation storyteller of Native American descent, Shelli teaches how to use story as a catalyst to build a “Bridge of Possibility” for both the storyteller as well as the listener.

Utilizing her own story which follows her from a 108 lb manicurist, transforming her mind, body, and skillset to become her city’s first female firefighter in 1162 days, Shelli shows how story—and in particular our inner story—can be the catalyst to enable us to accomplish the inconceivable.

A recipient of the Firefighter of the Year Award (twice), and a former traveling member of Firefighters Without Borders, as well as the founder of Camp Ignite—a bootcamp teaching teen girls about firefighting and possibility—Shelli uses her voice and the power of story to inspire, empower, and remind others of their greatness.

While a well-told story serves, spreads, and sells… it also reminds us that we are not alone and provides a space where we can all Believe, Belong, and Become.

You’ll Learn


SPI 671 The First Female Firefighter & The Power of a Story

Shelli Varela: I’ll never forget, one lady says to me one day, thank you so much for sharing your story, because I see myself in your story and I thought there were things that I couldn’t do and now, and she snaps her fingers and she says, now I’m gonna go do them.And it was in that moment, I was like, oh, my story has nothing to do with me. Story is a vehicle of possibility for the listener.

Pat Flynn: You know, here in the show we talk quite a bit about the power of story and storytelling, and it’s something that I always recommend we get better at. And today we’re gonna do exactly that because our special guest today, Shelli Varela, is a master at telling stories, but it didn’t always start out that way.

And in fact, her story leads us to why story is so powerful. In fact, her story includes the fact that she was in a very large city in Canada, the first female firefighter, and the ups and downs and struggles related to that. But also what she’s learned since making that happen and how she’s now amplifying that story and teaching others to tell story is just absolutely, not just motivating and inspiring, but in my opinion for where we’re at in content today and all the noise that’s out there, it’s mandatory. You need to know how to tell stories just like Shelli Varela does, and so sit back and relax. This is a great one. This is session 671 of the Smart Passive Income Podcast. You can find Shelli Varela on Instagram as well as her website, which is More on that later. But relax. Enjoy these stories and learn as you go.

Here we go, Shelli Varela.

Shelli Varela: You are listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network, a show that’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he still needs to ask for help from his family to remove any spiders he sees in the house. Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: Shelli, welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Thank you so much for being here today.

Shelli Varela: Oh my gosh, Pat, is my absolute privilege to share with your incredible audience, so thanks for having me.

Pat Flynn: You know, I’m grateful that you’re here cuz I have to, and I wanted to thank you publicly for this a long time ago, I don’t know how many years ago, it could have been even almost a decade you had sent me a book and this wasn’t a book for me, it was a book for my daughter, in fact, and. It was a very well-written book, a story about a firefighter who’s a woman who was going through some struggles and then, you know, became who she was meant to become, and then, I figured out that, wow, you were actually the author of that book, which means you probably have that in your history.

And so let’s, let’s start there. Like, how did you know you wanted to become, first of all, thank you again for that book, but second of all, like how did you know you wanted to become a firefighter?

Shelli Varela: Oh, well, first of all, you’re so welcome. I’m, I’m glad, I’m glad it served. I actually didn’t know that I wanted to be a firefighter.

My childhood found me an extremely, I would say, deep thinking, nerdy, very isolated, lonely, and a loner type kid. And as you can imagine, a kid like that, everywhere I went I would get bullied. And and we moved my, my parents moved a couple times, so we would go from school to school and every single time I was the kid who got bullied. And I always say, not all gifts come wrapped in a bow.

I learned a number of things as that really shy, introverted kid who was getting their butt handed to them on the regular. I learned to develop an incredible imagination. That was not only how I coped, it’s how I survived. It’s how I made it through the day, and I would, I would viscerally feel what it felt like to be, you know, in the shootout of the Canada US hockey team or whatever it was, and I would viscerally feel what that feels like.

The second thing I learned though, was that it was not safe to be the center of attention. And so as I journeyed through life, the world started to label me an artist. I was a writer. I’m a third generation storyteller. I was in a special effects makeup. And you know, I was just kind of I was kind of that person.

And so everybody, you know, would say, oh, Shelli, the artist, or Shelli, you know, who, you know, paints or draws or whatever. And so, as I journeyed from, from like middle school to the end of high school, I’m thinking like, what am I gonna do with my life? And, and I am anxious and I am trying to figure out like what, what careers fit in the lane of artistry and nothing really seemed to fit. And the more I, I tried to like fit the square peg in the round hole, the more anxious I got because it just didn’t seem like that was my thing or that was my thing, or that isn’t something I could see myself doing as a full career. And I looked around at all of the people that I was surrounded with and all of my friends had everything figured out.

They knew the universities they would go to, the jobs they would do, how many kids they would have, and I was just a hot mess. And so, because I was just trying to avoid having to look at this, this situation I had a chance run in with with an old friend and it was a guy named Steve. Our moms were good buddies and he was going through a particularly hard time in his life.

So I would come to his house and I would try and keep him and talking sort of as long as I could about whatever I could. And the thing that he could speak about forever was his career as a firefighter. And he’s sharing these stories of like fires and rescues and at the time I’m 108 pounds, I’m working in a manicure salon, so I couldn’t be more removed from this reality.

And I’m just trying to figure out like what am I gonna do with my life? So he’s sharing these stories and I’m like, dude, that’s what you get to do. Like you get to save people and you get the shenanigans around the halls and you get to drive the big red truck. And it was. I was just like, it was the first time I had felt like that.

Oh, that’s like really cool, like really interesting to me. And the danger of labels, Pat, is this like I was quote unquote an artist. The world told me I was an artist. I definitely was artistic, but as long as I was Shelli the artist, I couldn’t be anything else. So I’m sitting with Steve and he’s sharing these incredible stories with me, and I couldn’t get enough.

It was the first time I’d felt that hope. And so I kept showing up at his house again and again and again, and eventually he ran out of stories. So he started teaching me stuff and never would I have known this otherwise, that I had this natural, mechanical apt. Because I was never looking outside the label of what the world told me I was, which was an artist.

And he would teach me these things and I would pick them up really quick. And I remember the day he and I were driving in his pickup truck, we were driving across Dundas. We came up to Kaur Road and I could see myself sitting there and there was a tractor trailer beside. And on the rear of the tractor trailer was a dangerous goods label, and I had paid attention to everything he said, and I’m thinking to myself, I know what that means, but inside, I’m still that shy, bullied kid.

So instead of telling him what I meant, I, I said to him, oh, hey Steve, like, what is that? And I was fully expecting him to echo the answer that I knew to be true, and he gave me the wrong. And so I corrected him and, and at this point we had been hanging out for, I wanna say like five or six months. Then he turns to me and he says, Shelli, why don’t you just apply to be a firefighter?

And I was like, dude, look at me. I’m, I’m a hundred, this is 30 years ago also. I’m 108 pounds. I work in a manicure salon. I’m not big enough, brave enough, smart enough, strong enough. And there’s no girls in firefighting. There was no girls at the time. And this man who I had grown to, like, I just had such reverence for looks me square in, nearby in the eye.

And without missing a beat, he goes, well, there’s gonna be a girl one day. Why wouldn’t it be you? And it sucked the air out of my lungs. It, it, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. And I, I said, well, that’s ridiculous. Like I, I don’t have any knowledge or skills or experience. I work in a nail salon and I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those days where you’re kind of driving around and you end up at a destination and you’re like, I literally don’t remember getting here.

And my entire day was that, but that evening, I was lying up in my bed and I remember looking up at my white stippled ceiling and his words had been echoing and bouncing around in my brain all day long. And the words that changed my life were, why not me? And when I heard myself say them some, there was something different about myself saying them, and it was, it was like the flip of a switch. And in that moment, I didn’t care what it cost me in blood, sweat, money, time, or tears. I was gonna become a firefighter. So I thought, okay, well I have none of the skills and I need hundreds of, you know, pieces of knowledge or information and physical strength. Again, I’m 108 pounds, I’m working in an nail salon.

So I thought, okay, I need to learn about a first aid, cpr, driving a truck building, construction, fire science, all of the things. But if I had all of that, unless I can physically do the job, none of it matters. So I thought, okay, I have my starting point. So I go to the local university that ran the firefighter physical tests and I was a 10 kilometer day runner.

And I’m thinking, well, it’s gonna be hard, but, but it’ll be fine. So I go, I pay my money. And that is not what happened. I got my butt handed to me and I walked out of that physical feeling defeat like I’d never felt in my life because it was the first time I’d ever felt or allowed myself to feel hope, and I realized there is absolutely no way that my 108 pound frame is ever going to be able to perform that job.

So I went home and had a wicked pity party for a couple of days. I was like crying and it was just, it was a hot mess and I didn’t, didn’t get outta bed. But on the third day I got like mad and so I called the the university back and I said, yeah, I’m gonna need the, the entire stats for the physical heights, weights, distances of everything that needs to be pushed, pulled all of it, and I built it in my back.

And I failed at that physical over and over and over, and it was, you know, bloodstained hands and vomit in tears and it was awful. But I kept showing up again and again and again. And all the while now I’m starting to educate myself. I’m, I’m, you know, I have now my truck driving license and I’m learning all of these hundreds of things, none of which I knew at the starting point.

And I battled at that physical for 1,162 days and every single night I would go to sleep and I would practice feeling just like that bully kid. I would practice feeling what it felt like to get that phone call. And 1,163 days later, my phone rings and the voice on the end said, Shelli Varela, it’s Deputy Chief Gary Morton, we would like to welcome you aboard as our city’s first female firefighter.

Pat Flynn: Wow.

Shelli Varela: And it’s interesting because that phone call felt exactly like I practiced it time after time, after time, and, and it made all the newspapers, you know, the, the TV stations were there and the, the radio stations and the print press and everybody was there.

And I I didn’t like being the center of attention because I remembered back to that bullied kid. What I knew for sure was it was not safe to be in the spotlight. It was always a, a very bad experience, but that leaves a visceral scar and reaction on, on your person. So whenever I was in that situation, I still had that same like gasp that I’d had when I was, you know, on the playground as a kid.

But because I was in the media, everybody kept asking me about my story again and again, and I was so shy. But I’ll never forget, one lady says to me one day, thank you so much for sharing your story, because I see myself in your story and I thought there were things that I couldn’t do and now, and she snaps her fingers and she says, now I’m gonna go do them.

And it was in that moment, I was like, oh, my story has nothing to do with me. Story is a vehicle of possibility for the listener. And in fact, my story isn’t even like, it’s not about firefighting, it’s about possibility and potential. And when I realized that, I mean, I had always been a storyteller. My grandfather was a storyteller, my dad was a storyteller, so I would always tell, tell stories, but I never wanted to be the main character until that woman said that to me.

That, day and I thought, man, like sharing the challenges and the struggles that I’ve been through, make her feel like she can do her version of that. And so I went down this rabbit hole and I started to learn about story and storytelling and how it affects your psychology and how it affects your relationship to possibility and what happens whenever you’re sharing your story.

That moment when you share vulnerably you’re taking somebody from average to astounding. So when somebody hears your story, they’re actually feeling their own. It’s almost like they, it activates the mirror neurons in their minds. Because everybody has that internal story. They have that dialogue that it’s almost like a pre-cognitive commitment from the time we’re little kids about what we believe is possible, what we believe isn’t possible for us, and all of the, the micro-commitments and these grains of sands as a, as they say, that we get exposed to throughout our lives.

So, you know, for, for little girls it might be, Hey Sally, like, give me five first names of a race car driver. And she, she will say, Mike and Steve and John and Bill, but she’s not going to say Sally. And it’s just like all of these grains of sand inform who we are, who we’re not, what’s possible, what’s not possible for us.

And it happens in our unconscious mind. So we actually stop paying attention to the fact that that’s even occurring. But where it gets dangerous and where story is literally, the key in the lock for your freedom and for your potential is in that moment when you feel your body say yes, it’s like when you feel that excitement, like, like the time when I’m like, Ooh, maybe I could be a firefighter.

And you feel, it’s like your body always knows the truth. You hear something that is true for you, you’re like, oh yes. But in that nanosecond, all of those grains of sand come flooding down and you find yourself saying no to stuff you should be saying yes to, and you find yourself saying yes to stuff you should be saying no to.

And so, what I teach people that I, that I coach with now is the concept of believe, belong and become. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. Yep, but in his book, influence, he talks about social proof and authority and likability, and reciprocity and story hits, all of those. So if you’re somebody who wants to use story to inspire people to instill hope and allow themselves to see the possibility for them, it serves that way. If you want to have yourself be seen and heard and stand out in a nosy, a noisy environment story will create authority for you. But where story has the magic power, I believe, is in this day of social media. We are more connected, but also less connected than ever before. And we, you know, we’ll be scrolling through our phone and, and, and maybe having a bad day, maybe having like, I don’t know, human experience where things aren’t rosy and glowing and, you know, you have your filter on and you’re on vacation in Hawaii or whatever that looks like.

You might be having like just a regular day. But when you start scrolling through social media, you realize that everybody else is doing so much better than you are. I remember when I was on stage at our mutual friends Stu McLaren’s event, and I was sharing a story and I, and I’m gonna share with you how reciprocity freed up about a hundred women in that audience.

I was sharing the story of how I was bullied. And if you’re scrolling and you are feeling less than or, or you’re putting your best face forward, whether it be on social media or in business or in your social group, we sometimes don’t always feel safe to share how we’re really doing. You know, we’re programmed to say we’re doing well, and that leads essentially to people suffering in silence, in silos, and I shared that bullying story, but I went into far more depth of how the impact that, that, that, that had on me. And what happened was when you share something first, like the law of reciprocity states that if I give you something, you’re wired to want to give me something back. But if the thing that I give you is my vulnerability, and that’s not gratuitous oversharing, but, but you know, a time where something was really, really tough for me, you will hear my story, but you will feel your own. And I watched people in that audience not have to say the difficult hurting thing, but instead put their hand up and say, yeah, that happened to me too. Or a version of that happened to me too, because struggle is the connective tissue between human being.

But what happens is so many of our emotions move, like story is the vehicle for the human connection. It’s, you know, it’s why we get lit up with movies and it’s why we can show people a new way of thinking or being or provide hope. That day I realized that so many emotions move, like anger moves and grief moves, but, but fear and shame and feeling unworthy, they don’t move.

They have to be moved. And if you don’t move, then they start to calcify. But when you share your story first, it literally breaks the chrysalis and lets the light in for those people who maybe don’t have the bravery to share or don’t feel safe to share, but they hear you sharing vulnerably and they’re like, man, me too.

But here’s where it gets really magical. If you share the point where you were struggling or you had your, you know, you’re facing the dirt or you were just having an average, not so amazing, but also typically human life, they hear your story and they feel your own but what happens is they now are watching what happened to you?

Where did you go? How did you overcome that? Because if that’s possible for you, then what is possible for me through the vehicle of hope, through your story. And so that’s, that’s what I, I like to, to teach people, especially, you know, those people who have a message on their heart, something they wanna share, a gift they wanna share with the world.

And for many people that that ends up being what they turn into a business or a calling. And in many cases it really is just the idea of believe, belong , become. After I started sharing the story and I started seeing how my bullied kid and my little, I wanted to be a firefighter story, started switching so many people on.

I had a friend who had delivered a TED Talk and I thought, oh, I wanna do a TED Talk. And then immediately I think, oh, I’m gonna, I’m gonna throw up. Because what I’d forgotten is that I am literally terrified of public speaking, like was next level, terrified, and then I stopped myself again and I thought, okay, hang on a second.

This person that I know so well did a TED Talk, so I know it’s possible. So what is it that I am actually afraid of? Because, you know, your, your subconscious mind likes to keep you safe. So conveniently being quote unquote afraid of public speaking is intangible. You can’t touch it or tinker with it. And I decided to get under the hood of what am I actually afraid of because I the difference that my message, my little message one little person made to so many other people in their journey, and that my, my message wasn’t actually about me. So I get under the hood and I thought, okay, what am I actually afraid of? And what I realized is with most things, it breaks down into almost two categories, which I call roots and wings.

And the roots is kind of like your practical, tactical, mechanical, I don’t know how to do this part. And so for me, that looked like I had no speaker coaching. I’d never done a TED Talk before. I didn’t know about voice or physicality. So I hired coaches, problem solved. And on the wings side, the wings is more of the emotional, like, how do I feel about this?

What am I, what am I actually afraid of? What are the, what are the feelings underneath the fear of public speaking? And when I got to the root of that, I realized I felt unworthy. No surprise, the bully kid on the, on the playground. I didn’t feel safe in the spotlight again, no surprises there. And I was terrified that, that I was gonna embarrass myself or, or it wouldn’t land.

So I went to a therapist and I got some counseling. So I took something essentially that was intangible, I’m afraid of public speaking, broke it down into actionable roots and wings kind of steps, and I was able to get myself on the stage all by hacking my inner story because your inner story creates your outer reality. And performing that Ted Talk was one of the greatest gifts of my life because I have received so many messages echoing just the same thing. Your story switched something on in me that allowed me to do the thing that I thought was not possible. But I, I don’t think people realize because it can’t be overstated how important your story is for your possibility and your potential, but also the listeners or your audience.

And this was driven home to me when I was sitting at home one day, my phone rings and it’s one of the fire halls, and I thought, oh, that’s weird. I was off duty. So I pick up the phone and and it was a, a guy I know and another shift and he’s like, oh, hey Shelli, you got a minute? And and I think something’s wrong because odd.

And he says, listen, there’s this girl at the hall right now. We were just at an accident and we were cleaning up the accident. She was, she was a bystander, and she came over and she started asking us, like all of these questions about firefighting. And so we said, well, you know, like, why don’t you come back to the hall and have a coffee and you can, you can ask us whatever you want.

So she was there for about half an hour and in the course of the conversation she says to these guys, well, you know, I, I have this this TED Talk that I watch every day and in fact there’s, there’s a line in the TED Talk that I’ve made my ringtone and her phone rings and it’s my voice. Now I live in Canada, but I gave my talk in Santa Barbara, so just by serendipitous reasons, these guys would have no reason to, you know, to think that I was the Santa Barbara TED speaker and this girl would have no reason to think that I lived in Canada, in the literal area that she was talking to these firefighters in. And the guys, the guys say to her, we know her. And she’s like, you do not. And they’re like, yeah, we do. Hang on a second.

And they called me. This young girl was just like beside herself, like I was a celebrity or something. And she says, you don’t understand like every single, okay, getting emotional you don’t understand because every morning I wake up and I think I can’t, and I know at some point my phone is gonna ring and I’m going to hear you reminding me.

And that is, that is the power of story. Because if you trace the root all the way back, I was the bullied kid who just thought it was it. Like there was something always wrong with me. So we never really realized the power that our story is gonna have to affect other people, but also affect ourselves.

Like rewiring that inner story and it’s like, okay, what actually is possible? And if we have that visceral, sickening feeling when we, when our body says, oh, you know, there’s something that I so wanna do, and then we immediately go into, that’s not possible for me. If we pause for a hot minute. We can realize that those things can be broken down and when we share our stories, we are literally unlocking what feels stuck and what is calcifying in other people.

On the outside, it seems like we’re sharing stories, but it really is the ability to, to be seen and to be heard, and to have your message and your gifts shared with the people who absolutely need it the most.

Pat Flynn: Standing ovation, oh my gosh. Thank you for sharing that and I wanna ask you questions about how you tell a story cuz you tell it in such a brilliant way.

Obviously. Before I get to that though, and the strategies and tactics and stuff, I just wanna, plus one, everything you just said about the power of story. I didn’t know that I myself had a story until I started telling it and started seeing the reactions from others too. Like oftentimes we don’t even realize how powerful our own stories are, and I want you to speak to those who listen to this and are obviously moved by your story, but then immediately get into those grains of sand in their lives that say, well, I don’t have a good enough story to tell. Like my story is not gonna make an impact on somebody. What would you say to that person?

Shelli Varela: I would say that everybody has a story and the most powerful stories hinge around a very simple phrase, and that phrase is, and then I realized, and then I realized. I will share another quick, quick story about how simple the story can be. I probably will get choked up again cuz I have not been able to get it through it yet.

But back in the day, I used to watch the Oprah Winfrey show as we all did. I’m sure. And they used to have this segment, which I loved, called Everybody’s Got a Story. And they would, they would take a, a dart and they would throw it at a map of the United States, and they would go and they would look at it and see where it landed.

They would drive their entire crew to that small town, and it was back in the day. So they’d go to a phone booth, they’d flip open the, the phone book, and they would just randomly flip to a page, drop their finger, and go and tell that person’s story. And this one particular day, they show up at this, this farm, and it’s a really meager farm.

And what they found was the person whose story they were gonna tell was a 24 ish year old girl. And she lived on the farm with her mom and her dad. And they had nothing in terms of means they were quite humble in terms of their socioeconomical position. And so as you can imagine, the door opens and it’s the Oprah Winfrey crew.

And and the girl says, well, I don’t have a story. So they start peeling back the layers and she shares how she’s there with her mom and her dad. And she like, just has such reverence for her parents. And she says, you know, they get up at the crack of dawn and they work all day. And then she recounts this, this particular day where her mom was out in the field and, you know, her hands were bleeding and calloused and she had to get to the bank for whatever reason, cuz she had to deposit this meager check. And so this girl decides to go to the bank and, and all the while she’s, you know, telling the crew, the Oprah crew, how her parents are the hardest working people, and they’re the first people to help out at a bake sale and, you know, to sit at the foot of the dying or to help a neighbor. And so she goes to the bank with her mom, and her mom is going back in the fields later that day. So she’s, you know, a bit dirty and, and she’s standing in line and the person behind them is wearing this beautiful suit and she watches her mom’s posture shrink.

And she watches her mom’s dirty hands wrapped around this meager check, and she watches her mom slump and she sees the man behind her in a suit kind of look her up and down, and she just watches the shame on her mom’s face. And she says, and then I realized that is actually what a hero looks like. And then she went on this, this tyrant about how beautiful her parents was and what they meant to her.

But the pivotal moment in that story was just a woman standing in the bank who had come off the fields and she was just holding a check. Because story, my definition of story is it’s that snapshot in time. It’s your perspective in that snapshot and what you make it mean, and it is always the meaning that drives the story.

If we were constructing that story, we could have made that story mean a number of things. But what landed on that girl’s heart that day is what that moment meant to her and how she could share that one moment about what is a hero and what really matters. And you know, it’s so easy to judge someone standing in the line at a bank because they’re dirty.

But what you don’t realize is that is the most loyal, devoted human being with the most incredible integrity. And it was just an example that she got to share something so powerful with a moment that sounded exactly like, and then I realized.

Pat Flynn: And then I realized. That is a fantastic, amazing tip. And I imagine that Oprah’s crew crafted that story in a beautiful way with the, you know, the, the music and, and other things to kind of emphasize that, that hero’s journey for, for her mom and, and whatnot, which just takes it to a whole new level and taps into other parts of our, our psychology. You know, we’ve been on my, one of my new newer YouTube channels really diving into storytelling and, and learning about it.

And our recent video that was published actually goes into a story of me just collecting cards. I’m just, I’m just collecting cards and I’m trying to collect a whole set of Pokemon before the end of the event. The meaning behind that was the community coming together to help make it happen. In the end when they, they saw me struggling to a point, we’re in this video about Pokemon, I’m crying at the end cuz I couldn’t believe people would go outta their way.

And then this video becomes the top three trending video in all of YouTube.

Shelli Varela: It’s cause the truth is palpable and when people hear it, they know it. Like people know when you’re crafting a message that you think is just going to sell something, it feels different than when you’re giving your entire self, and, and it’s, it’s almost like we’re wired as human beings to know when people are going all the way there with you.

Pat Flynn: Now, I know that you have really walked the walk when it comes to you learning about storytelling, I mean, you had mentioned that you had gotten coaches and stuff because you knew how powerful this was, yet you didn’t know how to do it exactly. Which is a, a trait that I often find myself in as well.

Just like, I wanna do this. I know this will help a lot of people, but I don’t know how. Let’s go find somebody who does. And I remember meeting you at an event Pete Vargas put on called Adventure Reach. And there he likes to host a, like a little, a little contest, if you will, where speakers come up and they give their three, four minute story.

Which is a very difficult thing to do. It is, in such a short period of time. And I remember, you know Pete had asked me to to judge that, and, and yours and a couple others were so beautifully told that like they’re just hard to forget. And so the fact that you were there, honing in on your skills, getting better, putting yourself on stage, which we know is now not a natural thing for you so that you can get better at this, just, you know, shows how much you know, this story helps people and it’s again, not about you, but those who you make an impact, but also feels like it’s also therapeutic for you to talk about. And maybe if you could correct me if I’m wrong, but by telling your story again and again, it perhaps reminds you about where you came from and, and the impact, you know, you can have on others at the same time by just, because sometimes we live in our own bubble or, or, or we can’t read the label when, when we’re inside the bottle and we get so busy we forget where we came from or we forget the why. But like does you getting on stage and being a professional speaker now, does that, does that help remind you of all those things and just keep kind of accelerating you forward?

Shelli Varela: Absolutely. I think anybody can speak is a storyteller, and whether you’re on an actual stage or you’re just sharing with your kids or with a classroom or you know, with somebody you meet in line at the grocery store, I think we are all storytellers. And I think when we share, when we share our story, and I don’t wanna keep saying vulnerably because you know, sometimes stories are funny or sometimes stories, you know, have a different point, but it heals the storyteller.

And when you’re able to do that, you can coach people differently. You can respond to people differently because once you, you know, lifted up some of the stones on your own story you have and developed this innate ability to get other people unstuck. To see, you know, that something might be showing up as procrastination might be fear or unworthiness.

It might have the, you know, you ha give you the ability to have the insight to, to see what is the story beneath the story. Because when you, when you do the work on your own story, It really is like rocket fuel and helping people to reach their potential. So many times we will hear a story and it’s like, oh, and it, and it almost, you almost feel that effervescent sense of hope, but not just hope.

Hope for yourself. And, you know, I’ll share with you the, this other real quick story. I I do a lot of work with, with girls and women and I ended up hosting and, and founding this junior female firefighter bootcamp. And it was 20 girls age, 15 to 19, and we were just exposing them to firefighting. And from my perspective, also possibility. And I’ll, I’ll never forget, there was this one girl named Cassandra, and she was tinier than me.

I’m five two. She was like, small girl and a, and a lot of the girls were there taking selfies and they were, you know, cutting apart cars and hanging off buildings and putting out fires and, and all of the kind of that stuff. And she would always stand at the back and she’d have her hands behind her back.

And she would come up at the end and she would thank the instructors and she was so respectful. And I remember on the last day, it was a week long program. We would have this open house and we would have the girls bring all of their parents and their families and they, they would get to watch these young girls run an actual fire call.

And it was so exciting. Like it was just to watch where they, where they are when they come in the door and they’re nervous and they don’t know each other to, at the end of the, the week they’re just ballers and they’re just calling out orders and, and watch them grow in that way. And this one girl, Cassandra, her mom came up to me at the end of it and she goes, you know, thank you so much for putting this on.

Like, what an incredible opportunity for these girls, and particularly for my daughter to be able to be exposed to something like this. You know, it’s just such a shame that she won’t get to, you know, she’s not gonna be able to be a firefighter. And my jaw dropped and I said, what are you talking about?

And she says, well, you know, like she’s, you know, really small and you, and, and, and it would’ve been powerful if it was any of the girls, but that particular girl, you would’ve picked her out in the crowd and said, I’d have her on my crew tomorrow. And I said, have her call me. And so I gave the mom my phone number and this, this young girl, she’s 19 at the time, she calls me and she says, can I take you for coffee?

And I said, what would I tell you? Or, well, how, what would you say if I told you that your success is inevitable? That I can guarantee you 1000% that if you wanna be a firefighter and if you’re willing to get your teeth kicked in, and if you’re willing to do everything, I tell you that you absolutely will become a firefighter.

And she says, I’m in. So I said, okay. So I gave her some instructions and I’m like, here’s what I want you to do. Come back in a year. If you’ve done all of the things I’ve asked you to do, you’re welcome to come back again. So a year later she got in all her schooling and she comes back and, and she says, okay, now what?

And then I said, okay, if you land an interview, you’re tiny and you’re a woman and you’re gonna walk in the door, and while unfair, they are going to think you are not capable unless you prove you are. So now I need you to do the roughest, gruff, you know, most physically grueling trade you can, you can come up with, so she flew across the country and she began a, a, like a, a parachuting woodland volunteer firefighter.

She comes back a year later and she says, I, I landed an interview. So I coach her on the interview and she ends up getting the job two years later. And the point of that story is if you trace the route back, because her story also is not about firefighting. If you trace the route all the way back, there is that moment where she didn’t believe she could.

And I assured her that if she wanted this, she could absolutely unequivocally have it. And it was that switch. It was that belief. And it, if you can take somebody through the process of believe, belong, become, because I told her, you and anybody else can become anything that you’re currently not. If you believe you will, it’s kinda like if you were to say to somebody, Hey, listen, if I would guarantee you that in three years you will have $5,000 or 5 million rather, but you have to do, you know, 15 grueling ridiculously hard things, but I will guarantee you 5 million at the end of it. You would act as if your success is inevitable, but it’s because you’re able to switch on that belief and when you can get underneath a story like she didn’t believe it was possible for her. But as soon as we were able to switch that on, it’s almost like finding that first domino and then all of the other dominoes fall.

And she did get her teeth kicked in and she did, you know, work super hard and it, and it wasn’t easy. But having even her phone call and, and she left me a voice message and she was in tears and she was like, Shelli, we did it. We did it. And I’m like, I told you, I told you like there’s so much magic in potential in people and if we can just pour gasoline on that fire, people would be shocked at what is possible for them.

Pat Flynn: I’m imagining her telling her story and the point at which she goes and then I realized, which was when, yes, she had that first phone call with you and wow.

Shelli Varela: That’s what we do for our, for our clients. You know, like when we’re able to share something that allows themselves to see in our themselves, in our story, and they’re like, I’m with Pat, or I’m with Shelli.

Like I will follow him anywhere. And that is a responsibility. And it’s also such a huge gift because when you can build truth in somebody, you can allow them to trust themselves. And that’s actually what’s creating the transformation for them, is just that belief. Like I know, like I know, like I know it.

Pat Flynn: Well, thank you so much Shelli for this. This was a beautiful, like I, I was just sitting here listening and I’m sure the audience was as well. So wherever you’re at, I hope you enjoyed this. Shelli and her work is available in many different places. You can go check out her Ted talk obviously, and we’ll link to all these things in the show notes as well.

I know you have the children’s book. Do you have, have you written any other books since we’ve chatted and cuz now you’re a coach and you’ve have gained this superpower. Storytelling are, are you an author and in that sense as well.

Shelli Varela: I’m actually working on my book right now. Working title is Why Not Me?

Pat Flynn: Perfect. And then you said you also coach. Where might people go to learn more about that from you?

Shelli Varela: Yeah, so I coach people on delivering an unforgettable message, but also I coach the human who has to be in the spotlight to deliver that message. People can DM me on Instagram. It’s @ShelliVarela. I’m at, but for all the Smart Passive Income listeners, I have some really juicy tidbit training

Pat Flynn:

And you said Instagram for DM if they wanna reach out to you.

Shelli Varela: Yep. Anybody’s welcome to send me a DM if they if they wanna hop on a call or if they have any questions about their story or their potential and possibility and how to access the the underbelly of that, that is waiting to be discover.

Pat Flynn: Again, that’s @ShelliVarela, and you can connect with her there. Shelley, thank you so much for this. It was such a pleasure to catch up with you again. I know it’s been a while. For, for the two of us, we need to just have a coffee together and, and catch up on both sides, but you have unlocked an incredible power to influence in such a positive way, the entire world, and especially little girls out there. And so, you know, my daughter and my family and I were very struck by your book and your, your writing there. And I’m glad to see that you’re amplifying that message even more in different kinds of ways to different kinds of people.

So thank you so much.

Shelli Varela: Thank you buddy. So appreciate it, my sweet friend.

Pat Flynn: All right. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Shelli. Isn’t she just amazing? And her storytelling is beautiful, and like I said, I’ve seen her progress over time. I was once, like I said, judging speak off, if you will. And she was one of the contestants and one of the ones that really stood out to me.

And to see now where she’s gone several years later and, and, and just the impact she’s making is just absolutely incredible. So I’m, I’m very grateful for her. Again, is where you can go to check out some of the goodies that she just promised for us, as well as @ShelliVarela on Instagram.

And I highly recommend you check her out and learn from her cuz she’s, she’s got it. And we’ll put all the links in the show notes and such, the children’s book and her Ted Talk and, and whatnot. And I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. I just sat there and listened. I didn’t even have to ask questions.

She’s just a master. So Shelli, thank you so much. I appreciate you and looking forward to seeing you on bigger and, and more stages. Even though I know it scares you a little bit and I can definitely connect with you on that level for sure, cuz it’s something that I was definitely afraid of as well and still am, but still continue to do because I know that’s how it’s gonna impact the most people.

And I hope, and I just wanna encourage all of you who are listening to do just the same. Your story matters no matter how big and small it might be, because there are people in this world who wanna hear it from you. So thank you so much. I appreciate you. And I look forward to surfing you in the next episode of the Smart Passive Income Podcast.

I, I’ll probably tell a story this Friday actually, so make sure to follow through and hit that subscribe button because on Fridays it’s usually a solo episode with me and I tell a story and, and some lessons based on often the interviews that were had in the same week. And so I got a story to share with you.

I know I already know which story I’m gonna share with you. And so hit subscribe so you don’t miss it. Cheers. Take care. And as always, Team Flynn for the win.

Thank you so much for listening to the Smart Passive Income podcast at I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Our senior producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media, and a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network. Catch you next week!

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