Writte by Joan Taillon, Raven’s Eye, August 2003
Matt Thorpe is one of those people who demands 110 percent from himself on a regular basis and thrives on it. He’s constantly thinking two or three steps ahead; yet engage him in conversation, and he can make you feel that there is nobody more important to him than the person he’s talking to right now. Thorpe calls his ability to focus intently on just what is being said to him or what is happening at the moment “being in my world”. He says he is committed to building personal excellence every day. He says he wants to help as many people as possible to overcome their barriers to personal and professional excellence too. “Life is what you create,” Thorpe said. He’s a motivational speaker who delivers workshops and training in leadership, team building, consensus building, workplace morale and cross-cultural awareness, and he’ll help organizations find funding. He also facilitates dispute mediation. When the training’s done, he follows up with people to see how they’re getting along, if they want that.
There is an eclectic mix of people who are buying into what Thorpe has to say. Janet Smith is one of them. She is retired, and recently moved to Vancouver from Ottawa. “I worked 30 years in the federal government,” said Smith. “For the last 15 years I was a deputy minister in various departments … Canadian Centre for Management Development; I was the deputy minister for Western diversification, Consumer and Corporate Affairs; associate deputy minister of Transport. I was the executive director of the Royal Commission on Transportation; deputy minister of Privatization.” She has known Thorpe for a year. He’s her “relationship” coach. “He lives with a friend of mine, and he has sort of taken me on as a project … I have coaches for other things in my life, but in terms of relationships, he’s a good one.” Smith says she chose Thorpe “because he’s tough, he’s straightforward, because he doesn’t shy away from issues. You know a lot of times when people see people in distress, they just leave them there — he doesn’t.”
Alvin Kube, who was a regional project officer for Correctional Services Canada when he met Thorpe, has known him since 1993. When Thorpe was working at William Head Institute in Victoria, they talked regularly. The reason Thorpe is successful at what he does, according to Kube, is because of his “sheer willingness to get out on the court and play the game.”
Sally Walker, who owns the company Encourage Youth, which operates an institutional program called Project Turnaraound for young offenders near Barrie, Ont. has known Thorpe seven months. “He did some training for us, and we’ve been working together in terms of bringing some information about young offender correctional programming to some First Nations communities. “He’s always really enthusiastic. He’s always looking for ways of drawing different solutions together. He’s creative in terms of trying to come up with new ways of addressing problems. His mind is always active, and he’s always trying to figure out ways for people to benefit ad to learn and to win. And then he’s very pragmatic … Theory is fine, but let’s see how it applies. And he’s always looking to see how things can work. No excuses – we can always solve this if we try to … He comes with a good idea, and he moves it through.” One thing this man with blood ties to Walpole Island First Nation in Ontario doesn’t do is conduct business on so-called Indian time. Thorpe even sees sleep as an impediment to starting his next day’s project. His waking hours are spent planning, discussing, strategizing, building. He says his Indian name means “tornado.” Yet, Thorpe strives for “balance.” The 43-year-old entrepreneur has been a bodybuilder for 10 years. When he’s not working he reads, attends sweats in Alkali Lake and spends time with his spiritual advisors, and he values the time he spends with his five daughters. If you ask Thorpe what his biggest personal success is, he’ll tell you it is “being able to enroll people in an authentic conversation about who they are.” His biggest challenge is “creating a bigger space for people to be real, to be who they are.” The question Thorpe likes to ask is, “What is your commitment to living an extraordinary life every moment of the day?”
For the past couple of years, Matt Thorpe has been running his company Karma & Associates Inc. out of an office in his home in Vancouver. He also has people picking up messages and laying groundwork for him in Sherwood Park outside of Edmonton, Alta., and in Don Mills, Ont. Before that, he was an Aboriginal liaison officer on contract at four institutions belonging to Correctional Services Canada and a couple of other social service-type organizations, where he’s delivered programs on substance abuse, self-esteem, anger management, cultural awareness, and life skills. He was, and remains, a volunteer speaker and facilitator at schools, young offender centres, men’s groups and Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you’re a Type A personality or you just appreciate personal ambition, you’ll probably like this man. If you’re inclined to take your information in more slowly, you may find him charming, a spell-binding speaker, but quite possibly a little overwhelming. As with any take-charge kind of personality, Thorpe is bound to have ruffled the feathers of a few. A couple of people hinted that some folks might find him a tad “aggressive,” and one man asked why we would want to write about anybody that moves around the country so much, but nobody the Raven’s Eye talked to said Thorpe didn’t get the job done. From what we heard, if Thorpe commits, he follows through.
Tom Callahan, a unit manager at William Head Institution, knows Thorpe from the time Thorpe began volunteering there a few years ago. Later, “I worked really closely with him for about three-odd years after he got the (Aboriginal liaison worker) contract, then he moved on. “I can tell you one thing, for sure, he’s not just talk. If you let him loose on something, boy, look out, ’cause he gets it done. You know the old saying ‘all talk and no action’? That’s not him – he’s all talk and action.” Callahan added, “Another thing that always amazed me with Matt, he always seemed to have an endless pot of resource people … if he needed a little expertise in a certain area, Matt would end up getting hold of somebody in a really short space of time.”
There’s some of the aura of the guru around Thorpe. If you’ve watched Tony Robinson or Wayne Dwyer or some of those other motivational speakers on television, you may note similarities. Thorpe will be the first to tell you that when he decided to move beyond his drinking and bad-actor days, these well-known personalities helped him to change. He read and listened to as many books and tapes as he could get his hands on that were of a “positive” nature. They helped Thorpe leave self-defeating behaviours and the wrong kind of friends behind, he says. That’s not all. “I cleaned up my past through AA,” he admits candidly. Around-the-clock availability and encouragement he got from AA friends are part of the reason Thorpe says he tries to “be there” for others today. “Their support and sponsorship saved my life.”
Over the past dozen years, Thorpe has taken courses to help him meet his goals and to offer a high standard of service to others. Most recently, and one of the markers of which he is most proud, is a Mediation Training Certificate earned in a week-long seminar at Harvard Law School, attended primarily by lawyers and judges. He also has taken courses and seminars related to entrepreneurship, ethics, justice, crosscultural training, critical response training and risk management.
Thorpe has received recognition awards from Correctional Services Canada for volunteerism, leadership and achievement. But he doesn’t have a college diploma or university degree and he has no interest in obtaining either. It’s not his style of learning, he says, although he respects education and enjoys reading and writing. Walker said, “I think he’s got an ideal that he wants to achieve, and I think he’s trying to do it in a way that fits for him.”
Thorpe’s recipe for success is not complicated, but it contains one tough item. When you decide to do something to better your life, Thorpe advises, “Commit to a date.” If you want to change or improve, you just have to start. Make a plan and work the plan. “Read something positive. Write, journal every day, morning and night. Find people who are successful in life. Unlearn what you’ve learned and re-learned.” He also says if you need help, ask for it, and “Find a spiritual program that works for you.”