Justin Ricklefs


What My Ten Year Old and a Tortoise Taught Me About Chasing Dreams

Somewhere along the way, I quit dreaming. Or at least I hid my dreams and buried them down deep. Where they couldn’t scare me. Or inspire me.

But spend five minutes with a child and all bets are off. Dreams are the common currency, imagination is reality.

Our family spent a little over a year in Florida. I’ve said before that it was a tough year, the hardest we’ve gone through as a family.

But dreams were created in the midst of a hard season. And they started with a ten year old and a tortoise.

One Saturday afternoon, my daddy / daughter date that week was with our oldest child, Kamden.

Kamden is thoughtful. Compassionate. Motherly. Kind. Big-hearted.

For our time together, we went on a bike ride. It was a perfect spring afternoon in Florida. A strong breeze, huge clouds, and a big sun.

On our way home, we raced. Without warning, Kamden slammed on her brakes. Leaving her bike in a heap on the ground, she ran back and picked up the smallest turtle we had ever seen.


She asked if she could take it home to show her siblings. Of course she could.

That little turtle got placed in the basket on her bicycle, and as soon as we got home, he became a part of our family.

Everyone rushed to find a box, pick grass, grab rocks, build a habitat.

The kids fed him lettuce, they let him crawl on their legs, they loved him. Spots became his name because of the distinct markings on his shell.

Little did we know that the turtle we thought we found was actually a baby gopher tortoise. An endangered species.

When researching how to care for this little guy, we learned he was a very sensitive type of tortoise. They require the right light, the right food, the right temperature. And if we were caught with him, we could face a fine of up to $10,000.

So as soon as we grew to love him, Spots had to be returned. Brooke and Kamden rode bikes back to the place we had found him.

Through huge alligator tears, Kamden turned him loose. Sent him back into the pine needles and palm trees.

Her friend was gone and her heart was broken.

But remember, kids are dreamers. And almost before her tears were dry, Kamden knew she had to do something to keep his memory alive.

With boldness, she declared that she wanted to be a published author. With a real book. And real illustrations. So other could know about this magical encounter she had with this baby tortoise.

We pacified her requests for a few days as she scribbled out her manuscript. Our response to her dreams was more “yeah yeah, we’ll see” than it was “we’re behind you 100%”.

But with persistence and determination, she finished her work. And presented her book to us.

It was surprisingly beautiful. Clear. Concise. Captivating.

A 40 year old author would have been proud to submit this book, let alone a ten year old. But there was a huge problem.

How in the world were we going to get someone to illustrate, publish and print this? Kamden didn’t want anything less than the best. What Spots deserved she would say.

At the time, I had begun to share thoughts on life and business here on this blog. It was a messy work in progress (still is), but I had read enough about the industry to know that self-publishing is red hot.

So we knew we could get her piece published, but we needed to figure out the money for the illustrations and printing.

Kamden and I began to do a ton of research. We found our illustrator, an old friend of mine from my days at the Chiefs.

Now for the money. It was going to be nearly $5,000 to secure websites, ISBN codes (I had no clue what this was a few months ago), graphic design, and of course printing 750 high-quality board books.

What if we got about $50 from 100 people? Surely we knew enough people that would support this little girl’s dreams.

So we launched a 30 day Kickstarter campaign.

Kamden started alerting Brooke’s Facebook friends and my Instagram followers.

What happened blew us away. We had 102 supporters that supported Kamden’s dream to the tune of $5,315.

Fast forward through many bumps and bruises as we learned the process of book design, self-publishing and overseas printing, and “Spots the Tortoise” is a real book.


In fact, there are 750 of them in our garage.

Through Kamden’s dreams of being a published author, I learned seven core concepts about chasing my own.

1. Community Matters – dreams are meant to be shared, socialized.  In the context of a supportive community, dreams begin to move from hypothetical to potential to oh-my-gosh this is really happening.

2. Be Full of Joy – Our world is full of cynics and critics.  But when joy breaks in, all bets are off.  The first video we posted of Kamden on Facebook to ask friends for help, without our prompting she ended her commentary with “Shine like a star and work your heart out.”  Mic dropped.

3.  Quit Hiding – Dreams are pushed down, shoved aside, dismissed.  Not enough time, not enough money, not enough connections, not enough experience.  But plenty of excuses.  Kamden taught me to quit hiding and start living.  You will be who you were meant to be when you stop hiding.

4 – Start Moving – When we first started rolling, if we would have known everything there was to know about self-publishing a children’s board book, we wouldn’t have started.  It was hard.  Confusing.  Slow.  Although Kamden’s first steps were small, they had a giant impact.  We often complicate our dreams by reading more blogs, doing more research, testing more concepts.  But sometimes we need to start moving and the path begins to clear.

5 – Love Wins – $5,315 for a 10 year old kids book is ridiculous.  Of course those people are happy to begin receiving their book and they’ll certainly read it a time or two.  But that support didn’t pour in because of Kamden’s book.  It poured in because of Kamden.  She loved that tortoise and she loved the people around her.  And they responded with their love.

6 – Selling Isn’t Dirty – Kamden took a few books to school this week.  She donated one to the school library and had sold a few beforehand.  But when her teacher asked about the book, Kamden explained the story to her and said, “they’re only $10, would you like one?”  What a beautiful picture of selling.  Selling doesn’t have to suck.  At its core, it’s a love story.  Connecting a person with a need to a person with a valuable solution.

7 – No Fear – Fear loves isolation.  And that’s where most dreams die.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of someone else’s reaction.  Fear of failure.  There are hundreds, maybe even a thousand or so friends and family on Facebook and Instagram that didn’t support her dream.  So what?  There were 102 that did.  As my friend (he doesn’t know that we’re buddies yet) Jon Acuff says, “Punch fear in the face.”

Kamden has shown me that life wasn’t meant to be lived on the shore.  It was meant for dreaming and deep sea sailing.  Sure it’s windier and wavier, but I’d argue it’s where we are most alive.

What dreams have you kept hidden, buried?

P.S. – As Kamden told her teacher, “they’re only $10, would you like one?”  Visit www.spotsthetortoise.com for your copy, she’ll sign them for you and everything.




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