Home » What a 15-Year-Old Meth Addict Taught Me About Leadership: Brian Fretwell (Transcript)

What a 15-Year-Old Meth Addict Taught Me About Leadership: Brian Fretwell (Transcript)

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Brian Fretwell

Full transcript of author and consultant Brian Fretwell’s TEDx Talk: What a 15-Year-Old Meth Addict Taught Me About Leadership at TEDxBoise conference. This event occurred on May 5, 2018. Mr. Fretwell is a speaker, consultant and founder of Why We Win.

Notable quote from this talk:

“But most of us, and certainly me at the time, we stop asking way too soon. See, we stop asking questions when it becomes uncomfortable. We stop asking questions when we get a little bit of a pushback.”


Brian Fretwell – Leadership Educator

When I was 22 years old, I took a job in the chemical addictions unit of the juvenile corrections facility. I was a teacher.

My students had various criminal backgrounds, often drug addicts, drug dealers, and gang members.

Now, I knew this job would be a challenge. Matter of fact, that’s why I took it.

See, like many of you, I wanted to make a difference in my community. I saw an opportunity to lead these kids to a better life.

And for the first few months, that’s exactly what it felt like I was doing, like, they were listening to me. They were interested in what I had to say. They were progressing through their programs. They were getting out.

Until I met Nathan.

Nathan was a 15-year-old methamphetamine addict. You could see the life he had lived through the gang tattoos, the scars from fights before, his emaciated body and issues with his teeth from the meth. Was the first kid I’d seen like this.

But there was something unique about Nathan. Nathan was one of the most honest kids I’d ever met. He had this, like, incessant capacity to always tell you the truth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, he tried to lie a few times. But all you had to do was stare at him for just a couple of seconds, and he’d spill his guts about whatever it is he was trying to hide. It made him super easy to work with, but also made him real easy to like.

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Now, for most of these kids, part of their program, when they get to this certain point, they have to come up with a plan for what they’re going to do when they leave juvenile corrections.

And as you can imagine, this was a pretty simple process. I mean, they knew what we wanted them to say, they knew what they were supposed to do. All they had to do was write it down and say it out loud.

Only, when we asked Nathan what his plan was, he looked me right in the eye and said, “Mr Fretwell, when I get back in the community, I’m going to continue using meth.” He hadn’t even tried to come up with a plan.

And as I told you, I liked Nathan, so this was frustrating, and so I went to hard work for the next two or three weeks of trying to convince him, like charts and graphs, and showing him all of this, like telling him, like, you know that you have family members that are dead or in jail from this.

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