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Kip Kreiling holding book jacket of The Imposter

The Smoking Poet Nonfiction Author Interview—Kip Kreiling, The Imposter? How a Juvenile Criminal Succeeded in Business and Life


The Smoking Poet: Welcome to the pages of our literary ezine, Kip. Could you give our readers a synopsis of what your book is about?

Kip Kreiling:  Thank you, Zinta, for the opportunity to have this interaction with The Smoking Poet fans.  My book is about the transformation that has occurred in my life.  I was arrested three times before I was 10 years old, and 11 times before I was 14.  At 13, I was taken out of two schools, a shopping mall, and a bank in handcuffs.  Because of my criminal activity, and the resulting chaos in my life, I moved 34 times from the young age of 11 to the age of 26.  On average, I moved every five months for 15 years, in and out of jails, group homes and street shelters, while my mother and father moved less than four times each. 

Today, I am an executive at the UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest and most respected companies in the United States.  I have also worked for Ford Motor, Hewlett Packard, and Vodafone.  I have provided transformation and business leadership services to over 40 companies in more than 20 industries.  Between my corporate, consulting, educational and speaking engagements, I have had the opportunity to travel to nearly 200 cities in 21 countries on four continents.  The Imposter outlines the principles that completely transformed my life.

The Smoking Poet: Why was it important to you to write this book? What is the message you hope to convey to your readers—and who do you see your readers as being?

Kip Kreiling: I had to write it.  Such an amazing change has occurred in my life that I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  I have simply run into too many people who do not think major change is possible.  Too many people who think they have to accept what their environment has randomly given them.  Too many people who are held captive by destructive habits that control their life.  I have not only kicked one of these nasty habits, I have kicked many of them.  I had to share with others how they can experience major positive changes in their lives as well. 

I wrote the book for anyone who is looking for inspiration to help bring about a positive transformation.  I teach these principles in prison and business environments.  The principles can be used to turn around a business, a family, or your own life.  They are human transformation principles, applicable to everyone who is open to them.  When I wrote the book, I was also thinking about people who simply like reading a personal interest story, people who are quite happy and do not need a major transformation, but enjoy a visceral read.

The Smoking Poet: You have referred to your book as a “transformation memoir.” Could you tell us more about what that means?

Kip Kreiling: I took a risk with the organizational style of the book, by crossing genres.  My primary motive in writing the book was to share what I have learned through my metamorphosis.  However, people learn easiest when they are being entertained, so I wrapped intense experiences from my life around the principles that I was compelled to share.  This was easy for me to do because I either learned the transformation principles through those experiences, or the principles were substantially reinforced by them.  When I finished the book, I ended up with more of a memoir than anything else – a memoir on transformation.  While I took a risk by crossing genres, most of the feedback I am getting indicates that taking that risk paid off. 

Kip and his eldest son, Ashton, at a book signing

The Smoking Poet: Why do you believe you went through what you went through? Is there reason to the madness? Do we suffer in order to learn, or is there another reason or many reasons … or is it just the way that things are?

Kip Kreiling: We are one of the primary authors of the plots in our lives.  We can change the story – our story.  We can change who we are.  At the most fundamental level, free agency means we have the power to shape our lives and the world around us.  Others have the same power.  They shape the world around them.  If we are in their circle of power, they shape our world.  I was not born as a criminal but I became one.  That change was substantially driven by other people in the environment in which I was raised.  Kids are particularly susceptible to the morphing power of others, bad and good.  As I grew older, I became the medium of those negative influences and adversely shaped the lives of others.   We are symbiotic beings.  I believe in a higher power, but I believe that a higher power honors our right to exercise our agency.  If we want that higher power to influence our life, we have to ask for it. 

The Smoking Poet: What do you see as the main reasons a percentage of our younger generation acts out in the manner that you did? What causes did you see in your life?

Kip Kreiling: I teach transformation classes on a volunteer basis in prisons, mainly youth prisons.  No one can do this work for long and not notice a common theme.  Most of these kids come from the same neighborhoods. I am 100 percent convinced that 80 percent of the negative behaviors are a result of our environment.  No one wants to be miserable, but most only know the path they know.  They learned that path in the environment in which they were raised.  I demonstrated some of the most negative behaviors for many years.  That disposition was not in my bones, not in my genes.  How do I know?  I have none of those dispositions today.  I learned better paths and unlearned destructive ones.

Kip with his wife Suzy, daughter Aeowyn,100-yr. old grandmother Jessie

The Smoking Poet: Tell us about that transformative moment, or moments, in your life. Does great change come in one moment of brilliance … or does it tend to come in phases, repeat lessons?

Kip Kreiling: My life was transformed through several miracles, some of which I describe in my book.  Those miracles felt like sudden epiphanies, but they were not.  The transformation process takes time for all of us.  The downside?  If you have developed highly negative habits, it will take time and effort to change them.  The upside?  After you develop highly positive habits, you will not lose them overnight either.  We can’t have it both ways.

The Smoking Poet: Talk to us about the nature of addiction—substance, behavioral …

Kip Kreiling: This is a complicated topic.  It is hard to do it justice in a paragraph, but this is what I have learned.  All addictions are perpetuated by hijacked reward chemicals in our brain.  All addictions push pleasure buttons in our mind.  All addictions require that you push the pleasure buttons more often and for longer periods of time.  In most cases, people are trying to compensate for sources of pain in their life.  Unfortunately, because the pleasure buttons are overused, we lose the ability to experience pleasure through ordinary events, like a sunset.  One of the greatest breakthroughs in neuroscience in the last 50 years is a concept called neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity means that our brains are more like molding clay than concrete.  We can reshape our brain functions through new behaviors and thinking.  We can break the programmed patterns of addiction.

The Smoking Poet: An interesting section in your book tells about you as a young man touring a communist country and getting to know something of a peer who lived behind the Iron Curtain. Tell us about that experience.

Kip Kreiling: By this time in my life, I had learned that our ideas controlled us and that we can change who we are by changing our ideas.  I was fortunate enough to tour East Germany right before the Berlin Wall came down.  Our state-appointed tour guide (who had to be with us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) was also a college student.  Like me, she was a thinker and an idealist. She was also a devout communist who had been taught to despise capitalist exploiters.  We were the first Westerners she had ever met.  She was convinced that the only Westerners who could travel in East Germany for several days were capitalist exploiters. When she first met us, she clearly despised us – you could see it on her face as plain as the noon-day sun.  We were the evil people that her government was created to protect her from.  Over the six days that we were with her, she learned that we were just normal people trying to find happiness.  Her political and world view collapsed before our eyes.  It was frightening to witness. 

We had a particularly poignant experience at the Berlin Wall that included a guard with a machine gun.  Fortunately, the Berlin Wall fell and we were able to meet her six weeks later in Frankfurt – her first trip outside of the Soviet Union.  In six days I saw someone completely change because their ideas changed.

The Smoking Poet: What was the most difficult lesson for you to learn?

Kip Kreiling: The most difficult lesson for me to learn, and to remember, is to let people help me.  I was emotionally abandoned at an early age and learned to rely on myself.  Self reliance is good, but for most of us, our greatest weakness is our greatest strength overplayed.  So it is for me, my self reliance often prevents me from getting help from others, even when I desperately need it, which is often.  Chapter six in my book talks about how I overcame this particular problem, but I still have to work at it.

The Smoking Poet: Now that you are a parent yourself, looking back, what advice can you offer to parents when their child goes astray? What should a parent do and understand about their child?

Kip Kreiling: More than anything people want happiness.  Your children want happiness and they will ultimately follow whoever they believe can help them find it.  Many parents work hard to teach their children what they believe to be correct moral principles and are dismayed when their children violate those principles. 

Look at your own life and ask: Are you happy?  Did the “right” principles you adopted help you find happiness.  If they didn’t, don’t be surprised if your children do not follow you.  This is hard medicine and it requires serious self reflection and honesty.  But, if you cannot be honest with yourself, can you be honest with your children?

The Smoking Poet: And the rest of us, parents or not, as members of a society, what can we do to help nurture our youth? What do you see as being the main problems or obstacles in our current juvenile justice system?

Kip Kreiling: If you want to nurture youth, find happiness and show others the path that leads to it.  Many will follow.  As a whole, our justice system perpetuates and magnifies negative influences.  Many people are incarcerated for relatively minor crimes and become hardened criminals as a result of their incarceration.  Justice is a foundation stone of all moral societies and punishment is often required to inhibit negative behaviors.  However, unfortunately, the system may create more criminals than it heals.  I believe I have a mission to help people who are suffering from this particular social illness.  Most people have too many other challenges or opportunities in their life to invest energy solving this issue.  Many people have been directed to other life missions that are just as needed and as valuable, which is a great thing.  For everyone who reads this, I would only ask that you try to see a “criminal” as the great person they can become versus the people they were. 

The Smoking Poet: Unless we have someone we care about in the prison system, most of us, frankly, don’t give a cigar. Why should we care? What would you like people to understand about those in prison? Is rehabilitation possible—at any age?

Kip Kreiling: I worked hard to make my book relevant to the general population.  In fact, I have been surprised to find that the people who appreciate my book the most are people who have reached high levels of success.  The principles in my book seem to give them the words that describe how they succeeded.  Even if you do not care about people in prison, you may find that my book is helpful for you, or for the non-criminals in your life, who are trying to find their best self.  Rehabilitation is possible at any age for all of us!

The Smoking Poet: Where can our readers learn more about you and your book, Kip? Are you doing any book tours? Working on any more books?

Kip Kreiling: Readers can learn more about my book at and at Amazon.  For those that are interested in the work I do in prisons and other non-profit transformation work, they can learn more at   I have book tours planned in Sacramento in July, Denver in August, and Washington D.C. in September.  I am planning more books but I am currently “enjoying the moment” with this one before I start on others.

The Smoking Poet: Thank you so much, Kip. You have addressed a painful yet extremely vital topic, one that too many would like to push back into the shadows. Problems, and certainly not addictions, never get resolved in the shadows. We commend you for your courage and wish you the best in continuing to live your message and bring it to others.


Read Zinta Reviews on Kip's book.




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