Building a Career on Helping Others
Story by Ryan Percy
Photography courtesy of MDMotivator
Have you ever felt lost? Felt you had no purpose? Like you are not doing what you were meant to do?
If you said yes to any of those you and Zachery Dereniowski have a lot in common.
Most people who know Zachery see the stardom, a person who has gathered over 11 million followers and subscribers across TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. But his goal was not to become famous, that is just the side effect of him trying to connect with others and make the world a better place in the process.
It started a decade ago, at 18 years old when Zachery failed out of the University of Windsor.
“I always knew I wanted to help people,” Zachery sighs as he dredges up those old memories, “But now I had this new sense of trying to prove people wrong. So, I thought what better way to combine helping people and prove others wrong than to combine them and become a doctor?”
He buckled down, hitting the books harder than ever, diving into studying for six years. This eventually brought him to Melbourne, Australia as part of a student exchange program. He fell in love with Australia and decided to finish medical school there and become a doctor.
“So, January 2020 I started medical school at the University of Sydney,” he says. “Then several weeks in I went through a six year relationship breakup, then two weeks after that I tore my knee and needed surgery so I couldn’t work out or play sports.”
This had happened during the onset of the COVID pandemic, leading to isolation from others, Zachery was left effectively alone with no one to lean on. No friends, no outlet, just his thought forming a dark cloud around him.
“I went for a walk and ended up crying hysterically in the middle of this busy Sydney intersection,” he says, “These busy businesspeople were walking by me and at that moment I felt like air, I was invisible to them.”
It got darker. Thoughts of suicide. But he went and sought help. He got told to start journaling his thoughts to work through it.
“I bought a five-dollar journal and wrote in it,” he says with laughter in his voice, “After a couple days I thought somebody else is gonna feel the same as me. I want to find a friend who’s either experienced in this or better yet is a few steps ahead of me already.”
This led to Zachery making his TikTok account, mdmotivator, and putting out his first video.
After posting it he went about his day of med school but was not prepared for the response he got.
“I come back, and I have like half a million views and thousands of comments,” he says with a stunned expression. “There’s people from eight years old to 80 sharing their stories. I was blown away that people were so open to sharing their stories with a stranger.”
He had found a niche he finally felt he could fill. He made more videos, more content, cataloguing his own experience with mental health through medical school and helping others be open and cope with their own issues.
What this led to was Zachery eventually starting the Mental Health Movement, a production company creating podcasts and branded clothing to help lead philanthropic endeavours and giving money to help support high school and college students.
“I created a formula,” Zach says of starting his business, “vulnerability equals relatability equals empowerment. When we’re vulnerable together we can relate and when we can relate, we can empower others to feel comfortable in their own skin.”
As time went on, he realized he had found a path, but it was quickly branching off from the original root idea of becoming a doctor.
He had to make a decision. “In August of 2021, almost halfway done medical school I called my parents,” he says, “I told them what I was thinking, and we went back and forth and I came home.”
He teamed up with his friend Patrick Glaz and they went filming.
It came from a place of vulnerability, during the pandemic nobody hugged him for two years. So, he went around carrying a sign offering free hugs to anyone regardless of their vaccination status or sitting down with people to just talk about their problems.
This element of getting to know someone and reaching across the perceived aisles in society on various topics to deliver unconditional love struck a chord. The views came in like a tidal wave.
From hugs it eventually led to finding the least fortunate and helping them.
Some of Zach’s detractors might view what he does as a kind of litmus test. He sits down with someone unfortunate, learns their story then asks for a quarter for bus fare. If they give it to him, he hands them back much more in return. But Zach says it is to prove something more important.
“The people who have the least always seem to give the most,” he says with a smile.
Zach’s goal is to take his philanthropy and take it a step further.
“I’m in the process of starting a nonprofit,” he says, “The next step is to take these emotional viral videos of people telling their stories and combine it with a transparent charity so people can donate and see where the money is going to.”
One of his most memorable moments happened just recently in Harlem.
While walking down the street he met a man named Michael, out trying to get enough money just to pay rent. After talking with him for a while and asking for a quarter for bus fare he handed Michael back $500. But he did not stop there.
“I went back and put up a story on Instagram saying if anyone in Harlem wants to help out get back to me. Seven people from the same block he lives on came and met me,” Zach says teary eyed. “All these people, Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, came together to help Michael out. But what’s more important than the money was he and I both made friends from this.”
While the money is certainly a part of helping there is one thing Zach wants others to realize most of all.
“Speaking up is the direction to get out,” he says, “It takes a lot of vulnerable confidence to speak up. But once you do, and you find that support, there’s hope and you can get through whatever you’re going through.”