Be a Sponge: No Mentor, No Hope? | Darren LaCroix

Be a Sponge: No Mentor, No Hope?

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

Have you ever felt all was completely lost? It would break your heart, but you had to admit the naysayers were right? To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Yes, I surrounded myself with motivational quotes, posters and audio programs.

It was the mid 1990s, I was a telemarketer with a big dream and I had grit. My grit came from hope, inspiration and a deep belief that you truly could accomplish whatever you set your mind to. I still had school loans and was paying down my business failure debt as fast as I could with my humble income. I was on my scrappy path doing anything and everything I could to become a comedian. When a mentor, a hero, someone I thought was a brother, got me to leverage thousands of dollars on my credit and help him out of his bind. With all he had done for me, combined with Catholic guilt, I couldn’t say no. He promised to pay me back, but never did.

I was whipped. I felt no hope. He would not even return my calls. How could he do this to me? Was his encouragement just lies all along setting me up for this fall? I didn’t know.

The poster over my bed said, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Well, if it is up to me and my mentor abandoned me, then it just isn’t going to happen. Dream crushed. Game over. Peace out.

I had a few opening act comedy gig bookings on my calendar over the next month to perform. I’m sure they could’ve easily gotten a replacement, but I wanted to honor my word. I felt like I had to do those gigs because it was all I had left to my dignity. My word.

One of those nights, I was at Laugh Lines Comedy Club in Framingham, Massachusetts. I was opening up for one of my favorite teachers I met at a comedy class I took when I just started, Dave Fitzgerald. I hadn’t seen Dave in a long time. He had become a Boston Headliner, been on Caroline’s Comedy Hour and had moved to California to achieve his next level of success. He was cast in a movie with Donnie Wahlberg titled, Southie. He played a small role as an Irish Mob Godfather. He was in Hollywood auditioning and going to lots of parties to get discovered by casting directors. I heard through the Boston comedy grapevine that he and his gravelly voice were up for a role in a new film, Casper. It was a new animated film based on the cartoon. I was excited to see him and hear some stories from his adventures and success in Hollywood. Dave still had a house in Massachusetts and an apartment in California. He would come back to Boston to Headline for a few weeks and then head back to audition for movies.

As the audience members started to slowly file in and grab their seats was when I saw Dave. I lit up. “Hey Dave! Great to see you,” I said. He was pleasant and seemed glad to get my greeting, but he wasn’t himself. He seemed preoccupied.  Something was up. I thought Mr. Hollywood would be happier with all that was happening. Dave could tell that I could tell that something was wrong. “How’s it going in California?”

As he began to speak and open up, I could tell he needed to vent. He started with what was frustrating him. Then he started to rant, “I hate it in California! My agent is just sending me to Hollywood parties to be the class clown. It’s ridiculous!” I could tell by his tone that he was beyond fed up and did not like the process they were putting him through to get him discovered. Then he said something that struck a deep chord with me. He said, “I’ve had enough. I want to go back to what I was doing, speaking to support groups where I was actually helping people!”

A crazy thing happened to me at this moment. I was consumed with this amazing energy and enthusiasm. If you are a believer, the best way to describe it to you would be the Holy Spirit took over. I stood up and got in Dave’s face and said, “You need to be a motivational speaker! That is what you are describing, but companies would pay to hear your wisdom delivered through your natural gift, humor. You were born to do that! Tomorrow morning, Alan Weiss, Ph.D. is speaking at the National Speakers Association, he’s brilliant. You have to be there, meet this group and see Alan speak! You have to be there!”

Honestly it was like an out of body experience to me. I didn’t believe what I was saying and how passionately I was saying it. Quiet conservative me? Talking to a headliner comedian like that? I didn’t know much about the speaking world at that point, I was a sponge there too, but I did know Dave belonged there. I knew the people in NSA could help Dave transition quickly into being a professional speaker. I also knew Alan and Dave operated at the highest levels and their respective crafts. Somehow I knew they would connect in a special way. I can’t say why, I just knew.

Please understand that in the comedy world an opening act wannabe like me then, doesn’t talk that way to a headliner. Dave got quiet for a moment. I’m not sure if he was taken back by how adamant I was or thinking about what I was suggesting to him. My message seemed to be delivered on point.

The next morning Dave showed up at the speakers meeting. I delightfully introduced him to all of the players in the organization. I made sure they understood his experience, skills and notoriety. He sat and listened to Alan. He too could see his brilliance. Dave and Alan became fast friends and Dave joined the Speakers association.

Wow. It was so cool to give back to one of my teachers. I felt like I had purpose again, but a different purpose. Sometimes when we are just getting started we forget that we do have areas of our lives where we know more than others. Though we may come into a new area or industry, we bring with us experience from other parts of our lives. Though in the speaking world I was a wannabe, I was still able to guide Dave to the people who I knew were the players. Those leaders in that organization could also easily see that Dave had incredible talent, experience, and achievements in the comedy world that would catapult him to the professional level almost immediately in the speaking world. Part of it was that they could also see Dave’s heart to help people.

Dave and I quickly became very close friends. My hope was restored. When we help others, it brings our own hope back. I did not feel alone anymore. I felt the way it transpired was like God encouraging me and telling me this was part of my journey, and I was taken low, and maybe there was a new path I didn’t know existed that I was supposed to take. It was a renewed journey. I also realized that my new mentor had a different presence about him. I put my previous mentor on a pedestal and made him an idol which was my mistake. I looked up to Dave, but I also felt he respected my tenacity and me as a person. My trust level with Dave ran deep.

What are some lessons I learned?

  • There will be moments when all seems lost, it’s part of anyone’s journey, but for the big dreamers it is more common. We need to keep going.
  • Keep your word. At times it may be all you have. Keep it, even when there seems no good reason to. It’s your word.
  • Being the big dreamer may at times require us to tap into all of our life’s experience in all areas.
  • Even mentors need help and guidance.
  • You don’t have to be a hero to inspire a hero.

What do you take from this?

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