As I drove with my new friend, Shashank, to the Chennai, India, airport, I asked him about his speaking topics. He surprised me when he said, “I teach people to quit.”
What? In the motivational world, we’ve heard so much about never quitting and not listening to naysayers. But teaching people to quit? He had my attention.
Once he explained, it made sense and inspired me to write this article. If I asked you, “What’s your big dream?” — what would you say?
Years ago, when I heard the Brian Tracy quote, “What would you dare to dream, if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” my instant thought was, “I’d be a comedian! Making people laugh and earning a living at it — that would be the ultimate!”
That was in 1992. Today, I feel like I’m living my dream. If you look at my initial goal, however, I literally failed. My dream at that time was to become a comedy club headliner with my own HBO special. Thank God I initially pursed that dream, and thank God I quit chasing it! I had to quit that pursuit to gain the life I have now.
Look closely at my initial thought: “Become a comedian and earn a living at it.” Though I did eventually get paid as a comedian, it wasn’t much and I never came even close to earning a living at it. So, in that respect, we might say I’m a failure. I did, however, pursue it relentlessly. Thank God! Through that effort and following the direction of mentors, I discovered public speaking. Eventually, I realized I loved inspiring people even more than making them laugh.
I still have great friends in the world of comedians — good people and some of the hardest workers I know. When I first met speakers at Toastmasters and in the National Speakers Association (NSA), I thought they were all on drugs: “No one can be that happy and optimistic without medication!” While I was confused at the time, it’s clear now why I had those thoughts.
Comedy took its toll on me — like many, I found a nightclub environment to be negative and caustic. Spending five nights a week in comedy clubs drained me. By contrast, when I met speakers, they inspired me. After the opening session of my first NSA Convention, I walked to the pool to gather my thoughts. I actually broke down and cried. I felt like I had finally found my home. If you know the classic TV program Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it was like finding the Island of Misfit Toys. The people there were not any better than comedians, they were just more like me. I could relate to them.
When I started in the speaking world, I realized that I had the best foundation any new speaker could have. I had lots of stage time in one of the most difficult environments on the planet. I wouldn’t change my path for anything in this world. Because I had relentlessly pursued one dream, I was in a much better place to start pursuing my new one.
In order to pursue this better dream for me, I had to let go of the old one. I’d love to tell you it was instant and clear, but it wasn’t. Though I had clarity that speaking was where I belonged, I tried to do both for several years. When I finally quit the dream of becoming a headliner comedian with my own HBO special, my speaking started to flourish. Life is short and there’s only so much time in the day. I wish I’d quit sooner. It’s hard to imagine where my career would be now and how much faster I could have been a speaking full-time if I’d utilized the power of focus.
I’m glad I quit when I did. Even though it would be scary, do you think you might be glad a couple years from now if you made a courageous change right now?
To clarify, here’s what I’m saying: Pursue your dream relentlessly enough to make daily progress, even if it’s only 17 minutes a day. If you aren’t making progress, please quit your dream. Find one that gets you excited enough that you will make progress.
If I asked you, “What did you do today to make progress towards your dream?” What would you reply? I know that you’re busy (name someone who isn’t.) If you can’t carve out a few minutes a day, at least five days a week, you just aren’t serious. As you may know, I have a ‘man crush’ on Rudy Ruettiger. In my office, I have a movie poster from Rudy. He signed it,
“To Darren, A Doer, A Believer,
A True Champion.”
I’ve can’t recall a mentor ever being impressed with anything I said, only by what I did. The doer part is what makes people a champion, not the trophy. There are many people who ‘do’ and make a difference and never get their trophy. I’m not sure of anyone who ethically got a trophy or achieved a dream without doing. Actually ‘doing’ leads you to experiences that teach you more than any book.
Doing without direction, however, will lead quickly to frustration. There will be enough of that along your journey as it is. If you want to know the right things to do, the best starting point is direction from a credible source in a book or at a seminar. Judy Carter’s book, Stand-up Comedy: the Book, gave me direction for my first dream. Syd Field’s The Screenwriter’s Workbook is giving me direction now on my dream of writing a screenplay.
Many people will tell you to quit. Yes, it’s scary to tell your dream to others. So be careful whom you tell. Make sure you’re quitting for the right reason. Quit to make room in your life for the dream that excites you – that really matters to you. The challenge is usually our own doubt or disbelief in our ability to achieve it.
How do you increase your belief? Great question. Progress and knowledge fuel belief. Stagnation breeds doubt. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“Take your first step in faith.
You don’t have to see the whole staircase,
just take the first step.”
Quit, or take a step. If you want to be a better parent, what will you do today? If you want to be a master storyteller, what will you do today? If you want to be a professional speaker, what will you do today? If you quit, at least you made space for thoughts and ideas that may lead you to a bigger, better dream for you. If you want to build your belief, be brave and take a step today.
Thanks to Shashank for inspiring this article. My HBO special may still come, but I promise you, it will not look anything like my initial dream. My dream now is to inspire millions to move towards their dreams. What can you do to help me? Pass this article on to friends or post it if you like it.
What did I do today? I wrote this article for you.
Will you quit or take a step? Please post your decision in the comments area below!