Once again, I find myself turning in a new direction based on a new season in my life. After 25 years of going up and down and back and forth on aeroplanes all over the world, I have now put away my suitcase. I’ve unpacked my travel backpack and retired from the routine of airports and shuttle buses.
My business of online storytelling and keynote coaching and consulting will continue, but I’m retired from the road.
There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be at the front of the room. From the time I started acting at 19 until I became a professional speaker and storyteller at 46, my quest was to be onstage at the front of the room. I auditioned for movies, plays and TV shows. I interviewed for keynotes and training gigs and did plenty of those.
I was applauded and celebrated. My words and stories touched people. I experienced the highs and lows of wonderful events and not so wonderful events. From Las Vegas to London, from Milwaukee to Malaysia, and from Chicago to Costa Rica, I got to see the world, and my clients footed the bill.
There came a point, however, when I felt tired and irritated every time I left the house at 4:45 a.m to drive to the airport. Standing in line to board the plane and waiting among a crush of people to exit the plane was no longer an inconvenient means to a joyous moment in front of an audience. It was just a drag.
Learning to let go and move on
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is how to let go, to cast away. In 1972, I let go of my hometown of Chicago and hitchhiked to Hollywood to pursue my dream of becoming an actor. In 1985, I chose to let go of my acting dream because it had become a nightmare. I relocated to Colorado Springs and began a new chapter of my life as a realtor. In 1999, I let go of the security blanket of real estate income and became a full-time professional speaker.
And now, in 2021, I have chosen to let go again. With each end is a new beginning. With each beginning, is a new chapter of the book of my life. Each of these chapters is filled with amazing stories. There are more stories to live. More moments to cherish.
It began in fifth grade
My desire to stand at the front of the room began in elementary school when I was 10 years old. One day in class, Miss Kornet announced that tomorrow we would be holding auditions for the Christopher Columbus play. Something in me knew what I had to do.
The next morning, I came into class before anyone else and sat in the first seat in the front row. I wanted to be the first person to audition. That was not my regular seat, but I wanted to go first so everyone else would have to try and be better than me.
I got cast as Christopher Columbus. That was it! That’s where it all started. Something in me understood that my place in the world was at the front of the room, any room, anywhere, doing anything. It felt like my natural expression, my role in life, my destiny.
My dream evolved and became to make people laugh, to make them feel good the way I felt when I watched a good movie. Twenty-five years and hundreds of auditions and performances later, I was a 35-year-old, miserable shell of the young man who started with so many lofty dreams and aspirations.
At that time, I was making a living in Los Angeles doing carpentry, not acting. I had given 16 years of my life to acting and I had next to nothing substantial to show for it, except anger and resentment. What I thought I knew about my role in life, starting at ten years of age, was wrong.
I knew something drastic needed to change. My friends were worried about me. I was in a dark place and felt that my soul was in danger. I needed to get out. But how? How do you let go when you’ve invested years of your life believing in something, giving everything you had to that effort, that job, that relationship?
The perfect plan for change
It was in 1971 that I decided to leave Chicago and move to L.A. where the action was. I came up with a plan that required that I save $1,000 and pay off my car.
A year after I set that plan in motion, I hadn’t saved any money and hadn’t paid off my car. I kept putting off leaving until everything was perfect. I wanted to do it right.
One night, after acting class, my friend Susan and I were having a midnight breakfast. I had shared my plan with her to save money and pay off my car so I could move to L.A.
She said to me, “Doug, it’s been over a year since you said you wanted to move to L.A. Why are you still here? What’s stopping you from going?”
When I started babbling about my perfect plan to save money and pay off my car, she held up her hand and said, “I know all about your plan. But what if the perfect time and the perfect circumstances never happen? Are you still going to be here a year from now, making the same excuses?”
“No, of course not. I’ll be gone by then.” I didn’t know what else to say. She had me cornered.
“Here’s what you need to do,” she said. “Pick a date.”
“What does that mean?” I replied, “Pick a date? What date?”
She told me how her mother had given her that advice many years ago and that it worked because it created urgency. Based on her experience, when she committed to acting on her commitment by a specific date, all sorts of things started falling into place.
“Pick a date a couple of months from now, and on that date, you will leave Chicago. Trust me, somehow, someway you’ll find a way to leave.”
She was right. I set the date of September 15, 1972, and on that day, I stuck out my thumb at a freeway entrance ramp and hitchhiked to L.A. I had $200 bucks in my pocket and a duffle bag full of clothes. By picking a date, I was able to let go of Chicago and six days later, I was in L.A. It wasn’t perfect, but I got there. Change is seldom smooth and perfect.
Pick a date
The secret formula for letting go and making a change, no matter how hard or painful it’s going to be, is to pick a date. Make a commitment to yourself that you’re not going to keep waiting for the perfect time or the perfect circumstances. On the date you pick, you let go and move on.
So, when I was miserable in L.A., I picked the date of October 15, 1985. On that date, I packed my dog and my stuff into my Chevy Suburban and drove east with no specific destination in mind.
Since then, I’ve used the power of picking a date in many situations: I picked a date when I wanted to quit real estate, when I needed to break off a toxic relationship, and when I wanted to change my diet.
To retire from speaking on the road, I had to pick a date. This time, it was July 23, 2021. On July 23 at noon, I completed a three-day storytelling workshop for a client in Wisconsin and started my retirement from the road. On the way home, I was delighted in realizing that my next trip to the airport would be for pleasure, not work!
Is it the right time to change? Just pick a date
Is there a change you need to make? Have you been putting it off because it’s not the right time, the right circumstance? Do you think it will be the right time six months from now; a year from now?
Change is hard and often disruptive and painful. No matter what date you choose, it may still be disruptive and painful. But if you pick a date, it will get done.
With love and respect,
Note: The above is adapted from an email I received from Doug. Doug taught me story-telling and I owe him my success as a corporate trainer. Thanks, Doug, and happy retirement from the road.