I was seriously spiraling out. My wife left me. My friends were telling me I had to stop everthing.
But I didn’t care.
I was chasing the next big thing. More fame. More fortune.
And it destroyed my life.
How’d I get there?
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a performer. I always thought that would be the coolest job on the planet. Get paid to have fun with people? Sign me up! Hell, it got me on the front page of the Sunday full color edition of the local newspaper.
On the advice of my parents I still attended college and got a degree in fine art. While there, I met a magician who came to campus to put on his show. It was a great time, and I stuck around after the autograph line to talk shop. We hit things off, and kept in touch for years after.
I also met a wonderful woman while on a summer internship, and we got married right out of college.
We were living in Orlando, and my first job was at a magic shop at Universal Studios. I made remarkably good money selling tricks to tourists from all over the world. It was a phenomenal introduction to the power of an effective sales pitch.
After a couple years of that the magician I met back in college asked me if I wanted to be his tour manager for the upcoming year of shows.
It was awful pay, but great experience.
I jumped at the chance.
I learned everything about how the business of running a show worked, how to schmooze clients, how to work an autograph line, and everything else by watching the guy I was working with. I’d ask him everything I could think about , and he answered everything.
I was learning everything I always wanted, but it was not easy.
It was a great time, but it meant being on the road 280 days out of the year. Two thirds of the year meant I was away from my wife. She understandably was upset, and it seemed like every time I got home the couple days I had before the next trip was spent arguing about how much time she was spending by herself.
It felt like I had to choose between the dream I wanted and the life I had.
I felt guilty for not wanting to come home where there were “real” problems. When I was on tour, all that “stuff” was far away.
The Highway To Hell (And I Must Go Faster).
So I went all in on the rockstar path thinking this is how I’m going to make it all better.
I escaped into being on the road as much as possible.
By now I had started performing my own show at colleges all over the country. I’d take any opportunity, even if it didn’t pay much. When you have to pay for your own plane ticket, hotels, rental car, and gas it means that sometimes you paid more to get to the show than the payday was worth.
But it was worth it because I didn’t need to face the problems at home.
Plus, on the road, there are many opportunities to give into temptation.
Being a rockstar means you do rockstar things, right?
So I pushed the big red self destruct button.
Destroyed my marriage with a couple bad nights and bad choices.
I told her about the affairs.
We get divorced.
I move out into a tiny apartment nowhere near as nice as the place I had been living in.
The opportunities that cost more than they were worth meant they ate through what little money I was making.
My car got repossessed. Twice. In the same year.
On social media it looked like I was having the time of my life. I was traveling the country. Lots of cool venues. Fun stories and adventures.
But I was in a tailspin.
I even decided to move halfway across the country to start over, thinking that would fix things.
Nope. I spent another couple years making it worse.
There’s a time where I was technically living out of my car, but it’s a lot easier to make it sound cool when you’re “on tour.”
On the other hand, one of the perks of being a touring entertainer is that you quickly build a network of friends all across the country who will let you crash on their couch.
One of those friends helped me turn my life around.
My Own Personal Life Wizard
He and I had known each other for about five years by this point, and he always seemed to have his act together. He was a full time performer, himself. Worked high dollar events for paydays with one or two commas on the check. Great clients. Nice house. Solid home life with kids and a wife. Reliable cars in the garage.
Any time I stayed at his place I usually put on a good front talking about how everything was fine, but this time he could tell it really wasn’t. He saw right through the rockstar front.
So I got honest with him.
For the first time in years I was honest with myself.
And that was a tough conversation with someone I looked up to.
Ever feel that warm wave of embarrassment start at the pit of your stomach and radiate through your whole body, but somehow your hands are still cold and clammy? Not even realizing your hands are balled up in fists as you try not to break down?
Yeah. That kind of talk.
And he got real with me.
“Your problem is that you’re trying to be the rockstar and it’s destroying your life. It happens in your show. ‘Look what I can do that you can’t!’ That’s not fun to watch. It’s alienating. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a great entertainer. You have skill. You’re great at what you do, but you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. You have to figure out how to stop making it all about you. That’s the only way you’re going to get out of this.”
What did he mean ‘stop making it all about me?’ It IS all about me!
I knew what he meant at an intellectual level, but I still didn’t “get it” at the time.
The next day I had a long drive and I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said.
How was I supposed to stop making it all about me?
Then I started thinking through the show. What was I trying to say with it? What were the routines I had chosen?
It dawned on me. He was right. The whole thing was one thing after another ‘proving’ that I was ‘so great.’
Then I started thinking about why I was even doing the show in the first place. It was to make me feel like the center of attention. Then I thought about my agent who ‘wasn’t booking me enough!’
Me, me, me, all the way down.
My buddy was right. I had been incredibly selfish. I had taken everything from everyone because I thought I deserved it. And what did I give them in return? Hardly a thank you.
Not an easy realization to take.
So, I asked myself: If it wasn’t all about me, what would that look like?
And I started where I was most comfortable; with my show.
If I’m not the star, who is?
And if the audience is the star, what does that look like?
That means I should rework every single demonstration I did to make my volunteers look like they’re the one making all the “magic” happen.
That was the strategy: figure out how to use all the tips, tricks, skills, and techniques at my disposal to make my audience members look like a million bucks.
The routines that might be embarrassing? Cut out. The ‘witty banter’ that was funny, but at their expense? Cut.
After the process there wasn’t a lot left of the original show to be honest.
Over the next few weeks I built a completely new show from scratch. New demonstrations. New script. New everything.
And I wasn’t too sure about it. It was strange. It was uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right.
But I figured that what had felt right is what had gotten me to rock bottom in the first place.
So I decided to give it a couple trial runs at a run of community college gigs coming up.
And it was phenomenal.
Got my first standing ovation in years. I sold out of all the t-shirts I had on hand. My autograph line literally was longer than the show was. Everyone was so enthusiastic and excited to share their story. They asked all sorts of great questions, and we had big group discussions about life and what’s possible.
I was stunned.
And it happened at the next show.
And the next.
Complete 180 from how things were previously.
It looked like I was on the right track, but I had no clue how deep the rabbit hole went.
A year or two goes by. Things are improving.
I start getting emails from those college kids.
“I don’t know if you remember me or not, but you took the time to talk with me after one of your shows and it completely transformed my life. After our talk, I made some big changes, and I couldn’t be happier. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for taking the time after your show. It means the world to me.”
And that’s when the second wave hit me: This is way bigger than just a show.
Helping people forget their problems for an hour is an honorable profession. But what if I could help more people solve those problems permanently?
I realized that the same psychological techniques that work on stage, also work off stage, too. They’re exactly what had been working for me to get my career started, but somewhere along the line I had gotten focused on how I could make it all about me me me. But the instant I focused on using those strategies to help other people on & off stage, my whole life transformed.
The Fractal Grows Bigger Across Multiple Dimensions
My clients were even more impressed with the show. The testimonials started going through the roof. That meant I started getting booked more. With more shows I had more money. Then I started talking about what it means to make your audience the ‘star of the show’ to civic groups, then business associations.
Before long I was talking to the senior executives of BP, United Airlines, and other global companies about the power of focusing on their audience.
Then I started being invited to train sales & engineering teams on how to use these psychological techniques to empower their clients to solve bigger problems.
I started working with individual clients walking them through my strategies. One early client was homeless. Living out of his car like I had been years before. Within six months he was on his feet with a great job and putting his life back together.
Then I realized I was making more money than I had been while touring. Also got a solid girlfriend who eventually became my wife, recently.
I still do the performing, but I make more money teaching people these frameworks online. That meant I was perfectly positioned for 2020 when all my in-person events evaporated, and everything pivoted to digital-first.
Now I love my life. I enjoy being home. Have meaningful work that gives me a sense of purpose that chasing the rockstar life never gave me. I’ve been able to let go of the belief that I need to be the star of the show, and counterintuitively I’ve gotten everything I thought that would give me, and more.
So if you’re stuck in the middle of a downward spiral, I’m here to tell you that it can get better. You just need to change a few simple beliefs you have that have powerful effects on yourself, your personal relationships, and your professional ones too.
That’s what I’m on this planet to do: build a tribe of people who are ready to get everything they’ve ever wanted without having to destroy everything they have.