Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Take It from Me Kid

Jacob grew up in Long Island, NY.  At the age of fifteen, he started writing material for stand-up comedians.  He secretly wanted to perform the material himself, but was too shy.  Five years later, though, he was ready to try, and walked into a comedy club to audition.  He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t very good either.  For nine years, he performed in comedy clubs at night while working a variety of odd jobs during the day.

Jacob’s passion was comedy, but he needed to survive.  Over the years, he worked as an aluminum siding salesman, a circus acrobat, even a singing waiter, and was fired from each of those jobs.  Unfortunately, he was no more successful in comedy.  Frustrated with his lack of success, he quit comedy at the age of twenty-nine.  He later joked that he had been so bad that no one even realized he’d quit.

At the age of forty-five, Jacob returned to comedy.  In reality, he had never given it up, but had simply stopped performing.  During that time, he’d been writing hundreds of jokes to create a character that would help him stand out from all other comedians.  His moment came when a last minute cancellation gave him the chance to perform on the famous Ed Sullivan show.  His act was a hit.  Performing under his show business name, Rodney Dangerfield, he would be invited to perform more than thirty-five times on the Tonight Show, and eventually became known throughout show business as the king of comedy.  Over the span of his career, he helped launch many young comedians to stardom, including Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne Barr.  But while Dangerfield was enjoying the peak of his success, another young comedian named Edward was trying to establish himself as well.

Edward didn’t have an easy childhood.  His father died when he was young, and his mother became so ill that, at the age of eight, Edward was forced to live in foster care for a full year.  He would later say that it was during those tough times that he developed his sense of humor.

Edward was a street-smart kid, having grown up in a Brooklyn housing project before moving to Long Island when he was ten.  He was also a natural mimic.  His mother once said that he rarely spoke in his own voice, preferring instead to imitate everyone from Bugs Bunny to Al Green.  He often carried a briefcase full of joke books around at school, and was always one of the most popular students, if not one of the best.

At the age of seventeen, Edward was in a comedy club about to perform when in walked Rodney Dangerfield.  The other comedians were nervous, but Edward was prepared to deliver his best performance.  Judging by the audience’s reaction, he brought the house down.  After his set, he was beside himself with excitement when Dangerfield invited him to his table.  But he wasn’t prepared when Dangerfield told him he needed to clean up his act, and get rid of the foul language.  He advised Edward, “Take it from me kid, you’ll never go far in this business unless you make some changes.”

Edward decided not to take Dangerfield’s advice.  Five years after performing live in front of the king of comedy, Edward filmed his own comedy special for HBO.  He used the “F word” two hundred and eighty-one times in a single hour, and it wasn’t long before much of the world knew the name Eddie Murphy.  Eddie is the box office mega-star of films like Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, The Nutty Professor, and Shrek… and these are just part of why he’s the second highest grossing actor in the United States.

Twenty years after Dangerfield gave Eddie his advice, they bumped into one another in the men’s room at a Las Vegas hotel.  They hadn’t spoken since that first meeting, but Dangerfield, never at a loss for a punch line, looked at Murphy, shrugged, and said, “Who knew?”

It’s always worthwhile to seek advice from others, especially those who have achieved what you desire.  But it also pays to remember the ten most powerful two letter words you’ll ever hear:  “If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me.”  You are 100% Accountable for your own happiness and success, and living your dreams will keep you laughing for the rest of your life.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Change the World from Here

I recently took my eldest son, Jaxson, on his first college visit.  He had expressed an interest in the University of San Francisco, so off we went for a weekend adventure in the Bay Area.  The campus was beautiful, as was the surrounding city.  But what really sticks out in my mind is the school’s motto, “Change The World From Here.”  Whether you’re attending USF or following the Live to Give mindset, it’s a great message.  After our visit, we drove a couple of hours south to the famous Pebble Beach golf course.  Our amazing experience there begins with this story…

The fifth of nine children, William was born to Irish-American parents in a suburb of Chicago.  His father, Edward, was a lumber salesman and avid golfer who had once caddied for a former US Open champion.  Edward had also been a groundskeeper before becoming a golf club member, and his love for the game would be adopted by several of his sons, including William. 

Growing up in the claustrophobic household, the nine siblings competed constantly for their parents’ attention.  In particular, the children tried without much success to get laughs from their father.  Once, while imitating a famous actor, William fell off a table and banged his foot hard on the metal leg.  He saw his father laughing, and it made a powerful impression on him to realize that throwing yourself into being funny was what got a response.

William was also a self-proclaimed troublemaker.  At school, his affinity for acting out to get laughs wasn’t well received by his teachers, who called him a brilliant but terrible student.  He played sports, did some acting, and sang in a local rock band, but was never as focused on any of it as he was on entertaining his peers.  To earn extra money, he caddied at the local golf course, where one of the perks was playing golf for free.

William left Chicago after high school, enrolling at a university in Denver, Colorado, to study pre-med.  However, when he learned how many of his fellow students were interested in medicine for the money, and not out of a desire to help people, it soured his feelings for the program.  Not long after, he returned to Chicago in search of a new direction.

By this time, William’s brother Brian had become part of Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe.  With no other plans, William decided to try comedy as well.  At Second City, he took part in nightly improvisational games that made the childhood memories of committing to his comedy relevant again.  William honed his craft over the course of more than five hundred performances, before finally making the leap to New York and into the national spotlight.

William “Bill” Murray is arguably the funniest comedian to have ascended through the cast of Saturday Night Live.  His dry, deadpan style has been mimicked by thousands of comics, and he has starred in some of the most iconic films of the last thirty years, including Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters (one of the highest-grossing comedies ever), and Lost In Translation, for which he won a Golden Globe.

Bill Murray remains a private person who is intentionally hard to reach.  He gives few interviews and rarely shows up for red-carpet events.  He has no agent or publicist, instead maintaining a 1‑800 phone number where he takes messages regarding acting projects (if he’s interested, he calls back).  Despite being an apparent recluse, Bill has turned public appearances into a sort of joyful performance art, spreading spontaneous fun and keeping with the unpredictability of his Second City years.

You can imagine my excitement when Jaxson and I arrived at Pebble Beach to walk 18 holes of golf with Bill Murray during the AT&T Pro-Am golf tournament.  Making this happen was no small feat, but that’s another story.  Bill talked to us for hours.  He was funny, engaging, and even invited me onto the green to help him read a birdie putt.  He made us feel like we were the center of his attention, even while managing to entertain millions of TV viewers and thousands of fans that came to meet the legend.

After a six-hour day, I couldn’t help but ask for some advice I could share with you on how to live your dreams.  His response was classic Bill Murray:  “Hum every morning, do what you love, try and make people smile, and if all else fails, sell your soul.”  

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Show Must Go On

Growing up in New York City music and theater were always part of Jon's life. It was a short drive to the theater district, and one of his family's favorite activities was going there to see shows. As a child, he loved listening to classics like The Music Man and Fiddler on the Roof, but he was also a fan of songwriters like Elton John and Billy Joel. In third grade, Jon wrote and performed in his own play, and in middle school he starred in a production of West Side Story. Soon, his talent was so recognized in the community that his high school, which had no musical theater program, created one to support the development of his abilities. It was clear that Jon knew exactly what he wanted to do, and it seemed that the universe wanted to help him get there.

Jon attended college on a full scholarship for acting. He learned to write musicals, and many of his professors called him the best student songwriter they ever worked with. During his senior year Jon wrote a letter to one of his idols in the theater world hoping to establish a connection and get some advice. Surprisingly, part of the advice was to focus on writing and composing rather than acting, with the man telling Jon, “there are a lot more starving actors than there are starving composers.”

After graduating Jon moved to New York City’s West Village but found the real world was less accommodating to him pursuing his goals than the academic one had been. The fifth floor loft he shared had a bathtub in the kitchen and no heat. At one point Jon and his roommates illegally used a wood burning stove to keep warm.

While working as a waiter, a common profession for aspiring artists, Jon wrote constantly. He completed several shows that weren’t taken on by theater companies, but he kept writing. He was intent on changing the world of musical theater. To Jon the sound of musicals had hardly progressed since the forties, and he felt that the music and energy of his generation hadn’t been represented on stage… yet.

Jon and a friend came up with the idea to update a century-old opera about the fragility of life. But each wanted to base the characters on his own group of friends. Finally, after more conversations, Jon asked to write it himself. His friend agreed, and Jon took on the project whole-heartedly. He reduced his restaurant shifts and gave himself more time to write. He’d cook a huge pot of pasta every Sunday night and eat it for dinner all week. He infused his words and lyrics with a love for life in New York City, and wrote music that expressed its reckless energy. The resulting work, despite being rough in its first draft, was so captivating that the New York Theater Workshop decided to put $250,000 into producing it, more than twice any amount they’d ever spent to mount a single show.

Jonathan Larson spent years working on Rent, a play that celebrated life in the face of mortality. After opening at the New York Theatre Workshop, Rent won a Pulitzer Prize and moved to Broadway later that year. It gained further acclaim and won a Tony Award for Best Musical, grossing over $280 million during its twelve-year run of over five thousand performances. However, Jon never experienced any of Rent’s success. On the morning of the show’s opening night Jon died of a fluke heart condition that had gone undiagnosed. He was thirty-five years old and otherwise healthy. The fact that his own life ended before he could see his dream realized only makes his work more meaningful.

Jon couldn’t have known how short his time would be, but he lived his dream with dedication, working fervently and without hesitation no matter how long it took or what else he had to do along the way. Rent is one of my favorite Broadway musicals, and I’ve seen the show over a dozen times. I really enjoy the soundtrack, especially the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, No Day but Today.  I hope this week’s story inspires you to embrace the mindset, The Time Is Now. In the play called “Living Your Dreams,” the curtains are up and the show must go on… are you ready to take on the leading role?

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Win-Win Scenario

Fatherhood is full of surprises. Many fathers are learning how to be parents as they go, and they sure don’t feel like superheroes when they’re just trying to do their best. Because fathers can’t see the future, they don’t always comprehend the impact a bit of advice, a fun activity, or a way of talking and thinking will eventually have on their kids. However, history, along with our own lives, shows us that being a father means much more than we may realize when it’s happening.   

Jack grew up in Crestline, Ohio, a small Midwest town of 5000 people. He was athletic and grew up playing basketball, baseball, and football because everyone in a town that size played all three sports. Jack was one of the best. He was the quarterback in football, the shortstop in baseball, a forward in basketball, and a starter in all of them. He seemed destined for great things in sports.

In college Jack played football and was a three-time letterman. When he was a junior his team finished their season with nine wins and zero losses, and they were named national champions in the small college division. Jack went on to play one season of professional football, and he married his college sweetheart that same year. As his playing days dwindled, Jack took a job as an assistant high school football coach. During these first years spent learning to be a coach, he also began learning to be a father, after his wife gave birth to two sons just fifteen months apart, as well as a daughter.

The boys grew up competing with their father turning simple activities like playing catch and fetching snacks into excitement-packed events with stopwatches and cheering sections. At one point the boys even put tape down the middle of their shared bedroom to make clear which half belonged to which brother. Jack’s approach to these games and to his sons’ competitiveness focused on excitement and fun. Every day, when he dropped his boys off at school, he reminded them to face whatever challenges the day might bring with “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!”

Working as a coach meant moving frequently, and Jack’s family moved seventeen times during his 43-year career. It wasn’t always easy on the boys or their younger sister, but Jack tried to keep their outlook positive any way he could. He would get so energized when driving the kids around that he’d shout, “Who has it better than us??”  No one in the family complained about the constant moving or the small, cramped homes, and they always lived close enough for the boys to ride their bikes to see their dad at work.

When it was possible, Jack would have his boys at practices. They’d help clean up, stack tackling dummies, and even spend time in the locker room. His wife believed it was essential for the boys to have a window into their father’s life outside the home. In particular, she wanted them to see how he interacted with his players. He was tough but fair, and wanted them to be good students and better people, as well as great athletes. It was no less than he wanted for his own children.

I wanted to talk about parenting this week because of Jack’s huge influence on helping his sons live their dreams. If you’re a professional football fan, you know that Jack’s sons, John and Jim Harbaugh, were the first brothers to ever coach opposing teams in this year’s Superbowl. But Jack Harbaugh raised more than two great coaches. He raised great people. The players on both John’s Baltimore Ravens and Jim’s San Francisco 49ers talk continually about the loyalty they feel to their coach, and how respect and compassion are as important as discipline and drive.

Prior to the game, Jack was interviewed and asked who he was rooting for to win the Superbowl. “It really doesn’t matter” he answered. “When the game ends, I’ll celebrate with one son, console the other, and declare the entire family the ultimate winners.”  This year’s Superbowl was a victory for all parents who are raising their kids to pursue their passions and make the world a better place for all of us… a true win-win scenario!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams