Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In the Cards

One day when I was in middle school, the teacher announced an activity in which we would choose our careers.  She brought out a little box filled with cards, and on each was written a description of a different career.  She told us to take our time, read through them, and select which profession interested us. 

At twelve years old, I had no real desire to choose a career.  I looked through the alphabetized cards and lingered in the “A” section, narrowing my choices to accountant or archeologist.  From there, I proceeded to the school library and found a book on dinosaur bones.  Once I learned how much of archeology amounted to digging in the dirt, the internal debate was settled:  I would become an accountant.

As fast as I made that decision, I forgot about it just as quickly, until it was time for me to declare my college major many years later.  No more certain than when I was twelve, I nevertheless made my selection and chose… accountant.

I never became an accountant.  Instead, I chose to be an entrepreneur.  I recently visited my old middle school, and sure enough, the box of career cards was still there.  Out of nostalgia, I looked through the box again… and found no card for entrepreneur.  This reminded me of the story of Steve Mazan. 

From the time he was twelve, Steve’s dream was to become a comedian.  Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, he loved to make people laugh, and had great admiration for others with the talent to do so.  In particular, David Letterman was one of his heroes, and Steve was determined to appear someday on Letterman’s late-night TV show.

Steve went to college for broadcasting, but afterwards, he began pursuing his passion for comedy.  He worked on his material, creating a blend of jokes and stories that were both clever and family-oriented.  His efforts led to an ongoing opportunity to perform for US troops stationed in Iran and Afghanistan as part of the Comics on Duty project.

Returning to the states, Steve continued happily chasing his dream.  He performed stand-up comedy at Los Angeles nightclubs, and warmed up audiences for local TV shows.  All was going well until Steve began having severe stomach pains.  He went to a hospital, where the doctors told him that he needed his appendix removed.  However, when Steve awoke after his surgery, he was told that it wasn’t his appendix… it was liver cancer.  There was no cure, and he was given approximately five years to live.

Steve decided that, instead of feeling sorry for himself, he would spend the time he had left chasing his boyhood dream of performing on David Letterman’s show.  At first, he was told that he wasn’t good enough, but he didn’t give up.  He kept at it, and soon found that his heightened sense of urgency was infusing his material with as much heart as humor.

At long last, Steve got the call.  Five years after being diagnosed with incurable liver cancer, Steve Mazan appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman.  So moving was his story that a pair of filmmakers tracked his journey in the documentary Dying to Do Letterman.  The award-winning movie even caught the attention of the publishers of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, who asked Steve to write a book version of his journey.

Steve is still alive, and well past his worst-case date.  He likes to think that he’s been too busy chasing his dreams for the cancer to catch up with him.  When he’s not on the road performing at comedy clubs, he speaks to cancer and business groups, combining his comedic sensibility and inspiring story.  

One of my favorite quotes from Steve is, “It’s not how long you have to live, but what you do with it.”  Sometimes, what we want most in our lives may not seem to be in the cards.  It’s at precisely those times that we must look deep inside and focus on our true passions, and let what we want most guide us.  I did it, when my life’s work wasn’t even offered as a career option.  Steve Mazan did it, even in the face of his own impending death.  Find a way to engage with your passions in your daily life, and nothing will be able to stop you from living the life of your dreams!

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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