Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Enjoy the Journey

Handsome and talented, Bryan’s father Joe seemed well-suited to the acting profession.  He made appearances on some of the most-watched TV shows of his day, and when he did well, so did his family.  After landing one big role, Joe brought home a new car; after another, he put in a swimming pool.  But acting is a competitive profession, and there’s no guarantee of being cast consistently.  When Joe was out of work, Bryan saw their new car traded in for an old clunker, and they never did swim in their dug-out pool, because they couldn’t afford the chemicals to keep it clean.

The off-and-on nature of professional acting took a toll on Joe.  He wanted to be a star, and eventually came to believe that it wasn’t going to happen.  He started drinking heavily, and sank into depression over what he saw as his failure.  Finally, one night he just didn’t come home.  Joe had left his wife, two sons and a daughter to fend for themselves.  Bryan was 11 years old.

With no more money coming in, Bryan’s mother tried to feed the family on food stamps.  During one period, they ate nothing but hot dogs and beans, and pots of soup would stretch for weeks.  Finally, they lost their home to foreclosure, and Bryan and his older brother Kyle were sent to live with their grandparents.  When they returned to live with their mother the following year, she was detached and remote due to the emotional pain of her failed marriage. 

Bryan coasted through high school.  He earned average grades, was good enough at baseball to make the team but not good enough to play, and was inadvertently left out of the school yearbook in his senior year.  He tried just hard enough to get by, but not hard enough to excel.  For the most part, he emulated his brother, and at 16 followed Kyle into the LAPD Explorers, an organization for teenagers hoping to become police officers.

For the first time in his life, Bryan came in at the top of his class, which he took as a sign that he should be a cop.  He enrolled in Los Angeles Valley College as a police-science major.  However, when a guidance counselor told Bryan to take an elective, the young man enrolled in acting, and quickly found he had a gift for it.  By the time he completed his police-science degree, his life plans had changed:  he would pursue an acting career.

Bryan didn’t harbor starry-eyed dreams of fame like his father had.  He took nearly any and all work that came his way, from bit parts in shows to commercials for coffee creamer and inflammation ointment.  His only goal at each audition was to get the job. 

Finally, though, he had an epiphany:  he started to pursue his career without focusing on the outcome.  His goal in each audition became to create the most compelling character he could and make it come to life.  If Bryan did that, he was satisfied.  Getting the job became a bonus.

By infusing each role with as much depth and humanity as he was able, Bryan began to open doors.  A one-episode part as a villain who the audience eventually feels bad for demonstrated Bryan’s range and abilities.  The writer who cast him took notice… and didn’t forget.

Ten years later, that writer began assembling the team for his new show, and he wanted Bryan to play his main character.  Despite demands from Hollywood to cast a star, creator Vince Gilligan got his way, and was ultimately able to award the part of cancer-afflicted chemistry teacher turned meth-cooking drug impresario to Bryan.  And it paid off.

Bryan Cranston won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, only the second time in television history that an actor had accomplished such a feat.  That series, Breaking Bad, has been called one of the greatest television series ever, and in 2014 it entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest rated show of all time, thanks in no small part to Bryan’s outstanding character portrayal.

When you focus too much on the endgame, on “making it,” not only might you be disappointed if you never get there, but you’ll miss out on enjoying the wonderful experiences along the way.  For Bryan Cranston, who stars in this summer’s new Godzilla film, the journey has been his ultimate reward.  In his own words, “My greatest achievement is that I’ve been working as an actor for 25 years.  It’s about finding the joy in every opportunity.”

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Time to Graduate

This month, my older son Jaxson graduated from high school, and our family is making plans to attend graduation parties for many of his friends.  However, there is one friend of Jaxson’s whose party we won’t be going to.  To help explain why, I decided share something very personal, a college application essay written by Jaxson about an event that epitomized his transition from youth to adulthood.  I think it speaks for itself:

“Just like every other morning, I was sitting in the front row of my English class, facing the teacher, focused on my work with my headphones on.  My teacher had granted me permission to “unschool” in her class, basically allowing me to select my own course of study and progress at my own pace.  That morning, I was listening to classical music and reading a book on the foundations of morality.  All of a sudden, I felt my phone vibrate, popping my bubble of focus.  Upon seeing the text was from my good friend Tiger, I was sure my day was going to be a little bit better.  Tiger never says anything that isn’t worth hearing, whether it’s only slightly amusing or extremely serious, as it proved to be on this day. Tiger wasn’t asking me if I wanted to go to the record store later.  He was asking me if I heard about Andrew.

“No, I hadn’t heard.  I asked him what happened.  He sent me an article from a news website.  It said that a local teenager was killed yesterday in a standoff with the police.  For about five seconds, I thought it must be a joke, and was a bit shocked at Tiger making a joke in such poor taste.  When I realized that it wasn’t a joke, everything around me changed.  Andrew’s death became the rest of my day, the rest of my week, and ultimately impacted the rest of my life.

“Andrew wasn’t one of my best friends, but we were close.  We were in a “band” with Tiger and another friend, and Andrew and I would discuss politics every day in a Facebook group he had created for that purpose.  In fact, I had been talking to him in the group just hours before he died.

“Andrew was a pacifist.  This fact is crucial to the absurdity of his death.  He had been drinking and was wandering around the house, yelling and holding a gun, according to the 911 call from his mother.  She had also told the dispatcher that he wasn’t going to hurt anybody, but she was worried he might hurt himself.  Apparently, the local police thought a suitable response to a drunken sixteen year-old with possible suicidal ideation was to call in the SWAT team.  Andrew did not shoot himself.  He was shot and killed by a police sniper after breaking a window that was nowhere near any officer.

“Andrew’s death made it clear that I wasn’t a kid anymore.  I could no longer look at things through a purely theoretical lens.  Before his death, I could have had a philosophical conversation about the merits of using rubber bullets instead of live ammunition when responding to a domestic call involving a minor.  But Andrew gave a face to the discussion.

“The tragedy of Andrew’s death also contained the seed of an idea that has shaped my adult views. While I may not have been able to speak to Andrew about the issue that would lead to his demise, I could speak to other people about their issues.  I became far more curious about the personal experiences of people than hypothetical debates.  That curiosity ultimately led to an interest in feminism, anti-racism, and LGBT issues.  Ironically, the loss of my childhood friend may have been the first step in my transition to adulthood.”

Throughout our lives, it’s inevitable to face tragedy.  We won’t be attending Andrew’s graduation party this season, because Andrew isn’t graduating, and he’ll forever remain a teenager in our hearts and memories.

When you experience the most difficult circumstances in life, I suggest that you embrace a less obvious component of the Attitude of Gratitude mindset.  This mindset is not just about celebrating the positive things in life, but also about seeking value from challenges and even tragedies.  It is almost inhuman not to be grief-stricken, confused and even angry in the face of death and loss.  But look for the seeds of ideas, the hope and promise of better days, and you will find peace far sooner than if you focus only on what’s been lost.

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

Not for Sale

As a young man, Art was just over five feet tall.  His family had moved from Brooklyn to California when he was a boy, and based on his small stature, people suggested that he’d make a perfect jockey.  At the age of 17, he found work at a California horse ranch.  There, Art was taught all about horses, from breeding to riding.  He had found his passion.

Within a year, Art’s job was to ride the horses to get them into condition for competitive races, in which they’d be ridden by their jockeys.  He began working with a horse called Swaps, who showed potential as a contender for the Kentucky Derby.  However, the popular belief was that few horses from California could match up with those born and bred in Kentucky.  Nevertheless, Swaps was entered, and Art rode cross-country in a train car with the horse, sleeping alongside him on a bed of straw for the four night trip to Kentucky.  It was worth the long trip, though, because Art got to see Swaps ride to victory in the derby against several heavily favored East-coast rivals.

Art became a jockey two years later.  He won numerous races, including one where he was awarded his trophy by the future President of the United States, and another in which he beat one of his idols.  Art rode professionally for more than 20 years, but never won any of the major races.  At the age of 42, he became a professional trainer, still living and working in California.

In 2008, a man named Steve Coburn was working for a company that made magnetic strips for credit cards and hotel keys.  His job was literally to press the magnetic strips onto the cards.  It was tedious work, and he often found himself daydreaming of a different life.  Eventually, he was able to act on a long-time dream, partnering with his good friend Perry Martin to put up $8,000 to buy an older race horse for breeding purposes.  The two friends had never owned a horse before, and didn’t really know what they were doing.

The day they bought that old mare, a nearby horse expert actually blurted out, “only a dumbass would buy that horse!”  In response, Steve and Perry jokingly named their new partnership, “Dumb Ass Partners,” and had a logo made of a bucktoothed donkey.  Regardless of what people said, they shared a dream, and invested another $2,500 to breed their horse.  To put this investment in perspective, most owners spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a colt with the qualities to win.

A few weeks before the mare gave birth, Steve dreamed that the foal would have four white feet (often thought to be bad luck in racing circles) and a large white stripe called a “blaze” down its nose.  Sure enough, the chestnut colt had exactly those markings, and they took it as a good sign.  Perry brought their young colt to be trained at Art’s stable.  Now in his 70s, Art had never been responsible for training a top-tier horse, but something about this one was different. 

On May 3rd, 2014, California Chrome became just the fourth California-born-and-bred race horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby.  No horse from California had done it in more than 50 years, and it had been nearly six decades since the 77-year-old Art Sherman had been involved with a derby horse.  Talk about waiting patiently to fulfill a lifelong dream!

Amazingly, just a few weeks before the derby, owners Steve and Perry turned down an offer to sell control of California Chrome for 6 million dollars.  Turning down $6 million on a horse in which they’d invested only $10,500 may have seemed foolish, but they weren’t just in it for money.  They had put work, love and faith into their young champion, and wanted to see it pay off at the highest level of competition in the sport.  Their dream was not for sale.

We all have dreams in life, and very often, people may suggest we try other paths.  Art Sherman’s steadfast determination in sticking with his dream for over sixty years shows how putting security over doing what you love isn’t the road to success; do what you love, become great at it, and success will inevitably follow.  And the belief shown by Perry Martin and Steve Coburn demonstrates that sometimes you just have to follow your instincts, even if popular wisdom says to do otherwise.  In the words of Steve himself, “If you’ve got a dream and you’re willing to ride it out, it will come true for you.  We’re living proof!”

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

The Next Big Thing

Mo got his love for fashion from his well-dressed dad and grandfather, who always looked sharp and believed in the importance of dressing for success.  As a young kid growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, the hats and shoes Mo picked out were always striking, and he described himself as a classy kid who liked to dress up nice.   Even at a young age, when his mother would take him shopping, he said he only wanted to buy things that “spoke to him.”  As far back as the age of four, Mo would wear ties and blazers not just for special occasions, but to play outside, ride his bike, and walk around his neighborhood.

However, one of the things speaking to him was a desire for fashionable, contemporary bow ties, and no matter where he looked, he just couldn’t find any that fit his taste.  That’s when he decided to learn how to make the bow ties he wanted himself.

At the age of 9, Mo’s grandmother, a nearly 80-year old seamstress, showed him how to use her scrap fabric and sewing machine to design his own bow ties.  He was very particular about the styles, creating ties that ranged from traditional polka-dots and stripes to multi-colored paisley and even sports team-themed ties.  As he got better, he realized that what he was doing might be something more than just a way to create bow ties for himself.  He had located a void in the market, which meant he had a business on his hands.

With the help of his mother and grandmother, Mo began selling his handmade bow ties and spreading the word.  Soon, news of the young fashion entrepreneur got out.  Online sales were taking off, and boutiques in Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and Arkansas were carrying his wares.  His mother soon became a full-time employee of Mo’s Bows, of which Moziah “Mo” Bridges was the CEO and self-described NBT (Next Big Thing).  By the time Mo was 12, Mo’s Bows had earned over $30,000, and was featured on The Today Show, Forbes, The Steve Harvey Show and in O, The Oprah Magazine.

Recently, Mo appeared on the business reality show Shark Tank, where he actually refused a monetary offer of $50,000 in order to secure a guarantee of mentorship by clothing mogul Daymond John.  One of the most successful ways to get where you want to be in life is to surround yourself with people who can help you get there.  We call this building your Dream Team, and Mo has taken a great step by adding Daymond John to his team.  John, who got into the clothing business by sewing his own wool hats as a teenager and selling them on the streets of his neighborhood, also once refused an investment in order to maintain his own direction.  Ultimately, his clothing brand FUBU would come to be worth hundreds of millions.  Mo himself plans to attend design school, and intends to have his own fashion line by the time he is 20.

Are you ever too young to start following your dream?  Many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs don’t think so.  Richard Branson, who started his first business at the age of 9, says he wish he had started sooner.  He went on to found Virgin, the billion-dollar company that has seen Branson expand into everything from music to cellular phone service to consumer space travel.  Ralph Lipshitz, the youngest of four brothers who grew up sharing a single bedroom in The Bronx, New York, fell in love with fashionable clothes while in the seventh grade.  At the age of 12, he began selling hand-made neckties to fellow students.  He also worked in department stores after school to save up to buy the clothes he wanted.  We know him now as Ralph Lauren, the billionaire founder of the Polo clothing line, and one of the richest men on the planet.

Sometimes what you need isn’t age, experience, or even money.  All of those can help you reach your goal, but the most important asset to finding your way to success is the willingness to take the first step.  The saying, “Put your money where your mouth is!” isn’t talking literally about money; it means that anyone can talk about what they want to do, and you should differentiate yourself by being a person who actually takes action.  Ralph Lauren did it.  Daymond John did it.  And now Moziah Bridges is doing it.  Think about what you’d like to be doing, what speaks to you, and figure out how to take action to start making it happen in your life!

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!