Blog

Questions from the internet – a dude named Kevin

I posted that Q&A yesterday and put up an email address where people could send questions, and I got a fuck load of them. Some really interesting ones. I try to answer as many as I can, but I can guarantee you that I read them all. This one stuck out because the thought process behind it is very similar to my own frame of mind when I was struggling with the dream of becoming a stand up comic.

Joe,

I know that in one of your recent blogs you talk about some of your views towards work. It seems to me that you hold the belief that it is critically important that one pursues a work life that is in line with their interests, dreams, aspirations, etc. Now, not knowing your story and how you came to do the things that you do in your life, I hope this question is not too assuming. Do you believe that luck or “big breaks”or timing had anything to do with the place that you are in? I don’t ask this question to degrade your success or the things you have done for yourself. I ask it because I am one of those who simply fears the bottom dropping out. By that, I mean, if was to leave my quasi-gratifying job that earns me an income to support myself and live comfortably, would faith and hard work truly pull me through? If I wanted to pursue writing or just give myself time to explore my interest and learn about things, is that a good idea in this economy? I don’t know Joe, I’m very conflicted. I did the whole college thing and graduated with a degree in secondary English education. I wound up working for a bank. I have something nagging me to go back to school (and this is a sincere nagging, not just society telling me to go back, I truly enjoy school as a setting for intellectual expansion.) However, right now, I’m scarred shitless to make any move. The ice seems so damn thin that shifting my weight in the slightest may cause me to go sinking pretty far down. Do I take that chance? Of course, I’m not looking for you to answer that question for me, but I think that given the way shit is going right now, I think that it’s excusable for people to stay put as long as whatever you are doing isn’t a completely negative drag on your life. I guess my main question is this – do you think that, even since the time that your grew up and began to form a career for yourself, life has become exponentially more difficult for people to pursue those avenues of interests and passions with success (in terms of financial stability)? Obviously so much importance is placed on the necessity to get degrees in order to get “good jobs” but as people are finding out those do not guarantee you any sort of gratification let alone financial stability…

Ok, so now I got the question I really think I wanted to ask…

Should we feel guilty for settling for the status quo in search of a nearly unobtainable financial stability in order to pursue or interests in our “free time”? Do you think it’s shameful for not following your passions and interests as a centerpeice for your life’s work?

I apologize for the fragmented nature of this e-mail and I sincerely hope you can make sense of it. Thanks for taking the time to read it.


~~~~~~~~~~~
Kevin

It’s very difficult to give people advice on specific aspects of their lives without knowing all the gory details, but I can certainly tell you what I’ve gone through.
First off, the question of whether or not I got lucky is a very good one.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks, but before you can get those fortunate results you have to already be on a path.
I mean, you could just get totally lucky and find a bag of diamonds and never have to work again, but for most of us we get lucky when we pursue something.
I think part of the reward of getting to be a professional stand up is that you’re aware of how hard it was to get there, and how many times you think about quitting.

The beginning years for a stand up comic can be very difficult.
For me, first off it was hard because I wasn’t very good. Really, no one is in the beginning, but when you’ve only been doing comedy for a few weeks or months and you bomb it literally feels like the end of the world. You feel like such a piece of shit that you almost expect the audience to gang up on you and beat you to death. It’s just a horrible feeling, and when you’re young and learning your craft you’re going to feel that a lot.
When I first got into comedy I was terribly insecure to start with. I had no back up plan for my life, and at the time I was teaching martial arts and delivering newspapers. Before comedy I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a living and I felt like a complete loser because of it. I had gone to college for a few years, but that was really only so that I could tell people that I was going to college so that I didn’t feel like such a fucking loser.

I was obsessed with becoming a stand up comic, and I knew that the only way I was going to be able to do it was if I concentrated on it 100%. I wasn’t going to be able to do that and run my tae kwon do classes with 100% of my attention, so I quit teaching and got my first of many daytime jobs to pay the bills. During that time I drove limos, I did construction, and I even worked as a driver for a private investigator.
I did everything I could just to make money to survive while I pursued my dream of being a stand up comic with my nights.

At the time it was a completely unrealistic dream. When I quit my job to go at comedy 100% I sucked, and I had made exactly zero dollars doing it.
I was doing open mic nights, and it was at least 6 months after that before I did my first “paid” gig, and that was a mercy spot provided to me by a friendly veteran comic named Warren McDonald. What followed after that was years of road gigs. Bars, bachelor parties, night clubs, restaurants – I did virtually every scenario possible where I could get stage time and make some money. Constantly trying to write funny ideas down hoping they would be my next big bit.
Eventually I got a manager and got lucky enough to get on TV, but I had worked long and hard to get myself into that position to be lucky.
It never felt like a sure thing.

That seems to be the thing about pursuing a dream; it’s never a sure thing. The only sure thing about it is that if you don’t go after what you want to do with your life than you’ll definitely never get it. That’s for sure. Everything else is just up in the air.
Just because it didn’t happen for someone doesn’t mean it couldn’t have.
They zigged when they should have zagged. They got involved with the wrong group of friends and fucked their life up. They had a terrible relationship and they got offtrack in their life. There are a million possible speed bumps and obstacles for all of us, all throughout our lives. The people that successfully navigate obstacles really have no idea how much of what’s happened to them is good fortune and how much of it is the result of their hard work.

I don’t think anyone is qualified to tell you what to do or what not to do with your life. You really have to decide that for yourself. If I had listened to other people I would have never done anything that I really wanted to do. I also don’t think it’s fair when someone tells you, “I was able to make a living doing this, and you can too!”
That’s not really fair. You were able to do it in your lifetime, but that’s just you dealing with your life. How many lives have you lived? Only one, right? Well that hardly makes you an expert at how to live a life. You’ve only lived yours. Don’t get cocky.
Anyone who is successful is lucky, and that’s a fact.
I think what we can do successfully as far as giving advice about shit like this is just to honestly express what we each went through and what we each have learned, and if we’re honest about it I think it can resonate with someone else going through a similar experience.

How much can you really be sure of the future? You can’t be, at all. The problem is, for most of us switching paths can be very difficult. You have to go to school to learn how to do something, then get a job doing it, then have second thoughts and want to bail out and try something new, and you get conflicted and it’s almost like your life’s direction becomes such a difficult question that you don’t even want to answer it yourself.
What should I do?

I think ultimately the universe rewards risk.
Not Bernie Maddoff type risk, but true, pure optimism. Risking the future on a dream.
The kind of optimism that looks at life and says I’m going to take a chance and do what I really want to do.
That’s a powerful thought.
I believe the universe rewards passion. The energy you have for something you love is so much better than the energy you have for something you need.
Of course it goes without saying that these are unstable financial times, and who knows if it’s going to get even worse or what the job market will look like in a year or so.
But on the other hand, that will make it ever the more sweet if you can pull it off.
I say you fucking go for it. No matter what it is; you wanna be a golfer, you want to go back to school to learn how to fly planes, whatever the fuck it is, just go for it.
As long as it’s what you really want to do.

My advice that I give to anyone that wants to change their life in a positive way is to pretend your life is a documentary of someone that you greatly admire.
Not a person in particular, but rather an ideal. Try to live your life in a way that you would admire and root for if it wasn’t you. Another way to go about it is to live your life as if someone you admire is watching. Play these little tricks on your mind and force yourself to evolve faster.
I honestly don’t know how much of a factor luck played a part in mine or anyone else’s success. Luck definitely is a part of the equation, but you can make a LOT of shit happen on your own.

Best of luck to you, and thanks for the email!