The Opportunity for Purpose to Redefine Your Identity
Have you ever found yourself crying in your Hollywood trailer because you had "arrived" and yet hated your destination?
Have you ever been surrounded by friends and family cheering you on and telling you you're living the dream, only to feel invisible and broken on the inside?
Have you ever turned down that lucrative career because it made you feel like you were betraying yourself?
Awesome. We have so much in common! I'm assuming that since you're so much like me, you can also relate to the horrid depression that came with feeling lost. But if indeed you're like me, you can also relate to the deep sense of joy that came with finding myself again.
Since I was a young child, I have always loved creating experiences that leave people laughing from their bellies. I still remember my favorite joke: How do you make a handkerchief dance? You put a little boogie in it!
Now, in my 40s, I can easily see how I came into the habit of seeking applause for my performances. I put on the literal and figurative costumes that made people laugh and cry and I spent years exploring the world seeking affirmation and standing ovations. That paid off well in my university years, as I was one of the most frequently cast actors in my theater department. It also paid off when I landed in Los Angeles and became one of the few working actors in my circle of friends—landing roles in commercials for Hasbro, Mountain Dew, Pepsi, McDonalds, and American Express, and small parts on The Shield, Joan of Arcadia, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Then one day, only a few years into my professional acting career, I found myself feeling incredibly empty. I loved acting. But in Hollywood, as the lead in a commercial or the costar or guest-star on a TV show, I was lucky to act for 20 minutes a day. I spent most of my time sitting around and waiting on sets, an unfortunate reality of working on camera. Here I was doing what I set out to do, but I had to admit to myself that I was miserable.
That moment was the beginning of a transition in my life that took me away from acting. And I'm not going to lie, that was a brutal season in my life because I had to face the challenging question: "If I'm not an actor, who am I?"
I describe that three-year period of life as my great temper tantrum. It was what I refer to as a "collision moment" between who I believed I was (special - as my mother had taught me), and the version of me that the world was reflecting back to me (one where I perceived myself to be worth nothing). To cope with the pain of that collision, I found myself smoking way too much pot and suffering from relatively severe depression. Daily, I screamed at the universe to bend to my will. Despondency and confusion were the pools I swam in.
But I also didn't feel I could go back. And so I moved forward. Which for me happened in the realm of writing. I was a decent writer and editor and so I took a stab at reshaping my identity in a new realm of storytelling.
Soon I was hiring other writers to support the work clients needed: articles about beauty, ebooks on foot fungus, and blogs around entrepreneurship. I created a little money factory by being the intermediary between professionals who needed writing and the writers who needed work but hated finding it, billing for it, and dealing with clients who didn't understand how to speak to them.
Over time, I attracted business professionals who were asking me to use my storytelling expertise to assist them with their books. And in that work I found my awakening. While I enjoyed acting, what I LOVED was crafting experiences, expressing truth, and living in the beautiful intimacy of vulnerability. I could explore all of those passions outside of acting in this more expansive field of storytelling.
Over the next sixteen years, I went on to grow my company into a multi million dollar enterprise that would work with giants like Tony Hsieh, Marshall Goldsmith, and Robert Cialdini, and would launch new authors like Carmen Tarleton, Robert Renteria, and Dr. Thomas Sult. More importantly, I learned how to lead, how to develop a trusting culture, and how to deepen psychological safety in our workplace. All hard-won lessons by doing each poorly on the way to mastery.
And then I did something you don't see very often. I willingly blew up our business. My mother's passing away at the end of 2021 sent me into my next "collision moment" where I didn't know who I was again. I had committed to shifting our business model from services (telling the stories of thought leaders and organizations) to products (supporting thought leaders and organizations in telling their own stories) because growing a service business was exhausting me. But that transition was considerably more challenging than I had anticipated and that threw me into this collision where I again felt my identity as "special" slipping away, leaving me feeling like I was worth nothing.
And yet, I refused to turn back. I was committed. With more tools and support at my disposal, I avoided self-medicating, but I still faced the demons of my depression. But this time, I surrendered to it; allowing myself to be unproductive for a few days at a time (a foreign feeling to me!). Piece by piece, I made the hard decisions of saying goodbye to employees that I loved dearly so that I could give myself a runway to figure out this new offering I was compelled to create in the world.
More recently, the fuzziness of my vision has brought me to pockets of clarity. The products we've created are an expression of my love of the three-way intersection between company culture, Gestalt Psychology as a mechanism for elevated engagement, and storytelling as the vehicle of transformation.
My acting career was focused around receiving applause in exchange for moving people's emotions.
My growing Round Table Companies was focused around capturing stories one at a time to help each storyteller own what was brilliant and beautiful about themselves so they could share that with the world.
And now, through Round Table Storytelling Academy, I am focusing my efforts around the deepening of entire company cultures, by elevating what is brilliant and beautiful at the individual, team, departmental, and organizational levels. All through storytelling.
While I still do not know exactly what this new iteration of my purpose will look like, I have proven to myself time and again that I have the fortitude to figure it out and be of substantial service to our customers and the world.
And so I invite you to consider your purpose and the way it is being expressed in your life. It is likely that you, too, have faced versions of the collisions I have described. You might even be in the midst of one right now. I hope you won't let a good collision go to waste. Honor what is being called forth in you by finding the language to articulate what you stand for.
If clarity is what you are after, I encourage you to begin with the very language you use to talk about yourself.