As a thank you to my blog and podcast supporters, I want you to be the first to have access to my upcoming book, “Uniquely You,” available for pre-order now. Leading up to launch day, you’ll get an exclusive sneak peek delivered right to your inbox every Tuesday and Wednesday. Here’s a look at the first chapter…
Chapter One: Changed for Good
The first forty years of my life I spent terrified that people would discover the truth about me. That I was a phony, a fraud, not the person they assumed me to be. This fear both drove me to succeed and left me paralyzed. What if people found out that all they knew of my life was a highlight reel? I had never shared the truth with anyone—not my closest friends, not even my wife.
All of that changed one brisk autumn evening in 2003 at Manhattan’s Gershwin Theatre.
I had heard that Wicked was one of the best shows on Broadway. I had never gone to a Broadway show before, but I had some time to kill, so why not? For those unfamiliar, the musical is the origin story of the witches of Oz, long before Dorothy would arrive in her tornado-borne house. One of the characters, Elphaba, has green skin. The audience knows that she is destined to become the Wicked Witch of the West, but she starts out a good witch. As the first act unfolds, she begins to grow angry that she has to put on a front to appear normal and earn the affection of her peers.
The dam holding back Elphaba’s emotions breaks in the first act’s final song, “Defying Gravity,” in which she sings about limits others place on her because of their perceptions of her. She finishes by stating that their approval comes at too high a cost.
Intermission began, the song’s words still echoing throughout the theatre. I sat with tears streaming down my cheeks, crying over a song about a green witch. I’m not talking about national-anthem crying or I-can’t-believe-I-am-a-father crying. This was deep, guttural, ugly crying. The only other time I ever cried tears like that was upon the death of my grandfather.
This was a story I had never heard before. Yet I had known it my whole life.
My story began when two teenagers ran away to Mexico to get married because they were far too young to do so in California. My mother was not even old enough to drive when I was born. She was so scared that she lied about her age on my birth certificate for fear that the hospital would call Child Protective Services or, worse yet, her father. I wish that were the worst of it. The plot grows darker with the intrusion of learning disabilities, abuse, family mental illness, poverty, and, in the end, my crippling fear of being discovered as a fraud.
My path from those humble beginnings to that seat in the Gershwin Theater was long and difficult, but my journey toward living fearlessly had only just begun.
When I had walked into the Gershwin Theatre that night, all of these unsightly details had been safely tucked away for decades, painted over with a veneer of marketplace success and respectability. I had been traveling the country speaking at sold-out conferences and leading a multimillion-dollar organization. I lived in a luxurious house on a golf course with my all-American family.
But I was a walking paradox. I was surrounded by Ivy League graduates, but it had taken me eight years to graduate from a state college. My friends were from families of influence and education, but I was the dyslexic son of a dyslexic father who never learned to read. As an adult, I had achieved financial wealth. But as a child, I had climbed inside a Goodwill donation box to steal school clothes.
During intermission at the Gershwin, I struggled to regain my composure. Throughout the second act, my mind spun. Sitting there, I realized that life—with its journeys, struggles, and main characters—is always speaking to us. It is telling us who we are, who we are not, and who we are meant to be. Our stories shape who we are. We cannot escape them; we can only embrace them.
I walked out of the theatre a new man that night. No longer would I carry a suitcase of shame about the story that formed me. No longer would I live in fear that people would discover my past. No longer would I harbor anger at those who hurt me. It was time to stop running from my story and start listening to my life.
But living that commitment—a transparent life, setting aside old fears—proved to be an even more difficult journey. Living fearlessly is a muscle that has to be developed daily.
Many professionals grow exhausted and disenchanted from chasing business gurus and quick-fix formulas. Rather than becoming knock-offs, we must learn to listen to the leadership lessons our lives have been trying to teach us. In “Uniquely You,” coming in 2019, I will share my personal journey, and how it led me to lead uniquely, with you. Preorder your copy today!