“When we learn to fall, we learn that only by letting go our grip on all that we ordinarily find most precious—our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves—can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom. In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them." — Philip Simmons
When I was a kid I loved the New York Yankees with all of my heart. My Dad, a New Yorker by birth, brought my brother and me to games while visiting family back east, and in seeing the “House that Ruth built,” it was love at first sight for me. The aura, the tradition, the pinstripes, Babe Ruth and Don Mattingly - what’s not to like about the Bronx Bombers?! The Yankees were perfection and I was going to be their future second baseman. At least that was my plan when I was seven.
At that point, I was enrolled in art class at the Portland Art Museum for the summer, but in seeing the kids out on the local baseball field, I was adamant that my mom let me quit art class and allow me to sign up for little league baseball. She reluctantly agreed. I wasn’t a terrible second baseman, but by the time I was 12 it was pretty clear that Yankee pinstripes weren’t in my future.
In high school and college I was determined to become a successful advertising executive like my father. I joined both a business and a social fraternity and even had my own briefcase, just like Dad. And after finishing school, I was a pretty decent ad man and the money was good, but it didn’t feed my soul, so I kept searching.
I left traditional advertising for new media and after a failed ‘Dot-Com’ start up venture in my late twenties, I decided it was high time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. After months of soul searching, I landed on acting. I had been an enthusiastic actor in high school and I seemed to have a knack for entertaining others. “Broadway here I come!” I thought to myself. After landing a couple leading roles in local plays, I applied to some of the top Masters programs in the country for acting - Yale, Cal Arts and a few others. But despite my enthusiasm, I didn’t get in to any of them. Still, I persisted with acting, grinding out local theater and independent film productions in Seattle. While I loved the creative process, as the years passed, I also realized that life as a starving artist wasn’t in the long-term cards for me.
Along the way, I had picked up a job as a personal trainer to feed my acting habit. As someone who was passionate about exercise and a fairly adept communicator, I did well in fitness. I enjoyed coaching and made a decent living, but the income was erratic and offered few benefits outside of the high hourly wage. I felt trapped by the glass ceiling of monetizing hours in the day.
Then the idea occurred to me that instead of chasing passion and purpose, I should settle for stability. I had befriended someone who was a police officer and he made a good living, raked in lots of overtime pay and enjoyed one of the few careers that still provides a guaranteed retirement. Though law enforcement wasn’t really in my creative, free thinking wheelhouse, I liked the idea of helping others and helping myself with a ‘stable’ career. The only problem was, I didn’t get in to the police departments I applied to. Whether the cops didn’t like my critical thought process and ‘question authority’ disposition or I had partied too hard in college, I’ll never know. But at the end of the process, it was clear - I wasn’t going to be a cop.
I stuck with fitness and decided that I would change the world through my natural ability as a personality. I auditioned for and was selected to be on national television as an on camera trainer in a TV series for MTV. Surely this was my big break and I was destined for speaking engagements, on camera work, and life as a celebrity trainer. But it didn’t turn out that way. The show flopped after one season and no one called me to become the next Jack Lalanne or Jillian Michaels.
I decided a change of scenery was necessary. Colorado is a fitness mecca and the vitamin D suited me well. I started blogging and writing and with my creative background, storytelling seemed to flow naturally. I began publishing regularly for fitness magazines and websites. Surely a book deal was right around the corner...But the reality was, writing provided even less income and stability than acting. Back to square one.
As I approached middle age, the prospect of not having a stable and successful career track seemed utterly terrifying. In many ways it still scares the hell out of me. But instead of planning to be the next Derek Jeter, Brad Pitt, or Mickey Spillane, I’ve decided to just be Eric. Instead of trying to figure out my next step, I’ve decided to simply concentrate on trying to live my current step.
I’ve realized, as the quote from Phillip Simmons says, that in order to truly discover my authentic path, I must be willing to let go, stumble and fall…a lot. To that end, I seem to be making progress! Besides, as someone who thought that I had all the answers along the way, not knowing can actually be somewhat liberating. Having a passion and a plan is great, but I’ve also learned through the years that falling and failing is ultimately the only way we truly learn and grow.
Still, the tape in my head continues to play on auto repeat. “What if I’m not that special or talented? What if I never get rich? What if I don’t ever reach that mountaintop? What if I never figure out what I’m supposed to be when I grow up?” These dilemmas have kept me up at many a night.
But falling and failing has taught me two things: I will get back up and I will keep going. Furthermore, it is life’s failures that forge our character and give us meaning.
My brother had the world by the balls before a massive medical issue at 30 changed his career, personal life and lifestyle. While he had to let go of his hobbies as an avid rock climber and motorcycle enthusiast and ended up leaving a high-income job, he said hello to a lifelong commitment to his wife and his faith. As my brother learned, cool motorcycles, nice houses and fancy vacations are great, but they aren’t the meaning of life. Nor is a decorative title or a ‘successful’ career.
I’ve realized, just like my brother, that what is really important is loving my wife, family and those close to me. What’s important is contributing to my community and deepening my relationship with the Divine. That is the meaning of life.
I’m now in yet another new career in hospitality. I like helping others and hope to build a brand at some point in wellness fused with hospitality. But by now, I’ve learned enough to know that plans change and in the meantime, life happens. Instead of planning for future success, I’m now trying more so to listen in the present.
Falling (and failing) has been a mixed blessing in my life. Sometimes it’s tempting to feel sorry for myself for not having reached the pinnacle of what society deems as success. But life doesn’t work that way. There is no mountaintop, only climbing and falling. On the journey, if we’re lucky, we live and learn and fall in love. To that end I am super fortunate to have lived, learned and loved. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I know I’ll keep trying, failing and getting back up along the way.