The Road to Me:
The foundations of my both my design a life philosophy
The early years: Being A Good Boy
As an only child growing up in Milford Connecticut, I grew up feeling like a misfit. I loved singing in church choir, listening to musicals and playing with Star Wars and GI Joe action figures. I had my own way of being and a naïveté about me. I hated getting in trouble and was a definite rule follower. I was a “Good Boy” by my grandfather’s definition and I was proud of that moniker. I carried that with me through my early years.
Overweight, Clumsy & Didn’t trust myself
I desperately wanted to be good at sports. It also didn’t help that I was overweight and clumsy. In fourth grade the girls called me gummy bear and would sing the “Gummy Bear” theme song to me in class. It was so bad that my fourth grade teacher was teaching me how to kick a kickball. The kids made fun of me for my inability to catch or hit a ball. I hated that I couldn’t…I mean despised myself for it.
Around this time, I was 120 pounds in fourth grade and was put on a diet that changed my life. Dr. Goldberg put me on a diet and his mentorship Got it made to achieving my first goal which was to lose 20 pounds. It was the first time I set a goal and achieve it. My reward was He-Man’s Snake Mountain…I liked action figures and this gave me and the incentive.
From The land of misfit toys
I lost the weight and I still felt like a misfit from the isle of misfit toys in “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer Christmas Special.” “No one wants to Charlie in the box“ and I felt like Charlie. I would say things that seemed logical to me that my peers would laugh at or ignore. I definitely didn’t feel heard or understood. Other people my age seemed to know things that I didn’t. Little did I know that most of them were just as insecure as I was, but I wouldn’t learn that for a long time.
Connection to Spirit
That being said, I’ve always felt a guiding spirit in my life. From an early age, my faith has been in people rather than religion. I can remember asking my mother why we believe in God and she answered “because.” “Because” wasn’t good enough for me. That being said, my church was where I found community and church choir was where I found my sense of the spiritual and the connection to something greater than myself. It started at the age of three sitting next to my dad during Sunday morning choir warm-ups, before Sunday school. The choir warmed up and so did I. It turned out that I had a good ear and could pick my part up quickly. Music and chorale singing has been a part of my life ever since.
To everything there is a season…
Music laid the path for me and I basically followed it in the direction of my interests. Church led me to singing, which led me to acting (originally in church musicals) which strangely enough led me to swimming. My church friend Greg basically begged me to join the swim team. I wanted to be a football player, but Greg convinced me that I could do that and then swim to keep in shape. I had a great freshman year of swimming. I dropped time, made the time cuts for the state meet, and I lettered.
Sophomore year was not as good, because I put in bulk for football it took the whole swim season to lose the bulk and get back to where I was freshman year. I was a better swimmer and I decided to stick with it. That was the best decision and taught me to follow my strengths. Swimming also taught me how to set a goal and achieve them incrementally throughout the course of the season. It gave me the confidence to work with the coach to achieve my goals.
I continued to followed the path
Choir, singing, theater, swimming and creativity combined to take me to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. This was not my first or second choice, I got into those and still went to Etown. I never guessed I would’ve gone there if it were not for a chance stop on campus during a family trip to Ohio. My church choir had hosted the Elizabethtown College Concert Choir on their spring break tour. We saw a sign for the college and stopped. Once I got on campus something just felt right. So that’s where I went.
A jack of all trades approach
Because Etown was a small college, I was able to follow my curiosity and wide array of interests. The liberal arts education was where I honed my ability to connect the dots between different and opposing ideas.
College also allowed me to explore the arts in the creative process. My communications degree allowed me to learn about copywriting, editing, video, audio, lighting, graphic design and pr. These skills would prove crucial in helping me as an actor to land my first agent in New York City. Which in turn would help me turn my craft into a business.
Mentors & Coaches Appear along the way
College demonstrated importance of a syllabus while swimming demonstrated the importance mentorship in my life. I learned that I excelled in structure. So it’s natural that when I moved to New York I sought out the best teachers and coaches. My peers were booking Broadway, feature films and television series. I saw the importance of working on the mind, the body and spirit in order to achieve excellence as an actor. I’ve literally witnessed people transform their work As a result of these teachings.
New York is where I learned how to “Make S**t Happen” – MSH. I learned how to position myself to be in the right place at the right time; whether it was to score tickets to the hottest Broadway show, meet the head of Disney theatricals, or find my way into the room where “it” happens. I also learned how not to follow the rules 100% of the time because rules are made to be broken or redefined. This was a big shift for me, having grown up as a good boy and a rule follower.
I quickly learned to differentiate the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law. I realized that following the letter of the law often held me back unnecessarily. Yes the rules were important. As an artist I had to learn the theory behind the rules in order to break the rule in order to innovate artistically. With that in mind, I began to realize that everyone had their own set of best practices. What worked for person A and might or might not work for person B.
Recognizing the talent of others
Along with this realization, I learned that everyone has an opinion and that not everyone’s opinion is worth listening to. The Challenge, I found was to create a filter using my own guidelines and standards because what I need isn’t necessarily what other people need. I learned my individual best practices for success and they include the importance of staying true to my personal values. Living in New York City and working at a high-level helped me to realize that everyone has talent, yet not all talent is equal. Shakespeare said all the world is a stage and I would also soon find out that each role is important. The 1000’s of hours I’ve spent on set, in classes, auditioning, coaching, teaching have informed my ability to assess talent and draw it out… even when others can’t see it.
Turning craft into a Business
Integrating communications, business development and acting, I launched a coaching business teaching actors business, marketing and branding skills. This taught me a lot about business and business relationships. The business started off as a side gig to help me with my acting career. I never expected it to grow into a bicoastal business where I was flying back-and-forth between New York and Los Angeles. I learned “the business” aspects of acting on both coasts; how they are similar and how they’re different. I learned a lot from my clients, especially where clients shot themselves in the foot, how they succeeded and most importantly, how to teach and coach.
Entrepreneurism & teaching are in my bones.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs and teachers. My great grandmother started the family business in 1925, my grandfather continued and my father bought into. My mom’s a teacher. Strangely enough, I’ve become a combination of both my parents. When I started my coaching business I NEVER realized the importance of teaching in business. Business is all about replicating systems. You have to teach in order to replicate. I also never considered business to be personal. I have since come to realize that business is very personal and needs to be personal. It needs to be personal because it’s what you invest your time in. Unfortunately, a business is going to show you all of your warts. You’re going to witness the best and worst of yourself and it’s going to poke the wounds that you still carry. A business is representative of your values. In running my business, I would learn I had gotten away from my values. I let other people define my values.
Picking up the Pieces
As an actor I faced a lot of rejection, but it was the failure of my first business that proved to be my hardest pill to swallow. It took its toll psychologically, emotionally and physically. Once again, I found myself in the Land of misfit toys. I had done everything I was supposed to do in both my acting career and in my personal business. I worked hard, I sacrificed. The business had blown past the 5 year mark. It was supposed to be clear sailing…In my mind at least.
Then came the implosion of the business and my first business partnership. I had never experienced FAILURE to that degree. I worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices that I was willing to make because I knew it would pay off in the long run, And now that was no longer an option. I was left embarrassed, depressed and ashamed.
Back to the books
Soon became clear that it was time for a new direction. I had no idea what that looked like. Then a peer mentor and I had a brainstorming session on the top of the double decker bus in New York City. He suggested a Masters program I might consider. With that, I decided to go back to grad school to study Positive Coaching and Leadership. The degree offered a framework from which to function and pursue my growth as a coach. It allowed me to further study positive psychology, sport psychology and how they influence the achievement of goals. I was already incorporating these interventions with my students and clients. Now, I would have the formal certificate that said “I know this.” It also proved to me once again The importance of undertaking action. After disappointment and loss, I was able prove to myself that I could go back to academia and perform at a higher-level.
Time for a new chapter
I needed to find a new apartment. This is when I realize that it was time to leave New York City. I no longer had the drive to maintain my creative edge. I knew deep down, I’d been fighting to stay in the city. After all “Goonies never say die!” It was time for a new chapter. New York taught me a lot of lessons. I’d gotten away from my values. I’d gotten away from playing my best game because I was busy comparing myself to other people.
I have since come to realize is that was all necessary. I had to learn the hard lessons in order to move forward and be the person that I desire to be. That failure took me on a path that I could never have imagined. It opened the path of meditation and yoga and eating mostly vegetarian diet. It forced me to look at areas of myself that I wasn’t proud of and force me to look deeper into myself to be the man I desire to be.
Being the person I want to be…
Now that you’ve gotten to know a little bit more about my journey, I’m sure you can see why I find coaching and user experience design so rewarding. Maybe you can relate to my feeling like a misfit toy, or working towards excellence, the importance of spirit or building back up from major disappointment. It’s because I’ve experienced the benefits of great mentorship and UX design first hand that I’m driven to pay it forward and help pool and teams create great human experiences.