Chase your dreams but also try new things.
Ever since I was 17 years old, I was chasing my dreams of being a professional writer.
In 1987, I was writing term papers for my classmates, earning money for the first time as a writer.
I used that money to buy my first car.
In 1990, I was writing columns on a bulletin board system - a small localized, online network and a precursor to the Internet.
I went to college to study creative writing. I started and stopped many terrible novels. Wrote a novel that didn’t sell. Wrote short stories and poetry. Wrote another novel that didn’t sell. Entered writing contests. Wrote editorials for local newspapers. Wrote for college newspapers and online zines.
I finally sold my first novel in 2007 - a full 20 years after beginning my journey.
Chase your dreams relentlessly.
But try new things, too. Definitely try new things.
In July of 2011, I took a stage at The Moth in New York City for what I thought would be the one story I would ever tell. “One and done,” I said. I was not dreaming of becoming a professional storyteller. I was simply fulfilling a promise. Satisfying a curiosity. Trying something new for the sake of trying something new.
That was less than eight years ago.
This week, while I was on vacation from my classroom, I did the following:
On Saturday, I worked at Yale New Haven Hospital, teaching doctors, nurses, patients, and the family members of patients how to tell stories as part of an ongoing storytelling initiative that I am helping to spearhead.
On Sunday I performed in Dorchester, MA for Now Listen Here, a storytelling show produced by a friend.
On Monday I was at Westover School, a boarding school in Middlebury, CT, teaching teachers and their students to tell stories and performing for the student body.
On Tuesday, I was on the campus of MIT, teaching students, faculty, and staff to tell stories.
On Wednesday I was at Amity Regional High School, teaching students to tell stories and hosting a story slam. Earlier in the day, I also consulted with the CEO of an engineering firm, helping him to tell stories.
Later that night, I competed in a Moth StorySLAM in Boston. I watched two former storytelling students tell stories onstage. I told a new story of my own. I finished in second place to an 89 year-old woman whose daughter I had taught to tell stories.
It’s not often that I like to lose, but I was happy that night.
On Thursday and Friday, I was in Burlington, VT, teaching attorneys to tell stories, working with their clients and witnesses to craft stories, and assisting them to craft and revise opening statements.
On Sunday, Elysha and I will be producing a storytelling showcase in collaboration with Voices of Hope. After working with the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors for weeks, they will be telling stories about themselves and their parents and grandparents.
Sunday night, I will be performing at a synagogue in a show honoring the principal of a local Jewish Day School.
That’s a crazy list. Too crazy, really. At the time I booked the week, I wasn’t sure if Elysha would be back to work, so I filled every day with opportunities to earn income in the event we desperately needed it. I could really use a vacation from my vacation, but still, it’s a crazy list.
Back in 2011, I couldn’t imagine any of it happening. I didn’t plan on any of it happening.
Most important, storytelling wasn’t my dream. It was simply trying something new with no expectation of return on time or investment. Like the standup I’m performing today and the consulting that I’m doing with advertising agencies and the podcast that Elysha and I launched a year ago, I was just trying something new.
Placing irons in the fire.
Chase your dreams. But also aggressively, relentlessly try new things.