When I launched my DJ career, it was ancient times

My partner and I started our DJ business 21 years ago on a whim. We had no experience and no equipment but thought we could make it work.

Since 1997, we’ve performed at more than 400 weddings. I’ve also served as the minister at more than two dozen weddings, including the wedding of an ex-girlfriend. 

We’ve done weddings for the same groom after his marriage, divorce, and second marriage.

I've DJ'd the weddings of Elysha's college boyfriend, my ex-girlfriend, and my ex-wife's ex-husband.  

We have many, many stories.

Though we constantly contemplate retiring, our company goes on. We’ve reached the point in our careers that we turn down many weddings. We pick-and-choose our clients and wedding venues carefully. We only work when we want to work. 

2018 might be our last year in business. 

A lot of time has gone by since our first wedding. When I started my career as a DJ in 1997:

  • Smoking was still permitted inside most wedding venues.
  • Digital photography did not exist in its current form. Every single professional photographer was still shooting with actual film. In fact, my partner and I carried two extra rolls of film with us after multiple photographers had run out of film at weddings.
  • Digitized music did not exist in any realistic form. Every song that we played was purchased at a brick-and-mortar store like Strawberries.
  • We still played some songs on cassette tapes.
  • There was no GPS or even online mapping website. Directions to wedding venues and client’s homes had to be taken over the phone and written down by hand.
  • MMMbop, Tubthumping, and Barbie Girl were the hot new songs.  

Twenty-one years is a long time to be doing anything.

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I have 15 jobs. So you probably require my services in one way or another.

As the New Year approaches and the endless possibilities of the coming year loom on the horizon, I always like to take a moment and reset my current occupational status, in the event that you or someone you know will require my services in 2015.

While occupations like teacher and writer seem like fairly obvious inclusions on the list, there are also several less obvious jobs on the list that may seem a little silly at first, but let me assure you that they are not.

Many people thought it was silly back in 1997 when my friend and I decided to become wedding DJs, even though we had no experience, equipment, or knowledge of the wedding industry whatsoever. We simply declared ourselves wedding DJs, bought a pile of equipment that we didn’t know how to use, and began the search for clients.

Nineteen years and more than 400 weddings later, we’re still in business.

The same could be said about my decision to become a minister in 2002. Or a life coach back in 2010. Or a professional best man in 2011. Or last year’s declaration that I was a public speaking coach. Or last week’s announcement that I am now a presentation consultant.

All of these positions have either become profitable ventures or at least received interest from potential clients.

The lesson: If you want to do something, just start doing it.  

So here is a list of my 14 current occupations and an explanation of my services. I hope I can be of service to you in 2015. 
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Teacher. Sorry. I’ve got a job teaching already, and I love it.

But in about four years, a partner and I plan on opening a one-room schoolhouse for students grades K-5, so if you’re looking for a school for your child at that time (or looking to donate money to build the school), contact me.

Writer: In addition to writing novels, I’ve also written a memoir, a book of essays, a rock opera, a tween musical, and a screenplay. I’m also the humor columnist for Seasons magazine.

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I’m always looking for additional writing gigs, in particular a regular opinion column and/or advice column, so if you have a writing job in need of a good writer, contact me.

Wedding DJ: My partner and I are entering our 19th year in the business. We’ve have entertained at more than 400 weddings in that time. We’ve cut back on our business in recent years, ceasing to advertise or even maintain a respectable website. Almost all of our business these days comes through client or venue referrals, as we prefer.

If you’re getting married and need a DJ, contact me. 

Storyteller and public speaker: I deliver keynote addresses, inspirational speeches, and talks on a variety of subjects including education, writing, storytelling, productivity, and more. I’m represented by Macmillan Speakers Bureau.

I’m also a professional storyteller who has performed at more than 60 storytelling events in the last three years and has hosted story slams for literary festivals, colleges, and more. I’m a 15-time Moth StorySLAM champion and GrandSLAM champions whose stories have appeared on The Moth Radio Hour and This American Life.

If you need someone to entertain, inspire, inform, or emcee, contact me.  

Founder and producer of Speak Up: My wife and I produce a storytelling show called Speak Up. We are based in Hartford at Real Art Ways with additional shows at venues throughout the region, including local schools and The Mount in Lenox, MA.

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If you have an audience that would be interested in storytelling, or you’re a storyteller looking to pitch a story for one of our shows, send an email to speakupstorytelling@gmail.com.

Minister: In the past ten years, I’ve married 13 couples and conducted baby naming ceremonies and baptisms. I’ll be marrying two more couples in 2015.

If you’re getting married and are in need of a minister, contact me. 

Life coach: In the past four years, I’ve worked with four different clients, assisting them in everything from goal setting to productivity to personal relationships to career development.

If you’re looking to make changes in your life and become a happier and more successful person, contact me.  

Tutor: I tutor students in grade K-12 on everything from general academics to college essay writing.

If you’re the parent of a student in need of academic support, either regularly or occasionally, contact me.

Storytelling and public speaking coach: For the past two years, I’ve been teaching storytelling workshops and coaching storytellers on an individual basis. People often take my workshops in hopes of performing in storytelling shows and competing in story slams, but they also take these workshops to improve job performance, enhance communication skills, and get their friends and family to finally listen to them.

My real mission is to eliminate the scourge of PowerPoint from this planet, one story at a time.

If you’d like to improve your storytelling, public speaking, and/or communication skills, send an email to speakupstorytelling@gmail.com and get on our mailing list. 

Writing camp coordinator and instructor: Last year my wife and I launched Writer’s Abroad, a four week long summer writing camp for students ages 11-16. We had an outstanding inaugural season and plan on an even better second year in 2015.

If you are the parent of a child ages 11-16 who loves to write and/or could benefit from four weeks of intensive writing instruction designed to improve skills and inspire writers, this camp may be for you. Contact me.

Presentation consultant: Since posting about this position a week ago, I have heard from two people who have expressed interest in hiring me for their fairly new companies at some point in the future. I may also have the opportunity to take on a partner in this business.

If you are a person who delivers content via meetings, presentations, workshops, etc. and would like to improve your communication skills, contact me.

Professional Best Man: Since posting about this position on this blog in 2011, four grooms and two reality television producers have inquired about hiring me for their weddings and television shows that are wedding related. Geographical constraints forced me to reject all their offers thus far. I am still awaiting my first gig.

Productivity consultant: Since posting about this position on this blog in 2013, I’ve had one inquiry about my services.

If you would like to become a more productive person in your personal or professional life and are willing to make changes in order to achieve this goal, contact me.

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Professional double date companion: Since posting about this position on this blog in 2011, I have had no inquiries. That does not mean the job is a failure. Just that it has yet to succeed.

If you’re dating someone for the first time or have been on several dates and need that important second or third opinion on the person in question, contact me.

Professional gravesite visitor: Since posting about this position on this blog in 2011, I have had no inquiries. That does not mean the job is a failure. Just that it has yet to succeed.

If you have a gravesite in Connecticut in need of visiting, contact me.

A simple declaration and a smidgen of self confidence can launch a business and change your life. Just look at my mother-in-law.

Yesterday I barged into a friend’s office and told her to launch a new business. I’ll refrain (for now) from telling you what this business is and what she will be doing, but it’s a no-brainer in terms of profitability. She’s perfectly (and almost uniquely) qualified for the job, will earn a lot of money doing it, and will help many people in the process.

It’s also a business that doesn’t really exist in the world at this moment, and it solves an enormous problem.

She’s going to be an great success with hard work and a little luck.

To my surprise, she seemed agreeable. Excited, even. She asked some questions about taking a class at a local college or becoming licensed, but I pushed back on those ideas and every other question that might delay her launch.

“No,,” I said. “You’re just going to start. Buy some business cards, declare yourself open for business, and find your first client.”

Too many people spend far too much time talking and planning and strategizing about doing something instead of just doing it.

Eighteen years ago my best friend called me and asked me if I wanted to become a wedding DJ and launch a company with him. I had no experience in the DJ industry. No equipment. No music. No knowledge of music outside of a few, not exactly wedding-friendly genres. I’d only been to a handful of weddings in my entire life and didn’t know how a wedding was supposed to be run. I had no training. No mentor. No experience.

My friend was in an identical position, but we didn’t worry about these obstacles. Didn’t look for training or seek out a mentor. We declared ourselves wedding DJs, and six months later, we were working at our first wedding. Since then, we have performed at almost 400 weddings and about 100 other events in five five different states.

One moment I wasn’t a DJ, and the next moment I was. It didn’t happen via a complex process or specialized training. It was a simple declaration.

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I followed a similar path in becoming a minister, a life coach, and a teacher of storytelling. One day I simply declared myself to be these things, and just like that, I was.

My mother-in-law has done something very similar. Years ago, she began selling merchandise on eBay. She started by raiding her own closet, looking to convert handbags into cash (so she could buy new handbags), but as women began purchasing the unused item in her closet, they began asking if she would be willing to sell the handbags and clothing in their closets as well.

A business was born.

She soon found herself selling thousands of dollars of merchandise on consignment for other women. Before she knew it, she had a growing stable of clients. 

For years now, she has been selling high-end clothing, accessories, and jewelry online. It has grown into a successful, profitable business and her primary source of income, despite the fact that she was forced to work on a dial-up modem for years.

Her husband eventually came onboard as well, constructing a photography studio in their basement where he shoots images of the merchandise. He has since transformed himself into a professional photographer whose images are so good that customers have accused them of using stock photos rather than actual photos of the merchandise.

Their home has become a warehouse of merchandise from clients from around the world, and my mother-in-law is now a top seller on eBay.

Just this week, she opened her own online store called Babsy’s Closet.

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Barbara knew nothing about online sales when she launched this business. She wasn’t an expert on the Internet or even technology. One day she wasn’t an online retailer and the next moment she was. She didn’t take a college class or go to work for another online retailer to learn the ropes. She simply declared herself to be in business, and she was.

My hope is that I will be telling you about my friend’s exciting new business soon, and that you will be recommending her to your friends and family as the need arises.

I suspect I will. She seems excited. I think she sees the possibilities. I know that she is passionate about the subject.

I just hope that she moves quickly. Doesn’t delay. Declares herself in business soon, if she hasn’t done so in her mind already.

There is so much delay in this world. So much calculation and uncertainty.  

While there is certainly a time for strategizing and consideration, many times rapid action and on-the-job training is just as good, if not better.

Brave and bold often defeats cautious and calculating.

What were the three most important decisions of your life?

A recent Quora question asked, “What were the three most important decisions of your life?”

I’ve been debating this question for almost a month, and I have finally settled on three. While many decisions could have occupied these three spots, I decided to favor the toughest and most unlikely decisions of my life rather than the ones that were easy and obvious.

For example, deciding to marry Elysha is probably the most important decision of my life, but it was barely a decision. Who wouldn’t want to marry Elysha if given the chance? It was a no-brainer.

Instead, I found three extremely important decisions in my life that could have gone either way and changed the course of my life forever.

1. Maintaining my innocence when charged with grand larceny and embezzlement.

While being questioned about a crime that I did not commit, the police almost had me convinced to confess to the crime rather than risk a lengthy prison sentence. I spent a minute in a mop closet pondering that decision and ultimately decided to stick to the truth, but it was a close call. The police can apply a great deal of pressure in these moments, particularly when you are a 19 year-old kid without any parents, any money or an attorney.

The result was a brief period of homelessness, 18 months spent working 80 hours a week at two different jobs in order to pay a $25,000 attorney’s bill, a permanent case of post traumatic stress disorder as a result of an armed robbery, and a trial where I was found not guilty.

Had I confessed and accepted their plea deal, I could not have become a teacher. 

2. Choosing West Hartford Public Schools over Newington Public Schools.

In the summer of 1999, my hometown of Newington, CT had offered me a permanent position as third grade teacher in one of their elementary schools. I was asked for a day to consider their offer, but the wait time was merely perfunctory. I was taking the job.

During that 24 hour period, I received a call from a principal in West Hartford requesting an interview. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I agreed to speak to him that day. Three hours later, he had offered me a one year position covering a second grade teacher on maternity leave.

The permanent position in Newington would have been the wise and sensible choice. It was in my hometown and would provide me with long-term stability in a time when teaching jobs were hard to find. But I was impressed by the principal, his commitment to children, and his support for the arts. After much debate, I decided upon the one year position in West Hartford, and 16 years later, I am still teaching in the same school.

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That decision changed my life. I met my wife while teaching at that school school. I met five of my closest friends while teaching, including the principal, who has since retired but remains one of my closest friends today. I met my son’s and daughter’s god parents while teaching at that school. Many of my former students are my children’s favorite babysitters, and one of my first students is our primary babysitter and like a member of the family.

I was given the freedom to create a classroom environment that placed reading, writing, and theater at its core, and I have developed a teaching philosophy that has led to much success in my field. I was named Teacher of the Year in West Hartford and was a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.

I started playing golf, a game that I love beyond all others, thanks to the friends I met at that school, and ultimately wrote a book about it. 

The school’s community, teachers, students, and parents, have become a second family to me. When my job and my future were threatened several years ago, they rallied around me in ways I could have never expected.

3. Saying yes when my best friend asked me to start a wedding DJ company with him.

In 1997, I was attending Trinity College and Saint Joseph's University fulltime, working on degrees in both English and elementary education. I was also managing a McDonald’s restaurant fulltime and tutoring students part-time at the college’s writing center. I was writing for the college’s newspaper. I was the Treasurer of the Student Senate.

I was busier than I had ever been in my life.

Then Bengi called and asked if I wanted to be a wedding DJ, even though we had no experience or equipment or knowledge of the industry, and I said yes.

Seventeen years later, we remain in business. I have entertained at more than 400 weddings in that time. The DJ company has provided me with much needed income through the lean times of my life.

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I met one of my best friends while working as the DJ at his wedding, and that friendship has led to me becoming a Patriots season ticket holder. That same friend led me back into writing when I had given up hope on ever becoming a novelist and professional writer.

I would not have a writing career today had it not been for him. 

I unknowingly gained 17 years of public speaking experience, which allowed me to step into the world of storytelling and public speaking three years ago with unexpected ease and success. I won my first Moth StorySLAM in large part to the experience I gained as a DJ.

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I have since competed in 24 Moth StorySLAMs in New York and Boston and won 12 of them. I’ve told stories for Main Stage shows and GrandSLAM championships and many other storytelling organizations in New York, Boston and Hartford. I would not be the storyteller and speaker I am today had I not worked for almost two decades as a wedding DJ.

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Telling stories for The Moth led to the founding of Speak Up, the Hartford-based storytelling organization that my wife and I founded last year. In a little over a year, we have produced eight sell out shows, launched a series of storytelling workshops, and have now been approached by outside venues, asking us to take our show on the road.

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The DJ business also led to me becoming ordained as a minister. I have presided over almost 20 weddings, one baptism, and three baby naming ceremonies in that time.

I’d love to hear your three most important decisions if you’re willing to share. Post in the comment sections. Send me an email. Contact me through social media.