The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on

Life Lessons

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me Denzel Washington’s 2011 Penn Commencement speech. There were many great parts to it… and I’m sure I will write more blog posts inspired by different sections, but for now I’ll focus on a quote where he describes an analogy Les Brown, a motivational speaker, made:

“Imagine you’re on your deathbed—and standing around your bed are the ghosts representing your unfilled potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. And they’re standing around your bed. Angry. Disappointed. Upset. ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life,’they say. ‘And now we go to the grave together.’ So I ask you today: How many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes? You invested a lot in your education. And people invested in you. And let me tell you, the world needs your talents.”

Yeah, man. We all have ideas… restaurants, blogs, screenplays, novels, fashion designs, the next slinky… but so many of us dismiss them as something for someone else to do. We can’t possibly be destined to be the next Wes Anderson. Well, have you ever actually read about Wes Anderdon’s life? He wasn’t born into greatness… it’s not like his parents were Hollywood mavens who made it easy for him to be successful. He did it himself. He was born from a realtor and advertiser, who were divorced when he was a kid, loved philosophy and worked on his passion through college. He was just another guy… but he didn’t dismiss his talent as something for someone else to do. I love reading biographies and autobiographies of people who made it… you’ll find out that they were just as lost and confused as you were at your age. They’re people. Yeah

I was lucky. When I graduated college, I decided to move back to Connecticut. I packed up, said my goodbyes, boarded my flight and flew home… my time in Chicago was done. About a week after landing on the East Coast, I was back on a train to Chicago for a job interview that I would ultimately get. During my 28 hour train ride from NYC to Chicago, I realized that I went off to Chicago to pursue comedy but didn’t even try during my four years there. I didn’t take a single class. With my dad’s advice ringing through my ears, “Shoulda’s, woulda’s, coulda’s don’t make it on the scoreboard”, I started my job, saved up some money and took my first improv class in five years. There was something about coming back to Chicago that made me refocus on what brought me here to begin with. I figured that if I don’t make it, I don’t make it… but that’s for someone else to decide. I’ll do everything in my power to pursue my passion. At the very least, it brought so many good people and so much happiness into my life. When I’m on my deathbed, I can honestly tell myself that I tried.

Related to my earlier post, in line with Denzel’s last lines, I genuinely believe that people don’t hand out empty compliments. Well, not the people who matter anyways. You know the people whose advice you always take because it’s honest… your teachers, team, close friends… they’re investing in you because they see something. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t waste their time. There are so many thingsthey could be doing instead of boosting your ego and investing time in your progression. There are so many other people they could focus on. But they’re focusing on you.

Make a list right now. I know you have time so don’t try and make excuses. You’re making time to read this so clearly it’s not a busy work day. What ideas have you had that you’re too afraid to bring to life? What would you do if there was no one around to judge you, tell you that you can’t, or if the preconceived notion that it’s too ‘tough’ didn’t exist? One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Here are my ghosts that still need a good kick in the ass:

  1. Write a book
  2. Learn how to play guitar
  3. Create a nonprofit that awards vacations to families with children who had an immediate family member pass away

If you take even one of these ideas and at least try to make it happen, you’ll live a life of fewer regrets. How are you supposed to know what you’re capable of if you don’t at least try?

I’ll leave you with this… what would the world be if everyone thought [insert your passion here] was for someone else to do? That they weren’t meant to follow their passion? Have you heard the theme song to Weeds? Yeah, it’s boring as hell.

Now take the next 22:36 to watch this, it’s worth it.