From August of 2013 through March of 2016, on paper, I was leading a dream life. It was the peak of my speaking career. I made more in a night than most of my friends made in a month. I had a global waiting list of clients. When I travelled for work, it was on someone else’s dime, often in luxury. And in its own little way, I felt like my work was helping people.
I trained Fortune 500 executives, university presidents, professional athletes, psychologists, best-selling authors, and senior members of multiple governments. In a particularly surreal moment, I even advised a member of President Obama’s Cabinet.
This was a dream come true for me. I remember watching a professional speaker in high school and thinking to myself, “Wow. That’s so cool that he makes a living giving speeches. I wish I could do that!”
Yet, in March of 2016, at the top of my game, I left professional speaking.
I’ve never shared the full story about why I chose to leave speaking, not even with my closest friends or family. When people asked me why I quit, I mumbled something about being burnt out from the perpetual travel and the demands of being on stage, but that wasn’t the whole truth.
I didn’t quit speaking for the reasons you expect. There was no hidden drug addiction, financial mismanagement, debilitating anxiety, or psychological collapse.
Instead, this is a story about how something I used to love took over my life as I became increasingly successful. Though it took me a while to understand what happened, something that started as dream come true turned into something that prevented me from living the life I wanted to live.
My aim in sharing this story is to help speakers cut through the inherent isolation of the job. I also hope to help emerging speakers avoid the mistakes I made. Along the way, I’ll share tips about how to build a thriving speaking business. I’ll conclude by discussing what I learned about success when I had to start a 40 date speaking tour days after one of my friends died.
Live performances are more isolating than anyone realizes
To be a successful speaker you have to understand something simple but often unnoticed about modernity: nearly all of the information in the world exists online for free.
That means that when someone goes to hear a speaker speak, she isn’t really interested in the information that the speaker is going to share (even though she may think she is). What she’s really interested in is how the speaker will make her feel.
In other words, the speaker’s job is to inspire intense feelings for the people in her audience. The more precisely she can create the feelings that her audience has been yearning to feel, the more successful she’ll become.
To do this, I spent months writing and testing material. I shared deeply personal stories that required earnest vulnerability. I obsessed over the talk’s structure and flow so that I could create a strong emotional connection with my audiences.
When I was on stage performing the speech I wrote, it felt like I was opening a vein. I wasn’t just sharing the bleeding edge of my life’s work; I was sharing every ounce of who I am. Though it can be difficult for people who haven’t spent much time on stage to understand, when you approach speaking like this, you end up falling in love with your audiences and yearning for them to love you too.
If I had the chance to truly get to know the individuals in my audiences, this would have been an amazing, deeply intimate shared experience. But of course, it’s impossible for a speaker to get to know each person. There’s one of me and hundreds of them.
After opening myself to audiences for years on end, it felt like I created thousands upon thousands of one-way relationships with people around the world. Though some speakers don’t seem to struggle with this, I did. I used to go back to my hotel room after a speech feeling hollow and lonely. In fact I used to tell my friends that working as a speaker made me feel like a high-end prostitute for people’s emotions. Though they laughed, I wasn’t joking.
If this only happened once or twice a year, it would be a non-event, but this was my job for nearly a decade. It happened every week.
The lifestyle creates a penetrating type of loneliness
The first time I saw the George Clooney film, “Up in the air,” I started crying because it hit so close to home. At my peak, I spent over 200 days a year on the road. I missed countless amazing events with friends and family. I spent so much time away that some of my friends just stopped calling. When I was home, I was often so exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to spend quality time with people I love.
I experimented with different ways of solving this problem. I invited my friends and girlfriend to come with me when I travelled. I offered discounts for speeches in cities where my friends and family lived.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. When someone came with me to an event, I felt torn between two worlds. On one hand, the event was literally paying for my presence and attention. On the other hand, by paying full attention to the event, I was neglecting the person I brought with me. When I spoke in cities that friends lived in, I rarely got to spend good time with them; most of my time was spent recovering or prepping for the next event.
However, I did find one solution that worked well: incentivizing clients to hire my speaker friends to speak with me. Pulling this off required a small miracle (the client needed a budget, and the friend needed to be available and a good fit), but when it worked, it was amazing. Though this only happened a few times, it consistently created some of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had. In fact I remain enthusiastic about speaking at conferences that my friends are speaking at.
Touring makes mental and physical health borderline impossible
Several things that are bad for your health: having extreme levels of stress and neglecting diet, sleep, and exercise. Unfortunately, professional speaking requires all of them.
Even if you’re fairly confident on stage, there are so many moving pieces that public speaking can’t help but become an extremely stressful experience.
A very abbreviated list of details that working speakers need to keep track of while traveling for work:
- Getting to the airport on time
- Having a backup plan for missed, delayed, or cancelled flights
- Ensuring that there is a driver or rental car waiting for you at the airport
- Remembering personal details about your client and her life (when someone spends a lot of money on you and trusts you to speak at their event, they get offended if you don’t make them feel cared about)
- Verifying that there are no mistakes in your slides and that it is customized to your audience
- Making sure that the batteries in your mic and clicker are fresh
- Understanding the logistics well enough so that you can get to the venue in time for your first event (often a dinner with the sponsors for which you’re expected to be “on”) and that you can return to the airport in time for your next flight
- Remaining pleasant and playful towards all of the people you meet throughout the event (again, if you can’t show up generously and enthusiastically for the people you’re working with, you’re doing it wrong)
And then of course, there’s that 60-minute talk that you have to know cold and be confident performing in front of hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.
While all of these things are going on, you’ll also have to deal with the annoying reality that you can’t maintain your diet, exercise, or sleep on the road as well as you can at home.
In moderation, the demands of giving a speech can be pretty exciting and the departure from your normal wellness habits is trivial. But when you do this every single week, it becomes deadening.
Speaking for small crowds in big rooms is common. It’s also mortifying.
Any business owner deals with an insane amount of rejection in the form of unreturned calls and emails, unsolicited criticism, and straight up, “No’s.”
For speakers -and anyone else selling themselves- this rejection runs the risk of feeling extremely personal. If you don’t learn to untangle your professional identity from who you truly are, you run the risk of being eaten alive by the world.
After a year or two, I learned to detach myself from most forms of rejection. Still, there was a subtle form of rejection that I could never get over, and it mortified me every time it happened: speaking for small crowds in big rooms.
There is a huge difference between speaking for 100 people in a room designed to hold 75 and speaking for 100 people in a room designed to hold 500. Even though the number of people attending remains the same, the feel is completely different.
Speaking for 100 people in a small room will make you –and the audience- feel amazing. The energy and excitement will be almost tangible. Speaking for 100 people in a huge room will make you feel like an embarrassment. It’s impossible to ignore all of the people who were expected to show up, but didn’t.
On any given night, I ran the risk of dealing with something that felt terribly embarrassing, and often I did end up playing for small crowds in big rooms. In fact, there were three speeches where the event coordinator was planning for at least 200 people to show up, but fewer than ten showed up. Yeah, that sucked.
While there are ways to pivot around this problem (like turning an unexpectedly small event into an intimate conversation), it’s still horribly embarrassing. Unfortunately, this is a problem that all non-celebrity speakers have to cope with.
Ultimately, my heart was no longer in it
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but all of the above problems blurred together and left me feeling depressed about my job. Though I loved the hour or two I spent on stage and the time spent with my clients and audience members, I dreaded everything surrounding it. I especially hated the way it took me away from my personal life.
I also lost faith in the idea that giving a one-hour speech is a good way to change the world. Can it be done? Yes, of course, but it only seems to happen once every few decades.
Will I give speeches again in the future? Absolutely. There’s a lot of things I love about speaking, but it is unlikely to ever be my primary professional focus again. For me, the price isn’t worth the cost.
It’s been eight months since I gave my last professional speech, and truthfully, I don’t remember the last time I was this happy.
Advice to emerging professional speakers
I know that many people want to pursue a career in professional speaking, and I get it. Though I’m glad I left, I’m very grateful that I pursued it for as long as I did. For those interested in building a speaking business, here are my best tips:
Be honest with yourself about your motives: though few are willing to admit this, most people who are drawn to speaking are driven by the desire for validation. They believe that approval from audiences or clients who fly you around will make them feel worthy and successful. I’ll save you a lot of time and heartache: if you’re primarily motivated by the validation or money, don’t waste your time. The only speakers who succeed long term are the ones who want to give back to the world through speaking. If you’re just looking for money and accolades, there are far easier ways to get them.
Focus on a centralized market. I spoke on very niche topics: leadership for millennials and self-compassion for high performing individuals. Though there is an active market for both of these topics, it’s decentralized. This means that I had to travel for most of my gigs.
It’s entirely possible to make a healthy living as a speaker without ever getting on a plane. The best way to do this is to speak about a topic that has a broad appeal (sales, leadership, business, or personal development), and focus all of your sales and marketing efforts on local or regional markets.
Develop a complementary source of income. One of the main reasons I spoke as much as I did is because it was my only source of income. You can increase your earnings by having a book, course, product, coaching sessions, or consulting services to offer your audience. In fact, the only speakers I know personally who make more than $250,000/year are those who sell additional products or services.
Try to take both praise and criticism impersonally. Love and validation are not things that you need to earn; they are things you must search for within yourself. You are not your business. It’s ok if some people don’t love you. Conversely, even if you get standing ovations every night, this does not excuse you for being a jerk to your brother.
In the beginning focus on two things: sales and your speech. Social media, branding, networking events, your logo, a fancy website, and all of that other stuff is a waste of time when you’re starting. Focus all of your attention on developing the best speech that you can and selling yourself. Many speakers go to great lengths to avoid selling themselves. Let me make this easy: selling yourself is unavoidable, so you might as well start now. No amount of twitter followers or Facebook likes will change that.
Continually invest in your ability as a speaker. To be blunt: most people who think they are good speakers, aren’t. Holding an audience’s attention for an hour and leaving a client feeling like that hour was worth thousands of dollars is exceptionally difficult. Even if you are an amazing speaker, you should always work to refine your craft and provide a better experience to your audience. Study improv comedy, standup comedy, storytelling, acting, and screenwriting. If you can find a good speaking coach (unfortunately, they’re rare) work with her.
Post Script: what you learn when your life collapses right before a national speaking tour
In July of 2013, my personal life collapsed. My girlfriend of several years and I broke up, my best friend moved away, and a close friend died. All this happened in one month’s time. I was a wreck. For days on end I drank myself to sleep and struggled to get out of bed.
One month later, in August of 2013, my professional life flourished. I began a 40 date speaking tour that would take me across the United States and back. I was more successful than most speakers could ever dream of.
These side-by-side experiences allowed a very rare glimpse into the reality and power (or lack thereof) of success.
I learned something that I still cherish today: my personal life is far more valuable than my professional life. The success that I had worked so hard for did nothing –literally nothing– to alleviate the pain I was experiencing.
I learned that I would rather build my life around my relationships and figure out how to fit my work in afterwards. I learned, cliché as it is, that status is no replacement for physical and mental health.
I learned that, at its best, success will magnify how you already feel about yourself. At its worst, it will chew you up, spit you out, and walk away with no regard whatsoever for your well-being. So pursue the projects that you care about; in fact, pursue them with as much of your heart as you possibly can. Just don’t fall into the modern trap of believing you can enjoy life without time for the people you love.
103 thoughts on “Letting go of a dream: why I left professional speaking”
Very interesting and sincere article. I did not know a lot of these facts about pro speaking. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks Matija – so glad to hear you enjoyed the article. Yeah… professional speaking is very different than it seems.
Thank you for sharing this story. It is a great personal story and I could relate to it because it is exactly how I felt in my 30s working in the financial services sector, travelling every week and experiencing the same intense feelings. This is not just good advice for speakers, it’s good advice for people in the corporate world that are caught in cycle of “work before life.” Your advice about how to break the cycle is useful for anyone who has let their career consume them.
Marie, wow, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. And you’re right, though the specific points are about the quirks of working as a pro speaker, the real narrative is about something that’s happening more and more often: people are sacrificing their lives for “success” and then realizing that it really, really wasn’t worth it. I feel fortunate b/c I still had the force vitale to quit… many people just surrender and accept a miserable life of work. In fact, being burnt out is becoming some sort of perverse status symbol among the ambitious. It’s ridiculous. I’m delighted you escaped the cycle and to hear that the article resonated. 🙂
Jason, I enjoy reading your work. This personal story tops your other pieces, which is probably one of the things you discovered in speaking. It’s funny, because you say that most people aren’t as good as they think they are at speaking. It reminds me of the statistics I read about men who played sports in their younger years believing they could have been good enough to go professional had they gotten a lucky break or two, which of course was completely ridiculous over-confidence in their abilities. As an educator, teacher and principal, I always wanted to be better than I was, loved by all and inspirational and life-changing to young people. After retiring, I celebrated some of the small relationships and differences I had made. Being in touch with some former students, I know I was influential in some lives. More importantly, my relationships with my wife, family and friends outside of the work world have made my life full and satisfying, so yes, I relate to much of what you have written. You arrived at this wisdom at a much younger age.
David, thank you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comment. It’s funny… I first learned in speaking that the more I share of myself, the more I can connect with my audiences when I – on a dare – started a speech by telling the audience what I had for breakfast. 🙂
Yeah… people – and I’m sure I do this in plenty of areas – tend to overestimate their ability when compared to the norm. I think the statistic is that 90% of people believe that they are better drivers than they are.
I can totally relate to wanting to be better/more influential than you any human is actually capable of (even Mother Teresa wasn’t loved by all). That said, I wonder if you’re underestimating the impact you had. One of my principals made a massive difference in my life, and the lives of many of my friends, as did several of my teachers.
I’m not 100% sure my Mom would aggree that I’ve arrived at any sort of wisdom, 🙂 but I deeply, deeply appreciate your note. Thanks David.
By the way, you wanted to see my website. I haven’t purchased a domain yet, so it is only published for folks giving me feedback, but here is the link. I think I still need to put your link into it: http://davidhazen.wixsite.com/gratis-university
Fantastic article. This was my first read … so I kinda feel like I’m late to the game.
But wow. Simply at a storytelling level this was incredibly compelling: the honesty, the openness, and especially the practical applications throughout.
I’m curious about a few things:
1. What’d you do to off set what must have been a massive loss of income?
2. What do you do now? (Forgive me if clicking around your website will answer that question. I’m off to do that next.)
3. Have you talked with other professional speakers who face the same struggles? What keeps them from walking away?
Great get-to-know-you post! Thanks so much.
Aaron, thank you so much. You’re comment delights me, and I love the questions. 🙂
1) Quitting speaking was a controlled burn for me. I had been in the game for a while and had a lot of happy customers. Once I realized I was quitting, I did one last tour and told my favorite clients what was happening. A lot of them booked me. I saved most of the tour’s income as a cushion while I transitioned. In other words, I worked to generate a decent amount of savings before I pulled the plug.
Also, I managed to avoid falling into a trap that a lot of folks fall into. For years I was making almost no money at all. I had to learn how to be happy and healthy with very little. When my business took off, I didn’t see the need to scale my life in any significant manner. To this day, I still live in a small apartment, cook much more than I go out, and am more likely to write a heartfelt letter than I am to drop hundreds of dollars on a fancy gift. So while the loss of income was significant at first, it didn’t actually affect my lifestyle in any meaningful way.
2) No worries at all… I’m not 100% sure my parents know what I do. 🙂 My passion is writing, hence this blog. For income I work one-on-one with entrepreneurs, politicians, athletes, entertainers, and other rascals who are successful, but not happy. I have a weird knack for helping them find happiness. I also occasionally consult for speakers who need help building their business or forming deeper connections with their audiences.
3) So this article just went out today. A SHOCKING number of working speakers emailed me about the article saying they could relate to it. While the validation is nice, I was a bit frustrated too. I wish more people working in public would be honest about their struggles, so they don’t mislead the people who are thinking of following in their footsteps. I think what keeps them from walking away, in most cases, is the sheer inertia of their work. Even if you’ve achieved modest success, leaving it for an unknown future is pretty scary. Additionally, speaking and other forms of live performance offer a dangerous amount of external validation. Though few would admit it straight up, there’s a good chance that they’re nervous about leading a life without the validation. I was….
So glad to have you as a reader Aaron, thanks!
Note: I edited my response after posting it to elaborate on the loss of income.
Jason, This knocked me out. It is so true, so well articulated. I applaud your candid take on something I have often tried to capture in words but failed to. This essence of my ability to cope with what you’ve experienced is by making sure I wasn’t on the road too much, that was the only way I could get through it, and created the inverse of what had been: 200 dates per year for clients that began to feel like a torturous job and was truly killing both my voice and my body. Now I have almost found the balance, still trying, between time on the road, time at home, time for my body to recover and heal, time for familial relationships (I call it Quantity Time vs. Quality Time), but you’re totally right, it’s a really challenging practice to maintain. I’m so impressed with what you’ve said here and I wish you the best. There are many trying to make a transition, but trapped within the financial and/or egotistical grip of stage, fame, persona, and it’s silly from my perspective now looking back at what I was trying to hang on to, but for so many it’s all too real to let go and appears to be the path to happiness in the alienation of relationships and self-care. So I applaud your willingness to step into the void and do this. Your writing is brilliant. Continued success on the new venture – rather, this extension of what you were already doing: inspiring others to greatness and happy lives.
Jason. Wow. I’ve read your comment three times now. Thank you. I’m a bit speechless (a rather rare and alarming condition for me, as I’m sure you can understand 🙂 ). And woof. I never came anything close to 200 dates/year. I can’t imagine how you did that. More than that though, I admire your decision to step back from that, and spend time with your family, while also letting your body and voice recover (btw, I forgot about the toll it took on my voice… I was chronically raspy and at times, horse on stage). One of the biggest reasons I quit when I did, is because it was already taking me away from myself and my relationships. I’d like to have kids one day, and when I do, I want to be there. I love that you’ve done something similar. By aligning your work to your health you’re giving other people who work in public permission to rebalance their lives too. Doing this much, much harder than any outsider would ever estimate.
It’s hard because extreme success is just massively seductive and for some people, weirdly fun to chase. It’s also, as far as I can tell, not actually worth it. The validation, the status, the inertia…. not to mention the genuine privilege and delight of working with large groups of people all at once, night after night is insane. It’s addictive. So I applaud YOUR willingness to also pause, step back, and make some tough, but ultimately beneficial decisions. I wish more people in our space (and by that, I mean people who work in public) would do this, and then talk about it. It enables us to lead by example instead of subtly (but profoundly) lying to the people who observe us.
Your reply to Jason was as brilliant was your testimony above. Wow. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing
Hahaha, Wow, Erik, this made me smile from ear to ear. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comment (especially given that it’s in part about a comment). Really glad to hear the article and conversation resonated with you.
If you don’t know who Erik is…Google Him!
You might be surprised by how genuine he is and how similar your jobs are/were.
Exquisitely written. Heartfelt and honest. Like all your work and the person you are. At the end of the day it’s our relationships – not forgetting the one we have with ourselves – that give our life meaning. Take care & Be well!
Thank you so much Patty, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. And well said. Though it took me a little while to understand, relationships – though easy to put on the back burner – are so much more important than work. I doubt anyone has ever arrived at their deathbed thinking, “You know, I wish I spent less time with my loved ones, and more time trying to make money. Damn!”
Jason this could not be more relevant to my life right now as I sit in an airport alone about to board a plane for a sales call. While not a professional speaker, I see many parallels to the life of sales in a market where face to face contact is crucial. Over the last year I’ve struggled to balance life on the road with maintaining any semblance of physical and mental health. Your statement “if you’re primarily motivated by the validation or money, don’t waste your time” is something I’ve thought about a lot lately and forced myself to ask why I’m doing what I do. Thankfully I’ve found the true answer to that and now evaluate my progress against that goal. It’s still very hard to leave my family behind as I embark on the next trip, but I’m on the path to finding the balance I need to be happy. Thanks again for this fantastic post reminding your readers what really matters.
Adam – I really appreciate your note. God, I know that feeling of sitting alone in an airport. It can be so much harder and more isolating than people realize, especially if you’re leaving a life you enjoy/people you love (and it sounds like you are). There’s a huge overlap between being a salesperson and a speaker, so I totally get your ability to relate.
I’m glad to hear that you’re working towards a greater balance in your life. There is definitely a way to do it, and your family is fortunate that you’re doing the hard work of making it happen. Good luck!
As you are a speaker and entrepreneur I assume, the last thing entrepreneurs need to worry about is being normal because the more abnormal you are, the crazier are your abilities where they really matter.
While reading your story, the prelude, climax, and the learning remind me my story. When I failed in my exams, left home to start my startup, and then after 9 months or exhaustive experimentation I went back to home.
I was so deep into to make my startup win until, I got hit by a breakup in a relationship. I was so broke inside – as I was trying to build my career but my ex-girlfriend wants me to hang around her.
I am writing this first time because your story motivated me to let it out of my chest.
If I take a step back and recall that moment – I never told anybody how isolated I became from inside, my happiness was long gone and I have had become a work-a-holic. I wake up at 9am, attend my classes(while working in my startup), then work for a Company from 1pm-1am shift (for passive income), and then eat my diner at 2 am, and sleep.
This was the routines i have made myself, and in between this I forgot to see myself, I have had became a monster – who just want to keep going, and I have forgotten to express myself. In this long journey I went back to home started spending my time with my family and aware myself that it was not my mistake. I had been so harsh on myself.
Though i learned forgiveness, especially myself. We should forgive ourselves thought these resentment and bitterness sand should focus on our strengths and trueness by being honest and embrace the time, and be thankful for being a part of our lives.
I reunited with my inner self, got ahead on of the important phase of my life and spreading love of writing everywhere .
Thank you Jason for sharing your story with us.
Oh man, I can totally relate to what you’ve written here Bhupinder, thank you for sharing this. When I started my speaking business, I totally threw myself into it. It ruined my mental health and took a toll on a few of my most important relationships. It took me a long, long time to reconnect with myself in a way that was healthy and loving.
It’s funny to have that dual experience like yours – a flourishing business contrasted against a broken relationship. Businesses seem flashy; relationships seem mundane. And yet, when you compare them side by side, it become obvious that the glitz is nearly worthless compared to having people you care about.
I’m especially glad that you’ve worked to forgive yourself and be gentle on yourself. This is a life skill that should be taught along side reading and math. It can help turn someone who feels robotic and beaten down, back into a vibrant, creative, loving human.
I’m touched that you’ve shared your journey with me and look forward to seeing where it leads you. Thank you.
Wow this is just so well-done. Thank you for being so open and honest and communicating to me what I didn’t fully realize I’ve been wanting to communicate to myself on some days. This hit me on a personal level, and I’m grateful to you for putting this in writing. Most people think I/we are leading these great lives and must feel so loved and good about ourselves all the time and, while I am very blessed, I also realize how alone we can feel and that our relationships are where we need to feel fulfilled. Your candor has just made this guy’s somewhat dreary day and mood better. In writing about your lonesomeness and struggles, you’ve helped rid me of mine today! Thank you!
Chris, wow. Thank you. I’m so glad to hear that this article resonated with you, and that it helped rid some of your struggle too. It’s funny, your comment, as well as a few other comments/emails from other speakers have made me realize that TONS of people in our industry are dealing with this. I wish more of them would deal with it in public so we can all collectively feel less isolated. Kudos to you for doing that. 🙂 It’s a funny paradox we have… we can make a real difference in people’s lives and be showered in all sorts of rewards for it, but the level of sacrifice required to do so is much greater than most estimate. Thanks so much for your note Chris.
Wow! This is very impactful to me as I am currently on a speaking tour. I just got off stage an hour ago. These are all things I have dealt with and completely understand! Thanks for sharing this!
Thanks Jake. I’m actually pretty honored – and excited – that this article got to you while you’re on tour and just getting off stage. Those are weird, precious moments. I remember life on tour… during really demanding times I think I felt every emotion possible, all in the course of a day. Good luck my friend, and take good care of yourself. 🙂
Boom. You just nailed what I’ve been feeling as my speaking career continues to grow. I’ve been working to productize myself so I can make more while travelling less and be more selective about niche audiences.
Thank you for opening up with your emotions. It’s raw. I think sharing this with my circle will help them understand my own mixed emotions about success in this arena.
Kyle – thanks so much for your message, I really appreciate that. And I’m glad to hear that you’re working to productize yourself so you can be more selective about when you get on stage and who you work for. And I’m DELIGHTED to hear that this article may help your inner circle understand what your life is like. It’s so easy for an outsider – even a very close one – to get distracted by the glitz of the lifestyle, without ever understanding the sacrifice and intensity involved with it all. I accepted that most of my audiences would think of me mostly as a concept (as opposed to human); when I noticed people close to me doing that, it broke my heart (even though I understood).
Outstanding piece! It hit home with me in a lot of way but I’m the reverse of you( I think). I’ve been in sales for 30 years and have been a part time sales trainer/speaker for 9 years(mainly in my industry, Promotional Products(logo items for corporations)…I’ve been fortunate to have enough success in sales that I’m trying to transition into full time sales training/speaking in the next 2 years…The one part that hit me was the “Why?” Why do you want to speak? For money? Adoration? I want to do it for what you mentioned in your article, to help people. If I can help one person, I know I’ve achieved my goal (hope to help many)…Now my mission is happiness…Happiness for me and everyone I touch in my life including audiences I speak to. I overcame a 2 1/2 year health issue that almost took my life. I wrote a book about it and now that is a primary mission. To help people persevere and also seek inner happiness…Again, your article was so refreshing and hit home with me! Thank you
Danny, thank you so much for your note and sharing your story with me. I really appreciate that. And good luck on your transition from working in sales and sales training, to working as a force for happiness. I admire that you’re using your life story in service of other people. To me, that’s what a real speaker does. Working to spread happiness can be true magic. You’re a force for good my friend. The trap that most working speakers fall into is that they end up sacrificing their happiness in order to (hopefully) help others find it. If you can walk the line of maintaining yours while inspiring others, you’ll go on to make a huge difference. I look forward to watching what you create. 🙂
Being a teacher, as I read your article there many points that I could apply to my world. Thank you!
Hey Diane! It never occurred to me that this would be relatable to a teacher, but now that I think about it, I realize, “DUH! Of course teachers get it.” Y’all are in front of people, usually selflessly and thanklessly, you’re extremely generous and giving, and you have to be “on” most of the time. Thrilled you helped me realize this, and that the article was useful for you. 🙂
PS Funny synchronicity: My Mom is a teacher named Diane as well. 🙂
You put into words some of the things I have experienced in the speaking business, but couldn’t put my finger on. Thank you for sharing and helping me realize what it was that bothered me. Now I can reassess and move forward with changes that support the lifestyle and my goals for service and connection.
Hi Shelly – I’m honored to have played a part in helping you understand yourself and your work a bit better. Thats magic! Good luck creating alignment between your lifestyle and your goals…. it can be challenging but is well, WELL worth the investment. 🙂
Thank you for this amazing article! Been there, done that, still doing some of that, working through those and grateful to know I’m not alone. Bless you Jason!
Hi Heidi! So glad to hear the article resonated, and especially charmed to hear it’s helped you feel less alone. It’s funny, comments like yours and many of the others have made me feel less alone too. It’s beautiful what happens when people are open and honest. 🙂
Thank you for the reaffirmation. I’ve been a professional speaker and family business consultant for the past 30+ years. I chuckle when my husband (and best friend) says to me, “Remind me again, what are you priorities?” Me: “Faith, Family, Friends, Farm, Speaking.” Husband, “OK, just making sure you remembered.”
Jolene – really appreciate the note here, and I’m honored to hear that the article resonated with you. It’s funny to hear that your husband nudges you verbalize your priorities; a speaker’s life can be very, very strange to onlookers. It’s awesome that you so readily, and so clearly know what’s important to you.
Great article! I really appreciate the authenticity and vulnerability you shared by being honest about what really happened. They why’s and what’s of speaking are fabulous food for though. Thanks again!
So glad to hear it resonated with you D. You’re very welcome. 🙂
Wow! Mind blowing article. I completely relate to it.
Thank you for being so candid…and correct!
My pleasure Sharookh – thrilled to hear you were able to relate. Makes me feel less alone. 🙂
Thank you! This has been shared on the National Speakers Association Member only Facebook page and I pray every professional speaker reads it. Spot-on. I made a move 3 years ago to close my speaking practice/business that I had built over 15 years to work with a small group of thought-leaders in the meetings industry because I was so tired of only hearing my voice. I was starving for collaboration and innovation and to be part of a team again. My speaker friends thought I was crazy to take a salaried position much less than what I made on my own but it has been the best move I’ve ever made. I still speak about 40% of the time and the rest I’m consulting with clients, creating new audience engagement experiences and helping create more connection and community at face to face meetings. I’m writing more because my teammates push me to take my thought leadership further and as a result, I’m a much better speaker. I have a much more balanced life with great benefits (like paid vacation)!!! Thanks for your honesty and I really hope our paths cross some day. I would really like to meet you.
Sarah, thank you. My quiet dream for this article was that it would reach other speakers, and since I was largely an outsider in the community, I wasn’t sure if that would actually happen or not. I’m delighted to hear it has. And wow, congrats on closing your speaking biz after 15 years (admittedly, it’s a bit odd to write that, but I’m happy for you… closing mine did amazing things for me). Im thrilled to hear you found a team to work with. I have a few behind the scenes collaborators here, and it’s SO SO nice to work on something with other people. Sounds like you’re doing awesome work, with great people. It’s amazing (though not 100% surprising) that reconnecting to your heart – even if that meant speaking less – helped you become a better speaker. I hope our paths cross too. 🙂
As someone who has been speaking for a while your thoughts resonated with me but not for the same reasons as others. You see I did well for a while, trading off my status as a newbie working my way up the ranks. I’m now considered experienced, I have status in certain circles. Sounds great, right? Well, along the way the market changed making it harder to get work meaning I have to do more active selling. Guest what? I don’t like selling. I like performing, for all the reasons you described. After a couple of years of struggle I am now starting to get help with the issues that are blocking me. Step one is admitting I have an issue, which I am yet to do with anyone in the industry. Thanks for the opportunity to start talking about it even if I’m not ready to put my name to it.
K- first of all, a HUGE congratulations to you for owning that you have a problem. That’s HUGE! Also, for what it’s worth, I’ve mentored a lot of speakers and entrepreneurs over the years – some wayyyy more successful than I am – and by far the hardest thing for most to deal with is selling themselves. Sales are extremely demanding emotionally. When the product you’re selling is yourself, it’s downright terrifying. In fact, you just reminded me of a story I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Through some crazy stroke of luck, I actually got my first inbound call for a speaking gig a few weeks after starting the biz. I was so nervous about selling myself that I couldn’t even answer the phone. It took me several hours just to listen to the vmail and a day and a half to return the call. This is all a long way of saying: I feel you. Selling yourself is extremely hard. Something tells me though – especially since you’re getting help – that you’ll conquer the fear. Bravo for talking about it in public, and good luck!
PS I can tell you this: a handful
Wow. Total wow. I came over here for the first time via a link that Chad Hymas shared. Thabks for opening up and sharing. Ive been working on building up more speaking engagements and this has me thinking really hard about what I truly want from speaking. Thank you.
Hi Karen – thanks so much for the comment. Cool that Chad shared my article (I was unaware of that, but am delighted by it). Also, I’m really happy this article reached you as you are building up your speaking business. I mentioned this in a different comment, but it is my quiet wish that this article will reach speakers, and specifically speakers as they’re building their business so that they can build one that is a bit more balanced and nurturing than mine was. I can’t tell you how happy am that it got to you and resonated. Good luck!
Wow, insightful article! I respect speakers for what they do because most of the population fears public speaking more than death, so not many people can do it. But if I had been a speaker, I think I would have stopped after a while too. I think eventually most people want to do something that gives them freedom of time and place. This is why I have a marketing business now. I wish you a lot of happiness in your future!
Hi Suzanna – thrilled to hear that you’ve found a business that supports your life (and not the other way around). Few entrepreneurs manage to do that. And also, glad you liked the article. And thanks for the respect for the industry, really appreciate that. And though few speakers will admit it, death is much MUCH scarier than stepping on stage. 🙂
Thank you for sharing this amazing testimonial to which every speaker can relate. While reading it, many memories from my 20 years of speaking came into view. One was from early in my career when I turned down a big gig with a well known bureau because I would have had to miss my daughter’s middle school graduation party. This and other similar decisions may have been viewed by some at the time as career limiting, but I know now without a doubt that they were life enhancing and actually made me a better and more relatable speaker because I was experiencing a real life!
I always tried to remember that one of the reasons I got out of sales and into speaking was to be able to have more control over my life. I was determined not to lose that control from early on and similarly to what wonderful Jolene discussed, I sought to keep my priorities in the right order.
As I know the ability to put family before speech was sometimes made possible by having a husband with a steady income to join with mine, I am always mindful of those who may be the primary or sole earner and have to make a different choice.
With all of its challenges, those of us who have had the privilege of a career sharing ideas witb others are truly blessed. We must also make time to experience the blessings of faith family and friends or as you have so eloquently illustrated, it can become a hollow journey.
Wishing you the best as you share your talents with others in new and exciting ways!
Hey Teresa – I really appreciate the note. Until this article, I thought I was the only speaker who dealt with these issues.
I LOVE that you turned down a prestigious gig to be at your daughter’s graduation party. You’re a good roll model.
And well said. I think it’s really sharp that you and Jolene clearly articulate your priorities and let them guide you. If I ever return to a lifestyle as demanding as a pro-speakers, I will assuredly borrow that trick from y’all. 🙂
And YES we are beyond fortunate to have had the ability and opportunity to share our gifts with the wider world. While it makes a lot of sense for me to step back from speaking, I’m sooooo grateful that I had the opportunity.
Thank you Jason. I love being a speaker and I have some great friends who are speakers, but it’s a weird job that seems to encourage exaggerated conversations of success in all areas of life. Your honesty is spot on. You wrote many tips and truisms that are worth remembering and for that I’m truly grateful. I will share your article with others and, in the meantime, I wish you all the happiness you can muster.
Lynda – I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your note. Thank you. And yeah… it feels like if you’re a working speaker, part of the job is to posture (even if just a bit) about how much you love the success and how the sacrifices are non-events when compared with the ability to serve. Thanks for being part of a healthier conversation. I think that the more we do this collectively, the more we’ll be able to elevate the industry.
I read your article with interest as i come from a performing musician background and work now with singers and speakers. You are right because people want to be on stage for all the wrong reasons they just don’t see it. My family were highly paid actors and entertainers and I saw it all first hand. I’m sorry you gave now left the stage as talking about this truth could be your greatest service. It’s not ra ra its standing for truth –
Hi Angela. I really appreciate your note. It’s cool to hear that it resonated with someone who works in entertainment. That doesn’t come as a huge surprise to me… I always viewed speaking as a sort of intellectual form of entertainment. I really admire that you watched fame first hand, and opted out. Not a lot of people have that courage. And I’m touched that you wish I was still on stage. I’ll return in small doses from time to time. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your story. My life was your life, until I left that life of
working 100 hours per week/3 countries per week throughout Eastern
Europe because I missed a family event. I opted for a life in balance; I
pursued it and found it. Since that time, my speaking topic reflect Balance,
and although I miss my former life in some way, I would not trade a thing
because I have found my focus.
Hi Sharon. Wow. 100 hour weeks are really, really hard. I’m not sure I can say in good faith that I’ve ever done that. I admire that you left the intense demands to find something more human and suited to your truth. I find it especially inspiring to hear that you wouldn’t trade it. It’s been 8 months since my last paid speech, and I’ve never been so happy. 🙂
This article is wonderfully raw. I’m a patented inventor and small business owner. I’ve only done a few small speeches at Women’s Networking events and schools but I feel your article resonates with many self employed people.
I remember a fellow small business owner asking me if I really wanted to leave my good paying job in healthcare to isolate myself in a design studio and build the same thing over and over for years to come. I remember passionately saying “Of course! My gardening invention is going to revolutionize the way people garden, all over the world. I get to be creative, set my own schedule, work with who I want to, vend at events to get to meet and connect my customers, etc.” And I went on and on with all the rose colored glass reasons I could come up with; you get the idea.
He said “Talk to me in three years.”
Well it took four years of working eighteen hours a day, not seeing my kids or husband, not eating properly or caring for myself at all to pull back. It was as if I forgot why I wanted to start in the first place… It was all consuming trying to compete and market and connect, constantly.
I still have my small business but I set hours I work, I make family a priority and I exercise, meditate and eat right everyday. My company is not a million dollar success story but like you’ve come to realize too, money is not the most important thing.
Thanks for the article and the reminder.
Thank you so much Christina. It’s cool to hear that you related to the article even though you’re not a full time speaker. You’re right… it probably does apply to most people who work for themselves, because pretty much all entrepreneurs work in public in one way or another.
I feel you. I’ve become consumed by my work to the point of it eating away at me, while simultaneously losing site of why I started in the first place too. I’m thrilled to hear you realigned with your priorities. Not ever one manages to do that. And I feel ya… I mean, I wouldn’t turn down a million dollars (in fact, it’d be pretty sweet), but I’m also no longer willing to sell my life for it. Thanks for the camaraderie.
Wow, what you just shared with the readers has impacted us all in so many different ways! For me, you filled in some blank spots that were holding me back from fully committing to public entertaining! I thought my dream was to entertain but as much as I love it locally, I hesitated to throw myself into it fully, and couldn’t put a voice as to why. I know a fear of failure is always lurking, for me as well as many others, but wasn’t thinking that was the whole reason for my hesitancy. I have been in Toastmasters for over four years and have grown to love the limelight there, I was looking at my next step being a local open mic but knowing it was the first step on the path to making a career out of entertaining, have not gone and done it. Now I know why. I treasure my personal relationships and have a responsibility to my husband who is dependent on my being present to manage the household, and am involved in many community programs that help others, and frankly do not want to be on a tight schedule of travel and performance, even IF I was good enough to grow in that direction in the first place. In reading your wonderful heartfelt article, you have saved me from a life of loss. I am still interested in locally amazing others, but am now content to stay home and have fun here while sleeping in my own bed at night! You have made me happy inside my head again! thanks so very much!!
Oh my God, Linda. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you shared this with me. You’ve made my day. One of my hopes for this article is that it would help other people learn from my mistakes. I wasn’t sure if that would be possible or not… learning vicariously is difficult, especially since society right now overvalues the prestige of working as a speaker/entertainer. To hear that this article helped save you from loss and reconnected you to your happiness… I could cry. Thank you.
I wrote the above yesterday and was anxious to see if you had responded by this morning, thanks for the response! I have two things to add, one is that I had 3 older sisters that I watched make mistakes and learned from that a lot about how to make better decisions, based on what I learned from others’ choices and their consequences, and I do consider that valuable, and two, I woke up this morning feeling no ambivalence about what I do want to do and what I don’t want to do as a speaker! I didn’t realize how deep the roots of indecision were! Thanks again for helping me with ironing out
my thoughts!! Peace!
My pleasure Linda. There are ways to build your speaking business where it’s less draining than mine. In fact, I think a few famous speakers contacted me telling me they’re writing a response to the article discussing how they deal with the issues that inspired me to leave.
More than that though, I’d encourage you to create silence in your life, and sit with the different options ahead of you. See what feels right when you imagine it. And also, realize that you can always walk down one path, and if it’s not right for you, leave it. Good luck, and I look forward to hearing about what you create. 🙂
Jason – congratulations making a personal decision that many speakers will simply not understand. No matter – it’s your decision and not theirs.
I share many of the pain points you described. In less than a decade, I went from a total unknown to being asked to present at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland and at the ‘big room’ at the 700 Club , profiled by the NYT, FT of London and Fortune Magazine to name a few. In addition? 2000+ media Interviews and articles published in Scientific American, The WSJ, NYT and 100s more besides. Two tours from hell – 60 continuous days on the road – different city and/or country every single day.
Sounds glamorous to some – never to me – it was work. It was a project I placed on my own shoulders with no regrets. I spoke on a topic that had a well defined ‘best by date’… all of the above came to an end – mission accomplished. I would NOT want to do anything like it again. I cannot imagine doing ANY of what I did for the applause, celebrity status etc. etc. All of that stuff was necessary IF I wanted to solve a particular problem.
I was asked once if I would miss all the attention… they THOUGHT that all of the above was enjoyable or desirable in some way. They missed the point – we put up with all the so called ‘glamour’ in order to achieve personal goals. On the other hand? If a speaker is after the celebrity status? It’s there if they’re willing to sacrifice most anything else.
I am still a professional speaker – I don’t think I CAN change that – I love the fun, challenge, and sheer thrill of interacting with an audience, and when I see the ‘lights go on in their eyes’? I’m exactly where I need to be.
Not sure if you’ll glean anything from all this – just wanted to let you know, you’re not alone.
If you ever want to chat? Happy to be available. Just connect.
Hahaha, Peter, thank you. I’ve been surprised by two things. 1) The number of speakers who do understand my decision. It made me feel far less alone. 2) For those who don’t understand, I’m surprised by the ways in which they were confused. But then, of course, anyone working in public knows that no matter how talented you are as a communicator, you wont always be understood. C’est la vie.
And wow. I really appreciate you sharing your story. It’s funny… even for me, reading about your path, it’s easy to be mezermized by the success. But then, I remember that you’re human, and my heart kind of flutters for you. Thats hard, hard, hard work. The physical and emotional demands are just inexplicably intense. I respect that you accomplished your mission and peaced out.
At some point I’ll return to speaking too, though with much less intensity than in the past. I like how you put it, that when it clicks, you know you’re in the right place. And thanks for the offer to connect. I always appreciate meeting other people who are honest about their experience working on stage.
If you’re ever in Toronto? I offer a home cooked meal, and no need to be ‘on’ in any way, shape or form.
You will be greeted by Bella – – a soft coated wheaten terrier. If she accepts you? You’re officially family.
hahaha, I’ve never been so nervous about a dog’s approval in my entire life! Jokes aside, that seems amazing. And a strange number of my friends have recently moved to Toronto…. I’ll let you know when I’m in town. 🙂
Jason, that’s EXACTLY how I felt when I was an actor!
EVERYTHING I did in life: class, gym, day-job, auditions- was about booking gigs. The idea being, once I booked a gig I would be validated as a great actor and worthwhile person in the eyes of the industry and my friends/family. I would get paid great money to do what I love at the highest levels of the work! Unfortunately, that’s not how it happened. When I got on-set I quickly felt (but only consciously realized years later) that I was still “at work”, just at a much better job than my day-job. I was providing a skill/service for an agreed upon union wage, and there was only the pleasure of knowing I had the chops to perform that skill under conditions that were often adverse to performing at the best of my abilities. I would come away with a feeling akin to post-coital depression! I think I would have done this to the point of a nervous breakdown had it not been for the golf-ball sized brain tumor that almost killed me in Nov. 2000.
Now I’ve got two beautiful kids, radiant health, and I’m speaking to spread the word to others who have been through cancer about the vital, but often overlooked, Transition period after standard treatment; and the most effective ways to get beyond side-effects to a strong, healthy, optimistic life.
When I feel myself going down the same roads toward an isolated/idealized view of my success as a Speaker/coach/author I have to remember what that path did to me back in Hollywood. You’re article is tremendously helpful, honest, and validating for many of my concerns.
Jamie – so glad to hear the article resonated. Your comment made me smile. It’s funny hear you describe leaving work feeling as though you had post-coital depression. Though I edited out before publication, the first draft of the article had a poorly done (if disturbingly apt) analogy about touring being like a series of one night stands with partners you could love, but will never see again no matter how badly you want to.
And yeah, it’s funny how that line of when you’ll consider yourself successful just moves and moves and moves. At first I took buses to get to gigs. I thought I’d be happy if a client paid for a flight. Then they started paying for flights. When that happened I realized I wouldn’t be happy until I was flying first class. When that happened I felt like a failure because I wasn’t flying private. It was fucking ridiculous and I’m embarrassed to write it.
I’m so glad to hear that you’ve found a life that lights you up (even if it took a pretty jarring experiene to get you there).
You have captured the life of a busy professional speaker. I have been in this business for 36 years. What started as a request from a college grew– However, I purposely decided not to hire full time staff so I wasn’t working to feed them and my schedule has never been as crazy as yours. But the checklist of what you must watch for: the travel headaches, the loneliness, the constant need to learn more and to keep current, the list IS endless. Your writing is so real. So honest.
The other downside: my friends are scattered around the globe. Because I am home on a crazy schedule, my “home friends” are my family members. I have not created a community here. I have not found the time to look for what could be ACT II HERE. Giving me much to think about
Eileen – thank you. Really appreciate the kind words. And oh yeah, I totally forgot about the friends scattered everywhere problem! In fact, one of the things that pushed me over the edge to leaving speaking was when I realized I didn’t have a great social life in my own city and that I really wanted a group of friends to roll with. So glad to hear the article resonated. 🙂
Jason, what a take on The Life.
Some of the same lessons were accidentally learned by me at, thankfully, an early age.
I aspired to be an actor, had a sort of ‘casting couch’ experience, threw out the acting idea, and took a job as an international flight attendant. Glamour? Ya. Same thing. I flew for five years and called it ‘my longest acting gig.’
Results? Been just about everywhere there is to be on this planet, during the years when the world was still a BIG place. Stayed at all the fancy hotels, acquaintance with celebs galore (many funny stories), treated like royalty on the road, but missed family events, friend’s weddings, most holidays, for five long years.
One day on a flight from New Delhi to Karachi, 30,000 feet up, we hit nasty turbulence and 124 passengers puked…in unison. I learned that in trouble, some run to help and others run to hide. That was my ‘call’ to a career as a nurse. I settled down and didn’t fly anywhere for > 20 years. VERY satisfied with raising kids and building a life in what I call ‘theatre of the real.’
Meantime, theatre called and I decided to act as a professional on my terms only. Still do. Like yourself, decided teaching the next generation of nurses and performers provides much satisfaction. I perform my third solo show when I feel like it and the performance $ is extra. It’s much better being on stage on terms that fit my real life. No regrets, no false expectations.
Thanks for shedding light on a touchy subject: the fishbowl syndrome. Kind regards. 🙂
Hi Candy – this is an amazing story. I love that 124 people vomiting all at once led you to your passion. It’s funny how people’s paths unfold…
More than that, I can totally relate to being caught up in a whirlwind of travel, and then wanting to just stay put. These days I’m very reluctant to get on a jet. Congrats on building a life that serves you, while also giving back. That’s a beautiful thing. 🙂
Thank you for this. I am in the midst of a mid (or late, ha!) career shift INTO trying to get in front of people and speak and train. I have held a regional job that involved lots of travel, and feeling a loss of connection to actually making a difference for some people.
Your insights about ‘one-way’ connection really struck me. As well as the need for validation, ouch. But the thing that really hit home is the ‘telling the truth’ bit – it seems no matter the profession, true honesty or openness is rare. I have been chewing on this for a while now. People are basically good, but guarded, and the business context does not honor sharing your doubts, fears, or vulnerability. And yet, that is where real connection happens, where the most learning occurs.
So I want to honor you for sharing this, and also thank you for the insights into a career that I am in the middle of trying to launch.
Jimmy – so glad to hear the article resonated, and good luck as you move into speaking and training. Yeah, it’s a sad world when posturing is a safer bet than authenticity. However, my aim in both speaking and writing has always been to show up as authentically and honestly as possible. In a world where everyone else is going to great lengths to convince us that their mask is the “real” them, people seem to crave someone whose willing to say, “ok, I know I’m wearing a cool mask, but I’m going to take it off, just a bit right now…” If you end up going that route with your sales/speaking, but best guess is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
As a speaker on a smaller scale, your writing still hits home. And, Jeffrey H. your response to the issues addressed looks like a life plan to follow. Every week, I drive an hour and a half to pick up my now 10 year old granddaughter after school. Some days we go to her horseback riding lesson, where my job is got do thumbs-up and take good videos to show her. Other days, we hit tennis balls and stop at good ol’ Chick-fil-A. Sometimes we do homework outside. After dinner, I drive back home or spend the night. Often, the hubby will say, “Foxy, it’s raining hard out there. The roads are icy. Or traffic is heavy. Are you sure want to make the drive?” My stock answer is: “Only if you want me to be nice the rest of the week. This is my therapy day.” I do it because I was a bad mom, working, working in survival mode to raise my daughter by myself. I’ve sworn that I will be a great gramma. So far, once-a-week Gramma duty since she has been born, and helping to save a little church from a developer, have made me feel sane in the midst of all you describe that could make me feel less so. You know, I spent a lot of time thinking I was the only one feeling as you described. I would tell myself to buck up and stop feeling ungrateful. Thank you!
Wow. Jan. This story really made me smile. I love that even later in life you realized, “You know what? There’s still time to be the woman I want to be.” Personally, I find that very, very inspiring. Your family – and community – is lucky to have you, and I’m grateful for you sharing your story and perspective here. I’m humbled that my article resonated with you.
Hi Jason, what a thoughtful and self reflective article! My speaker coach sent this along to all of us with some trepidation and we will most likely discuss it in our coaching call. Though you made a good point that if we get a speaker’s coach, make sure they are a good one, and she is. I appreciate what you are saying, bascially you are talking about burn out in the speaker profession, which of course can happen in any profession. It happens in mine, which is psychotherapy. For me, after 24 years of therapy ( hmm, my own and with my clients) I am seeking new ways to get my message out to ensure that burn out does not occur. Being many decades older than you, speaking in a humorous way about my past shame and anxiety, fills my soul; being a speaker and workshop presenter will be novel ways to fill me with joy as well as helping others discover their own joy. It makes sense that you are in a place where you realize and accept what is most important to you now in your life and it sounds like that is to do and get your message out in other ways than you have been. This new adventure, what ever form that may take for you, might be something you “speak” about later in your life; the journey you made from speaker to home and back again. Never heard you speak, but kuddos on being a great writer!
Hi Sue! Congrats on your move into speaking. While it made a lot of sense for me to step back from (I was doing too much), I totally understand the desire. It can be a great avenue to share your gifts and continue serving people in a very real way. I’m psyched to hear that your speaking coach shared the article with her clients – that’s awesome. And you’re lucky to have found a good one. And I really appreciate the comments about my writing, thank you. I look forward to seeing your name in lights. 🙂
Jason, thank you for your reply, and kind words. Best to you in all ways.
This is one of my favourite articles by you – amazing, honest writing. As a teacher, I can relate to some parts too. I give so much to my job and there isn’t much left for me and my kids at the end of the day. Do I want to be snapping at my own kids because I have too many papers to grade and each paper I see as a reflection of my performance in class? Definitely not. But it happens, more that I would like. On the other hand, I know I am making some impact on my students and through assignments, conversations and emails, I feel professional and emotional validation and connection. It’s that balance that I’m seeking…But honestly I’m not sure I can be both the parent I want to be and the teacher I want to be.
Andrea – really appreciate the note. You’re one of several teachers to chime in here. At first I was surprised, but the more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense to me. Y’all have to be very, very on, generous, tolerant, etc. More than that, your students (and probably parents) think of you as a concept more than a human. That’s tough. I can totally see how it would eat away into your family life.
Thank you Jason. This is both illumination and very true. I have been working as a Software Product Manager as my family and I moved to the US and I was constantly on the road. Every other week in Canada and in between I would visit major clients and branches of the company. They ALL want you to make them feel special, cared for and yet they all seem to drop their pens at 5p.m. and go home while I was looking around feeling empty and retreat to my hotel room alone and tired. This left my family feeling like I was deployed on a tour of duty. And when I came home I was not fun at all. And there was little to do about it as I was here on a visa which means I was tied to my employer until I got my green card.
Anyways, this is pretty timely as I recently transitioned from High Tech and being a local entrepreneur to being a speaker and coach for 100% of my time, which was actually my dream for decades. But your point about validation is spot on. There is no way around that introspection, regardless of how long it takes. At this time, I am looking inward pretty carefully. I stated at some point that I would like to be able to speak internationally more than I already had. Yet, having had a glimpse of what travel life could feel like, I stopped myself to carefully clarify why I would want that. I did not (yet) watch ‘up in the air’ however I have connected pretty well with the lyrics of Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer”. You would probably like it too.
There is no ending to this tale, really, because it is literally where I am right now. Kinda like standing in the doorway of success wondering about the price of admission. And your article as touched a chord, so thanks again buddy.
Yoram – I appreciate your note brother. And yeah… it’s such a weird phenomona. When you’re an outside consultant brought in to work with a team/audience, I think your clients really do like you (if you’re good, which I’m sure you are), but you never become part of their lives. So they go back home thinking nice thoughts about you and return to their friends/family/etc, while you (really we) go back to the hotel feeling a bit lonely and confused about what to do next (dinner? call the family? workout? watch TV? work?)
Congrats on your jump to speaking/training. I’m THRILLED to hear that you’re thinking strategically not just about the business, but about the life yo want to create for yourself (and presumably, family) as you go. That’s awesome. I had no idea just how out of control the life could get if you allow it. Im glad you’re avoiding that problem ahead of time. 🙂
Jason, as I read your article I relived the reasons I left speaking in 2005. Ironically, the job I had after leaving required me too speak. At least it was locally with relatively short presentations.
Now I’m back out on my own. A student of public speaking, I am a public speaking coach, working with executives and consultants. I am striving to be one of the rare good ones that you mentioned.
I am using speaking as a means to build my business. I should be able to remain fairly local, as there is plenty of business here in New England. I also believe that this time around I will be able to say no, something I struggled with in the past, resulting in more than 150 nights per year in hotel rooms. Reading your article has helped solidify my resolve.
Best of luck in both your business and personal lives.
Peter -I’m touched to hear that reading my article solidified your resolve to build a business that serves YOU. That’s awesome. Thank you. And something tells me that you’re one of the rare good speaking coaches. The reason there are so many crappy coaches in the market is b/c most of them first tried to become pro speakers, and then failed (in most cases b/c they weren’t good enough speakers). After failing to go pro they positioned themselves as speaking coaches. Yuck. Knowing that you have the raw power to make it was a pro but would rather teach leads me to believe that you’ll be doing your clients a great service. Bravo!
Jason – while I haven’t had the career trajectory that you have had – there are times I’ve struggled with many of the points that you have articulated so well. Two weeks ago I scheduled to speak to 150 – great venue – great AV setup – dual 20 foot screens, great stage and a total of 3 people in audience. I tried to turn it into an intimate conversation as you suggested – but I have to tell you – my heart wasn’t in it. While I learned a long time ago that “it’s not the fault of the people who did show up that too many others didn’t…” – it was a tough 60 minutes. My client was incredibly apologetic and later that evening in my hotel room I pondered “ok, maybe it’s time to do something else?”. Despite the fact I’ve delivered 5 events since with outstanding reviews to audiences ranging from 50 to 250 – I’m still pondering…
I feel ya Robert. Those nights are hard. They happen to everyone in the industry. In fact, I once went to a reading from a best selling author. Room was prepped for 300. Fewer than 100 showed.
If I may: if you LOVE speaking, and you’re generally enjoying it, don’t let one instance of low audience turn out deter you. However, if the low turnout shook loose some bigger issues for you, then I admire your openness as you consider whether or not you want to do something else. The nice part is that if you take a break and realize you miss it, you can always go back.
Thank you Jason for sharing the “REAL” talk regarding being a professional speaker. I so appreciate how you allowed yourself to be open, honest, and vulnerability about the ups and downs of being a public speaker and to remind us that personal always trumps professional!
You’re welcome Nashawn. 🙂 It’s easy to make pro speaking look glitzy and flashy – and parts of it are – but for a lot of reasons, I think it’s important to have real talk about it and pull the curtain back. So glad to hear it resonated with you. And yeah – I’ve noticed that the more real I am in my personal and professional life, the better things tend to go. 🙂
Absolutely incredible article. I have a corporate background as a trainer who taught Process Improvement years ago in the healthcare industry, and now I have my own company, and teach men and women how to pay attention to their thoughts, and the effect your thoughts have vibrationally. I use social media to share about my business, but there was a time I struggled(because I knew I had the skills), to know whether I wanted to add being a public speaker to my repertoire. After careful inward assessment, I determined that it ultimately wasn’t what I really wanted to do, and for some of the very reasons you mention. I appreciate you sharing your experiences so honesty.
Hey Lisa! So glad to hear the article resonated 🙂 with you. The work you’re doing sounds really interesting. In fact in 2017, I’m hoping to take a fairly extensive course to become a meditation teacher. Perhaps our paths will cross one day. Also, I admire your reflection; so many people… myself included… get seduced by the glitz and glamor of speaking, without ever pausing to reflect on whether or not it’s truly right for them.
Dear Jason, thank you for sharing your personal story. I absorbed every word of it.
Your story contains several lessons that I will take with me on my journey as a professional speaker. The most important lesson to me is: protect your personal life. Don’t confuse success with happiness.
I wish you all the best in whatever you decide to do.
Frans – first of all, I really appreciate your well wishes. Thank you! Second, I am beyond happy to hear that you digested the article and will use some of it to help guide you as you build your speaking biz. I couldn’t ask for anything more. And I love your dictum to protect your personal life and avoid confusing success and happiness. Good luck my friend, I look forward to seeing your name in lights.
I loved this article. I am looking to go into professional speaking after 20 years a lawyer in investment banking. I felt your pain there. Hence it was good for me to learn all the pros and cons of becoming a speaker. I do however want to become a professional speaker to make good money and also more importantly make a difference in people’s lives and change them.
I saw that you recommended that aspiring professional speakers like myself get a good coach. I already deliver legal workshops to senior lawyers, accountants etc. and I do get good feedback however I have had no coaching or training to be a speaker.
Would you be able to kindly recommend some speaking coaches or courses or events/workshops I could attend to perfect my art in storytelling etc. I am based in London UK. I have tried toastmasters for a year but have not seen any improvement in my speaking since. So I am looking at getting some training to be a better speaker than I am right now. Your suggestions would be much appreciated.
Good stuff Naina and congrats on the new speaking biz! In my experience Toast Masters is great for getting over stage fright, but less effective for actually becoming a captivating speaker. My go to reccomendation is Christine Clapp and her team at Spoken With Authority: http://spokenwithauthority.com/. Though Christine is a friend and advisor of mine, I have no financial interest in recommending her; I just think she does great work. If you reach out, feel free to use my name.
Good luck – I look forward to seeing your name in lights!
And PS: even with all your experience, you’re sooooooo smart to continue improving yourself as a speaker. At the end of the day the speech is the product. The better the speech, the more you help people and the more you can charge. Good luck!
Jason, I started a Toastmasters Club at my University a few years ago, and so public speaking had been an interest of mine. I no longer pursue public speaking but just letting you know that I found it very interesting to hear the highs and lows of what it was like for you as a professional public speaker.
Thank you so much for sharing this vulnerable story and I’m really enjoying the quality of your writing. I feel the sincere honesty in how you write and you’re really inspiring me to follow my heart and put my personal life above the money.
Eman – I so appreciate the kind words, thank you. It’s awesome to hear that you enjoy my work, and even better to hear that you’re increasingly inspired to follow your heart and prioritize your personal life. If you haven’t read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo, you may really resonate with that too. It’s one of the books I’ve read more than 5 times.
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