Taking Short-Term Risks for Long-Term Reward

When competing in a comedy competition, it’s wise to use safe material, that is, material that you KNOW works with crowds of all shapes and sizes. But as a performer, sometimes hitting the same laugh lines over and over can get exhausting and feel less rewarding.

I was in a comedy competition in New York City last week, and the rules stated that if you advance to the next round, you can’t use any of the material you had already used. I have three ten-minute sets that have historically held up in front of all kinds of crowds, so I initially planned on using these three sets. But once I moved on from the first round to the semifinals and was prepared to use my second killer set, I called an audible at the last second.

I had thought of some new jokes a few days prior and was itching to try them out in front of a live audience. Sure, I knew set number two was going to work, but I had been milking that set for so long (see what I did there?), my itch to be creative won out.

I tried an entire new set in the semifinals and failed to move on to the finals.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point of writing a post about taking risks when the risk you took didn’t pay off?”

The point is that, sure, I suffered a short-term setback.

Sure, after opening up my set strong, the next two minutes fell painfully flat, with little to no laughter from the audience. But after lightheartedly drawing attention to this elephant in the room, the rest of the set concluded strong.

The moment I got off stage, I knew I wasn’t moving on in the contest, but it felt liberating to try out something new.

The next day, I listened back to my set, took notes, made adjustments, then worked out the material at three open mics. By the time the third one rolled around, I had a fully functional, laugh-worthy set ready to go.

It killed.

Even though I fell flat during the second round of the competition, I now have a brand new ten minute set that I can confidently take to the stage, knowing I can get laughs.

When we play it safe, eventually it becomes rote, routine, and incredibly boring, even if at one point it was rewarding. When we take risks, life becomes much more exciting, it’s just important to remember that when we fall short of our goals the first time, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s always a chance to learn, improve, and achieve that internal (and external) reward by adjusting and adapting. Don’t let taking a risk stop you when the reward can be that much greater.

What’s one risk you can take that makes you feel uncomfortable? What’s the potential long-term reward if you see it through?

Conduct Your Life With Exuberance

Imagine being 80 years old with more energy and life than you had in your 40s, 30s, and even your 20s…

Seem impossible? Meet Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, who will have you second-guessing your perception of age and energy from the moment you meet him. At the end of April, I will be hosting the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s annual charity gala, and one of the auction prizes is a visit to Zander’s home in Cambridge, a trip up the Charles River in his pontoon boat, and VIP treatment at a Boston Philharmonic concert. Since I was already in Boston to perform comedy, I decided to reach out to see if I could arrange a meeting.

The moment he swung open his front door, I knew I was in for a treat: “THERE YOU ARE!” he exclaimed in his sing-song British accent, arms joyously in the air as he wrapped me in a warm embrace. It was as though he was reuniting with a long-lost friend, and I went from being nervous to meet the world-renowned conductor, to feeling like we had known each other for years.

As we spoke with one another, his eyes sparkled, reminiscent of Sir Ian McKellen’s as Gandalf at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and he smiled from ear-to-ear and nodded along as he listened to me talk about why I’m passionate about bringing more laughter to the world. Unsurprisingly, he shared my value of humor as he spoke about the fun he and his musicians have during orchestra rehearsals.

“Having fun at rehearsals is so important, even though the symphony is supposed to be serious,” he shared. “The world is much better off with more laughter.”

Though I only spent about ten minutes with the incredibly busy conductor, it felt as though time stood still, and we connected on much a deeper level. The zeal with which he approaches others is evident in his TED Talk, which I HIGHLY recommend watching – even if you’re not into classical music – because his message transcends music:

“I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple – it’s not about wealth, fame, and power – it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me… It really makes a difference what we say – the words that come out of our mouth.”

He goes on to quote an Auschwitz survivor:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” 

When I reach 80, I can only hope to have half of the spirit that Zander has, but he left me with powerful questions to ask myself: do you leave people with shining eyes? Are they happier and filled with more energy that they were when you met them? How can you leave every interaction inspiring others to live with energy and exuberance?

Ask yourself these questions every day and find that life becomes a little happier, more exciting, and  more fulfilling.

Check out Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion#t-1197578

Check out The Art of Possibility, the transformative book he wrote with his wife: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Possibility-Transforming-Professional-Personal/dp/0142001104/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+art+of+possibility&qid=1555090828&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

2017 Lesson 2: Expand Your Horizons

2017 was an incredibly rewarding year. Why? I decided to go outside of my comfort zone on several occasions, and man am I glad I did. The one thing I did that really stretched me was a cross-country road trip from Cleveland to Boise and back. Driving cross-country was something I’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to because:
· “I don’t have the money”
· “I don’t have the time”
· “Where would I stay?”
· “I don’t know anyone”
· “I don’t know if my car can make it”
One day in March, I decided to say, “Fuck those fears. I’m doing this.” I reached out to several human resources associations, chambers of commerce, young professionals groups, leadership conferences, and nonprofits about speaking at upcoming events, not sure whether or not they’d throw my email in the SPAM folder or actually listen to what I had to say. Thankfully, out of the nearly 100 emails I sent, I got a few responses, but none of them could afford to cover my full travel expenses. Sure, I was offered a few hundred dollars, but driving over 4,000 miles was going to cost quite a bit of coin. Gas, lodging, tolls, and food on top of my usual bills without really getting a paycheck over two weeks was going to set me back financially, and though I was hesitant, I decided I would figure it out.

Holy shit am I glad I did.

Instead of focusing on why I wouldn’t be able to afford the time on the road, I shifted my focus to what I could do to make it happen and how rewarding of a trip it would be. I ended up booking three speaking engagements (Twin Falls, ID, Emmett, ID, and St. Louis, MO), none of whom could cover my expenses, but dammit I was going to get this done. As far as lodging, I ended up meeting some cool people online via CouchSurfing, a social networking community of people sharing their couches in exchange for meeting new people and hearing their stories – something I really value. My 2010 Honda Accord, Rachaeloaoeoioe (Pronounced “Rachel.” All of the extra vowels are silent), was exchanged for a brand new 2016 Accord, Schoaoeoioeron (Pronounced “Sharon.” Again, all of the extra vowels are silent), at only a small increase in my monthly car payment – definitely manageable. Now that I had destinations, knew where I was going to stay, with people I knew (through the internet), in a car I trusted not to explode on me, it was time to go.

I won’t bore you with the moment-by-moment details of the trip, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I:
· Met new people and made new friends in Iowa City, Boulder, Twin Falls, Boise, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.
· Learned all kinds of new things from someone who travels to Jordan to teach English as a second language, an opera singer who would rather be the roots of the tree than the leaves (a valuable lesson), a psychology major who left the comfort of her 9-5 to open a hostel and meet travelers from around the world, a financial planner focused on expanding his network and providing support to entrepreneurs and “gamechangers” in Boise, a teacher with a new perspective on how to look at problem students, and a dude who really loves craft beer.
· Meditated miles away from other humans beneath a sky filled with stars in the deafening silence of the mountains of Idaho, and had a serendipitous shooting star experience confirming to myself spiritually that I was in the right place at the right time.
· Witnessed an event so funny and out-of-the-ordinary, it immediately inspired me to write a comedy sketch about it, did, and ended up shooting and releasing it last month: https://youtu.be/T9iJ-yMaIBs
· Gained an appreciation for how infinite life and the universe is and how insignificant our problems really are while driving through the sheer vastness of the mountains, plains, and desert of Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas.
· Booked a fully paid presentation based off of my presentation in Twin Falls and ensured a second trip cross-country next May.

…All of this because I chose to expand my horizons. The next time I start feeling fear when it comes to doing something new and risky, I’ll always remember what I felt before taking this trip. Now, the fears seem so insignificant compared to what I gained from choosing to expand my horizons. Because I made that choice, I expanded myself as a person when it comes to confidence, spirituality, and emotional strength, in ways I couldn’t imagine beforehand.

What risks are you afraid of taking? Is there something you want to do this year that you’ve been hesitant about? Take it from me, it’s way more worth it to say, “Fuck those fears, I’m doing this,” and then focus on what you can do to make it happen instead of what’s stopping you from doing it.

2018 Prediction #2: There won’t be a Babe 3

Sorry, Babe fans, but it’s been 20 years since Babe: Pig in the City and the demand just isn’t there. Sure there are underground cults worshipping the first two films and hoping that one day a reboot will resurface, but that little pig just doesn’t have the drawing power of a Jurassic Park, Star Wars, or – oh, for fuck’s sake – ANOTHER TRANSFORMERS MOVIE!?
Anyway, I’d bet all of my bacon that Babe isn’t making the comeback we all hoped. Sorry to smoke your sausage.

2017 Lesson 1: Follow the Creators

Another year has come and gone, and with it: lessons learned, friendships made, and successes achieved.
First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and a congratulations for making it through 2017. Without all of you, I’d just be creating characters and screaming in different accents inside of a padded room, so I just want to say thank you for supporting my mission – because that’s what it is. David Horning has an agenda to inspire others to be more engaged, excited, and happy about the endless opportunities to serve other people and make the world a better place, all while referring to himself in the third person.
In the last year, I grew substantially, but I also regressed in some ways, which I don’t have a problem admitting. Imperfection goes hand-in-hand with being human, but the key to living a fulfilling life is growing from those missteps. When I sat down to write down the lessons I learned last year, I thought, “Oh this’ll be quick. I’ll jot down a few things, elaborate a bit, and post it.”
Those “few” things ended up being 22, so I decided it would be easier to split these lessons up into multiple posts after narrowing down 22 to 7.
Over the next week, I want to share the most important things that I learned this year that you too can use to make your 2018 better than your 2017, or as I say:

Make 2018 20Gr18

Cue groans.
I’ll also be posting some predictions for next year that I’m 100% positive will happen because I’m basically Nostradamus and you can bet on this stuff.

What I Learned #1: Listen to the creators

We live in a world where we are being bombarded by noise from all angles, especially with so much content being posted on social media at all hours of the day. According to Dr. Joseph Dispenza, our brains are absorbing 400 billion bits of information every second, but we’re only aware of 2,000 of those. Without you even knowing, your brain is picking and choosing what information you’re even aware of existing. Our brains don’t care which information is helping us or hurting us, it just filters out what it determines is useful based on where our conscious attention is going most often.
With the election of a controversial president, my social media feed was overflowing with articles, videos, and soundbytes calling him out for not exactly behaving like a leader. Considering my speaking presentations and most of my research are founded upon what makes a good leader, I spent too much time falling into the social media vortex and finding myself getting angrier and angrier. As the months wore on, I kept hearing the same complaints and criticisms and not seeing any actions being taken, so I decided to shift my focus.

Instead of focusing on information that lowers my happiness and diverts my attention from what I care about, I chose to unfollow and unsubscribe to many news sources and even friends who continued to post negative content without taking any meaningful action.

Because I was spending so much time focusing on what I didn’t want, my attention was drawn away from what I wanted. Over the second half of 2017, I began paying closer attention to the organizations and individuals leading the charge in revolutionizing education (Sir Ken Robinson, Peter Diamandis, The Learning Revolution Project) and renewable energy (Elon Musk, Tesla). TED Talks became a part of my routine, and I invested more time and energy in reading books to help grow myself, rather than getting sucked into the black hole that can be the internet. Instead of being pessimistic about the future, I started getting excited and am now energized by the information I consume instead of being drained by it.

What are you passionate about? What makes you angry? Now take the effort to learn who is focused on creating solutions to these problems and find a way to contribute, either by sharing the good news or by actually taking action and getting out into the community to do something about it. It’s one thing to draw attention to what we don’t want in the world, but to continue to draw attention to it over and over is doing a disservice to yourself and the people in your circle. Follow the creators and become a creator yourself – from personal experience, you’ll feel excited, energized, and ready to take on the world.

2018 Prediction #1: Donald Trump will not be pictured with a llama

I know this one is controversial, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. A horse, cow, or chimpanzee? Sure. But llamas don’t equal ratings, and ratings are the most important part of being president.

The Problem With Problems is the Problem

What’s 9+8?

This is a problem. In order to come up with a solution, we have to take the three components of the problem (the 9, the 8, and the +) and combine them in such a way that we discover the solution. Whether you use traditional arithmetic, Common Core (if that’s your thing), or some method involving stones, what matters is that you arrive at the solution.

Great! …but what’s the point?

I’m so glad you asked!

The point is that we didn’t spend time arguing over whether or not 9 and 8 were a good match and could be added together. We didn’t waste energy debating whether the plus sign was meant to be a symbol for ‘and’ or if it was meant to be a division sign. We didn’t turn the opportunity into a challenge over whether the government is being paid under the table by lobbyists to use the numbers 9 or 8 more frequently in math problems. We simply saw there was a problem and used our own individual methods for getting to the solution.

When we focus on solutions, we aren’t wasting precious time and energy focusing on what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, or how the other person’s method is wrong. We want to come to a solution, so that’s what what we focus our energy on in order to get what we want and move on to the next problem and find a solution for that.

What’s the Metaphor Phor For?

The problem: climate change

The solution: a clean environment with more efficient technology that makes our lives easier, healthier, and creates a positive economic impact

The problem: discrimination

The solution: a culture where people are genuinely interested in understanding those who are different; where acceptance, empathy, and a “help one another” mentality are the norm

The problem: a historically low number of people are happy or engaged by their work

The solution: hire David Horning to speak at your next conference, seminar, or meeting

Kidding.

The solution: a society where people are as excited about going to work as they are about drinking bloody marys with friends at Saturday brunch.

We could sit here and debate about our problems for hours, or we can choose to focus on what we want: solutions. Either way, we’re expending the same amount of energy, so wouldn’t it make more sense to focus that on what we want, rather then what we don’t? Instead of continually asking distracting questions like, “What’s wrong? Why is it wrong? Who’s to blame for it being wrong?” let’s start asking a question that shifts our focus toward creating solutions: “What do we want and what can we do to create it?”

Oh, yeah… the answer is 17.