“Take the First Step” by Doug Stevenson

I was in a class led by Doug Stevenson at the 2009 National Speakers Association convention.  His story-telling method was extremely impressive – the stories all but leapt off the stage!  I wanted to share his article here because it is such an appropriate first step to following your passions.


I can remember growing up in Chicago when the year 2000 was a long way into the future. And now, in 2010, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, I’m taking stock of how far I’ve come and what it took to get me here.

As a child watching movies, I dreamed of being an actor in Hollywood. And then one day…I found myself acting on a movie set at Paramount Studios.

After 16 years, when my acting career didn’t work according to plan, I set out for points unknown to find a new place to live and a new direction in life. That journey of discovery led me to Colorado Springs and a career as a residential real estate broker. Real estate led to keynote speaking, which expanded to training, and later included coaching.

As I look back and analyze what I had to do in order to get to where I am today, there are three things that I had to do over and over again.

  1. Decide what you really want – even if it doesn’t make logical sense
  2. Let go of the past in order to step into the future
  3. Take the first step, regardless of how knowledgeable or prepared you are

What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you do it? Did you even attempt it? Or did you let other people talk you out of it because it was impractical, illogical or unrealistic? Or did you talk yourself out of it for the same reasons. Perhaps you pursued your dream, (like I pursued my dream of becoming a movie star), and at some point along the way found yourself disillusioned with the results.

I find the life I’m living in the year 2010 is one that I never would have imagined. I have a thriving speaking, training and coaching business. My wife, Deborah, and I work together in the business and get to travel all over the world. Our life together is better than what I had ever dreamed of. But it would never have happened, had I not followed the three steps above.

As many of you know, I’ve taken up running to get in shape. I run three or four times a week with the goal of running several half-marathons each year. In other words, I’m in training. Every time I workout, I chart how many miles I run in my logbook. Runners call it putting miles in the bank. The more miles you put in the bank, the better you’ll do in a race.

Putting miles in the bank is a metaphor for putting life experiences in the bank.

Looking back, I’ve utilized my simple three-step formula every time I wanted to move to the next level of achievement in my life. At every turning point, the decisions I made, letting go and taking the first steps were like putting miles in the bank – my life experience bank. And with each mile, I got stronger.

My first big life decision was to make a serious commitment to becoming an actor. So after one year of college, I let go – dropped out – and got involved in the acting scene in Chicago. The first step I took was to enroll in a Second City improvisation workshop. Someone in that workshop told me about a Method Acting class, so I studied there for 2 ½ years. And someone in that class told me about an audition for a new musical. I auditioned and was cast as Danny Zuko in the world premiere production of GREASE. I then decided to go for the big time in Hollywood, and I let go of the acting scene in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles. Then one step led to another and the rest is history. But it never would have happened had I not decided what I wanted, been willing to let go, and taken the first step.

Thirteen years later, having done everything I could think of to make it as an actor, it just wasn’t happening. I’d had limited success in movies and TV, had some great experiences doing plays and singing in a rock band, but it was clear to me that my acting career wasn’t going to take off. Once again, it was time to decide what I really wanted and to let go of what wasn’t working. At that point, I decided that what I wanted more than anything else was to be happy. And I wanted to be married and have a family. To do that, I felt that I needed to let go of my Hollywood dream of becoming a rich and famous actor. It was time for another first step: to pack my bags and head east.

I believe the hardest thing to do when things aren’t working, is to admit it and let go. When you’ve invested your heart and soul into something that isn’t working, the numbing pain you’re living with seems less frightening that the excruciating pain of letting go and moving on. Having invested 16 years of my life into being an actor, I didn’t want to let go. Being an actor wasn’t just what I did, it was who I was. But I summoned my courage, and just as I’d done when I left my past behind in Chicago for an uncertain future, I make a decision, let go and took the first step into the future.

You cannot move forward in life while holding onto everything from the past. Something’s gotta go. And sometimes, someone’s gotta go. For me that something was Hollywood and an acting career. And that someone was my old identity as an actor.

1. Let go of beliefs that have been proven false:

  • About yourself and who you are
  • About the way life is supposed to work
  • About needing to know how before you begin

2. Let go of people who are holding you back:

  • People that you love that are negative
  • People that want you to stay the same for their sake, not yours
  • People who have a world view that is not in alignment with yours

3. Let go of fear of the unknown. When you step out, you will make it known.

4. Let go of believing you have to do it all by yourself.

Each bold new decision is accompanied by the need to take another first step. In my experience, each first step is almost always accompanied by fear. At the beginning, the fear is huge. But every time you take a step, you put miles in the bank. And with each mile you run, the fear diminishes and you become stronger.

It takes courage to change. Every time you make a change however, you become more courageous. With every mile, every life experience, you get stronger.

You’ve made thousands of decisions that have brought you to where you are right now in your life. Are you happy? Or do you want more: something else, the next level of achievement? I thought acting was going to be the entire book of my life. I was wrong. It was simply a number of amazing and unforgettable chapters. Are you ready to start writing the next chapter in your life?

What do you really want? Forget about being practical and rational for a moment and let yourself say it. Let yourself dream it. If you want your life to be different in 2015, you need to start training today. Decide what you want, let go of the past and take the first step.

  • There are over 5000 subscribers to this newsletter. I took the first step in April 2000.
  • This is the 83rd Story Theater Newsletter. I took the first step back in May 2000.
  • I just hosted my 96th Story Theater Retreat. I took the first step in August 1996.
  • I’ve given over 700 hundred keynotes and trainings. I took the first step in October 1987.

What are you in training for?

  • Your first book? How many pages did you put in the bank today?
  • A full time speaking career? How many speeches did you put in the bank this month?
  • A new job or career? How many inquiries did you put in the bank today?
  • A new certification or degree? How many classroom hours did you put in the bank this month?
  • A job promotion? How many “above and beyond” actions did you put in the bank this week?
  • Running a marathon? How many miles did you put in the bank this week?

And finally: what are you going to have to let go of in order to move into your new and exciting future? What are you holding onto that is holding you back? Who are you holding onto that is holding you back?

Take the first step. Today.

Doug Stevenson
Author of Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method and creator of The Dynamite Speech System
www.storytelling-in-business.com
1-719-573-6195
deborah@dougstevenson.com

“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” Henry Ford

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