Book Jeff

Becoming a Free Lancer

Do you ever have trouble making decisions? Especially big ones? That was me a year ago. Should I stay, or should I go?

It was not an easy choice.

I had been in higher education for more than two decades and taught at California Baptist University, aka “The Lancers,” since 2011. I had safety and security in my six-figure income, loved teaching, and was quite comfortable with my benefits, routine, and retirement plan.

For years I had talked about, dreamed about…writing and speaking full-time. However, I had “responsibilities.” Responsibilities that included being a husband, stepdad, dean, and professor. But in the summer of 2020, following surgery for a second brain tumor and in the middle of the pandemic, I discovered my eleven-year marriage was over. When I returned to work, I had recovered physically, but was a wreck emotionally.

Plus, my team just didn’t need me anymore. Unlike my medical leave in 2014, when there were lots of challenges during my two-month absences, this time everything went better without me. I had delegated myself out of a job. Granted, I still had the position and the paycheck, and I could have easily stayed if I liked. But beyond teaching and my students, which represented only three hours of my work week, I was beyond miserable.

Worse, I knew I wasn’t being authentic to my-message and truthful to my own audiences. The core theme in my Wisdom of Walt keynote is how we, like Walt Disney, need to go “All In” on our dreams with a $40, single suitcase, one-way ticket kind of commitment. That is what Walt Disney did after his first studio, Laugh-O-Gram Studio, went bankrupt in Kansas City back in 1923. Instead of giving up and staying stuck, he boarded a train for California, joined forces with his older brother Roy, and founded the Disney Brothers Studio, which today is the world’s largest entertainment company.

Ironically enough, I was in downtown Kansas City, between Laugh-O-Gram Studio where Walt first went bankrupt and Union Station where he boarded that fateful train, preparing to give a keynote when minutes before taking the stage my phone started blowing up with messages from my wife’s affair partner, giving me the sordid details of gut-wrenching betrayal. Like Walt, I couldn’t stay stuck but had to take the stage and keep moving forward. The show must go on. Eventually, life…and my heart…would go on as well.

My tenure as a CBU Lancer came to an end the following month when I was at Walt Disney World doing a series of events for DIS Con and Give Kids the World Over the course of a few short hours, I sat on a stage at The Contemporary Resort interviewing Disney Legends, retired Disney Executives, and Disney Imagineers in front of nearly a thousand raving Disney fans. Looking out on that audience and feeling positive emotions for the first time in more than a year, I realized it was finally time for me to listen to the key words from my own keynote. The only way to get unstuck and move forward was for me to go “All In” on The Wisdom of Walt.

I quit my job and career the first day home, agreeing to finish out the fall semester. Like Walt, I knew I could also go bankrupt. And I was okay with that. The risk was a challenge, a challenge that finally filled my days with more than comfort, conformity, and consolation.

Like every entrepreneurial experience, it’s been an interesting journey. I got off to a bit of a fractured start when, following my final day at CBU, I flew to Boston for Christmas and fell backward on a flight of stairs on Christmas Eve morning, suffering a concussion, a broken rib, and five spinal fractures. Instead of learning how to be a full-time entrepreneur, I spent the first few months of 2022 recovering.

My History of Disneyland course finally went online that spring, via two sold-out sections, with more sections and courses coming soon. I also converted a bedroom into a studio for virtual speaking events, recording lectures, and social media marketing.

Speaking has been great fun as live events return and gigs get booked that were originally cancelled in 2020. When graduation day came in May, instead of working a twelve- to sixteen-hour day, I started the morning by riding Space Mountain and then spoke at an HR Conference at the Disneyland Hotel.

Speaking of Space Mountain, maybe that is the best way to describe this journey so far. I’ve been doing The Wisdom of Walt for seven years now, but since going full-time without the safety net of a set schedule and a full-time paycheck, I feel like I’ve been careening around in the dark not knowing where the next twist, turn, dip, or drop might come.

Nothing is guaranteed.

If you are facing a major decision today, know that there really is no right or wrong answer. Why? Because again, nothing is guaranteed. The only constant in the universe is change.

During my last semester, the university began making massive organizational changes that resulted in a total restructure of the office and team I led…changes that while necessary, I would have really struggled with leading and implementing.

A year later, I love that I made the leap. I feel fortunate that I wasn’t killed, or paralyzed, from the fall in Boston. However, there are days when I am paralyzed by the fear of not knowing what is next. Where is the next speaking engagement? What is the next action to take? When is the next paycheck coming in? Like that awful day in Kansas City, I do my best to keep moving forward.

If you are in a similar place in your life, journey, or career, here are a few takeaways I am happy to share. Your mileage may vary:

  • Like every other job, I still have endless arguments with my boss….
  • Dreams are still work. Be careful what you hope for as you swap one set of struggles for another.
  • Going over budget while not meeting revenue goals suddenly feels very
  • I have all the time in the world to make the same excuses for not exercising.
  • Your greatest gift really can come from your deepest wound.

Whatever you do, don’t betray your gut, your gifts, or your own goals and dreams. How many days, weeks, years, or decades are you going to waste going through life on autopilot like a programmed audio animatronics? There will never be a perfect time to start doing the work you are passionate about—work that matters to others and will have maximum impact on the world around you.

Freedom comes by believing in yourself and going “All In.”

Disneyland Walt Disney Statue

“When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.”

— Walt Disney

P.S.  It’s been a long time since I’ve created new content. Too long. Recovering, divorcing, moving, quitting, pandemicing (yes, I just coined that word) all made for a not very magical 18-24 months. As I return to regularly scheduled emails, I wanted to update you on the journey and be transparent about the struggle.

Thanks for reading, and believing.

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