Two weeks back I wrote about becoming a hero. Last night, I met one of mine.
It all started with a text message from my friend Olga. “Tammi, you won’t believe who is coming to town! Dan Savage! He’ll have a reading at Shakespeare & Sons on Aug 4!” Many ALL CAPS messages and exclamation points later, I had convinced another friend, Susan, to RUN NOT WALK to the bookstore to scoop up tickets for a whole group of us. The big event was on.
Dan Savage, for those of you who do not already know, is to our generation who Dear Abby and Ask Ann Landers were to our parents … except that he is reliably more foul-mouthed in giving relationship advice than those sisters ever were. Dan is also gay, which is no minor detail here since, as I learned last night, it was also vital to the whole “joke” that started his rise to fame and fortune.*
Today’s Motivational Monday message a la Dan Savage: leap at opportunity.
Let me explain.
Despite reading his newspaper column for well over a decade (if not two) and listening to his weekly broadcast as fervently as any zealot would, I was surprised to hear that the whole thing — from Savage Love column to the Savage Lovecast to the Savage Love app for iPhone and Android — started from what was supposed to be a short-lived joke.
As Dan explained it, reading aloud from his new book to an over-flowing bookstore’s audience, he had made the acquaintance of Tim Keck, the co-founder behind the satirical The Onion news rag, back in the late 80s/early 90s. Tim and co-founder Chris Johnson had sold the paper, Tim told Dan, and Tim was off to Seattle to launch a city weekly there. The conversation then took a turn like this:
You should include an advice column, Dan said to Tim.
Well, how about you write it, Dan, said Tim.
"The column was supposed to be a joke. For six months, maybe a year, a weekly paper in Seattle was going to let a gay guy give sex advice to straight people."
The Savage Love column had its debut in 1991. The rest, as they say, is history.
Having myself stumbled into the localization industry in 2006, I can appreciate the wonder that Dan must feel in thinking about the opportunity that has unfolded from that one moment’s decision. In business and in life, we’re told to plan, to budget, to anticipate, to forecast as if these are the only right paths to success. In this version, everything develops logically, every new step ahead perfectly illuminated by the choice before. It’s as if we’re in a boardroom, looking at a PowerPoint presentation, watching the cursor move through a flowchart, and nodding along at the brilliance of it all.
How many times must you be exasperated by the knowledge that reality just doesn’t work like that before you acknowledge that chance plays a role too?
This is not to scoff at your hard-won plans and all the meetings that got you there. This is to encourage, instead, your wild mind and the what-if dreams. This is to suggest that sometimes it’s just fine to walk confidently through an open door without really knowing what’s on the other side.
Dan’s decision to take a chance at advice column writing has lead to four published books, many more published articles, a podcast rated among the top 20 in the world, an MTV show, coverage in the New York Times, and more acclaim then that one moment’s decision could have ever predicted.
If, as pioneer self-help writer Maxwell Maltz says, opportunity doesn’t knock, you are opportunity, then now is as good a time as any to take a chance on yourself.
Lean in? Leap in!
(* Or presumed fortune. Dan’s a writer, after all, and writers are notoriously underpaid like all other artists.)