I am on a plane right now heading for the Turks and Caicos. A friend of mine asked me at the last minute to go on this trip with her, and I started conjuring up every excuse in the book as to why I couldn’t go. I really couldn’t think of one, so I did the only thing sensible anyone could do—I said, “Yes, and I will bring the suntan lotion.”
Right before we were about to take off, I get an email from Four Day Weekend’s publicist saying, “David, don’t forget your article for SUCCESS.com is due August 3.” Just what I need, a homework assignment before I go to the beach, I thought. I didn’t have the vaguest idea of what to write about for SUCCESS—because what qualifies someone as successful? A house, a car, to own your own business, to have a job you love? Check, check, check, check. But is this really success? All of these things are great to have accomplished, but they don’t inherently bring fulfillment.
I know I am feeling fulfilled in this moment because I am heading to paradise for a last-minute beach trip. And then I thought about it: Isn’t this the epitome of success? Isn’t this what everyone wishes they could do? Drop everything at a moment’s notice and head to paradise? This is what my friends and I talk about when we are fantasizing about the good life.
So often we wait in life for that perfect moment to take a beach trip, or that trip to explore Europe or to rent an RV and drive around the United States. We say, “One day when I reach this age or achieve this goal, only then will I be worthy of taking an extemporaneous trip of a lifetime.”
We say that until something seismic happens in our life that makes us realize how incredibly fragile and unpredictable life can be. For me, that happened in late October 2014, when my 80-year-old father fell down a hill after trying to clean up chocolate that was left on his lawn by trick-or-treaters. In a rather unfortunate turn of events, my father hit his head on a very small slice of concrete at the bottom of the hill and he was gone five days later. His life ended quickly without any hint that his final days had neared.
My father was the hardest-working man I have ever met. In his 50 years in the working world, he missed only two days of work. His work ethic rivaled that of a pack mule that carried a heavy load each day without one complaint. I learned a lot about hard work from my father, but I also came to understand he never believed that he deserved a trip of a lifetime. He felt he was only worthy of work, and although that can be a very commendable trait, what he lacked was the ability to dream that he could achieve anything he put in his mind.
When l told my father I wanted to become a comedian, his expression revealed I could have just as easily said, “Dad, I think I have located the Loch Ness Monster and I have the pictures to prove it.”
My father simply felt dreaming was a luxury and only other people could achieve dreams. He admittedly never fancied himself a dreamer, and so when one of his six children expressed an interest in pursuing a passion, he couldn’t wrap his brain around the concept. What my father never quite realized was that all “success” starts with a dream. It all starts with the belief that anything is possible as long as it is put in tandem with the quality that he taught me so well: hard work.
Related: How Far Can Your Dreams Take You?
I, on the other hand, felt I had no other alternative than to pursue the only thing I ever cared about: comedy. So, with my business partners and fellow performers Frank Ford and David Wilk, I co-founded what would one day become the longest-running shows in the Southwest. With more than 5,500 shows under our belt, a keynote address to the Democratic Caucus of the U.S. House of Representative with President Obama in attendance, being named Small Business of the Year by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and being awarded the Key to the City of Fort Worth by Mayor Mike Moncrief, my dreams had become a reality.
Four Day Weekend has had the privilege of working with such notable people as President George W. Bush, Gen. Colin Powell and Rudolph Giuliani, to name a few. After working with President Bush, he asked us, “Would you mind doing a show for me for the troops?” Now no matter what your political stripe, if a former president asks you to perform for the troops, you jump at the chance—and we did. In early 2015, we did a three-week stint in Europe, traveling from Army and Air Force bases and getting the honor of doing what Bob Hope set the standard for: entertaining the American military. It was my Europe trip, and it was all sponsored by the U.S. government. All because we said yes to the experience.
How could a small-town boy from Iowa be afforded the opportunity to work with presidents and world leaders? It was a belief in oneself that all is possible with determination and persistence. From improvisational comedy, I learned one of the most powerful and life-changing philosophies anyone could ever learn: the power of “yes, and”—the power of accepting and embracing every idea. Those two words are the foundation of dreams. When we say “yes” to life in all its forms instead of finding reasons why we can’t do things, we discover that we can achieve anything we set out to achieve.
My father worked harder than I ever have in my life, but he never did so with joy. He did so out of obligation, and he resigned himself to a fate that prohibited him from having things that truly make life worth living.
I, along with my very talented friends and fellow performers, had achieved many of the things that look good on a résumé, but those accomplishments only bring fleeting joy because there is always another red herring that can be chased. I have come to discover that true success comes from living. True success comes from saying “yes” to the last-minute beach trip. Success is when we share laughter and joy with those closest to us. True success is when we share our success with those who may be less fortunate than us or have chosen to believe that it’s not possible that they, too could have all that life has to offer. When it comes to success, a great many people say “Why me?” when the most successful people in life say “Why not me?”
My father is gone now, but my life is awaiting my participation. Turks and Caicos await me as a testament to my dreams. The Turks and the Caicos called and I answered, “Yes.” This is success—and it is available to anyone who is willing to claim it.
David Ahearn is the co-founder of Four Day Weekend, a critically-acclaimed comedy group and the longest-running show in the Southwest. Voted Best Comedy, Four Day Weekend is a Fort Worth, Texas, institution.