Article by David Ahearn
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 tried to conjure 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 sensible thing I could do: I said, “Yes, and I will bring the suntan lotion.”
Right before we were about to take off, I got an email from Four Day Weekend‘s publicist saying, “David, don’t forget your article for SUCCESS.com is due August 3rd.”
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, owning your own business, having a job you love? Check, check, check, check. But is this really success? All of these things are great, but they don’t inherently bring fulfillment.
I knew I was feeling fulfilled in that moment because I was heading to paradise for a last-minute beach trip. And then I thought about it: Wasn’t this the epitome of success? Wasn’t this what everyone wishes they could do? Drop everything at a moment’s notice and head to paradise? This was what my friends and I talk about when we fantasize about the good life.
Often, we wait in life for that perfect moment to take a beach trip, or explore Europe, or rent an RV and drive around the United States. We say, “One day, when I reach this age or achieve this goal, then I will be worthy of taking the spontaneous trip of a lifetime.”
We say this until something seismic happens 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. He was gone five days later. His life ended quickly, without any hint that his final days were near.
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. I learned a lot about hard work from my father, but I also came to understand he never believed that he deserved the 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 I told my father I wanted to become a comedian, his expression suggested I could just as easily have 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, that only other people could achieve dreams. He admittedly never fancied himself a dreamer, 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 that belief is accompanied by the quality that he taught me so well: hard work.
I, on the other hand, felt I had no option but to pursue the only thing I ever cared about: comedy. So, with my business partners and fellow performers Frank Ford and David Wilk, I cofounded what would one day become the longest-running show in the Southwest. With more than 5,500 shows under our belts – as well as 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 we worked 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 to 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 because of my belief 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 looking for reasons why we can’t do things, we discover that we can achieve anything we want to.
My father worked harder than I have ever worked 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 resume, but those accomplishments only bring fleeting joy, because there is always something else to 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 who 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 ask, “Why me?” – but the most successful people in life ask, “Why not me?”
My father is gone now, but my life is awaiting my participation. Turks and Caicos await me. The islands called, and I answered, “Yes.”
This is success – and it is available to anyone who is willing to claim it.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
David Ahearn is the cofounder 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.