The Simple Game That Changed Everything For Me

It’s time to live up to our potential, according to Dave Hollis

Today we’re featuring an opinion piece from Dave Hollis, CEO of The Hollis Company, which gives people the tools they need to change their lives. He’s the author of the new book,Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic’s Guide to Growth and Fulfillment. Here, he tells our producer Emily Pinto why we need to stop avoiding our biggest fears — a lesson he learned from a game with his kids.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my backyard with my three young boys as we participated in our nightly ritual of “Ask Any Question” — where I commit to honestly answering any of their gross, ridiculous, young boy questions. That night, my seven year old son asked me what my biggest fear was. I think he was expecting an answer like “tarantulas” or “scorpions.” But without even thinking, I blurted out, “Not living up to my potential.”

I was in the middle of a very hard transition between 30 and 40, and speaking those words into existence started me down this path of asking much bigger existential questions: Why was I on this planet? Why had I been given gifts that I wasn’t using on an everyday basis?

At the time, I was the president of distribution at Walt Disney Studios, where I was in charge of actually putting movies in theaters. I was at Disney for about 17 years, but had been in that role for seven. Over the course of my career, Disney had acquired Pixar, and then Marvel Studios, and then Lucas Films. So as the person responsible for selling Star Wars and Avengers movies to theatres, I was surrounded by the greatest leadership team ever assembled in history. I felt like I was getting A+ grades without having to study.

But all of the sudden, the answer to, “What’s your biggest fear?,” was playing constantly in the background. I grappled with why I felt so unfulfilled doing a job that, from the outside, was the envy of others. The answer was that I was not being pushed — because I couldn’t fail. Of course, that’s not because of how strong or great I was, but because of the conditions around me. And in the absence of the chance to fail, I wasn’t growing.

In that unfulfilled season of stagnation, I wasn’t showing up for my wife or my four kids, and I was drinking too much. My wife Rachel thinks of growth as a massive commodity value in her life, and so she was becoming a better person every single day. I can’t say that I was treading water — I was descending into a ditch of my own creation. I was in my own way. I was stuck.

It all came to a head when Rachel confronted me, and asked me, “If we keep on these paths where I keep growing and you stay stuck, will we still be going on dates in three months? Will we still want to make out in a year? Will we still be married in three?”

The combo platter of recognizing that I was slipping into my greatest fear — and the reality of what might happen if I didn’t take drastic action to change the trajectory of my life — was the catalyst for me to get out of my own way. That was the change that led to the beginning of the rest of my life. I left Disney, joined my wife to work at The Hollis Company, and I decided to write a book.

With that one question from my son — “What’s your biggest fear?” — I got an opportunity to visualize a future that I can anchor myself to. That conversation happened right around my 40th birthday, and I thought about what it would be like to sit around a table with my kids on my 60th birthday.

I imagined celebrating my life in 20 years — 20 years worth of time, 20 years worth of choices about how to show up for myself and for my kids, 20 years worth of habits and living and honoring values — and I imagined my kids raising their glasses and toasting me. In this fantasy, they toast the things I did that made them proud.

But depending on the choices I make now, there’s a version of that dinner where they don’t have anything to say. There’s a version of it where they may not even show up. And then, on the other hand, there’s a version where they are all gushing with pride over the man I am, the father I’ve been, the leader I was, and the way that I was intentional with how I showed up in my life. My greatest fear is not living up to my potential — not just for myself, but for my kids.

So on those mornings when I don’t feel like getting out of bed, I think about my kids not showing up for that dinner. That’s what helps me to get out of my own way. The only difference between me and the person who is still shackled to their fear is that by bringing it to light and talking about it, I am no longer held captive by it.

This was as told to Wake-Up Call producer Emily Pinto.

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