A Lifetime of Searching
Growing up on a wheat field in Oklahoma, I spent the first few years of my life sheltered from the outside world. Until I entered kindergarten, virtually everything I needed came directly from the family farm. So one day when my mom asked me, “Ryan, what do you want to be when you grow up?” my response came as quite a surprise: “I want to be a millionaire!”
At that time, the only cash I had access to was minted by a company called Parker Brothers. Eventually, Monopoly money lost its appeal and I packed up and moved to Los Angeles where I quickly discovered the way to real riches straight up the corporate ladder.
After just a few years though, everything I thought I knew suddenly began to turn on its head. One night, as I sat down for dinner in my new house, I looked around to admire the space I had created. Putting it all together had been a major undertaking—creatively and financially. But as beautiful as it was, in that moment I realized that none of it brought any real meaning to my life. For the first time ever, my coveted paycheck wasn’t enough to justify an uninspiring forty hours of work.
Until then, money, not joy, had been the only thing actually motivating me to work. It took months of deep thought, journaling and meditation, but slowly I began to recall some of the things that had once brought me true joy, including one of my greatest passions: travel. Within thirty days I organized a massive yard sale, liquidating everything that didn’t fit into one oversized suitcase, and, despite incredible financial barriers, quit my job and boarded a one-way flight to the Czech Republic. After exploring Eastern Europe for a few months, I flew west and settled in Madrid where I found work as an English teacher and, coincidentally, began fulfilling another one of my forgotten dreams: to learn a foreign language.
At first everything was perfect, but the more Spanish I picked up, the faster my real reason for being in Spain faded, and after just one year I left Europe and hung up my teacher’s hat. After spending two months in India, two months in Central America and two more in Alaska, I landed back in Los Angeles and, reluctantly, back in the exact same office with the exact same people as before I had left. But after experiencing what it was like to live life every day with passion, the effect of stuffing myself back into a cubicle was toxic. One salary increase after another, before I knew it a harmless three-month commitment had turned into three poisonous years.
But my memories of a different kind of life were vivid. Change was inevitable. Amidst a major corporate merger, my coworkers and I were all laid off, sparking the very fire I needed to completely reinvent myself. With the hope of inspiring others to think differently about work, I created Wake UP! TV, an Internet talk show launched right from my own living room with a laptop and a single webcam. By a twist of fate, the show was later accepted for production at a local television station and ultimately syndicated, receiving over one million views every single day.
Despite my passion, the project wasn’t financially sustainable and my search for purpose was replaced by my search for a job. Two years and two more soul-searching trips later—one to the Middle East and one through Asia—I dropped everything once again and set off on a third and final journey. Starting alone near the Mediterranean Sea in Southern France, I took my first brave steps westward toward the Atlantic Ocean. For nine hours that day, and every day thereafter, I walked, rain or shine, on a physically and emotionally exhausting pilgrimage in search of the elusive response to the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? I was determined to find an answer, or—quite literally—die trying.
Nearly 1,000 miles later, on the 62nd day of my pilgrimage, the road finally came to an end at the rocky cliffs once believed to be the end of the world—Cape Finisterre. As I stood there watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean, I reflected back upon the decades I had spent searching and realized that the answer I so desperately sought had actually been with me all along. And while I didn’t have to travel to the end of the earth to discover it, without taking the journey I might never have found the courage to claim my place as a Speaker, Explorer and Writer.