A few days ago, I had the pleasure of watching an excellent speech by Steve Harvey. Harvey gave this speech on the set of Family Feud, a game show that he hosts, to the audience while waiting between episodes.
I encourage you to give it a watch, but I transcribed it below. Harvey is a Christian and does touch on his faith a few times during the speech, but the central point is spot on regardless of your theological beliefs.
I’m going to share something with you. I’m going to tell you something that every successful person has to do, including you, believe it or not.
Every successful person in this world has jumped.
I’m going to tell you what I mean by that. Eventually, you’re going to have to jump. You cannot just exist in this life. You’ve got to try to live. If you’re waking up thinking that there’s got to be more to your life than it is, man, believe that it is. Believe in your heart of hearts that it is.
But to get to that life, you’re going to have to jump.
Now, I’ll tell you why I call it jumping. See, God, when he created all of us, He gave every last one of us a gift at birth. He never created a soul without endowing them with a gift. You’ve just got to quit looking at gifts as running, jumping, singing, dancing. It’s more than that.
It’s if you know how to network. It’s if you know how to connect dots. If you draw. If you teach. Some of you fry chicken better than anybody else. Bake pie. Some of you cut hair, color hair. Some people do grass.
I’ve got a partner who never wanted to go out with his cousin who stayed out too late. “Come on, man!” “No, man, I gotta get up early in the morning to cut Mrs. Johnson’s grass.” We kept laughing at this dude. “Cutting grass? How much do they pay you?”
He’s got a landscaping company in Cleveland worth four million dollars, because all he’d do is cut grass. But he was gifted at it.
I’ve got a partner who owns a detail shop that makes $800,000 a year, just detailing cars. He’s got six mobile trucks running around. $800,000 a year. All he does is detail cars. That’s his gift. That’s what he loves to do.
You’ve got to identify that gift.
Now, listen to me. When you see people in life, when you’re standing on the cliff of life and you see people soaring by, when you see people soaring and going to exotic places, you hear about them doing wonderful things, maybe you look up the street and your neighbor just gets a car every year or every two years. How’s he doing that? Have you ever thought that maybe this person right here has identified their gift and is living in their gift? Because your bible says that your gift will make room for you.
Your gift, not your education. You can go get an education, that’s nice. But if you don’t use your gift, that education is only going to take you so far.
I know a lot of people that have degrees, man, and they aren’t even using them.
It’s your gift.
But the only way for you to soar is you’ve got to jump.
You’ve got to take that gift that’s packed away on your back. You’ve got to jump off that cliff and pull that cord. That gift opens up and provides the soar.
If you don’t ever use it, then you’re just going to go to work. And if you end up going to work to a job every day that you hate going to, that isn’t living, man. You’re just existing.
At some point in time, you ought to see what living’s like, and the only way to see what living’s like is to jump.
Now, here’s the problem. I’m going to be real with you. When you first jump, your parachute will not open right away. I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you that it did. But it doesn’t. When you jump, it’s not going to open right away.
You’re going to hit the rocks. You’re going to get some skin torn off on those cliffs. You’re going to get all of your clothes torn off. You’re going to get some cuts on you. You’re going to be bleeding pretty bad.
But eventually, eventually, the parachute has to open. That isn’t a theory. That’s a promise. That promise is true because, listen to me, you cannot name one single thing that God has not gotten you through. Name it.
And if He hasn’t gotten you through it, he’s pulling you through it right now, and the living proof of it is that you’re sitting here. If He hadn’t gotten you through it, you wouldn’t be here.
So if He’s never not gotten you through it, why wouldn’t he let your parachute open? It has to open, man, but you’ve got to jump.
Now, here’s another thing. You can play it safe and live without the cuts and the tears. And you can stand on that cliff of life, forever safe. But if you don’t jump, I’ve got another promise I can make you. Your parachute will never open. You’ll never know. You’ll never know what God really has for you.
See, your God has a wonderful life for you. Once again, I’m going to refer to your bible. Go down there and memorize these scriptures and apply them to yourself. Your bible says He comes to give you life and to give you life more abundant than anything.
If I were you, I would jump. Because that’s the only way to get to that abundant life. You’ve got to jump, man. You’ve got to take a chance.
Now, when I get through talking, there are those of you who will discuss this in the car. “Well, I’ve got bills.” Whether you stay on your cliff or you jump, you’re going to have bills. “Well, if I quit my job, I’m going to ruin my credit.” If you’ve got a job and you’re living check to check, even if you’ve got A1 credit you can’t buy nothing else.
At one point in time, do yourself a favor. Before you leave this world, before you die, jump. Just jump. Jump one time. Just jump.
That’s an amazing speech, one I agree with on almost every count. It’s an optimistic perspective, but not an unrealistic one.
Let’s walk through some of the specific elements of what Steve Harvey spoke about in this speech and how they can apply to your life.
Finding Your Gift
Harvey doesn’t really explain what exactly he means by a person’s gift, so I’ll throw out my own particular definition of it.
A gift is something that you enjoy doing and that you’re also good at doing.
I think that something you’re merely good at doing without having any joy is merely a skill. On the other hand, something you enjoy doing without being any good at it is a hobby.
There’s nothing wrong with hobbies or skills. Skills can often keep a paycheck coming in and hobbies fill our spare time with joy.
It’s when those things cross paths that something special happens.
Still, most people have no idea what gifts they have. Most people have some skills that they ply, but those skills don’t bring them joy. Most people have some hobbies that they enjoy but aren’t good at (like me and homebrewing… trust me).
So, how does a person find their gifts? My advice is to simply do a lot of different things. Fill up your spare time with trying lots of different things and look for the ones that really click with you. Most things won’t click, but a few will. The best ones are the ones where you lose track of time doing it.
Then, look either for ones where you seem to demonstrate some kind of talent with it or else you can find a way to merge it with a skill you already have. For instance, I have a friend who loves computer games and makes some money just recording commentary on them because he has the gift of gab.
Preparing for the Jump
The next step, obviously, is to jump. You know what your gift is, so take a leap with it and use it to the best of your ability.
The problem is that taking such a leap is practically impossible for a lot of people. It sounds like “fairy tale talk.”
That’s because it is fairy tale talk for most people in their current financial situations. Three out of four Americans — 76% — live paycheck to paycheck. Forty million Americans have student loan debt. A majority of Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 have children, and another 40% want to have children.
When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, facing a pile of debt, and either have children or plan to in the near future, taking a jump into the complete unknown in terms of a career path looks like an insanely irresponsible move.
So, you need to take some steps before you’re ready to jump.
First of all, you’ve got to start spending less than you earn. Period. Paycheck to paycheck living does not cut it. If you’re doing that, all you’re doing is locking yourself into the life you have right now, with your only real move being a move up the ladder in your current career path. Start spending less. Drive that car until it’s actually worn out. Buy generic products at the store. Cut soda or alcohol or cigarettes out of your life. Don’t replace those spending cuts with other forms of spending, either.
Next, start using your gift in your spare time. Make it your main hobby, whether or not you use it for an income stream. This shouldn’t be misery. This should be joyful. If it’s not joyful, are you really sure that it’s your gift? I write in my spare time because I enjoy it so much, even though I write for a living, too.
You should also start understanding what you need to do to make a living from your gift. What do you have to do in order to be able to make this gift turn into something that can earn you money? This is the time to come up with a plan for jumping.
Ready? Now jump!
When Harvey describes jumping, he seems to pretty clearly be describing a full life commitment to your gifts, whatever they may be.
When you jump, I’d recommend having three things in place: a plan for what you’re going to do, a few months of living expenses in the bank, and some bridges back to your earlier career if you fall flat on your face.
The living expenses are vital because you’re likely to see a stiff income drop when you jump. After all, your current salary is going away and there isn’t a guarantee that your new income will cover everything that you need to cover, especially at first. Your emergency fund will help, and the bigger that emergency fund is, the better.
The plan is vital because you need to have a structure for what you’re doing. If you quit your job, wake up the next morning, and have no idea what you’re going to do, you’re doomed to fail. You should wake up the next morning knowing exactly what you’re going to do.
You should also never burn any bridges while doing this. Leave your job on the best possible terms so that, if you do fail, you can always have an opportunity to go back to where you once belonged.
You’re Going to Fall
Jumping is scary. I took the leap into writing for a living back in 2008, where previously I had a very stable job in a research environment. Walking away from that stable job was probably the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, but it turns out to have been one of the most rewarding.
At that time, I had a pretty clear plan for what I was going to do after jumping. I had a very nice emergency fund built up, too. I had been using my “gift” in my spare time and had been earning some money as a freelance writer. I felt ready to jump.
But it was still scary.
First of all, your income level is going to drop. If you step away from a stable paycheck, your income level is going down even if you’re moving into something else that will earn money. It is extremely rare that you’re quickly earning more by jumping. You usually earn less – way less – at least at first.
Second, you’re going to find out the hard way whether your plan really makes sense. Ideally, you already started implementing it during your spare time before you ever jumped, but even then, you really don’t know how well it will click. You don’t know whether your gift is useful or valuable enough to make it all work.
Finally, you’re usually doing this without a support structure. Most jobs provide a support structure that more or less tells you exactly what you should be doing with your time and energy. Once you jump, that isn’t usually true any more. (Sometimes people jump into new jobs, but often the “jump” is into self-employment or contract work.) You have to stay self-motivated. You have to market yourself. You have to figure out how to meet the demands of those who are paying you.
It’s scary, but you’ve prepared for it.
Now, of course, there is always a chance of failure. This is particularly true if you didn’t prepare to jump very well, but even those who prepare can sometimes end up failing or only succeeding for a while.
That’s okay. Just because you didn’t end up being carried to the end of your life by jumping doesn’t mean that the experience wasn’t worth your time. You had the chance to do someting amazing, if only for a little while, and now you can move forward in life knowing that you tried.
Harvey’s closing is particularly appropriate here, so let’s look at it again.
At one point in time, do yourself a favor. Before you leave this world, before you die, jump. Just jump. Jump one time. Just jump.
Making the leap into full time writing was the single scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had two young children at home, we had just bought a house, and I was walking away from a very, very stable job.
I was scared to death.
But I trusted my gift. My gift, as I see it, is the ability to write a lot of material reasonably well and in a short timeframe. I’m not the most polished writer (though I could be if I invested more time in the editing process), but I can write a pretty good first or second draft and I can do it fairly quickly, which is something that has value online. Not only that, I enjoy it, especially when I know the end product can help people or make them think.
I felt fairly confident that my gift would see me through, and it turned out I was right. Because I made the leap and trusted my plan and my ability to carry it out, I’ve been able to see my children off to school almost every day and I’m sitting there on the front step when they get home, something I’ve always wanted to be able to do. My father was always working when I was a kid and weeks would sometimes go by without being able to see him for more than a few minutes. I never wanted that to happen with my own children.
Because I was willing to take that jump, it hasn’t. I’ve been there for them. I’ve also been able to do something fulfilling with my working hours, something I still deeply enjoy, something that can cause me to get joyfully lost in the work for hours.
That’s something worth striving for.