But call me Don.
I started to wake up when I was a grown-up in advertising. It took a lot of years to feel comfortable in the business world (and in my own skin for that matter) as I was inherently shy and self-protective. To make matters more difficult I stuttered when I was a kid, and that impediment came back when I was under pressure.
By the time I left Leo Burnett Ad Agency in Chicago, I was vice president, creative director, and had worked on a number of multinational companies, including Philip Morris, Kellogg's, Nestle, Pillsbury, GM, and many others. During those years, I was also interested in politics and used my creative skills in seventeen political campaigns.
I loved aspects of what I was doing, but the business pressures were building. Plus I had problems in my marriage and significant values conflicts with clients. For instance, I was creating ads for pre-sweetened cereals that I wouldn’t let my kids eat. I was working on Philip Morris cigarettes while trying to quit smoking. And I was asked to help GM sell more big gas-guzzling cars during a national gas crisis.
Then one day, I was presenting storyboards of the new Doughboy commercials to a room of Pillsbury executives, when I lost it. My mind went blank. I didn’t even recognize the cute little mascot on the storyboards behind me. All I could do was sit down. This was a universe beyond stuttering. It took me a while to see it, but it was a spiritual shout letting me know that the split between my values and my work had to end.
Shortly after that, the chairman of Burnett agreed to my request to leave our home office in Chicago and join our film production group in Los Angeles. Thankfully, I was able to buy a house up a winding road in the Hollywood Hills. It gave me a much needed retreat away from the business world and opportunities to relax in ways I never could have back in Chicago.
This is shot of me and my new beard was not taken at my home, but at Tippi Hedren’s wild animal preserve just outside of LA.
The reduced pressure was sorely needed, but I was still making commercials for many of my past clients, and I still had the same inner conflicts. But the open spaces reinvigorated my creative roots, and I starting taking evening classes in script writing. I found it so nourishing, I spent all of my free time writing screenplays.
Ultimately, I left advertising to write full time, but my marketing background was my entrance into companies like Disney and Fox, not my writing. Still, I thought I’d made a successful transition into career my heart could get behind.
Sadly, working in this new arena didn’t yield the deep sense of meaning I longed for in my work, but my hopes were high when I joined a start up run by some folks with similar ideals. Then after several promising months together, they announced they were closing.
This news came as a devastating blow, and I felt like I’d reached the end of the road in myself.
This was a pivotal time in my life—putting it mildly. What happened next turned my world upside down. While sitting by the pool at my house in the hills, I had what you might call a spiritually transformative experience—an out-of-body epiphany that gifted me with a prolonged glimpse of the divine nature of human love and its creative force in life. It also showed me a series of events, snippets of my life from childhood to that present moment, each of which revealed how fear had ruled my life and made my choices.
I have no idea how long that experience by the pool lasted, but I emerged totally inspired. The visceral awareness of the creative nature of love was undeniable, and while I couldn’t explain it and barely understood it, it initiated an extraordinary process of self-discovery and fulfillment.
It was in these years that I began rising well before dawn to be in the pristine quiet, which is ideal for writing and reflection—a practice I continue to this day.
My future became an experiment in love. Could I re-create my life—my career and my relationships—based on love? Or would all my past fears plague my path forward?
I told no one about this commitment to “rebuild my life from love.” Even saying it my head sounded too weird. But I felt compelled to let that experience lead me. And it worked.
Several years into having my own company, I met Paige. (She actually hired me to help with some challenges in her business.) Then about six months after meeting, we realized who we were to each other and joined our lives.
These aren’t wedding pictures, but they were taken around that time, as an afterthought during a photoshoot for the first edition of Executive in Passage, which was also our first book together.
Executive in Passage is a memoir that chronicles the tumultuous journey through my humbling career crisis to its culmination in that out-of-body epiphany that transformed my life.
Our second book, Grabbing Lightning: The Messy Quest for an Extraordinary Love, picks up where that book leaves off. And as that subtitle suggests, this story treks through the intimate challenges of building a business, a relationship, and an entire life from love instead of fear.
This book has a very happy ending. Yet as the epilogue reveals, that ending is also another beginning.
I’m not young anymore but hopefully a little wiser. I’m still shy by nature, but I’m loving being deep in my third career — so much so that I feel a bit like the Energizer Bunny.