I grew up a poor kid in the mountains of North Carolina with parents who always supported my creative side. And by creative side I mean I was juggling fire at age 13, hammering nails up my nose at age 15, and eating fire at 18.
Despite knowing these amazing circus skills, I was still incredibly shy, so I took debate classes and participated in debate competitions all through high school. This forced me to be able to communicate clearly, and translate my thoughts (which are almost always in pictures and images) into words.
Growing up poor means I applied to one college, Berea College in Kentucky because it’s specifically designed to provide Harvard level education to poor Appalachian kids who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity for secondary education. Every student who attends gets a full tuition scholarship and in exchange, everyone has to work for the school. I decided to get my degree in art to fulfill my (then lifelong) dream of going to school for painting.
It was there that I crossed paths with James Randi; a MacArthur’s Genius Grant recipient, internationally recognized champion of critical thinking, magician, & 33x guest of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. After we met, I worked with him for 4 summers in college at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) handling applications for the Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, and designed testing protocols for applicants. This was my master’s class in understanding human psychology & why we believe weird things.
In addition to work with the Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, I also helped run an annual scientific conference hosted by the JREF in Vegas every year starting in 2003. It was there that I was able to meet & connect with luminaries like Bill Nye the Science Guy, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Julia Sweeney, and hundreds more. This is where I learned the fine art of networking and getting to talk with celebrities as real people outside the context of “Fan mode.”
After graduating college I worked at Universal Studios at the first magic shop opened years before Harry Potter World got started. Thousands of guests came through the shop every day, and it was in that shop that I earned most of my performing hours before going full time professional. Working at a tourist destination magic shop gave me a unique perspective a buyer’s psychology and what motivates someone to make the decision to spend their money (or not). This has been one of my most valuable lessons and skills.
After the shop, I was recruited by full time entertainer Brian Brushwood, who you might recognize from Discovery Channel’s show “Hacking the System” or the internet’s “Scam School.” My time with him started just as he was cracking his plan to start “some kinda web show” that eventually became “Scam School.” I helped research, write, film, & produce the first 39 episodes, and you can see me be the secret helper in episode 002: The Lift (back when I still had a mohawk). Working with him gave me the opportunity to see exactly how someone who built an empire got started when it was all just a nebulous idea, and how to think like an entrepreneur (way bigger than you assume you can).
After my year and a half apprenticeship with Brushwood, I struck out on my own as a mentalist. The show was built from my knowledge and experience from Randi & Brushwood to create a show that was equal parts amazement, critical thinking lessons, and comedy show. It took off and I was featured in trade magazines, recognized by peers for my hard work, was consistently nominated for industry awards, and got plenty of repeat bookings. I traveled the world entertaining US Troops, worked with hundreds of colleges, and even more companies. Eventually the travel got tiresome, and I realized I wanted a better way to make a living where I wouldn’t be trading my time for money like I do for entertainment.
Sure, as an entertainer, you’re getting paid a lot for an hour on stage, but that doesn’t account for the days it takes to get to the show through crazy weather, the time it took to advertise, negotiate, and book the show. (Not to mention how long it’ll take to get paid, sometimes!) No matter how fancy it looks, you’re still trading your time for dollars, just like every other person at a 9-5 job. If, for some reason, you’re not able to make it on stage, you don’t get paid. This is a dangerous way to live.
Recognizing the immense value of the unique skill sets I’d honed over the years of applied psychology, marketing, public speaking, communication, I realized I could share my knowledge and experience with others who wanted more control over their lives and even make a living at it. This is why I started A Life Well Designed: to teach others the same thought patterns and communication skills I’ve developed that have allowed me to live a life free from the control of others, and the freedom to spend my time as I choose.
My life hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and it’s the storms I’ve endured that help me show others how to navigate the darkest times of their life. If you’d like to start your own adventure, let me show you how to navigate it!