When I was eight-years-old I had my first clue of what I wanted to do when I grew up. I witnessed a speaker on stage in front of a couple thousand people who was wearing a nice suit, a wireless ear microphone and was inspiring the audience and making them laugh. At that moment, a vision arose on the inside of me. I looked over at my mom, pointed at the speaker and told her with a straight face, “When I grow up, I want to do what he is doing.” As I grew up the vision got glazed over with school, basketball, hormones, girlfriends I never had, and other stresses of a teenager. But deep within me that vision still remained. That very vision would begin to make itself known early on in high school. For example, when I’d be giving a presentation in class I would naturally crack jokes and tell stories and everyone would laugh. In those moments, I felt an unexplainable knowing that that was something I was supposed to do. Times like that brought me back to my vision. Then out of nowhere in August of 2013, I received an invitation to give a professional speech in Toronto, Canada. Keep in mind that at this time I was still a high school student and outside of the classroom I had never spoken in front of an audience before unless I was impersonating one of the presidents. The crowd that I was scheduled to speak in front of was a whopping 250 foreign businessmen and women. And speaking in Toronto would automatically give me the title of an International speaker! And that’s a pretty nice resume’ enhancement for sure. The event promoter informed me that I would have fifteen minutes to speak. I was to open up with my impersonation of former President George W. Bush and close with a speech to touch the audience members’ hearts. He informed me that I had to wear a nice suit, be inspirational, and get the audience laughing. That matched my vision perfectly! The only thing missing was a wireless ear microphone.
As the Toronto date came closer, the nerves began to get to me. A few weeks before I was to give my presentation, I had an awful dream that I was giving my presentation and halfway through, I started peeing my pants on stage. I was in shock and the crowd was horrified – then I awoke and…you would not have guessed it. My dog had just peed in my bed – however my mom didn’t believe me and I got labeled as an eighteen-year-old who pees his bed.
All joking aside, I continuously reflected on the memory that I had at eight-years-old. When I pointed to that speaker on stage and told my mom that that was what I was going to do one day, it was no accident and when I realized this I was filled with an enormous amount of peace. That was my vision and I held onto it because it was the only glimpse of my desired future that I’d had.
I continually envisioned what it would look like to have an entire audience laughing before me. What it would feel like to pour my heart out on stage, touch people’s lives, and receive a standing ovation. I saw grown men and women coming to me and saying, in their foreign accents, how much my speech impacted them. I even posted a picture of a huge audience on my bathroom mirror. I also envisioned how good looking I would be wearing a suit for the first time; I probably envisioned this one a little too much.
The day before the event, my dad and I flew to Toronto and once we stepped off the plane and entered the airport. There were a bunch of people gathered around the televisions mesmerized by a news broadcast. This was my first time outside of the United States and it appeared that all of the Canadians standing in front of me had never seen a television before as they looked at the plasma screen with intensity. The headline read “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford caught smoking crack”. The Canadians around me were furious and disappointed that their own mayor was doing drugs. Immediately I knew that I would make a George W. Bush joke on stage the following day about it.
My dad and I gathered our suitcases and began heading towards the sliding glass doors to exit the airport. I assumed that since I was a pretty big deal being an international speaker and all, I assumed that there was going to be a limousine out front with a steaming hot pepperoni pizza in the back seat. But my fantasy was quickly disproved when a heavyset man with a beard stepped right in front of us and said “You two! Come with me.” Chills were sent down my spine and I knew that there was something not quite right with this guy. Part of the fear that I felt had to do with the fact that I had just watched the movie “Taken” on the airplane which is about being kidnapped in a foreign country. He didn’t look like a chauffeur even though he was wearing a suit. My dad and I both had a really bad feeling. But because we looked like the clueless tourists that we were, he practically pulled us into the elevators as if we were on an invisible leash. He said, in broken English, “I am Taxi” flipped open his wallet like an FBI agent and for a split second showed us what appeared to be his fake laminated badge that he probably printed out at office depot. Before we had a chance to examine the validity of his license he stuffed it back into his suit pocket where his handgun was most likely waiting to be used.
Sweat began dripping down the back of my head at the thought of getting kidnapped. We walked through the dark parking garage and my head was on a swivel, checking every corner to see if there were any masked men ready to attack us. We then stopped in front of a brown beat-up minivan that had no taxi sticker and most likely had tied-up bodies wiggling in the trunk. I slid into the back seat that had a slit down the middle and cotton spilling out. I noticed crumpled up Arby’s, and McDonald’s bags at my feet and empty glass Coca-Cola bottles rolled and clanked on the floor as we began our departure. He turned on the radio and all that was being blared through the battered speakers was “Mayor Rob Ford was found smoking crack”. If I were to live to see the next day, I had to make a joke about Rob Ford, I thought to myself. We told our wonderful “taxi driver” which hotel we were staying at and he just nodded without saying a word. Moments later, his phone rang and within a couple of seconds after picking it up he was shouting in his foreign accent to whoever was on the other line (I assumed it was one of his accomplices). I had been playing out different scenarios in my mind of what I would do if we were taken hostage, but then our driver slowed down his tone and said the words into the phone “Don’t worry…I got them.” My heart stopped. What does he mean “I got them” I pondered? We better not be the “them” that he’s “got”. My dad turned his head from the passenger seat to me and once me our eyes met I knew that he was just as horrified as I was. Do I say my goodbyes and tell him how much I love him like they do in the movies? Or do we both jump out of the van at a red light and run for our lives? All of these fears came to a grinding halt when he turned into the parking lot of our hotel. Relieved beyond description we jumped out of his van and we actually gave him a bigger tip for not killing us.
So my first hour in Toronto, Canada was filled with a crack-smoking mayor and a potential assassin disguised as a taxi driver and I was just relieved to be safe inside the big hotel.
Despite the early on adventure, my mind was still sitting heavily on the presentation that I was to give the next morning. My dad and I dropped off the suitcases in our room and then discovered the convention hall which was where the seminar was going to be held. After walking through the doors, I was met with something glorious: Two story ceilings, glistening chandeliers, and rows of chairs that seemed to go on forever. This place was better than I could have imagined. I slowly began to work my way onto the stage picturing what it would look like when it would be jam packed with people. I then stepped onto the stage, stared at the empty seats before me and imagined the smiles on every audience member and saw them laughing. I envisioned my dad in the back of the room holding the camera with a tear in his eye. I had already pictured the ending to this remarkable time of my life so all I had left to do was to just do it.
The next morning there were not just butterflies fluttering around in my stomach but wasps and killer bees. My hands were icy cold and my legs were shaking uncontrollably while I was putting on my suit. Before we headed out the door of the room I finished putting on the tie to my suit and it was as if the suit had magic powers because I felt like a millionaire. Tightening my tie up to my neck I felt like the president himself. We then rushed towards the conference room and there were already people pouring in. As I approached the front doors a man greeted me and told me to sit anywhere I wanted to.
“Is there a certain place where the speakers sit?” I questioned. He looked me up and down and said, “Yes, but that place is for the speakers only.”
I quickly realized that he had no idea who I was, but that was okay with me. I wasn’t on the roster because if the audience knew that some teenager was going to speak at a high-dollar conference a lot of them might not have bought tickets. I was completely unexpected and was right where I wanted to be. It was my time. But as the conference dragged on the audience became weary and bitter. The speakers before me weren’t capturing the audience. There were many audio and technical problems and a few members of the audience left the room and demanded their money back from the promoter. The promoter did everything to calm them down and one thing he said was “Don’t worry, we have an amazing George W. Bush impersonator coming up soon who is going to be awesome!” They grudgingly went back to their seats with their arms crossed and deep frowns on their faces. It was at this moment when I truly began feeling the weight of the pressure. I was supposed to go up there and make this angry audience laugh and if I didn’t it was going to be the worst start (and probably end) of my career as a speaker. I had been battling a lack of confidence all of my life and when I needed confidence the most – confidence took the day off. In the midst of my panic and the audience groaning at bad jokes from other speakers. I had to leave the room and meditate on what was important. I had to focus on how it wasn’t about me and that even if the majority of the audience doesn’t like me; I am doing it for the one person in that room who needs to hear what I have come to deliver. The idea swelled deep within my spirit that said I wasn’t there as an experiment but instead on an assignment.
Just then a man ran up to me saying “Mr. Renner we need to wire you up” I blushed a little bit when I was called by my professional name and it pumped me up. And to put the icing on the cake, he hooked me up with a wireless ear microphone.
Then I heard my name announced from the stage by the promoter and before I knew it I was walking up the aisle like a bride nervously approaching her groom. I saw faces light up with excitement, expectation, and slight confusion once they saw that an eighteen-year-old was going up to speak. With every step I took, the stage got bigger and bigger. Finally I got up onto the wooden platform, turned around and faced the crowd. My heart was pounding but as soon as I began to speak, the nerves rolled off of me like water off a duck’s back and I went into my speech like I had done it a hundred times in my bedroom. I started out doing my impression of George W. Bush and the audience was warming up to me. But then, I remembered the crack-smoking mayor and a joke spilled out of my mouth. I said in my George W. voice,
“I want to informatize you that I plan on returning for re-election for president of the United States. But if I don’t win, I will certainly be running for the Mayor of Toronto…I heard that position will need to be filled soon, although it may not be all it’s cracked up to be.”
Due to the perfect timing of how the news of Mayor Rob Ford was hot off the press, it got the audience rolling. It took me a while to move onto the next joke because they wouldn’t calm down – it was simply amazing.
Because the crowd was softened with humor, they were open to receiving a heartfelt message. The message that I shared was how necessary it is for parents to speak life into their kids, and if their children and teens feel love at home, then they won’t be as quick to search for love in wrong relationships at school or anywhere else. That if parents would guide their children to discovering what their gift is then it will fill the parent and the child with passion. One of the suggestions that I made, which I still recommend, is for a mom or dad to write a handwritten letter to their kids individually. Sometimes verbal communication cannot restore a certain disconnect, but there is a fresh power in pouring out our feelings on a piece of paper. It’s so easy to argue and fight verbally but nobody can argue with a letter.
There I was on stage wearing a suit, speaking through a wireless ear microphone and inspiring an audience while making them laugh. It was an unreal sensation. I looked into the back of the room and saw my dad holding a camera in the same position that I pictured him the day before. He had a smile on his face that I had never seen before and a twinkle in his eye that spoke the words,
“That’s my boy!”
After I closed, I thanked the audience and walked off of the stage noticing that some had tears in their eyes. Others had looks of joy upon their faces. A handful of them stood to their feet and cheered. My message hit some people right in their heart and hit others directly in their funny bone. I practically floated to the back of the room and embraced my dad in a hug that could never be duplicated. The vision that lived in my imagination since I was eight-years-old became a living reality at eighteen-years-old.
After the seminar was over, audience members came running up to me for pictures and thanking me for the impactful message. I was taken back with every compliment and couldn’t believe that there were so many perspective shifts in just the few simple things I had to say. I went to bed that evening smiling from ear to ear and tears of joy dripped onto my pillow. Who knew that I, just a regular school boy, could have made such an impact in all of those people’s lives?
A week later I was still on cloud nine even though I was back in school. I was sitting in history class and my slightly depressed teacher was mourning over all of the dead people in our textbook my phone buzzed in my pocket and what I read next amazed me. It was a Facebook message from one of the parents in Toronto who I had spoken to. His message read that he went home after my speech, sat down with a pen and paper and wrote a handwritten letter to all three of his kids. The act led to him being able to share his love and feelings for his kids on an entirely new level. The best part was that his kids started writing handwritten letters back to him and it created a deeper bond than he could have ever imagined. I then discovered that this man was actually a speaking coach and he took me under his wing for a season and helped drastically improve my current speeches just in time for future speaking engagements.
The lives that I have had an opportunity to touch and who have also impacted me is priceless. The root of all of these amazing experiences comes down to this. It all started with a vision. It dropped into my spirit at eight-years-old and blossomed ten years later. We all have these little desires that pop into our imagination but what do we do about them? Let me be honest, it’s not like I really did anything to create these amazing opportunities other than this – I stayed ready and hungry. I did everything I could to breathe life into the glimpse of the future that was given to me. We must prepare now for the opportunity that is on the way. We must also have a vision of what opportunity we are searching for so we don’t push it aside upon arrival. It’s also important to be thankful when the vision comes to pass to encourage us and others that these things are possible.
Oftentimes, just a glimpse of what is possible is all that we need. Once we get a vision for our life, life becomes focused. Many reasons why people are so stressed out is because they are trying to take on too many things due to a lack of vision. If we could capture a vision for our life it would cut out a lot of junk that isn’t ours to carry. We would be able to discern which people to surround ourselves with based on our vision. We would also be able to discern which opportunities to accept or decline based on how it lines up with our vision. Our vision helps choose the books we read, the activities we engage in and eventually it dictates what sort of life we will live.
Whatever it is that you want to become is already on the inside of you but it must be brought out with a clear vision and childlike imagination. The main reason why the opening chapter of my book is about vision is because without a vision we will be tossed by life. It all starts with a vision and each of us must take the time to reach down deep and discover it.
Our purpose, our ideas, and our dreams will perish without a vision. One you get it chase after your vision as if your life depends on it…because it does.