“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Man, I hate that question.
I think it’s because I’ve always been a dreamer, often to my detriment. For the longest time, I couldn’t stop and appreciate what I had because I was thinking about what’s to come. Or what I hoped was coming. Ironically, I think in the last five years I’ve finally been able to be in the moment and not focus on what’s next so much. But had you asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” five years ago, my answered would have shocked you.
Because my answer would have been, “I’ll be dead”.
Man, that is bleak
But it’s true.
Let me take you back…
October of 2015, Vaudeville Cafe shut down. It was unexpected, and it rocked my world. Not 6 weeks before this, I had accepted a fulltime position at the Cafe, leaving a great job at a bank to pursue my passion. I was looking to rent a house – it really felt like my life was coming together. All my hard work was paying off.
Then, my entire world imploded. I sat on my couch in disbelief for the first week, almost in mourning. In truth, a piece of me had died and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I no longer had a permanent stage to perform on. When I dreamed my insane dreams, I always thought Vaudeville would be there and I would be able to come back and perform there when I wanted to. I envisioned myself becoming a big-time celebrity who would still come back and perform at the theatre that made him. I thought I’d be wearing those short shorts well into my fifties. Now, it was over. I was gobsmacked and didn’t know what the next move was.
Luckily, I had a few weeks of standup already booked for the weeks after Vaudeville closed. I went on the road with a close friend and got to make audiences laugh and brought myself some healing. Also during this time, I got to check something off my bucket list: I got to see myself on the big screen at a movie theatre. Bethlehem premiered at the end of November. After a couple of weeks on the road, and now being a “movie star”, I felt like life was getting better. I had some more standup shows in December, and then I got to hang with family for Christmas. Life, seemingly, was good.
Then, reality hit.
I got back to Chattanooga in the middle of December, and realized my fairy tale was over. I didn’t have a job, which means I didn’t have rent money. Suddenly, the house I was going to rent I could no longer afford, and I realized I didn’t have anywhere to go but back to my grandma’s house. So, I moved back into my grandma’s house in Sparta defeated. At the time, grandma’s house didn’t have wifi or cable, so I just sat there trying to figure out what the hell had happened to my life in such a short amount of time. I had been on cloud nine not even 3 weeks before – now I felt like a loser. I spent New Year’s alone sad and frustrated over where I was in life. The following weeks things didn’t get better. While I should have been trying to find a job, I sat at home wallowing in my own self pity. I stopped talking to many people, I barely slept. I began to cancel plans with my friends because I didn’t want them to see me as the loser I felt like I was. And honestly? At that time I was a loser. I was giving up on everything – my dreams, my goals, life in general.
In February, I moved in with my second family at their house in Nashville. I thought maybe the change in scenery and being closer to family would help me escape this funk.
It didn’t. If anything, it made it worse.
Not long after moving to Nashville, I was on a standup show on Valentine’s Day and I bombed. I bombed bad. I couldn’t figure the audience out, and to make matters worse, some of the comics were in the back having a conversation at full volume while I was onstage eating it. I was embarrassed, but was thankful to be back onstage. But it was the first time I wondered if standup wasn’t for me anymore.
About a week later, a little over 5 years to the date I’m writing this, someone very important to me asked me to come talk to them. When I got there, they were very blunt with me. They said, “Derik, you’re 30 years old. It’s time to stop doing this comedy stuff. You’re never going to be a famous actor, you’re never going to be a famous comedian. You’re not good enough. It’s time to find a real job.”
And that broke me. My ego and self-worth had been hanging on by a thread anyway, but this was the breaking point. It sent me into a spiral that I wasn’t sure I was going to escape. This person’s words to me at that point in my life made me feel like no one I cared about believed in me. I have never felt lower or more like a failure than in that moment. I left and cried all the way back to my home. It changed me.
(Author’s Hindsight Note: I now look back at this and realize this person was only trying to protect me. They didn’t realize their words would hurt, and they didn’t mean for them to. They were worried about me and wanted to make sure I was okay.)
The next day I had an audition for an improv troupe in Nashville. I walked into the building with my confidence at an all time low, and didn’t audition. Everything in me told me I was kidding myself, that I was a failure and I wasn’t talented. I ran out of the building like I was on a teen drama and just found out my girlfriend was cheating on me. The next few weeks, I would spiral even farther down. I eventually found myself back in Sparta at my grandma’s house with my world getting darker and darker.
It was around this time that I decided I was better off dead.
I told you this is bleak, but hang with me: the good stuff is coming.
It’s crazy, I’ve always worried about being associated with the bad stuff of my mom. I’ll never forget I got into a fight with my grandma before I moved to Chattanooga. It was a stupid argument that escalated quickly (Brick killed a guy!). As I was leaving her house, for what I assumed was the last time based on this fight (ha!) grandma flew open the door and yelled out to me, “You’re pathetic! You’ll end up just like your mother!” (Ms. Judy always knew the right thing to say to stab you in your heart). I tore out of her driveway and told myself I’d never be back.
Now here I was 9 years later, trying to figure out how to kill myself in her home and essentially wind up a self-fulfilling prophecy of turning into my mother. Looking back at it, I think it might have been the biggest reason why I decided not to – I couldn’t give my grandma the satisfaction of being right. I also couldn’t have someone from my family finding me. But I couldn’t kick my depression. I was losing a war with myself. I was scared; I was helpless.
I allowed the pain to overpower my perspective
I’ve talked about how July 5th 2016 turned things around for me in my career, but it may have also saved my life. I was at the end of my rope with nowhere to go. I was too prideful to reach out for help, and too stubborn to let people know anything was wrong. I had booked a standup show in Knoxville on July 5th and had planned for that to be my last show, and possibly my last night on Earth. I couldn’t take it anymore – I was giving up. I figured one last night on stage would be the best way to go out. I didn’t care about my grandma being right or my family finding my dead body anymore. I was ready to be done.
I rode to the show with my best friend and his fiancé, acting like everything was fine. We got there late, because I forgot the show was Eastern time and not Central (which was just another cherry on the crap Sunday. Now I can’t get to shows on time! I’m a failure at everything!)
My buddy Tyler Gooch featured for me, and it was so good to see him. We stood at the back of the nearly sold out room and cracked jokes, and for the first time in a long time I felt peace. I was insanely nervous going up because I didn’t think I was funny anymore. But just like on July 2nd, 2011, the first time I ever did standup, as soon as I got the first laugh, I knew this was where I belonged. I did 45 minutes that night, and ended with a wonderful response from the audience. I stayed in the lobby that night and shook hands and took pictures. As I got into my best friend’s car, he and his fiancé had got a towel to “roll out the red carpet” for me. We rode home, laughing and having a good time. When they dropped me off at my grandma’s house, I told him I loved him because I still didn’t know if this was the last time I’d see him.
I walked into my grandma’s house, and this unbelievable peace rushed over me. I sat on the couch that night, reflecting on the evening and how amazing it was. And I realized one very important thing
I wasn’t done
The next day I woke up a new person. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge waking up to realize he hadn’t missed Christmas. I had a renewed sense of purpose. Slowly, I started getting myself out of this Hell I had been in. I was lucky enough to have a friend who needed help at their car shop. What started as a fill in position quickly became me becoming their office manager and having a fulltime job again. I couldn’t have made it through those tough times without the Gurgainers. I can’t ever repay them.
I started booking standup shows again. I started writing again. I started feeling like me. In October of 2016, I booked my first headlining gig at a real comedy club – South Street Comedy Club in Jackson, TN. It was a huge milestone and came almost a year to the day that Vaudeville shut down.
Also in this time, I got serious about being the best me. (Author’s Life Coachiness Note: I know “Being the best version of me” gets said so much nowadays, but you read the last few paragraphs. You know I was anything BUT the best me. So cut me some slack before you make fun of me). I reconnected with one of my closest friends Kyle Price. He and his wife Leah were starting a nutrition and wellness company and needed people to be their Guinea pigs. I was the heaviest I had ever been at that point, and was willing to try. Truthfully I figured I would give up about 6 weeks in. But maybe it was because I didn’t want to disappoint Kyle, but I got dedicated and serious and gave it my all. I discovered a love for the gym and for weightlifting. There’s only two places life makes perfect sense to me – on stage and at the gym. I can’t thank Kyle and Leah enough for taking a chance on me and opening my world up. Ultimately those months I spent in the garage lifting weights and sharing my heart and my problems with them saved me.
2017 became my best year for my career. I was headlining rooms all over the South, while still working my day job. I no longer lived in fear. Then in the summer of that year, I found an audition for Dolly’s. I immediately sent my resume in, thinking there’s no way I’d get a call back. Within ten minutes I had an audition set up in Nashville.
I pulled into the parking lot of the hotel the audition was to be held, and my old friend self doubt creeped up and kicked me in the soft parts. I immediately heard, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be a famous comedian or actor” ring in my head. For a moment, I was going to just leave, much like I did the improv audition. I looked myself in the mirror, to myself to do the damn thing, went in scared to death, and had the best audition of my career. I walked out of that hotel KNOWING I had the job (That’s what she said?). Two months later, almost two years after Vaudeville closed and my life turned upside down, I secured a fulltime position at Dolly’s as their Comedian. You know the rest – I’m entering my fourth season there next week. I’m a Two-Time Branson Comedian of the Year. I get to entertain hundreds of thousands of people every year. It’s insane.
Did I imagine my life would take me down this path? Did I ever dream of performing on the back of a horse dressed like an effeminate Garth Brooks? (I wear A LOT of rhinestones, you guys) Of course not. But I get to perform in front of people AS MY JOB. I get to pay my bills with money I’ve earned as a performer. And in a year where the majority of the entertainment world has been rocked, I was able to perform 6 days a week, multiple times a day. My dream, my goal was to support myself as a performer. To not have to have a “day job”. I’m living that right now. AND I’m fortunate enough to have 6-8 weeks off to schedule a comedy tour where I get to go out and still perform all over the country.
Life is good.
So, why write this incredibly depressing blog? Because I know there is someone, multiple ones, out there who are going through a tough time. Maybe it’s the darkest you’ve ever been. Maybe you feel like I felt, and you’re ready to end it all. I just wanted you to read this to know that it gets better. I had to go through that to grow into the person I am now. I had to endure that pain, have my life turned upside down, to be able to enjoy the amazing life I have now.
You are loved
You are valued
Your life has purpose
One day you will be able to look back at whatever you are going through and say that it was worth it because it brought you to where you are now. Sometimes, we have to be forged through the fire to become the best version of ourselves.
Please don’t give up
Please keep fighting
Remember the line, “I allowed the pain to overpower my perspective?” I think we do that more than we realize. When we’re really in the thick of the pain – it’s all we can think about. It takes precedent in our lives. Instead, we should focus on the perspective. Pain take away – perspective allows us to understand how amazing we have it, even if at the moment it doesn’t feel that way. Instead of thinking about the amazing things that I was able to do, I was too focused on what I had lost. My perspective was skewed, and it took a long time to get it back on track. Try not to allow the pain to overpower your perspective. When things are bad, just to remember the amazing people, opportunities, and things that are in your life.
Also – don’t be like me. REACH OUT TO SOMEONE. I know there are going to be several people who read this and reach out to me saying, “Hey asshole – why didn’t you reach out? I’m here!”. I know it’s hard to do, I know pride can get in the way. But trust me – your pride can recover. Your life? Not so much. It’s okay to ask for help. We all need it.
I’m incredibly grateful for you. Whether we’ve known each other for years, or you just randomly came to my website and are reading this – I AM THANKFUL FOR YOU. You mean so much to so many, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share a part of my story with you.
I’m incredibly grateful for the last Five Years and where it’s taken me and where its brought me. I’m so thankful I didn’t let the darkness win. I’m so glad I’m here with you today.
And honestly? I can’t tell you what the next five years look like, but I’m so excited to see what happens next.
Thanks for reading.
Rooting for you