How do you go from being an insanely successful financial executive in Manhattan, with a six-figure salary and corner office, to quitting your job four days before your wedding because the thought of becoming that guy for the rest of your life scares the crap out of you? AJ Leon, the emperor of awesomesauce and king of misfits, took time out of his uber busy schedule to chat with Phil and me about how that was his narrative in 2007. Over five years later, it is no more.
In this episode, AJ vulnerably takes us through his shut up moments. What led him to decide to take that audacious leap of faith without losing the love of his life and, most importantly, why he believed the view sleeping underneath The Brooklyn Bridge would look far more remarkable than the path he was on. It’s people like AJ that make the kind of work Phil and I do possible. We love AJ and know you will too.
Share Some Shut Up Love –> Most people would say connection is not scalable. I think the most beautiful things in life are not scalable. @ajleon via @_theshutupshow
- AJ runs the coolest company on the planet with a team that’s “got his back.” Laverne and Shirley literally understand this.
- AJ is the Chief Maker of Trouble at Misfit, Inc., a nomadic creative shop that specializes in changing the world.
- His first company was a professional Shakespearean theatre company producing performances that were termed as “street Shakespeare.”
- AJ majored in accounting, finance, and religious studies (yeah, because that was an obvious cluster of choices).
- AJ is an artist, designer, writer, entrepreneur and humanitarian running a company from The Pegasus and his backpack.
- AJ publishes a quarterly magazine that features artistic carriers of the Misfit flame all over the globe.
Defining Shut Up Moment:
AJ said it better than I could have ever put into other words:
When I left my job, it was an excruciating moment for me because I saw this 60-year-old version of myself looking back at me mourning the glory of a life that could have been. I realized I needed to make an audacious decision. I walked out of my job and career. Everything I’ve ever known. I felt glorious for about half a second and then realized I’m gonna get married in 4 days; I’ve got to call my fiance. Melissa and I have been together for a very long time. She knew me well before I derailed. I’ll never forget what she said to me. She was happy to have me back and said she would rather live with the real me under the Brooklyn bridge than an impersonation of me anywhere else.
AJ breaks down his shut up moments for us:
LIFE AS A NOVEL: When you look at your life as a story unraveling you start to see even the bad times as the times that are most interesting. And even in those moments there’s a traditional side of you that say, “I’m fucked” and there’s this other side that says this is an adventure and I’m in the middle of it. This is going to be a great story to tell.
LIFE AS AN ART PROJECT: The day it really hit me I realized this is my life and it is my one and only. There are no encores. There are no redos. I don’t get another one. This is it. When you recognize this is not your practice life. This is all you have. Everything changes when you really get that because your choices become more urgent and that fear of “Am I gonna make it?” is much less relevant. This is my life. This is my art project. Seeking the things you want to do.
Shut Up Tips:
If you’re not selling information, then you transfer into a world where it’s not about the size of your list. You look at them as individuals and you connect to them as a person. I spend about 2 to 3 hours a day thanking everyone for subscribing to Pursuit of Everything. I want to know who’s here, who’s showing up, what they’re working on. – AJ
A lot of people would say connection is not scalable. I think the most beautiful things in life are not scalable. – AJ
If you don’t know what you’re building and “success comes knocking at your door” then the only way to go is towards the currents of growth for growth’s sake and that’s where most people go. I don’t think that’s necessarily right. I think you just have to know what you’re seeking out to build. – AJ
I try to look at fears that in the past would have had their foot on my throat and I just let them stand there; I try to not do that now. That dude was always afraid. I know there are people like that dude out there. That’s who I’m writing to. The 22-year-old version of myself. I’m telling that guy he doesn’t have to listen to everybody else and he has much more choices than he thinks he has. – AJ
You telling me to stop doing this is like telling me to cut off my left arm. – Berni
Recognize that you have this one life and things start to take care of themselves when you realize that. – AJ
I would have been “that guy” for the rest of my life. It’s a terrifying feeling having your life scripted and you don’t like the script. – AJ
It’s not about making the big leap sometimes. It’s about taking the baby steps towards something closer. – Phil
Each of us are living our own narrative. I can’t possibly give blanket advice. It’s ludicrous. – AJ
If you have to continue in your job because you have a family, you’ve got to pay those bills and want to take care of that, then the evening hours after work between 6 to 12 are absolutely essential for you to plan what to do next. Those hours are equivalent to The French Revolution being planned in Parisian bistros at midnight after people were getting off of work. I think the “what to do next” doesn’t have to generate revenue. – AJ
The Good Misfit Project is an experiment in social and measurable philanthropy. In June 2013, 30 misfits will hold individual fund raisers in their communities to raise a total of $15,000 to build a windmill in Gambella for an entire village to complete its five-year journey towards sustainability.
To get involved, donate, or learn more, go to GoodMisfit.com.
AJ is currently traveling around the entire world in 1,080 days and writes about his journey at the Pursuit of Everything.
Find AJ at @ajleon over on the Twitters.