What Was Your Inciting Incident?

So what’s your point of view? And what was the inciting incident that gave it to you? Where does the passion come from?

These are questions I was asked in the past week and the notable thing about this is that it wasn’t asked in the context of a script or a story, which has to be when this is asked at least 99% of the time. I was asked this  about my life.

The reason for this is somewhat  cheesy maybe.


It’s that I’ve been wanting to do more public speaking and, with apologies to myself, I don’t think the two talks I’ve developed for college students  are all that great. I worked hard to come up with, and then deliver, talks that encapsulated what I feel are  important messages but trying to do that, adding a PowerPoint and knowing you’re doing it for college students (arguably a group less interested than  any group in the world in going to hear some chick they probably haven’t heard of talk) is a Sisyphean task and that boulder is heavy.

I’ve spoken at about 15 schools over the past few years and some of the experiences have been spectacular. I like a crowd, which is to say that when no one shows up, whether it’s a talk or a storytelling show or a party or a meeting, I feel deflated. People say, “All you need to do is reach one person so it doesn’t matter if one person’s there or 200” and that may well be true or enough for some folks  but I just can’t get all fired up when there are four people in the room, one of whom I bribed to be there by telling him I’d give him  a free copy of my book  (this actually happened at a college I spoke at in the Midwest). But oh, when the colleges have put effort into it (and by effort I mean required students to attend), the experiences have been epic. There have been hundreds of kids who’ve shown up and they’ve done all the laughing and crying and participating we all dream of.  When I’ve talked about alcoholism and recovery, I’ve had kids who’d never heard anyone speak openly about the topic come up to me and share  their own problems and the problems of family members for the first time in their lives. I’ve received emails from people afterwards that have literally changed my life.

Anyway, enough about me and blowing smoke up my own ass. The point is that even though the talks aren’t the most excellent writing I’ve ever done, I know how to sell them if there’s a crowd wanting to be sold to. But  I want to come up with new talks and I don’t know how. And recently I was at a dinner party where someone happened to be talking about a couple he knew who wrote speeches for people—everything from wedding toasts to TED Talks. He put me in touch with them and while I don’t know for sure if we’re going to be working together (I haven’t gotten the final word about the cash I’d have to lay down), I got over this “I’m a writer so of course I should write what I speak” and realized I may well be a writer but I’m not a speech writer and there’s no shame in that.

So I had a fascinating initial call with the guy,  where he posed the question about my POV/the inciting incident in my life/my passion. What, he asked, drives me?

It occurred to me that I don’t really know and that this may be a solid clue as to why my public speaking career isn’t more robust. Sure, I talk and write about finding recovery and how it’s nothing like I expected it to be. Yes, I try to do what I can to destigmatize how people view addiction and mental illness. But what does that all add up to? And  I finally asked myself something I never had: WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO? Why didn’t I become a lawyer the way my dad told me I should?

I’m still trying to figure that out. I seem to make career moves far more by instinct than by following some  well-laid out plan. I think it’s why I’ve published six books on six entirely different topics and in different genres rather than following the sort of  clean, clear, concise path  so many other authors/podcasters/speakers have. I think my point of view has to do with breaking out of the identities our parents and society and we have saddled ourselves with—not only because we’re constantly evolving but also because no one is any one thing, no matter how much simpler it makes life to believe we are. I think it comes from  how much freedom I’ve gotten from realizing I didn’t have to live by other people’s definitions of me and wanting other people to experience that. Was there an inciting incident where I got that? Alas, my life is not a movie. My second act bleeds into my first which seems to have elements of my third act  and God knows there have been no musical montages.

Of course it’s hard, if not impossible, to sum up a life POV in a few sentences.  Still working it out, folks. But it got me wondering: should we all have a clear point of view or passion in life?  And if that’s the case, what’s yours?

2 thoughts on “What Was Your Inciting Incident?

  1. Anthony Scala says:

    This is a bad question for me. I am currently a CFO at a small non profit. However, I started as an accountant. In May 1980, at age 14, my friend Leonard R. suggested I take accounting in High School. So during my last 2 years in high school I took bookkeeping. That lead to majoring in accounting in college. That lead to my 30 year career in accounting. I really do not love it. But it helped me earn a living and achieve some level of financial security. I do like numbers which is something I inherited from my own mom. But its not a job that I love. So I do this because I “Fell into it”

  2. Shawn Sarazin says:

    For work, I have a degree in teaching, but I work in IT. I have moved from place to place, job to job. Work at a great company now, with smart and good people. It’s just happened, there haven’t been career plans or goals. I don’t know that there will be.

    So, the inciting incident? Understanding I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable. In terms of a “passion in life,” or what drives me: Being present and involved with my kids and their lives. When I saw my marriage going south and divorce imminent, I resolved to not be how my dad was after he and my mom got divorced. When my dad had custody on some weekends, my brothers and I lived out of duffel bags and slept on floors or couches. I was going to have an active role each week. My kids have bedrooms, beds, clothes, toys at my house. They spend each week with me. Hear a lot of “no.”

    I quit drinking (ahead of separation and divorce) and later got into a program and am still active today – even more active now than when I first got sober. Other things are built around or on top of this principle of first living a sober lifestyle, and being present and involved for the kid:
    Going to meetings to help me accept life on life’s terms.
    Going to Yoga for 12Step Recovery
    Being in therapy.
    Listening to great podcasts during drive time to give me things to think about and put stuff in perspective (two Anna David podcasts!).
    Working on mindfulness.
    Considering the elements of Wellbeing.
    A lot of deliberate actions to focus on being productive , being a better dad, a better person, a better co-worker/employee. Considering and thinking about how I show up, what do I say, how I say things.

    It’s a long answer and it’s all a work in progress. Thank you for the great question and the work you do.

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