In 2008, I decided that at the end of the awards season (The Golden Globes, The Oscars, The Grammy’s, etc.), I am going to give out a single award here at Irishman For Hire called the Blarney Stone Award. The Blarney Stone is a block of bluestone atop the Blarney Castle in Ireland and it is widely believed that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone (different link) will be endowed with the “gift of gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery).”
The criteria for the Blarney Stone award is simple, “Thank those who have had an impact on my life before it’s too late to express the gratitude that I have for them.” I cannot guarantee that the recipient will become eloquent or a great speaker but the fact of the matter is that it was the eloquence of their actions that has spoken volumes to me in my life. We always intend to tell those important people in our lives what they have meant to us but more often than not, we never get the chance to say to our friends and family members what we truly feel in our hearts until it is too late.
This year the Blarney Stone Award is being given to my friend J.J. I have known J.J. for twenty-three years. He goes by John now but I still call him J.J. Over the course of the past twenty-three years, we have gotten married, embarked on professional careers, had children, bought homes and we have become productive members of our communities.
I met J.J. in my freshman year of college after a chaotic four-year period in high school that saw too many transitions and life changing moments. I was never the prototypical private school student. My mother passed away halfway through high school and just like that, at the ripe age of sixteen, I moved into my father’s house (God bless him for the challenges he had to face). So when I finally graduated from high school, I couldn’t wait for my collegiate adventure to begin.
When I stepped on campus as a freshman, I was able to hit the reset button. We were all new. We all started from the same place. I wasn’t the only new kid on the block. And through the process of introductions, hanging out with the same people and proximity, a lifelong friendship was born.
J.J. and I have had a lot of good times over the years. There was the “Entwistle Productions” rouge that got us into local clubs for free. There was the tag-team trampoline wrestling competition that we almost won. There were backyard BBQs and a few too many house parties. There was the weekend of house sitting when I met his future wife for the first time as well as the day he stood beside me at church as my best man. And whenever there was a big snowfall, J.J. would call me on the phone and we would inevitably be on the midnight hunt for the biggest hill in our neighborhood, with a brand new sled and some spirits in tow. And although the list of the good times we had could go on for pages, there was the serious side to our friendship that changed my life for the better.
J.J has always been a trusted friend. When I needed his counsel, J.J. was there to offer good advice. When there was nothing that needed to be said, he would just listen. He always seemed to know exactly what to say and when to say it. And I could always count on his advice to point me in the right direction regardless of how big or small the issue was. But through the good times and the difficult times we have faced, there will always be one point in my life that I will never forget as long as I live.
It was common knowledge in my last year of college that I had started working on my first screenplay. I was hoping to complete the manuscript by graduation and head out to Hollywood the following autumn. Unfortunately, the plan got amended along the way. I was short on cash but more importantly, I was struggling to stay within the framework of industry standards for scripts. But when I finally completed the manuscript (twenty months after graduation and in the midst of an economic recession), I decided to pack up everything I owned and head to the West Coast.
My decision was met with apprehension, frustration and anger. Family members and friends felt like I was throwing my life away. The more I tried to convince people that I had weighed the risks and that I was more than willing to take a calculated gamble on myself, the more I was met with resistance. The attempt to have a rational discussion was futile. So with nothing more than my Jeep, a couple of thousand dollars in my pocket and a manuscript on the seat beside me, I packed up my car in the dead of January and started my journey into the unknown.
The night before I left, though, J.J. and a few of my colleagues from work took me out for a “Bon Voyage” bash at a local tavern. We spent the evening laughing, telling good stories, and toasting the road ahead. As I headed home that night, I thanked God for the good friend who was willing to support my choices regardless of where those decisions might lead.
I took the long way to California. I decided to spend a long weekend with Stephanie at her college in upstate New York before finally bidding farewell to the East Coast. The day before I left for Hollywood, a letter from J.J. made its way into Stephanie’s mailbox. And in that letter, J.J. shared some thoughts he felt I needed to hear:
When I was down in Florida for the Holidays, I had a number of opportunities to talk to my Uncle Buddy. We talked about a lot of things, but there were two things he told me that stuck in my mind. The first thing he told me — and this is rather ironic being that you’re heading for the Silver Screen — was that “there are no rehearsals in life.” You get one chance at everything and you must make the most of it. The second thing was that “it takes courage to get ahead in this world.”
There are no rehearsals in life. I had to believe in myself and take a chance on me. If I hadn’t, I would have regretted walking away from the opportunity for the rest of my life. I had to make the most of it because even in failure, life teaches so much about the world around me. And finally, no truer words have ever been spoken; it does take “courage to get ahead in this world.” Without risk, there can never be any reward.
Although J.J. attributes this great advice to his Uncle Buddy, I don’t. I give J.J. the credit because when I needed a friend who understood what I was doing, J.J. put pen to paper and shared his thoughts with me. Thoughts I needed to hear; relative points that I have carried with me ever since the letter was delivered seventeen years ago.
But J.J. didn’t just stop there. In the final paragraph of his letter, he also imparted some wisdom of his own:
Finally, no matter how much money you make, never get greedy because it gives people big heads. Also, don’t dwell on life so much because in the big scheme of things, life has a certain method to its madness. So work hard and things will fall your way.
As I have recounted time and again, I came back to the East Coast without a lot of money or as a screenwriter. But the lessons I learned while in Tinseltown have stuck with me forever. The experience was invaluable. And although I walked away from writing a few years later for the better part of a decade, J.J.’s final sentence resonates as loudly today as it did when I returned from California. It has worked out. Things have fallen my way both personally and professionally. But most of all, I am writing again. I write by my rules and whether or not I make money, it doesn’t matter. I write because I love to write.
But his advice has found its way into my professional career as well. A CEO is a solitary position. I make decisions that will greatly benefit and/or adversely affect people on a regular basis. It takes courage to make the right decisions. And when I have a particular tough day or I have a difficult decision to make, I take out J.J.’s letter and ponder the sage advice my good friend would give me if we were sitting in a tavern and just sharing a pint or two.
I don’t talk to J.J. as much as I should these days. He and his beautiful wife have three children in Alabama. Stephanie and I have two wonderful children in Massachusetts. Yet through the silent distance and the rare moments when we are able to find the time to talk, J.J. will always be one of my best friends. And I thank him today for having such a profound impact on my life. And although the words will never truly convey how much of an impact he has had on me, I say them nonetheless. Thank you J.J. for everything you have done.
And sometimes, even now, when the snow is falling outside my window, a part of me hopes that the phone will ring and J.J. will be on the other end of the line saying, “I bought a new sled, where’s the biggest hill you can think of?!”