How I Quit My Job and Became a Stuntman (Part II)

Click here to read Part I of this post

I mentioned all the preparation in Part I because it was useful, but the most important thing I did was much simpler.  In the wise words of Dan Peña, I just fucking did it.

It was not easy.  It was terrifying.  It didn’t even really hit me until I sold my desktop computer, since it would be too cumbersome to bring to China.  I cried myself to sleep that night.

I bought the plane ticket and let my boss know well in advance when I was leaving.  I condensed my belongings into two suit cases and a backpack.  I got on the plane, got to Beijing, and found an apartment.  There was no secret to how I did any of those things.

When I got there, I had no idea what I was doing.  I ended up training at an MMA gym where many Chinese actors trained together.  But the market for foreign actors is separate than the one for Chinese actors, and they had no idea how to help me.  I spent most of my time in my all-cement Soviet-style apartment twiddling my thumbs, asking myself why in god’s name did I leave behind my benefit package, salary, and free five-star dining five days a week.

I was depressed.  Lonely.  Broke.  Bored.  But I kept going.  I found side gigs which could help keep my head above water financially.  I continued asking everyone I could meet for ideas on how to get into the industry.  I kept training.  It took months before it began to pay off.  I started finding out about auditions.  My first acting job was dubbing TV shows into English – my favorite experience there was making puking noises in English – which are apparently different than Chinese puking noises.

I met my kung fu master, who gave me a leading role in his documentary TV show working as a foreign devil / punching bag – for no pay.  But having that on my resume proved useful enough, and I started landing bit roles, half of which got edited out of the films.  My career peaked when I got to work as a stuntman in Jackie Chan’s Dragon Blade.  It was a dream come true, and he was way cooler than I expected.

Jackie Chan (right) and me (left) building a rock sled in the middle of a huge battle

But I want to make one thing clear – in my two years living in China, I probably got paid for less than 60 days worth of acting work.  Most of my time was spent going to auditions, cold calling assistant directors, or on networking that led nowhere.  It wasn’t glamorous.  It wasn’t lucrative.  It was way harder and more painful than what I would have experienced staying at Google.

But it was the most rewarding experience of my life.


In summary, here’s what I believe to have been the keys to my success:*

  • Decided what I wanted to do
  • Took it seriously but didn’t take it seriously
  • Made a commitment I was not willing to back out of
  • Saved up money and gave myself a deadline
  • Just fucking did it
  • Didn’t stop until it was done

*The keys that were mostly within my control, anyway.  Realistically, being a white American male was probably my biggest asset while in China.

How I Quit My Job and Became a Stuntman (Part I)

I used to have an incredibly comfortable job at Google.  And then I quit to move to China to pursue a career in the action film industry.  A lot of people ask me how I did it, so I’m writing this post to answer that question in a (hopefully) coherent way.

In college, I was a self-help junkie (I’d like to think I’m currently in recovery).  The Wayne Dyers and Tony Robbinses always told me I could ‘manifest’ whatever I wanted.  So as it was getting close to the time where I needed to find a job, I figured I would manifest a job at the best company to work for in the US.  I started plotting how I would pull that off at the beginning of my junior year, had an interview my senior year, and got an offer sometime around November of that year.  I was ecstatic – never in my life had I worked so hard and long towards a singular goal and achieved it.  It was a huge confidence (and ego) boost.

Sometime during the high of landing my dream job, I thought to myself, “Shit, if I can get a job at Google, what else can I pull off?”  I had spent a lot of time in China, and a lot of time watching kung fu movies.  I’d seen many random white dudes in those movies, and I asked myself, “Who are all these random white dudes?  I bet I could be one of those dudes.”  A new dream was born.


I never really took it seriously, and paradoxically I always took it seriously.  I was going for it, but it felt more like planning an elaborate prank than a career shift.  I spent a lot of time and energy moving towards this goal, but it was mostly fun because I was holding it so lightly.

Before I even started working at Google, I started preparing myself.  I started acting in absurd videos with my friends (see above).  I signed up for kung fu classes.  I saved up money; I never really made a lifestyle change from broke college student to rich yuppie.  I lived in a tiny basement apartment and kept the same monthly budget for myself I had maintained all throughout college.

I made a commitment to myself and everyone who asked my post-graduation plans: “I’m going to work at Google after the summer’s over, but just long enough to pay off my loans.  Then I’m going to move to China to act in kung fu movies.”  I even told my boss and coworkers my plans shortly after starting work at the big G.  There was no turning back at that point.

Telling everyone my intentions had two helpful outcomes.  First, I felt more obligated to pursue the dream, because if I didn’t I would then be a liar and a phony to all the people I promised.  Second, since I had no idea what I was doing, some people were able to point me in the right direction.  It came out of the woodwork that one of my friend’s-friend’s-best-friends was an action actress in China.  My brother’s-coworker’s-friend was also an actor in China.  Through them, I made some new connections that proved very useful when I got to China, which ended up leading to getting my career in film started.

I gave myself a two year deadline to leave Google for China, but ended up shortening that to a year and a half.  Since I’d already paid off my loans and saved up enough dough to live off of for about two years with my frugal lifestyle, I figured I better get out of there before the golden handcuffs got too tight.

To be continued next week in Part II.

Practicing Presence in Relationships

Presence is an important value of mine. I try to practice it in every aspect of my life – not just in meditation or similar activities. One major opportunity I discovered a few years ago is in relationships. Presence in relationships cultivates connection – which research indicates is a key factor for well-being.

In my relationships, I continue to realize how often I am NOT present – and what it’s costing me. It looks something like this: I see someone I know walking down the street, and I look down and away so I can avoid talking to them and get on with whatever I’m doing. Or I get to my office and say “Hi, how ya doin’?” to my coworker, without actually pausing and giving them my attention. Or, heaven forbid I actually get involved in a conversation, I just go through the motions and all my attention is focused on getting out of there ASAP.

The core issue in all these scenarios is that I’m focused on something outside of the present moment. I’m grasping so desperately for the destination that I view the journey as a nuisance. Every time I repeat this pattern, it is strengthened. I’d prefer to strengthen the intertwined muscles of presence and connection.

So what I’ve been trying to do is simple (trying is the key word – mostly failing).  If I find myself in conversation with someone, I give them 100% of my attention. I stop whatever else I may be doing. I make eye contact. I listen, and respond authentically and appropriately.  When I attempt to do this, my first response is to feel uncomfortable and awkward. I’m doing something I’m not used to, so this is to be expected. If I get over the discomfort, I feel warmth and connection.  I create and deepen meaningful relationships. I learn things about myself and the person I’m talking to.

Some people do this naturally – my roommate is one example. Just the other night as I was making dinner, he was on his way out the door to meet a friend. We had yet to have a conversation of any substance that day, and even though he had already opened the door to leave and was carrying two bags of stuff, he came to a complete stop and asked me how my day was. His intention to leave the apartment got put on hold completely in order to talk with me, and I felt no sense that this was a perfunctory conversation.

I was in the middle of something and not even facing him when he started talking to me. But I was moved by the attention he was giving me. I put down my box of mac & cheese and turned to look at him, and we had a nice conversation for a few minutes before we both got back to what we were doing. It quenched my needs for connection, being cared about, and friendship. It felt warm, touching, inspiring.

I aim to have more moments like that one. What’s your experience with connection?  Are you a natural, or is this something you want to work on?

This post has focused mainly on my experience of connection, but this world is about more than me – and connection can be too. I’d like to write more about that in another post.  I began to understand the importance of connection and how to practice it by studying Nonviolent Communication. Ask me about it, or read more here.

In Praise of Shadows*

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven, unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Carl Jung

I’ve been enchanted by pain for as long as I can remember; it just seems cool.  My favorite fictional characters are usually the dark ones – Batman**, The Hound from Game of Thrones.  I love blues songs about how awful the singer’s life is.  And I’ve always enjoyed religious imagery about devils and hell much more than the kind with angels and heaven.

Despite being drawn to these things in stories, I have a tendency to resist all these feelings in myself.  I hope that tendency will be weakened by creating this post.  So I’m writing to sing praises to emotional pain – sadness, depression, anxiety, and the like.

Sometimes I go through emotionally dark periods.  Coming from a privileged background, I’ve never really had anything awful happen in my life – which only makes me more upset for not being happy.  I get sad about being sad about being ashamed about not being fulfilled about feeling guilty… on and on.  And it seems the more I resist, the worse I feel.

It isn’t until I stop judging myself for not being happy that I can finally get through it and move on.  I have to stop trying to be positive and focus on being real.

Rather than resist and beat myself up about experiencing pain, here’s some reasons why I want to accept my pain:

How do I stop resisting my pain?  I don’t have to do anything.  I just have to NOT do whatever I normally do: reach for my cell phone, food, or other distractions; beat myself up about not feeling good; or whatever other clever technique my brain comes up with for not facing my pain.  So next time I catch myself doing these things, I will try to pause, remember this post, and embrace the pain full on.

What’s your relationship like with pain and negativity?

Shout out to Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
** Here’s my favorite page in
The Dark Knight Returns where Batman is totally owning his shit