I performed stand up comedy for the first time for one very important reason.

Last year, a friend asked me to try stand up comedy with him. 

I said no and moved on with my life.

But knowing I had to follow my "Say yes to everything" philosophy, I called him back the next day and said, "Fine, I'll do it, but I won't like it."

We agreed that in addition to performing comedy, I wasn't allowed to simply tell a funny story. I have plenty of stories that could fill the five minute requirement and make people laugh throughout, but this had to be different. I had to tell jokes. Not stories.

I thought this was fair, but I was also terrified. 

Almost a year to the day after declaring my intent, I took the stage on Monday night at Sea Tea Improv in downtown Hartford to perform stand up comedy for the first time. 

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It went well. I was not fantastic. I performed for the requisite five minutes, telling jokes about parenting, marriage, Jewish food, and sex. People laughed. A few people complimented my performance afterwards, and a couple more found me online the next day to offer positive feedback. 

Most important, Elysha thought I was funny, and a couple friends in the audience were supportive as well.

A friend (but not the friend who challenged me to comedy in the first place) also took the stage on Monday and performed. He did well, too. As he pointed out later, some of the comics were asked by the host if it was their first time doing comedy.

Neither he nor I were asked that question. We were at least good enough not appear new. 

But it was a strange experience, too. I took the stage without any real plan. I had a couple opening sentences which I knew I could use to launch me into a riff on the realities of being a father, but after that, I was winging it. I said funny things that came to mind, but immediately after saying them, I knew that there was an even funnier way to say them. 

And I wasn't telling stories. I was telling jokes. Trying to make people laugh with words instead of story. 

And for the first time in a very long time, I felt nervous as I took the stage. Those nerves evaporated after I began speaking, but for a few moments, I felt the nerves that so many of my storytelling students feel just before taking the stage. 

I'll try stand up comedy again. I'll keep a running list of possible funny ideas as they occur to me, and when I think I have five minutes worth of material, I will prepare another set and give it a shot. Perhaps I'll take the five minutes that I did on Monday to another club as well. A producer at a comedy club in Manhattan has asked me to do 20 minutes at her club, and I could definitely stretch the 5 minutes that I did on Monday to a much longer set if I wanted. 

But here is the important part about Monday night:

I tried something that was new, frightening, and hard. That is why I did it. Complacency is tragic. Monotony is death. The absence of new horizons is an unfulfilled, wasted life.

I cannot stress this enough: You must find and try things that are new, frightening, and hard. This is the elixir of youth. Days filled with excitement and anticipation. A life absent of regret.

As a child, my life was filled with things that fit all three of these categories. I took new classes in new subjects every semester. Played new sports. Changed schools. Learned to drive. Asked girls to dance. Hiked up new mountains. Swam in new ponds. Made new friends. Played new musical instruments. Learned to speak a new language. Had sex for the first time. Earned my first paycheck. 

A young person's life is inextricably filled with things that are new, frightening, and hard. As we get older and experiences begin to pile up, those opportunities become fewer and farther between. People settle into routines. They establish patterns. Their zeal for risk taking wanes. 

Before long, they cannot imagine trying something new, frightening, and hard. They become set in their ways. They plod through life. They can't imagine staying up all night or driving to some faraway place on a whim or otherwise disturbing their routines.

They are getting older while getting old. 

I say yes to everything because I don't want to get old as I get old. I want the promise of days that are new and frightening and hard. I want to know that what I know now will not be all that I ever know.    

I cannot recommend the new, frightening, and hard enough. Stay young before you get old. 

One person is listening. Perhaps more, but at least one. I'm so pleased.

I was asked by many people on Monday morning about the AFC championship game that I attended on Sunday night. One of the most frequently asked questions was:

"What time did you get home?"

I arrived home on Sunday night around 1:00 AM, but I explained that it was fairly early given the fact that I often arrive home from night games well after 3:00 AM.

Most people have a hard time understanding how I manage this. They also question my sanity when they learn that I will drive to a Moth StorySLAM in Brooklyn, downtown Manhattan, or Boston on a weeknight to maybe tell a five minute story and arrive back home after 1:00 AM.

I have always been a proponent of saying yes when opportunities present themselves, regardless of the sacrifice required.

I am also a proponent of living your life with the perspective of the 100 year old version of yourself.

I know that this advice is good. I know it would make people considerably happier if they followed it. I know that I'm right.

So often, I wonder if anyone is ever listening.

A couple years ago I met a teacher while speaking at her school. Over the past year, she's begun to listen to my advice and take it to heart.

She began by saying yes to taking the stage and telling of a story for Speak Up. This was not an easy thing for her to do, but since then, she's become a Speak Up regular and fan favorite.  

Shortly thereafter, she went to New York and told her first story in a Moth StorySLAM. The next day, she wrote to me about my philosophy of saying yes regardless of the sacrifices required:

"It's the greatest lesson you ever taught me. I'm trying so hard to fight my natural instincts to say no and just say yes. It's annoying how right you always are."

Needless to say I enjoyed that email a lot. 

Last weekend she traveled to Washington, DC to participate in the Woman's March. 

On her way home, she wrote:  

"Learning to live life the Matthew Dicks way. Man, your way is exhausting."

It's true. It can be exhausting. It's not always easy. And it doesn't always work out. Sometimes I drive to Brooklyn for a Moth StorySLAM and never take the stage. Sometimes the Patriots lose a big game, and the long, late night drives home become much more difficult. Sometimes I say yes to something that I must later change to a no when I realize how much I hate it.  

But the willingness to take risks, step outside your comfort zone, brave the elements, forgo sleep, face uncertainty, and suffer possible failure are all superior to a lifetime of regret.

One of the most common regrets expressed by people at the end of their lives, recorded by hospice workers, is this:

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

From Business Insider:

"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

The question people didn't ask me about the AFC championship game (but should've asked me) was this:

What will you remember most about the game?

The list is long. Tom Brady's flea flicker, the way Legarrette Blount carried half of the Steelers team to the goal line, and the huge goal line stand by the Patriots defense will always remain in my mind.

But my favorite part?

Midway through the third period, with the Patriots in the lead, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" began booming through the stadium during a timeout. The entire stadium became to sing. A second later, the big screens showed Jon Bon Jovi in one of Gillette Stadium's luxury suites, singing along with us. The crowd roared. Bon Jovi raised his hands and began conducting the crowd as if we were his orchestra. When the music stopped as the Steelers broke the huddle, 60,000 people continued to sing a cappella, finishing the song as Pittsburgh ran a play. 

It was a joyous moment. One of the happiest moments I've experienced in a stadium where I have watched games for more than a decade.

Had I been sitting on my couch at home, warm and dry instead of wet and cold, I would've missed that moment, and what a tragedy that would have been.

Perhaps others have tried to adopt the "Matthew Dicks way" over the years. Maybe they've listened to me speak or watched my TED Talks and changed the way they approach life. 

At least one person has, and for today at least, that is enough for me. 

Saying yes to Santa Claus and everything else

I dressed up as Santa Claus yesterday in order to entertain a room full of children at a neighborhood Christmas party. A colleague hosts the party each year, and about two dozen children fill her living room to sing Christmas carols and meet Santa.

Her originally-scheduled Santa was unavailable for the morning, so I offered to fill the suit “only if absolutely no one else was willing.”

In the words of a friend, “You’re going to make a terrible Santa. You’re not old, you’re not jolly and you’re too sarcastic.”

These were my concerns as well.

Though I have some acting experience (and in children’s theater, no less), I was typically cast as ogres, evil kings and angry old men. The director of a show once had to tell me to tone down my ogre performance because several frightened children had to leave the theater in tears.

I wasn’t sure if I had jolly old Saint Nick in me.

To perform the role of Santa Claus well enough to convince a room full of little children that I was real, in front of a parents who wanted their children to believe that I was real, made me more than a little nervous.

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By the time Saturday arrived, I was actually scared.

This is why I said yes when asked to perform the role.

I say yes whenever possible, but I especially say yes when the request is outside my comfort zone or seems completely impossible.

These are the best times to say yes.

Saying yes under these conditions has changed my life. Thanks to my strict adherence to this rule, I am now a storyteller, a wedding DJ, a minister, a professional speaker, a playwright and a life coach, just to name a few.

In each of these instances, someone asked me to do something that made me uncomfortable or something that I had absolutely no business doing, and the results were extraordinary.

My life is full and complicated and interesting and harried and diverse and joyous because of my willingness to say yes.

In the end, saying yes to Santa was amazing.

As nervous as I was upon arriving at the home, the moment I entered that room and saw those children, all of my nervousness melted away. I sat in a chair beside a Christmas tree in front of a pile of wide-eyed boys and girls and sang songs with them. I laughed with a hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!” I passed out gifts and sat with children on my lap as their parents snapped photos. The children stared, waved, laughed and in a couple cases cried. They said “Thank you” and wished me a merry Christmas They asked where Rudolph was and offered to help on Christmas Eve.

Two of them whispered, “I love you, Santa” into my ear.

Would I play Santa again if asked?

Absolutely. Every day if I could. It was great.

I said yes to Santa, and I will never forget it.

After I left the house, I drove through the McDonald’s drive-thru, still in costume and causing quite a stir. Employees piled into the drive-thru booth to see Santa behind the wheel of his aging Subaru Outback. A couple of them told me what they wanted for Christmas.

“Rent money” and “new tires for my ride.”

I admittedly felt a little sacrilegious sitting in a parking lot in the Santa suit, eating an Egg McMuffin and listening to Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex through headphones jammed beneath my white, curly wig, but even Santa has to eat.