Twenty years ago I started to work professionally as Forrest Gump. Here is that story.
Windows of opportunity open and then close. By staying in the present, handling what’s in front of us, and riding the wave of opportunity when it comes, we follow the natural order of things.
Riding the Wave to Shore
The last five years of my fifteen years as Forrest Gump for the Bubba Gump Shrimp were learning to be present and riding out the wave of opportunity.
The original opportunity presented itself unexpectedly in March 1996 – I seized it. It was an opportunity that I helped create and craft during those early years. It was an opportunity that I conformed myself during the middle years. And it was an opportunity that taught me how to be fully present in the final years.
At the end of year ten, I moved to MT and began a part-time schedule. I worked all the holiday weekends in Monterey and San Francisco and continued to make a yearly visit to Hawaii. There were Run Forrest Run 5K fun runs and grand openings in Anaheim, Denver, Gatlinburg, Cancun, Madeira Beach, Hong Kong, and Puerto Vallarta.
I still had one foot firmly planted in the Bubba Gump world as I started to dip my other foot into the world of speaking.
An interesting thing occurred during this time period. A new love and joy for sitting on the bench and talking to people emerged. I must have sensed that the end was coming so an appreciation for each moment of being Forrest developed.
As the company grew and management roles evolved, the restaurant operators were conducting the grand openings and special events more and more like a business. The fun part -while still present – was giving way to carefully monitored budgets and very defined procedures. I had my specific role. Show up, be Forrest, do my job professionally, and stay out of the way.
The ‘magic’ from the early years was fading. A new corporate spokesman replaced my side kick of ten years. International restaurants were operated differently than Bubba Gump USA. Cultural differences along with the movie being 12-15 years old made the novelty of Forrest less special. Bubba Gump wanted the restaurants to be less about the movie (and the character) and more about their brand.
One place that I still felt magic was sitting on on the bench talking with common, ordinary people from across the country and around the world. The conversations shifted from performing to listening.
- People would tell me their story
- They’d tell me why the movie was special to them
- They’d tell me stories about their sons and daughters playing sports when they’d yell, “Run Forrest Run” at their children’s games
- They’d tell me about a special person or time in their life that the movie provided symbolic memories
I no longer had the desire to force the Gump issue and entertain them, I learned to simply be present with people. I began to let go of my compelling need to control. I learned to let bench visitors be the star while I became the admiring fan.
I had become more kind and loving. I had become more like Forrest. It took ten years to become Gump-like myself.
During year fourteen, the corporate management and board of Bubba Gump were restless. Change was in the air. I sensed it.
I knew the big wave I was riding was getting closer to shore. I knew that I wasn’t going to turn around, swim out to the deeper waters, and try to catch a new wave with Bubba Gump. The wave I was currently riding would be my last with them.
Three months prior to my 15th anniversary, the company was sold. I did attempt a half-hearted effort to catch a new wave with the new owners – but it didn’t look like a wave either of us wanted to ride. My heart was no longer in it.
I worked Christmas week (2010) and President’s weekend (2011) in Monterey and San Francisco – my home stores for the past fifteen years.
When I left San Francisco on Monday, February 21, 2011, I knew it was over. It was as if I jumped off the surf board into ankle deep water, picked up the board and walked up onto the beach.
I had rode a really big wave for 15 years and I managed to ride it right to shore. I walk away with gratitude and peace.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that!