Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously asked, “To be or not to be.” Hamlet was contemplating his own death or suicide, and whether to avenge the murder of his father the King. Heavy, heady stuff.
My own question, “To Gump or not to Gump” is not a matter of life or death. But it is a matter of life. The future life I want to live. Life with Gump? … or Life without Gump? … or a life in which the two harmoniously co-exist?
Many times people have asked, “Does it get confusing being Gump?” … do you know where Steve ends and Forrest begins? … and vice-versa? My answer was always, “No problem. There is a clear boundary between the two.” Lately, I’ve been reconsidering that boundary. Is it as clear-cut as I’ve always imagined? Is there a blurring of the two? Do I need a new mindset about the relationship of being Forrest and being Steve? Is there a battle going on between the two personas? Is it possible for both Steve and Forrest to mutually coexist with each other? Or do I need to choose one or the other? To Gump or not to Gump? … that is the question.
When I worked for Bubba Gump Shrimp for 15 years it was easy. I was Forrest. Being Forrest was my job. I was Forrest when I worked. I was Steve when I wasn’t working.
When I went to one of the restaurants and put on my Forrest Gump suit and walked out into the crowds with my chocolate box and suitcase, I became Forrest. I was then Forrest for the next several hours as I chatted folks up, posed for pictures, and did my thing. During that time I was comfortable in my role. I understood that I was a hired gun being asked to play Forrest. There was a clear boundary line between Steve and Forrest. I was Steve playing Forrest. When I played Forrest I was fortunate to be able to bring a lot of Steve into the interpretation of the Forrest character. But let’s make no mistake and be perfectly clear – I was Forrest during that time and in that role.
Ten years ago – after more than ten years of being Forrest for Bubba Gump Shrimp – I started the evolution of both the character and myself. My dream of being a speaker began. I knew Forrest could be used as a launch pad. I just didn’t know where I was going.
More than five years ago my role of being Forrest for Bubba Gump ended. I no longer had to be Forrest in the way that was previously required. My journey of being Steve and using the character in a new way began.
Here have been a couple of the challenges.
- It was easy for me to be Forrest in the Bubba Gump way. I was the star. A celebrity. I filled a very special role in a very unique way. People LOVED Forrest when I played that role.
- I didn’t have to be Steve when I was being Forrest for Bubba Gump. Steve got to hide. Steve was put on hold until the workday was over and the Gump suit and persona were stripped off and put away.
Fast forward to today, I’m asking myself, “To Gump or not to Gump?”
Maybe what I’m really asking myself is this:
- How do I blend Steve and Forrest going forward?
- What role should be dominate?
- To what extent should each role play a part?
The second question is the simplest so let’s answer that first. Steve will be the dominant player. Forrest will play a supporting role. I was Forrest (in the dominant role) for 15 years. That is over. I’m both tired and bored of being Forrest exclusively. That Forrest is now dead.
So the question – or challenge – is blending Steve and Forrest and defining the role that each character will play. Previously, when people would asked, “Does it get confusing being Gump?”, I’d answer, “No!”: If you asked me that today I’d say, “Yes – it’s very confusing.”
Steve needs to dominate -that I’m clear. Finding the balance between being Steve and having Forrest support Steve is the challenge.
To Gump or not to Gump? Yes. I will continue to Gump. Gump is a part of me. It’s a part of who I am.
To what extent Steve and to what extent Forrest? That is the question.