As Dan Nainan bounded across the stage at the historic Apollo Theater in New York with 1,500 people cheering him, he couldn’t help but smile to himself. Just four years before, he was a self-described tech nerd toiling away performing computer demos for Intel®.
How did Nainan go from “geeking out” to traveling the world as a comedian?
It started when Nainan, who was painfully shy, signed up for a comedy class in San Francisco with the hope of getting public-speaking skills. “I found out that people thought I was funny,” he said.
He began doing impressions of Intel’s CEO and got gigs at company events. When an opportunity to transfer to New York for Intel arose, Dan jumped at it, thinking he’d be closer to comedy clubs.
“I didn’t love the new job, because I was isolated in my apartment, working alone, so that made it much easier for me to just take a chance and quit,” he explained.
Although the future looked vague, he cashed out some stock options and committed himself to comedy. Nainan had no plan. “Colleagues warned me that the odds were against me, that I wouldn’t have health insurance, but I just kept thinking their negativity was because they didn’t have the guts to do what they really wanted,” he said.
His first paying gig came a full year after leaving Intel. His take: $5, earned from hawking his own show in Times Square, where he earned a buck for each body he brought into the club.
The turning point came when Nainan won an improv show and began traveling with comedy stars such as Robert Schimmel and Russell Peters.
“I love the freedom of it and the excitement of the travel. One week I’m on a Caribbean cruise, the next week I’m booking an event in Pakistan,” he said. “Plus, I’ve more than doubled my income.”
Although Nainan is unusual in that he makes a living as a comedian – a living lucrative enough for him to afford homes in New York and Beverly Hills – his initial desire to cast aside his career to pursue his dream is shared by many Americans.
According to a recent study by School of Life, 60 percent of workers would change careers if they could. The reason? Just 40 percent of Americans are content with their jobs, down from 60 percent in 1987, concludes a survey conducted by the Conference Board.
Here are a few additional inspiring stories of people who set aside fear and doubt and abandoned successful careers to live their passion.