Author, motivational speaker encourages students to actively pursue their dreams
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 08:10
Getting hired by IBM right out of college would be seen as an accomplishment by many, but Charles Holt didn’t feel happy where he was. It took a few career changes but he finally ended up on Broadway where he belonged.
“I’ve always felt free in music,” Holt said during his “Find Your Voice” lecture Thursday night. “Storytelling gives me a place I can go where nothing can get to me.”
Holt was born in Lake Providence, Tenn., and was the youngest of three children. He said it was always fun to take advantage of being the baby, but everyone had his life planned out for him. His grandmother thought he would be a preacher, his mother thought he would go into business, his uncles assumed he would go into sports and his father didn’t really care what he ended up doing.
When Holt received his job with IBM after graduating from Rhodes College in Memphis, his mother told him he was on the fast track to being a CEO star. He was making good money, but he was still trying to appease the wishes of those around him and couldn’t find what he wanted.
At this point he moved to another company in Atlanta and got fired a year after he started working there. A friend told him to see it as the company releasing him, and that Holt was taking his voice for granted.
“Music and those little things we grow up with (that) we take for granted become our DNA,” Holt said. “I couldn’t escape from music.”
With encouragement from his friend, Holt began planning to move to New York to begin auditioning for anything that would get him into the world of music, acting and dance.
“Could it be possible that I could actually make a career out of that?” Holt said. “I moved to New York on July 6, 1996 with $400 in my pocket. I was staying with a friend of a friend and was only supposed to be there for a month. I set my things down and looked out at this endless entity and said, ‘Wow. I’m home.’”
After auditioning for “Jesus Christ Superstar” Holt’s career took off. For six months he traveled across the country, and, after other auditions, was touring Europe as the first African American Rocky in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Once he returned home he got a call from Disney wanting him to audition for Lion King.
“I spent four years and eight months walking down those aisles and being in the greatest show in the world,” he said. “Who could have ever dreamt this kind of life?”
Holt said he was beginning to understand there was more to life. He was working eight shows a week with a grueling schedule playing a hyena. He called his mentors and they told him there was something else for him there and to not leave yet.
“I asked myself two questions that changed my life. ‘Why am I still here in Lion King?’ and ‘Why am I really here, period?’ That second question made my entire life flash before my eyes,” Holt said. “I was given the opportunity to pay attention to those frames I had rushed by.”
Holt said he remembered the demonstrations of community and it was always about giving back. He then understood the life he had come to was going to change. He left New York and moved to L.A.
During his lecture, Holt told students to ask why they are really here and pay attention to what they were doing before it rushed by.
“You’re all geniuses. You set this up. You’re at Arkansas State because you had dreams of going to college,” he said. “Don’t get too busy to ask what’s next, but the most powerful place is the present.”
Holt also discussed changing careers and said in his case, it was liberating but scary.
“Anytime there’s a change, we don’t want to move because it’s comfortable. Just do it. Choose to leave the nest, to build a bigger nest,” he said. “I’m living testimony that whatever it is you feel to change, your dream will get bigger. In order for us to expand, we have to stretch ourselves.”
Holt said his calling in life is to inspire people and give them the opportunity to see themselves as a great treasure.
“I see people differently now. If I see someone having a bad day, I ask myself how I can be of value to them,” he said. “I want to say and be a demonstration of what my call is. Sometimes people just want someone to smile at them. You never know what could spark somebody to take that next step.”