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SECOND-ACT SIGNIFICANCE III: Robert Miller #112

Warwick Fairfax

April 19, 2022

Robert Miller wanted to make music his career from the first time he picked up an instrument in high school – but he did not get to fulfill that desire until after he retired. His dreams were deferred by the usual beats of life – a successful career that took him in another direction, family joys and responsibilities, and a crucible in his 40s when he broke his neck in an accident.

But in his 60s, he grabbed his guitar and launched his band Project Grand Slam — and finally felt the rush of playing original songs at festivals and concerts around the word. His success in pursuing his lifelong passion also led him to create his top-rated podcast, Follow Your Dream.

To learn more about Robert Miller and Project Grand Slam, visit www.projectgrandslam.com

Highlights

  • Being born into a musical family (2:21)
  • How the Beatles prompted him to put his trumpet down (3:54)
  • How law school and becoming a lawyer derailed his rock ‘n roll dreams (5:16)
  • Getting back on track toward his dream (8:52)
  • The accident that played into his pivot (15:19)
  • The moment he finally pursued his musical dream with gusto (18:18)
  • Why it requires action to make your second act happen (21:16)
  • Lessons from the inventor of WD-40 (28:03)
  • Sometimes a dream is delayed because we’re not really ready for it (29:40)
  • How his band got its name (34:35)
  • Starting his podcast (39:02)
  • Writing The Follow Your Dream Handbook (45:29)
  • Robert’s message of hope for listeners (49:56)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond The Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Robert M:

I believe that everybody starts out life with a dream. And usually when we’re younger, the dreams are pretty big, okay? Very few people start out life when they’re 10 years old saying “My dream is to become an accountant,” okay? Their dream is to become an astronaut, a baseball player, a rockstar, things like that. And I had this dream from an early age that I wanted to become a rockstar. I wanted to play music with all the guys that I grew up, and they were my heroes. So I did have this burning desire and it was always there that I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do. And the question became, was there ever a time and a place and a method where I could start to gravitate towards that? And it took me a long time.

Gary S:

By a long time, this week’s guest, Robert Miller, is talking about 40 years or so. He wanted to make music his career from the first time he picked up an instrument in high school. But he did not get to fulfill that dream until after he retired. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show.

Gary S:

In this third episode of our series Second Act Significance, Miller tells us how his dreams were deferred by the usual beats of life, a successful career that took him in another direction, family joys and responsibilities, and a crucible in his 40s when he broke his neck in an accident. His dream may have been delayed a few times, but it was never defeated. In his 60s, he grabbed his guitar and launched his band Project Grand Slam, and finally felt the rush of playing original songs at festivals and concerts around the world. The group has released 11 albums, including a Billboard number one and has had more than 5 million video views and 1 million streams of its unique brand of rock, Latin, jazz fusion. Robert Miller has achieved Second Act Significance, and you can too.

Warwick F:

Robert, I’m just fascinated by just your whole story and following your dream after 60, which as somebody who’s hit that benchmark myself, I think it gives a lot of us hope. So thank you. Life isn’t over at 60. It’s not time to plan your funeral. It’s just not quite yet. There is more to life. Love the band Project Grand Slam, and again, and your podcast, Follow Your Dream. Tell us a bit about the origin story of Robert Miller. I guess you must have had this love of music and your family I’m guessing. So where did that come from, this love of music?

Robert M:

Well, first of all, thank you for having me on the podcast. I appreciate it. Yes, I was born into, I guess you would say a musical family. My father played the trumpet, although he didn’t do it full time. He had a day job and he played trumpet on the weekends, weddings, bar mitzvahs, private parties, things like that. But right from the get go, my parents decided that I was going to learn music. So when I was about five years old, they started me on piano because that’s kind of the mothership. And I was taking lessons. But when you’re five years old, who wants to practice, right? So about a year later, I said to my parents, “That’s it. I don’t want to play anymore.” And they said, “Okay, that’s fine, but you got to pick another instrument.” So I chose the trumpet because that was my father’s instrument.

Robert M:

I continued to play the trumpet throughout junior high school and high school. But then there was an event that took place in the midst of all of that. This little band from Liverpool came around, and suddenly it wasn’t very cool to play the trumpet anymore. So I taught myself the guitar and then I taught myself the bass and I had my high school rock and roll band and all of that stuff. And I was going to be the next rock star because that’s just what I wanted to do with my life. Around the age of 19 or so, I did have that experience of studying for a brief amount of time with John Coltrane’s bass player, Jimmy Garrison, and he introduced me to jazz.

Robert M:

At that time I went back to school. I had taken some time off from college. I went back this school in Boston and I completed my degree. I had a degree in broadcasting and film, which at the time meant absolutely nothing because it didn’t give me entree to any kind of meaningful job. But I did get a job finally in the mail room of the public television station in Boston. And I had an ideal life. I was doing the mail room during the day and I was playing music at night. I loved it. There was only one problem. I wasn’t making enough to sustain a human life, okay? I mean, I was making maybe $100 a week. It was terrible. I was so depressed about it.

Robert M:

And in a moment of severe weakness, a friend of mine said to me, “Well, why don’t you go to law school?” And I said, “Law school? Why would I ever want to do that?” And he said, “Well, you’re playing in a band with a guy who’s a medical doctor,” which is true. He had come over from South Africa and he was playing music. He was doing medicine during the day. He was playing music at night. We had a great band. We played all over the Boston area. And he said, “You could be just like him.” And I said, “Well…” I thought about it for about a nanosecond, okay? I was a 20 year old idiot and I said, “Okay, that sounds great.”

Robert M:

So I went, I applied to law school. Unfortunately I got into law school. Once you go to law school, people that haven’t been there don’t understand, it’s all encompassing. I mean, it was 23 hours a day. I didn’t have any time to even think about music while I was there. And then unfortunately, I did well enough in law school that I got a job afterwards as a lawyer. And that became my 16 year or so hiatus, because my dream was to do law during the day and play music at night. I mean, that’s what I wanted. That was my dream, and I was going to do it successfully. But there’s that expression, the law is a jealous mistress, which means that I was working in the law for 23 hours a day. I was trying to sleep for about one hour a night. I, then, I was married. I had a child, I had a mortgage, I had obligations. And my dream just flew out the window. And I was miserable. I really was.

Robert M:

I mean, this whole period when I wasn’t playing, I kept saying, “When am I going to get it back? What happened to you? This wasn’t what I was planning for.” And finally, when I was in my 40s, I took the first steps towards realizing that dream.

Warwick F:

I mean, that’s an incredible, incredible story. Unfortunately, yeah, somebody recommends law. I mean, that’s not like a 40-hour a week job. I mean, it’s like it’s-

Robert M:

It’s 40 hours a day.

Warwick F:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And unfortunately, as you put it, you were too successful. So the fact that you were successful was unfortunate in that sense.

Robert M:

Yeah. Right.

Warwick F:

It’s like, “Please fire me. Somebody fire me. Put me out of my misery.” But I’m fascinated as you, in a sense, your first love was playing the trumpet. Do you ever think if you grew up in the late 30s or 40s in the era of Glen Miller and Artie Shaw and whoever it was, you could have been a big band leader playing the trumpet in another life?

Robert M:

Sure.

Warwick F:

Because then it would’ve cool to play the trumpet then, right?

Robert M:

Absolutely. That’s exactly the music that my father loved. He was into big bands. And of course I listened to all of that because they were being played in the house all the time. My father and I used to play duets on the trumpet. In fact, when I met the woman that became my wife on our first date, I brought her home and my father and I played duets on the trumpet for her. And she didn’t leave.

Gary S:

She married you anyway? Yeah, I was going to say she married you anyway? Wow, that’s awesome.

Warwick F:

I mean, how did it feel day in, day out, you were probably making decent money, paying the mortgage, being the responsible father, which is, I guess, is what we’re meant to be, right? Responsible fathers. Responsible. That’s sort of the mantra, if you will. So you were doing that. As the decades wore on, I mean, you are unfortunately, as you put it, being successful, but how did that feel within you?

Robert M:

Well, as I said, I was very frustrated, very conflicted, because on the one hand I had a life that was working for my family, but it wasn’t satisfying the urge, the dream that I always had inside of me. And what started me down the path that finally got me where I wanted to go, I discovered by accident. I was living in New York City and there was a place there at the time I call it a musician’s dating service, okay? It wasn’t actually a dating service, but you went down to this place and you told them, “This is the kind of music I want to play.” So if you said led Zeppelin album 2, side 1, they would find three other idiots that wanted to play that music with you. And that’s what I did.

Robert M:

For about six months, that’s how I started to get back into playing again. Every week I would go down there and it caused me to start practicing again. I was rusty as could be of course, but that got me back into music. And then I discovered another point of luck, that a childhood friend of mine had a recording studio in New York City. And I rang him up. And the next thing I knew, he was saying, “Well, why don’t we do an album?” And I was scared to death because I hadn’t done anything like that before. But he assembled a group of very professional musicians to work on material that I finally had put together. The first album that I ever did came out of that. So that started me down the path. And then I took some of those guys and I formed a band and we started to play festivals and clubs within New York City.

Robert M:

But it was still more like an avocation, more like a hobby because I was still working as a lawyer and I had that one life but I had this other life that was coming into play more and more. So I was headed down the right path, but it wasn’t really what I had always dreamed I would be doing.

Warwick F:

I just wanted to get the timeline here. How old were you at the moment when this was happening, this sort of dual life?

Robert M:

I was probably around 40, okay?

Warwick F:

Got it. Got it.

Gary S:

I’ve wanted to ask guests, ever since we started this series, it’s called Second Act Significance, and implicit in that title is that perhaps the first act maybe felt insignificant. I know it didn’t feel like your dream, but did you feel at some point, was there any level of… I mean, you’re working as a lawyer, you’re raising a family, you have a “good life,” but did you feel a lack of significance in what you were doing? Was that an emotion you had?

Robert M:

It was more like schizophrenia, okay? Because on the one hand I had this life, as you said, that was working on certain levels. I could pay my bills. I had a family. So all of that was very nice. But I believe that everybody starts out life with a dream.

Robert M:

Usually when we’re younger, the dreams are pretty big, okay? Very few people start out life when they’re 10 years old saying “my dream is to become an accountant”, okay? Their dream is to become an astronaut, a baseball player, a rockstar, things like that. And I had this dream from an early age that I wanted to become a rock star. I wanted to play music with all the guys that I grew up and they were my heroes. And so I did have this burning desire and it was always there that I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do. And the question became, was there ever a time and a place and a method where I could start to gravitate towards that. And it took me a long time. I mean, I talked about coming back into music at age 40. I didn’t get to the point where I was doing music full time until I passed 60. That was 20 years later.

Warwick F:

I mean, that’s amazing. I may be misquoting it, but I guess I’d quote by Thoreau talking about smoldering discontent. Was there a sense that life was fine, but maybe it wasn’t a forest fire, but there was sort of, I don’t know, something smoldering at some level, just this in this bifurcated dual life? It was working-

Robert M:

The mass of men lead lives quiet of desperation.

Warwick F:

There you go. Exactly. That’s the one. That is exactly the one

Robert M:

That is Thoreau’s quote. And you know what?

Warwick F:

Yeah.

Robert M:

100% I agree with that. What happens I think in life, and it certainly happened to me, you have a dream, you have a path, you have a burning desire, life gets in the way. We don’t plan for it. It just happens. And it happens to most of us. Most people don’t wind up doing exactly what they dreamt they would be doing when they were younger. Either it wasn’t practical or it wasn’t in the cards or their uncle offered them a job, and they went into this, that, or the other thing. Stuff happens. That’s the usual case. It’s the unusual case if somebody that knows at an early age, “This is what I want to do” and they actually do it.

Robert M:

So the question then becomes, all right, do you let that dream go? Was it just a youthful, fancy of some sort? Or do you pursue it? And frankly, when I decided to jump into the deep end of the pool, I had just passed my 60th birthday. And I said to myself, “If I don’t it now, when the heck am I going to do it?” As you said before, you’re not quite dead when you’re 60, but you also know that when it comes to age, you’re kind of on the far side of the mountain, okay? You’re not going to be getting any younger. Not to get morbid about the whole thing. You start to have your life pass before your eyes and you kind of say, “All right. If I’m going to do something, if there’s really something left that I want to do, when am I going to do it if I don’t do it now.”

Robert M:

And I think the pandemic accentuated that feeling. It did for me and it did for other people. Because all of a sudden, we all had to stop and we weren’t doing the kinds of things that we were doing before. And it made people kind of examine their lives and say, “Am I doing what I want to do?” It put older people certainly in touch with their mortality because they said, “Okay there’s a finite amount of time that we’re all on this planet. What do I want to achieve? What do I want to pursue?” So it was all of these feelings together that led me to do what I did.

Warwick F:

There’s one other story before we get to that, in a sense, one of the things you’ve talked about is you had a crucible I think in your 40s, a bad accident. And somehow I think that also wove into the story of mortality. Maybe it didn’t trigger the change right then, but it seemed like that’s part of your journey with the pivots. Now talk about the role that accident had in changing your perspective.

Robert M:

Well, you’re right. It was part of my journey and actually it stopped my journey because I couldn’t journey much after that. When I was in my later 40s, I used to be a big bicycle rider in New York City. That’s where I was living at the time. I would go out for these long bike rides on the weekends and the like. And it was on a cold, cold day in December of 2000. It was a Saturday. I went out for a bicycle ride. I went over the 59th street bridge which was immortalized by Simon & Garfunkel, okay? And at that time at least, once you got over the bridge, you had to do a U-turn onto a service road in order to then come back around and go forward, because I was going out straight at head from the bridge.

Robert M:

Well, I went onto that service road, the U-turn, and unbeknownst to me there was a van that came up from behind, hit my bicycle. And although I don’t know and remember any of this, apparently my bicycle flew backwards several times over the van. I landed on the street and I was knocked unconscious of course. The only good thing about it was that the guy that caused the accident stopped and called 911. But here’s the moment that I remember. I was lying on my back and I was coming to, and I hear these two EMS guys hovering over me saying to each other, “Boy, is this guy lucky? We usually find people like him dead or paralyzed.” And I was neither. And they ambulanced me over to a hospital. I found out the difference between an emergency room and a trauma center, okay?

Robert M:

At least in New York city, every borough has one trauma center where they deal with people, gunshot wounds, and things like that. Anyway, long story short, it turns out that I had broken my neck. The only reason that I didn’t wind up dead or paralyzed ala Christopher Reeve is because I was phenomenally lucky. My neck exploded and none of the shrapnel hit my cord, my spinal cord. So you have an experience… And I came back from that. I had eight hours of surgery. I got more metal in my neck than Doans has pills as we used to say for any of the older people in the audience.

Robert M:

But you know what? Since that time, that gave me a tremendous kick in the rear. Because I said to myself, not to get too philosophical or religious about it, but I kind of felt like, “Okay, I was given an extension on my life and I needed to do something to make use of that time.” And so that was a big, big push towards the dream of going into music. But again, that took place in my later 40s. And it wasn’t until another decade that I finally was able to get to the point that I wanted to get to.

Warwick F:

So you hit 60 or thereabouts, and maybe there was a dream, a bit like a little plant that was growing and growing and beginning to push the other life, the law life aside. Sometimes it takes a while for dreams to bloom and blossom, but finally it perked its head through and got big enough. And I think you’ve talked about it, but was there a point at which you said, “Okay, this is it. Law is fine, but I’m going to go full on for music.” Was there a point at which you feel like ” I’m doing it. I’m not going to do this bifurcated life anymore. I’m going to do it”?

Robert M:

Yeah. Well, there was a point. I mean, again, I can’t measure it to the day, but it just got to a point. I had been playing music even since that time I mentioned in the 40s, I got back into it. And so music was in my life, but it wasn’t in my life at the level and the extent to which I wanted it to be. There came a point, as I said, where I decided this is what I want to go for. And I gave everything else up. I dove into the deep end of the pool, so to speak.

Robert M:

So the first thing that I did, I sat down and I said, “What do I need to do?” And I’m a great believer in baby steps, okay? Because if I said, from a standing start, I want to be playing Madison Square Garden next year, that’s ridiculous. That’s not going to happen. But I was able to write down the first five or so steps on a napkin that I needed to do. I knew I needed to form a band. I needed to write music again. I needed to start rehearsing with the band. I needed to get gigs with the band, things like that.

Robert M:

This is a true story. I went and I took out an ad on Craigslist to have like a mass audition to find the members of my band. And lo and behold, about 30 people showed up for this audition. It was in a rehearsal studio in New York city. And from that, I was able to choose the initial people for the band, which I named Project Grand Slam. And that’s how it began. And from there, it was one baby step forward, one back, two sideways, that kind of a thing. But slowly but surely I started to make progress and I saw that this was possible, okay? Because not every dream of course is going to be possible.

Robert M:

I actually came up with this, this acronym called DREAM, D-R-E-A-M, to explain my theory. Would you like to hear that? Would that be worthwhile?

Warwick F:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, that’d be great.

Robert M:

Okay. D of DREAM obviously stands for the idea that everybody has to have a dream. And I believe that everybody does have a dream, even if you’ve been kind of suppressing it for years. The R of DREAM theory is the dream has to be at least somewhat realistic. Now I think people could say, “Well, Miller, you were 60 years old. You’re not going to be a rock star at 60. Come on. That wasn’t realistic.” And you know what? They were probably right. But I thought it was possible, so I said, “I’m going to take a shot,” okay? If Mick Jagger can still do it at 75, I can at least take my shot at my age. The E of DREAM theory for me is what I was just speaking about, execution. And I believe that the way you do that is through an action plan. The action plan needs to be a series of baby steps, because otherwise it’s just too daunting. It’s just too big.

Robert M:

The A of the theory is to adjust that plan where necessary, because there’s never a plan that goes directly from square one to your conclusion without some kind of obstacle or hurdle. I like to quote the former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, he was asked, “When you go in the ring, did you have an action plan?” He said, “Yes. Every fighter has an action plan until they get hit in the face,” okay? Then you got to adjust it. And the M stands for me for measurement. How do I measure my success? Because not every dream is going to succeed. In fact, I didn’t go into this with the idea that it was either going to be a rock star or everything was a failure. I said to myself, “This is what I need to do. This is what I want to do. And as long as I see movement that’s kind of moving in the right direction, I’m going to stick with it. But if it ever gets to the point where that’s not working, okay, not every dream is going to work out.”

Robert M:

So that’s been my philosophy. And frankly, look, when we started out as a band, there were too many nights when we were basically giving private concerts for the bartender and the waitress because it’s very hard to establish a following of course, but we just kept at it. The most important thing is never give up.

Gary S:

The thing I want to make sure listeners hear, and you’ve heard it throughout this series and I just want to call it out now, because you’ve used the phrase a couple of times early on Robert when you talked about life sort of just happened to you. And in the first act, I think it’s true that sometimes things can just happen to us. We get on a road, and the road, it’s almost like one of those automatic walkways, you’re just kind of on it and it keeps tugging you ahead and you’re on the road and you’re fine. So you can get into the first act that can be somewhat unfulfilling or not exactly right, and they can kind of just happen to you. But what you’ve just described is to get to that second act, to get to that significance, to get to what brings your heart alive. That doesn’t just tend to happen to you. You have to act to make that happen. Is that fair?

Robert M:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we tend to be in a point of stasis where we just continue on with whatever it is that we’re doing. It’s very hard to kind of motivate yourself to do something else. I recognize that. There’s a lot of people that want to do things, but they just can’t move themselves in the right direction. But you really have to. You have to say to yourself, “The only way I’m going to change whatever it is that I want to change about my life.” Whether it’s my job, my marriage, my hobbies, my situation, you need to take steps, you need to do something. And that’s why I said start with baby steps, okay? Because that’s the way you can take a huge task and break it down into small steps and actually accomplish something.

Warwick F:

Yeah. I mean, I think what you’re saying, Robert, is so profound and I want listeners to hear that, is sometimes you think, “Well, gosh,” to pick your example, “I’m never going to be Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney. That’s not going to happen to me. I’m never going to play Madison Square Garden.” So they think of the big dream and they stop. It’s all too much. It’s all too hard. “I’m 60. My finger’s maybe aren’t as nimble as they were in their 20s.” It’s the whole list of reasons of why not. You could probably list 100 things of why Robert Miller should not even bother trying. Maybe you went through that list. But what I find interesting is your whole DREAM methodology, baby steps, dream, realistic, execute, adjust, measurement. I mean, you had a plan. Maybe it would change, but you had a plan of “I’m going do Craigslist. I’m going to interview a bunch of people. I’m going to take baby steps. I’m not expecting Madison Square Garden. I’m going to be okay if the first few times it’s just bartenders and waitresses.”

Warwick F:

And as you rightly said, so long as I see a little bit of progress, I’m going to keep moving forward. To me, you had a plan. Almost more importantly than the plan, you had a philosophy of how to start something new that increased your chance of success. So does that make sense? Because I feel like this is more than just your story. There are key lessons for anybody who wants to start a second act with your methodology.

Robert M:

Well, there’s either lessons where there’s a lot of stupidity in what I did. But all I can say is that’s the way I have to go if I needed to go forward, okay? I kind of do this with everything in my life. I decide if there’s something I want to do, I come up with a plan of sorts and I figure out a pathway. And not everything works out. I hasten to add that all the time. Because people think, “Well, if you go after something, if you go after that brass ring and you don’t get the brass ring, you’ve been a failure.” And that’s a terrible way to look at things. For me, the question was always, I would feel terrible, I would feel regret, which I never wanted to feel if I didn’t take my shot. And I think that’s the most important thing for people in life. Whatever it is that drives you, you want to be able to look back and say, “I took my best shot. If it works, fabulous. If it didn’t work, you gave it your best try. No regrets.”

Warwick F:

Absolutely. We’ve had other people on the podcast say something very similar, that failure is not succeeding. Failure is not taking the shot. Failure is not trying. We have heard multiple people who’ve achieved amazing things who’ve said “So long as I tried and gave it my best, that was my definition of success, whether it succeeded or not.”

Robert M:

Almost everybody that succeeds has failed before they succeed.

Warwick F:

Right.

Robert M:

I had the guy on my podcast that is the president of WD-40, the miracle product that cleans up any squeaks and any problems you have with anything.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Yeah.

Robert M:

Well, they named it WD-40 because it failed 39 times before they got to the 40th iteration. Keep that in mind. You know that 17 record labels passed on the Beatles?

Gary S:

Yep.

Robert M:

Okay?

Gary S:

Yep.

Robert M:

How smart were those guys?

Gary S:

Not very smart and not very rich when the time was done.

Robert M:

That’s right. There’s always going to be failures. There’s always going to be hurdles. There’s always going to be people saying “This won’t work. This can’t work. You’re too old. You’re too stupid. You’re too this. You’re too that.” The heck with them, okay? Take your best shot.

Gary S:

And you are quoting of that, take your best shot, earlier you quoted a famous boxer, Mike Tyson. There’s another famous boxer who took his best shot and that’s Rocky Balboa.

Robert M:

Yep.

Gary S:

And he certainly didn’t succeed the first time, but he succeeded after that.

Robert M:

There you go.

Warwick F:

Yeah. I mean, that is really inspiring. Just the mentality of not everything you’re going to do is going to succeed, but you’ve got to try, because too many people that have this burning desire. To me, if you have this burning path, which you did over decades, that’s not just some childhood whim. A childhood whim doesn’t last 60 years. It fades. You might have wanted to be an astronaut when you were 12. Typically, at 60 you’re not still thinking, “Gosh, I wish I’d be an astronaut, but-”

Robert M:

Well, if you’re Richard Branson, maybe you are.

Warwick F:

There you go. There’s always an exception. Well said. But for you, that dream was there and you went for it. Some people, we’re both over 60, they kind of have this attitude, “Gosh,” you know, this sense of regret, “if only I’d…” You know? “Yeah. I’m moderately successful now.” And you’re more than moderately successful. You’re really incredibly successful. But let’s say you achieved some moderate level of success. “I could have done this at 25 or 35. Why didn’t I? Was just too scared, gutless, whatever.” What do you say to people that just have this sense of regret? “I missed 40 years of my life. Gosh. What could I have been? What could I have done?” that kind of mentality.

Robert M:

I can’t tell you that I don’t have those thoughts or didn’t have those thoughts. Along the way, it took me a long, long time before I finally got to the place that I wanted to get to. And feelings of regret are some of the worst feelings that you can have, okay? There’s very few people I think get through life and say, “I didn’t make any mistake. I have no regrets whatsoever.” We all have different regrets that we didn’t do something. But again, there’s a difference between something that we were precluded from doing or that we had no possibility of doing, versus those personal regrets for things that we could have done, but we just didn’t do it. And I got to a point in my life where I said, “I don’t want to feel whenever my life is over that I could have done something that I wanted to do, but I just didn’t.”

Robert M:

Why didn’t I do it? Was I afraid of failure? That’s usually the reason. Oh, I don’t want people to laugh at me. I don’t want people to think I was a failure. “Oh, you took your shot. That was stupid. You shouldn’t have done it. Why’d you do it?” There’s a million reasons why people look down upon others for their success or for their efforts. Who cares? You don’t want to be guided in life by those kind of naysayers. I think you just have to follow that north star that’s in you. That’s the key. Figuring out what is it that turns you on, that makes you tick, that motivates you. That there’s going to be something in there. It probably was in there when you were younger, maybe you suppressed it. But even if it wasn’t there then, you got something now. Something you always wanted to do. It was a hobby. It was a…

Robert M:

I just read, for example, this is kind of silly but it points out. John Travolta just announced that he just got a pilot’s license for another huge airliner, okay? This is what the guy has decided that he wanted to do. He was a successful movie star and singer and all of that. He wanted to become a pilot. And now he’s apparently approved for 767s and 737s. And for all I know, the space shuttle he’ll be flying next. But that’s great, okay? That’s what it’s all about.

Warwick F:

I think you might have said that maybe you weren’t ready for it when you’re in your 20s. You obviously know who you are far more now, and it’s impossible to answer these questions. But I know some people have said, and I sometimes think like with my own book, Crucible Leadership, that came out late last year of 2021. And it’s like, “Gosh, it would’ve been nice if I’d been able to write that 20 years earlier.” But I wasn’t ready for a variety of reasons that listeners have heard on other podcasts. You feel like in a sense sometimes whether that you believe in God or the universe, that there’s some divine hand that kind of knows when you’re ready. And yeah, that’s one of those philosophical conundrums that philosophers have been discussing for centuries. What’s the role of divine hand versus free will? And to me, it’s both/and. How’s that possible? I have no idea. But do you feel in some sense that there was this divine hand, maybe you weren’t ready, and you are ready now, and life happened for a reason even if we don’t understand it kind of deal?

Robert M:

I completely subscribe to that. I don’t know what the force is that causes it. But if I look back and I’m really honest, I would say, “Okay, why didn’t I do something when I was 20? I wasn’t ready for whatever reason, okay?” And when I look back now at what I have achieved since I went into this whole thing full time, it’s been meaningful what has been achieved. I’ve got 11 albums out, I’ve got a 5 million video views and million streams, I’ve played festivals and concerts around the world, I’ve got a Billboard number 1 album. These are things that if I was really ready for all of that when I was 20, I think I would’ve done it then. And I didn’t do it for a reason. And I can say to myself now, “Well, it was because life took me in a different direction.” But I think that we all kind of push ourselves or orient ourselves towards certain directions. So somewhere along the line, I must have pushed myself in a different direction.

Warwick F:

I want to just talk a bit about, I guess, your twin passions. But in this case, those twin passions are working together. Project Grand Slam and Follow Your Dream podcast. It’s not this bifurcated life. You love both. So just out of curiosity, why did you call your band Project Grand Slam.

Robert M:

Okay. Here’s the story. When I was naming the band, my first group was called the Robert Miller Group. That was big surprise, right? And I said when I was naming this band, “I got to do something more creative than that.” And I was thinking about what the name could be. I just kind of thought about the James Bond movies which I was a big fan of when I was a kid. One of those great movies was Goldfinger, okay? 1964 or so, ’65. There was the plot to steal the gold out of Fort Knox.

Robert M:

I remembered that the plot to steal the gold was called Project Grand Slam. And I said to myself, “What a fabulous name for a band?” So I named the band Project Grand Slam. Six months later, I actually watched the movie again. And to my horror in the midst of the movie, Sean Connery as James Bond, talks about Operation Grand Slam, okay? So I’ve remembered it wrong. And I said, “Oh my God, what am I going to do now?” So I went and I Googled Operation Grand Slam. And I found out that there was a nickname for some kind of genocidal program in Africa called Operation Grand Slam. So I said, “Well, I don’t think it would be very cool to name a band after a genocidal program, so I want to stick with Project Grand Slam. So that’s how I got the name.

Warwick F:

Sounds very fortuitous. And so how would you describe your music again, just for listeners?

Robert M:

My music is, it’s a fusion of rock and jazz with a twist of Latin thrown in, and as I like to say, a New York City groove.

Warwick F:

That’s great.

Robert M:

All of my musicians, almost all of them come from other countries. They have come to New York City because it’s a melting pot for musicians. So right now in the band, my singer is from Mexico. My keyboard player’s from Venezuela, my guitar player’s from Canada, my drummer is from Puerto Rico. They bring not only their youth, their incredible talent, but their enthusiasm and their culture to the music. So although I was raised in New York City and my father was a big fan of Spanish music, we used to listen to it all the time on the radio, when I had folks in the band with a Latin background said to me I had to work some Latin music into the sound. So that’s how the Latin got into that.

Robert M:

So it’s kind of a fusion, it’s a melting pot. It’s completely against the grain of what happens in music now. Right now you’re supposed to do one type of music. That’s it. You play the same song over and over and over again. You just give it a different name. That’s what artists do. And I was completely from a different school. I love variety. I love the idea that you could have different sounds and different influences and have them all reflect in the music. And that’s one of the things I said to myself, “This is what I’m going to do to be true to myself.”

Warwick F:

You know, what I love about what you’re saying is, be true to yourself. Don’t listen to the market mavens in music saying, “This is what you’ve got to do to be successful. Have one song and just change a couple chords.” And you just over and over and over again, it sounds always very similar and it’ll be familiar. “Oh, it’s a Robert Miller song.”

Robert M:

That’s true.

Warwick F:

“I recognize that.” And that’s probably makes sense, but the other thing I love is you have such diverse people and themes in your music. And sort of out of diversity, you have a beautiful, to use your word, fusion into a new sound. I think that’s maybe a metaphor for a wider discussion perhaps of diversity of experience can fuse together to form something greater, something new. So I think there’s also a subtext to what you’re doing that’s important for society too. Don’t you think?

Robert M:

I think that… There’s the old expression, variety is the spice of life. And I believe that works in music as well. I love taking chances, doing things that are different, kind of always pushing the boundaries. It’s just what I like to do.

Warwick F:

So talk about your podcast, because I get Project Grand Slam and yes, because when you said that, I thought, “Oh, that’s right. That’s from James Bond,” but I didn’t really figure out myself that, gosh, it was operation. But yes, so fortunate that you misremembered. Now that makes sense. But it doesn’t sound like you had a lifelong dream to do a podcast, because obviously they didn’t exist until I don’t know what? 10, 15 years ago. What made you decide to do that? Because that does feel different. Why a podcast called Follow Your Dream?

Robert M:

Yeah, well it wasn’t 10, 15 years ago that I was even thinking about podcasts. I didn’t even know what a podcast was honestly about a year ago. We were in the middle of the pandemic. We had just put out an album in January of 2020 called East Side Sessions. I thought it was a terrific album. We were ready to go out and play by behind it. And then of course the world locked down and we couldn’t play any longer. So the first thing that I did was I said, “Okay, we’re stumped at this moment. Let’s take four of the songs from the album and let’s do some videos, because that we could do.” The first two videos with kind of Zoom video with everybody in their own little box, like the Hollywood squares, and we’re all lip syncing to the songs.

Robert M:

And then the third video, we did an animated video of a Beatles song, this totally obscure Beatle song called I Want to be Your Man that Ringo sang in a Hard Days Night.

Gary S:

Excellent. An excellent song.

Robert M:

But we changed it to, I Want to be Your Girl because we have a female singer. And then the fourth song that we did the video of, it’s a song called The Partners. It’s my cowboy jazz song, okay? Talk about it on an unusual combination. I did a song that literally kind of had horses hooves and whips and six gun shooting combined with a jazz kind of a thing. It’s all around the storyline where you had two partners in the old west that went out and robbed people. And one partner robbed the other partner and the other partner was getting back at the first partner.

Robert M:

And I said to my video guy, “How are we going to do a video of this song?” He said, “Let me look around.” He somehow found a 1960 Spaghetti Western where the plot of the movie kind of fit the storyline of this song. So we put out a video that was taking the Spaghetti Western and putting it to this music and it actually did very well. This is all leading up to, I needed to do something to keep my creative juices going. I was writing music. We couldn’t practice. We couldn’t play anywhere. And somebody suggested to me, “Why don’t you think about doing a podcast?”

Robert M:

And I was very, very dissatisfied with social media as a musician because you put your music up on YouTube or you put it on Facebook and it takes absolutely no commitment, no engagement for somebody to hit a like button. So you get all these likes and you get all these comments, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean anything because there’s no real attachment. And somebody said, “Well, you should look into podcasts because in a podcast you have a longer form of communication. You can establish a much deeper connection with your audience.” And the more I looked into it, the more I said, “Gee, I think you’re right.”

Robert M:

And because of my back round, you know, what I did, I followed my dream. I thought to myself that there were others out there, many, many others that would love to follow and perhaps succeed at their dream, so why don’t I start a podcast with two goals? One is to inspire and motivate people to follow their dream, whatever that dream might be. And secondly, it was another way for me to introduce my music to a brand new, bigger audience than I had before.

Robert M:

So in each episode, I bring into play one of my songs as the featured song, and I try to make it relevant somehow. And I started to interview people that were among the more well-known musicians, but also others that had accomplished their dream. And what’s remarkable about the podcast is that it has just spread out in a way that I never anticipated. As we speak today, I have listeners in 191 countries. I mean, that blows me away. There’s only 193 countries in the whole world.

Warwick F:

Wow.

Robert M:

Somehow or other people have found me in places that I didn’t even know were countries. So that goal has been accomplished as well. The podcast is doing very nicely. I’ve got great guests, I get my music out there, and I’ve got listeners around the whole world.

Warwick F:

I mean, that is remarkable. I mean, I love sort of the tagline you have for the podcast. Remember you’re never too old. It’s never too late to follow your dream. I’m sure in our society, as you say, especially after COVID, people have been shut in, people realizing their mortality. There’s a lot of folks that think, “Gosh maybe I could do what Robert did. Maybe I’m a musician. Maybe I’m not a musician.” But just telling people stories of it’s not being too late to pursue your dream. I’m not a massive believer in so-called traditional retirement. Studies show that if you just sit on the beach or play golf without any purpose, not knocking it, you’ll probably die younger. If you have purpose in life, whatever that means to you, you’ll live longer and you’ll probably be happier. So you’re preaching life isn’t over at 60, that it’s never too late. A lot of people think it is too late, but that’s an important mission. So I think it’s ironic that out of COVID, in your case, something good happened, a dream was birthed that may not have been birthed without it.

Warwick F:

I mean, you’re somebody that listens to your inner soul, listens to your passion and you don’t snuff it out. Maybe you chat to some close friends and come up with a plan along your sort of dream, realistic, execute, adjust, measurement deal. So, you didn’t just do one dream. You did more than one. You did a couple.

Robert M:

Well, I actually did a third as well.

Warwick F:

Wow.

Robert M:

Because along the way after I started the podcast, somebody said to me, “why don’t you write a book? Your podcast is great, but why don’t you do a book?” And I said, “Yeah, what am I going to do? War and Peace or something like that? I’m not an author.” So they said, “Well, why don’t you just kind of do it as a memoir?” And I said to myself, “Okay. What can I do that is within my scope?” So I put together what I call the Follow Your Dream handbook. I think I named it handbook after, remember there was a book a long time ago called the Preppy Handbook, right?

Warwick F:

I do.

Robert M:

I always liked that. I think of a handbook, that’s pretty cool. And what it said to me was that I could make it kind of part memoir so I could tell my story, but the rest of it would be a how-to. So to try and tell people “This is how I did it. Maybe it would work for you as well. Here are my steps. I put that dream theory into it.” So in my spare time, I wrote this little book, it’s about 100 some odd, 120 pages, something like that. I put in a lot of pictures and stuff like that to prove to people that I actually was doing what I claimed to be doing. It went out last August. And lo and behold, it became like an Amazon Best Seller on day one. It’s sitting out there, it’s just doing its thing. So that worked as well.

Gary S:

This is the time in the show when I normally say the captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign, indicating we’ve begun our descent. It’s time to land the plane. But because we’re talking to a maker of music, I’m going to change that up and say, we’re at a live show. The band has just fake ended it. It’s left the stage for that moment where we all clap, knowing that an encore is coming. Speaking of the Beatles, Ringo Star just stops doing that. He just says, “Okay, I’m going to sit here for a few seconds. You know I’m not leaving. I’m going to come back and play encores.” Before we get to the encore though, I would remiss Robert if I did not give you the chance to tell listeners how they can find out more about Project Grand Slam, more about your podcast, more about your book. Where can they find you on social media to find out all this stuff?

Robert M:

Easiest way is I have two sites that are worth mentioning. One is for the podcast, it’s just followyourdreampodcast.com. And the other is for the band and it’s also simple, it’s projectgrandslam.com. And if anybody wants to send me an email, just send it to robert@followyourdreampodcast.com. I’d be happy to answer.

Warwick F:

So Robert, I just find what you do is inspiring. I mean, it’s just not just you’ve launched a band in your 60s, but it’s your philosophy of daring to dream and you have a plan and a methodology of how to do that. And you’re not afraid. You could have said, “Project Grand Slam, number 1 billboard. It’s pretty successful. I’m good. I’m done. I’m living the dream. This is awesome.” And that would be great. That would be stupendous, but when other dreams come along, you just said, “Okay, no, no, no. I’ve got my dream. No more. I only need one.” No, you’re willing to say, “Okay, so let’s try this whole podcast thing. Maybe I can help others follow their dreams later in life.” Then it’s like, “Oh, maybe there’s a book that I can do.” So it’s being willing to listen to that inner voice that you now do. You don’t ignore it. You flesh it out. Come up with a plan you’re trying. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine.

Warwick F:

I feel like you have a whole philosophy of nurturing dreams and being willing to see if they’re going to happen, being willing to fail that I think people need to learn from. So there might be listeners who they’re in this second act, maybe they’re over 40 or over 60, and they’re listening. What would be a message of hope that you would give them as they’re listening today?

Robert M:

First of all, thank you both for having me on. I really do appreciate it. I think we’ve said it together. You’ve said it just now. My mantra has been that you’re never too old and it’s never too late to follow your dream. And I am living proof of that. I think there are many other people that are in that category. Give it your best shot, okay? We only go around once in life. You don’t want to have regrets. It’s not about success or failure. As the saying goes, it’s about the journey, not the destination, okay? Keep smiling.

Gary S:

I have been in the communications business long enough to know when the last words been spoken on a subject. I’ve also been a music fan long enough to know when Elvis has left the building. Both of those just occurred with the last statement from our guest.

Gary S:

Listeners, thank you so much for spending time with us, not just on Beyond The Crucible, but also on our series, Second Act Significance. We’re not done yet. There are more episodes to come. If you’ve heard something in this series that really has touched you, that really has motivated you, if you’ve begun your own second act yourself because of what you’ve heard, we’d love to hear from you. Go to crucibleleadership.com. You can click on a link there and you can send us an email. And we’d love, love, love to hear from you. Until next time then listener that we are together for another episode of Second Act Significance here on Beyond The Crucible, do remember that your crucible experiences, we understand, Robert understands, Warwick understands. Your crucible experiences are painful. They’re difficult. They can make you feel like some bad things have just happened to you, that you’re just kind of stuck in the situation that is not fulfilling, that does not feel like it’s bringing you satisfaction. But it’s not the end of your story. As we talked about here, it can be the beginning of a new story once you learn the lessons of it, once you take some baby steps, as Robert talks about and Warwick says, take one small step at a time. As you do those things, as you advance forward beyond your crucible, beyond that first act, beyond the intermission from the first act and grab hold of your second act, you can end up at a place that’s the most fulfilling of all, because that is a life of significance.