The Ripple Effect

We probably all, at one time or another, have heard the terms “ripple effect,” “six degrees of separation,” and the “butterfly effect.” Austin-tied author Elise Ballard, author of Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Transform caught up with Dallas-bred writer/producer David Hudgins on his career trajectory and to learn how we are all so connected.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else is going to. So go for it. Find what makes you happy and do it.”
David Hudgins 

There is a belief in “the ripple effect”—how one event or action will have reach and ripple out, like a pebble thrown in water, affecting the whole. “Six degrees of separation” is the belief that we are all connected only six people away, at most, from strangers, and the underlying idea is that we are all connected through others, and many, if not most, times, we are completely unaware of it. The “butterfly effect” refers to the theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can cause a hurricane eventually in another part of the world, thus pointing out that a seemingly tiny, meaningless action can have a much larger, far-reaching effect on subsequent historic events.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else is going to. So go for it. Find what makes you happy and do it.”
David Hudgins

One very recent example of an epiphany that keeps rippling out is David Hudgins’ epiphany. I interviewed David Hudgins for my book on how his epiphany was sparked by his sister encouraging (or reprimanding) him to go for his dreams and not to wait on “some day” or lament them as something he couldn’t do. She was only thirty-seven and battling breast cancer at the time, and the next day, David changed his life to start pursuing his dreams of making films and television and now is a very successful television writer and producer. David Hudgins’ tells his Epiphany to Elise Ballard…

I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and in the mid-nineties, I was living there, married with two kids, practicing law. Over time I recognized that while I didn’t hate law, I didn’t love it either. I observed the older partners in the firm—very nice people— and saw myself in thirty years. “That will be my life. I’ll practice law at this firm. At sixty years old I’ll be going to the country club and to bar association dinners, after raising three-point-five kids inside a white picket fence.” All that was fine, but it wasn’t enough for me. I didn’t want “fine.” I wanted great.

I started reflecting on what really makes us happy. After a lot of soul searching, I decided that it’s about doing—acting on our deepest aspirations and doing what we really want to do in life, whatever that is. For me, I had to finally admit that meant making movies. I’d done theater in high school and had always been creative. I’d always loved to write and loved films. But how would I ever make them? How did you get into that business? I had no idea.

But then something happened. Some childhood friends of mine in Dallas, Luke and Owen Wilson, made a movie called Bottle Rocket. These guys had no clue what they were doing. They had just had a funny idea, got some money, and shot this movie. Nobody knew whether it would get shown anywhere, and it wasn’t a big hit—but it made their careers. I remember going to the movie theater to see that movie and thinking, “If they can do it, anybody can.” I’m kidding, but seriously, the Wilson brothers inspired me and got me really thinking about what I could do. But I was just doing that—thinking about it—when we got news that changed our lives.

My older sister, Catherine, was diagnosed with breast cancer. About two years into it, I was visiting her in New York. She was undergoing chemo at the time, and we were in her room talking. I had been a lawyer for about seven years at this point, and I started complaining about it. Finally she stopped me and said, “What do you want to do?” I paused and said, “Well, I want to make movies. I want to write and make movies.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Look at me. Use me as an example. You have got to grab life while you can, David. Do you want to be sixty-five years old, looking back saying, ‘I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that’?”

That was the moment it clicked for me. Catherine was right. When I left her that day, my life took a whole new direction.

Fortunately, I have a very cool wife who is completely supportive, and she was on board with what I felt I needed to do. I quit my job, and we sold our house and moved the family to the hills of Tennessee, where my parents had a cabin, so we could stay rent-free while I wrote.

As with almost anything that’s valuable and worthwhile, there was a lot of risk involved. Everybody thought I was crazy— including me at times. Late at night, I’d lie awake in bed. “Am I really doing this? Am I really going to quit this job, take my wife and two little boys and move to the hills of Tennessee?” But I kept moving forward, no matter how scared I got.

We thought we’d only be at the cabin for six months. Uh, yeah. We ended up living there over two years. Finally I had a screenplay optioned. It was not a lot of money, but that didn’t matter. Somebody thought I could write. Somebody was willing to pay me for my work. It was time to pack up and move to L.A. So once again, we uprooted our family (now with three boys), and moved to Los Angeles.

This was all in 2001, right after 9/11. I had no job and was sitting around wondering what to do. Then, surprise! Megan got pregnant with our fourth boy. Love him to death, but he was not planned. We came to a very dark moment. I said to myself, “It’s a good thing I kept my license current, because I may have to go back to the practice of law. I may have to give up. I may not get to do this.”

So my first year in L.A. was really tough, especially when I was watching my boys go to school and my bank account get smaller and smaller. But I stuck with it. And thank God I did.

At a birthday party, I met a guy named David Kissinger. I was excited just because he was Henry Kissinger’s son, but my sister-in-law who works in the entertainment business said, “No, dummy, he’s the head of NBC Universal Television. You need to give him your scripts.” I didn’t want to be that guy—the one who says, “Hey, I met you at a party. Here, read my script.” But she told me that was how L.A. works, and I had to do it. So I gave him my script. He liked it. He got me a meeting with an agent. The agent signed me. A week later I had my first job. And it’s been a hell of a ride ever since.

Acting on my sister’s advice changed everything for me. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to do something you love. It’s made me incredibly happy. I get to work with actors and really smart writers. I see the world. I’m creating something. And I knew that I was never going to be fulfilled unless I tried to do that. I tell my boys all the time, “You can do anything. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. And don’t tell yourself that. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else is going to. So go for it. Find what makes you happy and do it.”