Today I interview my husband, Earl Downing, and we’ll explore the theme of finding your voice and expressing your Essence. Earl recounts his experiences with sports and how they gave him a safe and therapeutic outlet to be loud and expressive. He also shares his high school leadership journey, where he ran for student body president and delivered a rehearsed, effective speech that propelled him into grown-up life.
I will highlight Earl’s leadership skills and gifts, as we both reflect on our past as high school acquaintances. Earl has over 50 years of experience in track and field, beginning as a successful competitor in the sprints as a collegian at Yale at the NCAA D1 National level. Then, as a coach at the high school level, he was instrumental in 2 high school teams going from last place to league championships in the highly competitive California high school track environment, and while producing a State Champion in the Men’s 400M (at 46.97).
Earl currently supports a range of athletes with a variety of goals and encourages them to find their voice in all that they do.
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Transcript of Interview
Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode # 100 Earl Downing
“From Sports to Speeches: Discovering Your Authenticity and Leadership”
(00:15) Doreen Downing
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing. I’m the host of the Find Your Voice change your life podcast. I have a wonderful surprise for everyone. Today’s my 100th episode, and I invite my husband Earl Downing to join us. So we have a good show planned and we are excited about you listening to not only how Earl found his voice but what that has meant for me, your host here today. Hi, Earl.
(00:52) Earl Downing
Hello, Dr. Downing Good to be with you.
(00:55) Doreen Downing
You sent me a bio like most guests do, and I want to talk about you first so that people get introduced to you before we have our conversation.
(01:09) Earl Downing
(01:11) Doreen Downing
You grew up in a family of eight, surrounded by siblings and led by a big athletic mother who loved to play games with her kids. And you transitioned into the rec director for the family. And you’ve been that ever since in an ever-broadening family. Along the way, you picked up a degree in English from Yale and worked a variety of occupations – cab driver, writer, blackjack player, sailboat delivery – before settling into a technical sales career. But all throughout, you maintained a love for recreation and sports, which led you into your current incarnation as a track and field coach.
(02:02) Earl Downing
Well, the variety of occupations, things that I actually did through my 20s, and into my 30s, was a lot more diverse and involved than that. But through it all, I maintained a kind of commitment to fitness and trained athletically at a pretty high level all the way through. And that has presented me into this sort of later part of life in very, very good physical condition for going forward. You know, I’m a, I’m a 74-year-old with a 20-year plan, and I intend to live out all of those years productively.
(02:51) Doreen Downing
I can say, for folks who are only listening and can’t see you, that you are tremendously fit as a 70-year-old man and, it is fun to be here on the call with you. So I might as well say people get to hear about our relationship and how much we’ve loved each other from the very start. And with my guests, I always ask them to go back and it’s about voice but before I do that, as I said at the very start, we knew each other in grammar school, we were 10 or 11 years old and on into high school, we knew each other then and it’s something to talk about – our story – which would be for a whole other podcast because today is about you, Earl. And you feel like there must have been some kind of struggle to find your true voice early on. So are there any snapshots of your early life and how that might have related to having a voice or not having a voice?
(04:09) Earl Downing
Well, snapshots, certainly, it was kind of the dawn of awareness. Looking back to that point, I was essentially a non-speaking, little baby child, and then just how I was kind of like a lapel camera going through life. Crawling and then toddling and rising up into being a child really not saying much of anything, particularly around my father. And what I found out later, is that this kind of conditioning that created me as this essentially, mute child, goes back to my father. I was a colicky baby and cried a lot, I had stomach pain, and I was allergic to milk. And that was pretty much all I was eating. So I made a lot of noise. And my father was a wonderful guy, but he was very easily frustrated. And I later found out that he would shake me into silence. And he said, “I never hit you, but I sure shut the hell out of you.” And so when I would speak from my essence, which was an essence of pain and discomfort, that was kind of shaken into silence. I came forth into the world of sound and speech with that kind of wall between me and letting out what was inside.
(06:07) Doreen Downing
Thank you for pointing to that moment of life and how that might have affected you early on. I just had an insight about you picking in later years English as your major. And that’s all about how much you love to write. So that your voice must have been coming out in your writing.
(06:35) Earl Downing
Well, yeah, I hadn’t I hadn’t put that together. But you’re known for doing that in a pretty in-depth way. So I’ll agree with you on that. Yeah, that’s revelatory.
(06:49) Doreen Downing
And that there are all sorts of ways our voice comes through, especially if it’s hampered in one area. And let’s say like speech, but maybe in writing, it comes out or music is another way that I’ve heard people find their voice singing even when they don’t feel comfortable on stage having a conversation with the audience. But as soon as they start playing those notes, it’s just that they’re in their zone. So that was fun to put that together. Well, so let’s move on in your life and through school. Let’s say high school and college years – about becoming more who you are, who you thought you were.
(07:46) Earl Downing
Well, when I kind of began to speak up was kind of sports-related, which in my family, was kind of preordained. That was going to be something that I did and was going to be a major part of my life. And sports are loud. Sports are life in the loud lane. In certain sports, it’s okay to hit things. In certain sports, it’s okay to hit people. And in all sports, it’s okay to be loud. You can’t be loud in golf when somebody’s trying to sink that four-foot putt, but it’s okay to shout and cheer and jeer and shout encouragement. To just kind of overflow with the joy that you have inside or the anxiety that you have inside to lift that out in a big way. So that was very therapeutic for me. And I really took to that, in the sports that I played, I was very loud. And it kind of freed my voice and I was really speaking and shouting and cheering from the essence. It was the joy that I felt was genuine and out it came. So that kind of broke me open and got my essence in touch with the rest of the world, really more than anything.
(09:39) Doreen Downing
Oh my goodness, that feels like the pent-up little baby cry screams finally got released and you had a safe place to do that. That’s a wonderful connection to make. Well, we knew each other in high school, and one of the places that you stood out was leadership by being class president and being somebody who felt like he was on his way to being in government or something. It seemed like you were one of the smartest kids in school, and there was a lot of respect for you. You were on the football team and so there were a lot of ways in which you did find your voice, I feel, that you did express the essence of who you are in sports, as you said, but also, as a leader, Earl. I feel like that was one of your gifts early on and still is.
(10:41) Earl Downing
Well, I’ll agree with you on that. Yeah, high school is such a wild ride. You come in as such a child and you leave as an aspiring adult and certainly feel that you’re very adult. I did kind of have a coming out at the end of my junior year. I ran for the next year’s student body president. My high school had a very strong swim team, with returning Olympic gold medalists, and it was a very esteemed segment of our student population. And one of those swimmers was my opponent who was very well connected, very popular, and had a big organization behind him to kind of propel him into this student body presidency. I was kind of on my own, with no organization, no signs, and nothing coming up to the student assembly of 2000 students where speeches were going to be made by the candidates. I kind of realized going into it that this was my shot at having the audience all at once and being able to deliver. And that’s exactly what happened. It was not really the most powerful, most effective, most realistic way of opening up at the moment and sharing the essence that I connect with in other people. This was a planned and rehearsed performance that was just great. And it took me to an unbeatable lead in the election. And the whole process felt so wonderful to me, to prepare, and to feel prepared, and to get up and to deliver. And, then to reap the benefits of being able to communicate so effectively. So that was kind of a real springboard up and out and forward into, grown-up life and feeling that I could deliver at the moment in front of large, large groups effectively.
(13:26) Doreen Downing
Wonderful. Do you remember any phrases?
(13:30) Earl Downing
You know, I don’t. I remember talking about getting more trash cans because litter was a problem at our school. I guaranteed that the football team was going to be very, very successful. And that makes for a good community environment and we did that. I can’t really recall anything specific. I recall the feeling of being kind of on a wave, being kind of surfing forward, and just going through the process and the emotions and realizing at the time that I was actually pulling it off.
(14:19) Doreen Downing
Yeah – strength, inner strength. I remember my campaign. “Don’t be mean vote for Doreen.”
(14:30) Earl Downing
And I did vote for Doreen.
(14:33) Doreen Downing
Yes. Well, it feels like we might as well just say one other little personal data point in our high school was that we double-dated. We weren’t sweethearts then we had friends. My best friend was your girlfriend and my boyfriend was your best friend. So that’s how we got to know each other and had a lot of fun early on in life and I think that that was really something good to be foundational for our relationship later on. You went off to Yale and I went off to UC Berkeley and our lives were separate for many, many years until a 20-year reunion when I went, “Wow, this person has really matured.”
(15:26) Earl Downing
Which I needed to, and we both realized that. I may have kind of secretly aspired to a relationship with you in high school but I realized that I really was not quite in your league. And I had a lot of growing to do, a lot of things to work out before I was going to be acceptable to you, and I realized that.
(15:52) Doreen Downing
Life kept us apart and it wasn’t until several or many more years that we got together much later in life. And I don’t know how much to go into here and what this means. But I was not married, and you were in a different city and you were married. And we didn’t start our relationship until much, much later. And I would say that’s partly why I held off myself from marriage was because I was well protected and defended, and I didn’t need anybody, and nobody is going to get close to me, especially a guy. So it took you a while to say “KNOCK KNOCK Hello, Doreen.” And so that was the beginning of our relationship later in life. I think that this whole finding your voice idea is about not only finding your voice, but listening to people and what their essence is saying, and I feel like your essence has been saying to me, “I love you Doreen” and letting the walls around my heart melt. So the power of finding your voice is one thing, but the other is the power of letting positive voices and letting love in is also part of why I think it is so important, in the work that I do. So thank you, Earl, for coming into my life. We have just a limited time today and I think people have gotten a sense of you and how you found your voice. I think that you mentioned being in technical sales for a while. And of course, you are who you are as a motivator and as somebody who helps people make good decisions, but it feels like later on you actually lined yourself up with voice. And that has to do with who you are, in your essence in your heart, in your gut, who you’ve always meant to be – which is a track coach and working with athletes.
(18:26) Earl Downing
Well, to go back and just visit the technical sales. That was certainly a quality communication-based existence. Which I was I was very, very good at. And I really truly cared about the business and the owners of the business as I was presenting my product and services to them. I was really, really good at communicating because it was honest and real, and they felt it and wanted to do business with me. At the same time, it was a very cutthroat environment. There would be people in meetings that were just lying in the weeds ready to jump out and get you because they had a different agenda and they had a different company that they wanted this company to do business with. So in opening myself up and opening my essence up, it was really kind of exposing vulnerabilities that could be jumped on. So it was a real minefield type of communication existence that I was very good at. But it was not the purity and cleanliness and just wonderful loving connections that I have now in working with my current clientele which is 13 to 18-year-old boys and girls who become young men and women.
(21:52) Earl Downing
To really trust and believe in your own essence and the purity of what you have inside, and to not have any fear or trepidation of bringing that out real-time in every situation is a real key. And the success that I’ve had working with these kids and the feedback from the kids, and their parents has been just uniformly superb. “How do you get them to do this? She’s never run a 400 in her life and now she wants to put a headlight on so she can do it at night.” And just getting the kids connected with how good they can be and making that real for them. And then knowing the mechanical steps, the sequence, and intensities of activities that will actually get them from where they are, to where they aspire to be. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful environment in life to inhabit. I would say that one of the real keys to success in communicating with these kids is to really connect with their essence and to be open and nonjudgmental. And you can feel when the kids settle in and accept the fact that they are accepted, and they’re not being judged. And then the truly deep, meaningful, actionable communication begins to flow. And once it’s flowing it really doesn’t stop. And it’s just a wonderful existence to be here at kind of the beginning of the second half of life.
(24:32) Doreen Downing
I like the way you said that they start out as these young little, like saplings but then they are at the end of their high school career and they’re aspiring adults. I also realized that because our listeners are people who talk about or are struggling with voice, what you’re talking about with these athletes is a performance! They actually have to get out on a stage called a track and perform. And that a lot of what we’re talking about today, and what you just said to our listeners is what it might take for them to feel the courage and the passion, and it sounds like the necessity of finding somebody who can see that in you. The strength inside of you that already exists, the beauty that exists, the magnificence! I feel that you do that in your coaching. And I do that in my work with people too. So seeing what’s best and what’s possible and holding that belief for people.
(25:54) Earl Downing
(26:00) Doreen Downing
So we’re coming to the end. It seems like there are many directions I could go in, but I want to see if there’s anything you feel that is coming up that you want to say to listeners today.
(26:21) Earl Downing
I would say, get to your passion in life as soon as you possibly can. And that is also to say that the later in life that you get to your passion, the more passionate it will be. So, if you’re not there yet, don’t waste a lot of time and energy lamenting the fact that you’re still in some kind of prison cell. Because what’s coming when you walk out into the sunlight and the later that happens, the more intense and the brighter that sunlight will be. So get there, but if you’re not there don’t sweat it. It’s coming.
(27:15) Doreen Downing
Wow. The continuation of being able to live my life next to you and be inspired every single day. Thank you. Thank you, Earl.
(27:27) Earl Downing
You bet. Great to be here. I love your podcasts you’re like Terry Gross on steroids. In a good way. Thanks for being you.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.