Beyond the Safe Harbor

At the top of the entertainment business at 40, Dave Hollis (’97) took an “unthinkable” career leap. And he couldn’t be happier

July 12, 2019  | 3 min read

Like many people, Dave Hollis began to dig deeply into the purpose of his life as he entered his forties. “I found myself asking all these big existential questions about why in the world I was on this planet,” he recalls.

Hollis had spent 25 years in the entertainment industry, the last 17 of them at Walt Disney Studios. He started at Disney in the packaged media business and spent his final seven years there as president of distribution of the company’s live action and animated features. During Hollis’ tenure as the person in charge of getting movies into theatres, the company acquired Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel Studios. It was hard to imagine a more exciting career.

So when Hollis decided to leave it behind to run his wife’s business in 2018, the idea was received by most with no small amount of incredulity. As Hollis put it, “People thought that I’d actually lost my mind.”

But Hollis was not dissuaded. “Me not living a full life in order to prevent others from worrying about me is literally crazy,” he says. And oddly enough, although some people were genuinely concerned with how he would provide for his family, Hollis discovered that under the surface of such conversations, most people were actually concerned with how his transition reflected on them. His decision provoked people to look at their own experiences and doubts about their choices, sharing thoughts like “Wow, I’ve never thought about actually tapping into my potential or about focusing on my impact instead of my paycheck.” It made them uncomfortable.

But for Hollis, feeling challenged and purposeful went to the core of his being. As a newcomer to the theatrical side of the business, he’d had a steep learning curve. “I thrived during the first two or three years of the job because of how much I was growing and learning, and how hard I had to work to do the job well.” But as he grew into the role, Hollis said he “didn’t have to study hard to get straight As.”

Dave and Rachel HollisAt the same time, his wife Rachel’s online enterprise, Chic Media, was becoming increasingly successful. Rachel had suffered from anxiety attacks, and to move past them, she’d taken a journey of intensive self-discovery. Along the way, she shared her experiences and advice—most notably in her book Girl, Wash Your Face, which was bumped from the top of the best-seller list by her follow- up title Girl, Stop Apologizing. Hollis decided to join her team because his “season of discontent” collided with her business’ growth and need for additional leadership.

But perhaps more importantly, he saw that she had moved into a more expansive, fulfilled way of being while he was stuck. “I’d have been an idiot to not do that same work myself,” he says.

Now Hollis and Rachel manage the Hollis Company in Austin, Texas, offering a variety of tools to help people make positive changes in their lives. While his wife is the central figure in their personal growth work, together they host live personal development conferences and a daily self-empowerment show online called the Start Today Morning Show. The program provides a platform to bare their souls and an opportunity to inspire people to “get their hearts right and show up for their lives.” With more than 200,000 daily viewers, the show alone is having a significant impact.

Hollis is refreshingly candid about the challenges he faced in his own reinvention. He begins his upcoming personal growth book for men, Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic’s Guide to Growth and Fulfillment, out March 2020, by “debunking lies that I at one time believed,” he reveals. “The first is that self-help is for broken people.” Hollis doesn’t shy from the benefits of therapy and self- exploration, acknowledging that he had to rid himself of old ideas about “what real men do.” His advice to other men is to “not let pride be the reason you drown.”

“As a man who’s proud,” he admits, “I have had to fight the impulse to act like everything was fine, and when I have asked for help, and been willing to accept it, I got help, and I got better.”

Taking a dramatic leap into the unknown has been tremendously rewarding; the feedback about the life changes he and Rachel inspire in others is a constant source of gratification. Best of all, perhaps, is the opportunity to serve as a model for his four children. On Hollis’ arm, a recently acquired tattoo reads “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” It’s a reminder, he says, that “he was built for this,” and to embody for his children the confidence to endure the waves of life. “They don’t need to wait for a midlife crisis to realize their growth lies outside the safe harbor.”