As an actor, author and motivational speaker, M.J. Dougherty has spent a considerable part of his life entertaining and enlightening others. Now, with the release of his book Life Lessons from a Total Failure, he’s looking to remind us all that, even when times get tough, there is light at the end of the tunnel and that, more often than not, the bad times in our lives can lead us to some of the greatest.
With the book out later this month and M.J. ready to head out on a promotional tour, he kindly took time out of his busy schedule to chat self-help, life-lessons and plans for the future.
PW: Please introduce yourself.
M.J Dougherty: Well hello! My official name is Mark Joseph Dougherty, but I have been called M.J. all my life, so M.J. is my name! I am from a little town called Clarks Summit, just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. I come from a close-knit Irish Catholic family and have been an entertainer since I could walk. Since leaving my parents’ house at 18 years old, I have lived in many states as well as numerous countries in the world, and had many different careers. After a series of catastrophic failures, I moved to sunny Southern California where I started acting and became happier than I ever thought I could be. I currently live in West Hollywood with my spouse and my dog, and enjoy every day of my life in California.
PW: You're an actor, author and motivational speaker, so with that in mind, which actors, speakers and writers influenced you starting out and have those influences changed?
M.J: I discuss influences in my book a lot. I have some very solid influencers in my life that have helped me grow and keep me on track, but I think you will really need to read the book to find out who they are. One of the major ones is someone that surprises most people. Don’t want to give away the good stuff!
PW: Is there one career path you favor over the others or are you happy to maintain a healthy balance between the three?
M.J: I really love everything that I do. Writing has turned out to be such a powerful tool for me to express the guy I was, am, and want to be. The only downfall is that it is something I need to do alone and in quiet, which is hard for me. I love people and being involved in the world, so when I get to be on set or up in front of a crowd, that really fulfils me. I think for me to really be content, I will have to have a balance of all 3- (plus singing-I can’t live life without singing - because if I lost one of those outlets, I fear I wouldn’t be complete.
PW: Of the many roles you've had, including parts in Rizzoli & Isles, Grey's Anatomy, Glee, House, M.D., and Dexter, could you pick a favorite and if so, which is it and why?
M.J: Well every time I am on a set I am very excited and happy to be there, but my experience on Dexter was really amazing because it was my first time doing anything like that. To be on a set for the first time ever and get the opportunity to talk with the director, crew, and principal actor was such a rush. It also showed me how real life in Hollywood is. These people are all just doing their jobs and aren’t any different than you or me. I left understanding that it is a job just like any other and if I wanted to do it, it would take hard work and dedication. It was a great experience that I look back on very fondly.
PW: What would your dream role be and who would you most like to star in a series with?
M.J: Well, I would love to star in my own sitcom. A cross between a Friends and Modern Family type show. Something that could really resonate with people, that is funny, but also relevant to the world today. I have some ideas of my own that I am working on…it’s never a bad idea to create your own content in this town!
As for who I would like to star with? That is a tough one because there are so many actors I admire and just love. I would have to say that, if I had the chance, I would want to have a TV veteran by my side: Courteney Cox, Ray Romano, Ed Asner, Carol Burnett, Marlo Thomas, Betty White, Roseanne, John Goodman, etc. These people know what they are doing and I would love to learn from the legends.
PW: Tell me about your new book Life Lessons from a Total Failure. Was there any particular moment in your life that led you to write it?
M.J: My book, Life Lessons from a Total Failure, which is available for pre-order now on Amazon.com by the way, is a self-help memoir that tells of my humongous failures and how they actually ended up being the best things that ever happened to me. I decided to write this book after realizing that my failures connected me with people more than they divided. After hiding issues for so long, I started to open up and tell people about my past and my issues. As I started to share, they started doing the same. I realized that so many people just needed to hear that others were in the same boat and that they weren’t alone. I hated to think that people felt the shame and pain like I did. So, with the idea of wanting to help people understand their failures and hopefully ease their pain, I decided to write my book.
PW: Who, to your mind, is the greatest motivational speaker of all time and why?
M.J: I guess I should say Jesus or Martin Luther King or something, but instead, I am going to have to go with Oprah Winfrey. She is legendary. Oprah has established such credibility with her audience that she really can get people to think and act just by planting some seeds. I can’t think of one other person alive today that has so many people who trust them unwaveringly like Oprah does. Trust is the foundation for motivation. So with that trust that she has built, she can inspire people to amazing things.
PW: You're a pop culture expert and have used your knowledge of such as the foundation for the book. How have you managed that?
M.J: Pop culture is something that can connect most of us quite easily. It is a great way to start a conversation or to find common ground. Since I am a guy who spent so much time lost in pop-culture land, I understand the power this knowledge can have when trying to interact with the world. By weaving bits of pop-culture into my story, I thought it would be a great way to take a serious topic that could potentially alienate people or make them feel uncomfortable, and soften it through commonality and something people could relate to.
PW: If you wanted readers to take one thing from your book, what would it be and why?
M.J: I hope people understand that not only is it OK, but it is essential to be a bit selfish in life. For us to be the best we can be for those we love and the world around us, we have to learn to take care of ourselves, love ourselves, and forgive ourselves. Life is a gift and it is so important that we appreciate that gift and treat it well.
PW: Some people judge the whole 'life-lessons'/self help idea rather negatively. What do you say to that?
M.J: I would say that those people are the ones who probably need to explore this genre more than anyone else! If something works for someone or helps someone feel good, why judge? It says more about the person who is judging than the one who is being judged.
PW: Would you agree that there needs to be more positivity and encouragement in the world?
M.J: Yes, absolutely, 100%! The reason why is quite simple… nothing bad comes from it. No one’s life has ever been ruined because they were positive and encouraged. It makes you and those around you feel better about life too. So why not?
PW: Will you be doing any book tours to promote your book?
M.J: Yes! One of the main reasons I wanted to write this book is so that I can go around and talk to people about my experiences, but more importantly hear about and help them with theirs. I hope that over the next year or more, I will be busy going from town to town sharing my story and learning from others…while still balancing my acting, singing, and writing too, of course!
PW: How has social media impacted your career and connected you to your audience? Do you think you'd have the following you do without it?
M.J: In all honesty, I am a talker so I meet a lot of people and have a fairly large number of friends/connections on social media. The minute I stepped onto my first red carpet, however, and posted pictures from that, I started gaining more and more followers…particularly on Instagram. People are interested in what I am doing and where my adventures are taking me and, more importantly, they can see that what I talk about in my book, I am living in life. That is a really great thing.
PW: Finally then, are there any plans in the pipeline you can tell me about?
M.J: This book has opened up doors for me I didn’t even know existed. I am meeting amazingly talented people and getting to go to meetings with people that can really make things happen. My hope is that I will be doing a lot of motivational talks for years to come while still working on set….and I feel very confident that will be my reality. There is a lot of talk, but I take it with a grain of salt. If it is meant to happen, it will, and more importantly, I will be ready for it!