By: Diane Stirling
A two-minute YouTube video-gone-viral may have initiated the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame for Sam Morrison, but there’s much more to the man and his story than that. The backflips that led to the School of Information Studies student’s recognition around the world are simply Sam’s means. He’s also got a mission, a method and a message.
That mission is to live honestly, transparently, and passionately, and along the way, “inspire people to do cool things,” Sam relates. His method of reaching out to others is communicating through the tools of social media. And his message is that everyone should get out of their comfort zone as frequently as possible in life, “Even if only for the four seconds a day it takes to do a backflip.”
Sam’s mantra is consistent with his view of life and his educational course. He came to Syracuse University as a photography major in the School of Visual and Performing Arts. After the first week of classes, the northern New Jersey native switched to undecided for a year, and a year later, joined the School of Information Studies as an Information Management and Technology major. He made the change because he realized that, while he was skilled at photography, he wasn’t passionate about it, he says.
His journey to online notoriety began during holiday break in December 2010, when he and his father joked about a backflip challenge. Sam accepted his father’s dare to do a backflip a day, every day, for a year. An athletic kid, Sam taught himself to do back-jumps during an Outer Banks family vacation when the weather was too cold to swim. Come January 1, 2011, Sam simply began to uphold his end of the bet. Then, he decided to blog about the experience. Soon, a friend suggested that he videotape the somersaults, so he did. When Sam finished 365 days (and 365 backflips) later, he decided to share his efforts, and the message he formulated during that period, through a video montage that he posted online.
To Sam’s surprise, the video drew 700 views the first night. “That was a very interesting feeling because I had people contacting me, calling me, and it was really humbling to know that people could see my message and hopefully be inspired by it,” Sam recalls.
Then, to his amazement, the video went viral. A half-million people around the globe viewed it within the following week. (The total soared to 630,000 over a month’s time.)
Sam took his own advice and embraced the situation, though the crush of media was “fairly overwhelming” the first week, he recalls. Ultimately, he enjoyed the idea that he made people smile, and more so, that he was conversing through Skype and tweeting with people across the globe. “It was cool – the idea that I was talking with someone on the other side of the world who was interested in something I was doing,” he says. Now, Sam’s feats are recorded infinitely on the Internet. “When you Google ‘one backflip a day,’ there are 20 pages of links about me,” he smiles.
Since entering the iSchool, reaching outside his comfort zone has created many new opportunities. Responding to a twitter message about the iSchool road trip to New York City connected Sam with the social media faculty, who had seen his viral video. That led to an offer of an independent study course with a professor regarding viral online content. Those open doors spurred a chance to write for the iSchool’s InfoSpace blog, an invitation to join the school’s social media data research team, and a tryout for the 140Challenge. His local presentation may end up earning him a spot at the keynote social media conference in New York City this June.
None of it would have transpired if Sam hadn’t been open to options, he says. “All it takes is one tweet. It’s the whole idea that ‘The World is Flat’; there are so many ways to communicate. As long as you have a passionate message, people will listen,” he believes. “Using these [social media] platforms, if you have a good enough message, you can reach hundreds of thousands of people.” The right idea, an important message, and proper execution are the keys to career, and ultimately, life success, he advises.
His thinking and views have been inspired by the words of some of social media’s current leaders, such as Jeff Pulver, founder of 140Conf NYC, Sam says. Pulver is scheduled to appear at the iSchool’s 140Challenge on Friday, March 2, at noon in the iCafe.
Next, Sam plans to take his life path characteristically further and farther. He’s planning to travel the world alone this summer, going to Israel, Egypt and Europe, doing backflips in front of major landmarks along the way. His eventual goal is to visit every continent. He’s hoping to apply online for funding for this summer’s trip, and will be recording his journey via a blog and videos of his travels.
The developing entrepreneur believes his philosophy eventually will lead the way to a gratifying career -likely one that he creates for himself, and certainly one on his own terms. “I’m a pretty stubborn guy. I worked two summers at a desk job and I know don’t want to do that kind of thing. Ideally, I’d create my own job. I think I’m a pretty creative person, and if there’s a way, I’ll find out how to make a living doing something that I love and something that I enjoy,” he asserts.