Like Ang Lee, for around 6 to 8 years Taylor acted in musicals, sang at festivals, entered competitions, and recorded demos. She was bad at first (sorry Taylor!), but she kept working at it. Every day, she was writing another lyric, or taking another guitar lesson, or auditioning for another play, or switching voice teachers. The reason I knew her was that I went to school with her (she was maybe in third grade when I was in 7th), I acted in plays with her, and I ran sound and make background tracks for her when she was 10 or so. I knew her mom and dad and brother too. I got to see her bildungsroman firsthand.
Then came her "overnight" success. And the press talked about her like she appeared on planet earth overnight. She was a sensation. All at once, you couldn't walk outside your front door without hearing about Taylor Swift. It was surreal, having know the awkward girl from a few years earlier.
But what no one talked about was the years she forewent hanging out with other girls in middle school, watching TV and doing her hair with girlfriends in high school... all of the stuff that normal kids do. Playing sports, going on dates with boys... all of this was sacrificed. For Taylor, and Ang Lee, great sacrifice was made.
Success requires an obsession of sorts. You have to say, "I am going to accomplish this, come hell or high water." Failure is not an option... it's not even a word in the dictionary. There is only success. The buck has to stop with you; there's no room for blaming other people, making excuses, or avoiding harsh realities. Whatever it takes to be successful, whether that's hiring a speech coach, taking more classes at the university, learning etiquette, doing odd projects, finding a tutor, seeing a therapist, waking up at 6am to exercise... there is no limit. And that's just the point -- there is NO limit on what you have to be willing to undertake to achieve the goal.
I've grappled with what I'm going to say for years, but I now acknowledge it as a truism: If you stick with it, you'll be successful. It doesn't matter where you come from, who your parents are, what you know, who you know, or how you look. All that is required is a choice -- a commitment to excellence.
Therefore, there's only one rule in making it to the top: don't quit.
I'm going to present a different picture of the world. I think it's a more accurate one. Not necessarily more useful.
There is no such thing as a guarantee of success -- at least, for a definition of success that includes broad recognition and financial rewards. No choice you can make, no enduring commitment, no talent you develop or have inborn can guarantee that "whatever it takes" will actually be enough in the end.
Determination, focus, talent, and years of effort may make you a success. They will markedly improve your chances, possibly even make them quite good. And shedding them or neglecting to cultivate them will all but guarantee failure.
But they're still no guarantee. And that's why the central message of the article about the intrinsic rewards is so important. Because in the end, the only reward you can keep for sure is the one that you take for yourself in terms of being satisfied with how you spend your time and the work that you've done.
The key thing, he says, about successful people is they quickly and accurately either choose to abandon something very very fast, or to pursue it through the depressing dip to sucess.
It's true there is no guarantee of success. But if you quit early there would be only guarantee failure.
The problem is we never know when "early" is. It could be past our patience, financial means, career window, or lifetime.
I remember Bruce Lee said, "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
There are many great examples, but to take only one consider Larry Page and Sergey Brin who tried and failed to sell PageRank to Yahoo, Altavista etc.
The world does not remember them as two engineers who failed to sell their novel idea to BigCo and make a lot of money, but as the founders of a great company called Google.
You can fail as many times as you like. You only have to win once and the world will remember you for it. Only way to guarantee a defeat is to quit. If you can keep at it, you probably should.
And this isn't just the case in music. I've been privileged to know several very big writers -- people who can sustain large houses and art collections on the strength of what they've written. But for every one "star" I know literally dozens of hard-working writers for whom the career has simply not clicked. The heartbreaking thing, in both writing and music, are watching the ones who almost make it, who pour all of themselves into a project and who, for whatever reason, just don't break through for their audience.
There's a thing called "sunk cost fallacy," where you've put so much of yourself into your chosen vocation that you literally can't imagine quitting. But the sad reality for most of us -- and why inspiring stories like Ang Lee's can be more damaging than helpful -- is that knowing when to quit can put you ahead of the game.
Ah the old "I knew Taylor Swift" card, hear it all the time. I will say the funniest thing about being from Wyo is how everyone in a 50-mile radius of my town/school apparently "knew" and were best friends with Taylor Swift before she left.
But yeah I agree, certainly a lot of sacrifice. Her entire family moved to support her dream and it fortunately paid off. You don't hear about the 1,000s of other families that move to Nashville and fail. So no, sticking with it is not a guarantee for "success", not in the slightest. Depends on how you define success of course.
I get NY and SF, but "Wyo" for anything other than Wyoming?
It's a good lesson to learn that risk isn't a word that means "work really hard for several years and you'll get your pot of gold." Risk means that you could pour your heart and soul into something, be extremely talented, do everything right, and still end up with nothing. To think otherwise is to fall prey to the just world hypothesis.
Just pointing something out that I think is a key difference. Not to take anything away from Taylor Swift as everything you said is 100% true - but I think the stress in Ang Lee's case was probably (significantly?) higher.
If you really, really want something bad enough, sacrifices can be made.
> It got so discouraging that Lee reportedly contemplated learning computer science so he could find a job during this time, but was scolded by his wife when she found out, telling him to keep his focus.
Jane (his wife) was supporting the family during those fruitless script-writing years. She believed in him perhaps even more than he believed in himself.
TV writing is a young person's business, so basically you are up or out. Because there is always someone right out of college who is pretty good and will work for almost nothing. And feature writing is totally unpredictable. Getting your movie made, and made well, is like oil drilling.
If you aren't really good, it's a tough decision to make - to spend 10 years in the industry trying to make it.
And then, if you are really good.... I think producing and writing are reasonably opportunity-rational paths, where you get a ton of swings at the bat. But if you're an actor or a director, you can be really great and still goose-egg your 20s.
I will go along the lines of having a life purpose and work to get it, the person you will become because of this will be the reward, not neccesary the destination.
and even then we just don't hear much about the countless midwestern girls who sacrifice it all to the talent circuit but never amount to anything
you're discounting luck, chance, etc.
one bad decision or just bad luck moment and you're toast. and for female singers - if your genes made you butt ugly, no career for you, no matter how great you sing.
Of course, all she had to put up with was a total nervous breakdown.
Music is not limited to the payola crap pumped on most stations you know
And I'd say it probably gets better with music sharing over the internet, the ones complaining are usually the executive heads.
Yes, thousands upon thousands of people still make amazing music with very little concern for profit (and I'm as grateful as I suspect you are for their passion) but they do it for a pittance based on love of the craft.
That's why you have to love the journey, not just the destination.
The other was a fairly niche data processing startup in a several billion dollar niche. 10 years in and they missed the boat migrating their front end to the browser and moving their back end off of windows.
Couldn't even sell off the source code in the end.
So it wasn't wasted time in that respect, and they'll be bringing in unique and different skills that they probably wouldn't have developed had they been at MS the whole time.
But...there's things like the lower pay they probably had while doing their business, and the intensity of running a failing business is very very hard mentally and physically.
Near the end, one of the guys shut down...hard...now that he's moved on he's recovering. But I think that kind of experience trails along with you for a long while.
But hey, you're 30. There's time for a comeback. There's no age limit on making a comeback, but I don't think it would be an outrageous claim to say that bouncing back at 30 is easier than bouncing back at 50. Of course, as is the case in most things, attitude matters. A lot. You can look at your 5 year struggle as a massive loss, or as an incomparable learning experience, and that could be the deciding factor in how successful your next venture is.
I would love to run a controlled experiment. Unfortunately we can't force people to do anything, so we never really can eliminate people's choices as a confounding variable.
I can give you one data point from my own experience. We committed to creating a company for two years no matter what happened. After a year and a half, there's no question it was the right choice. If I had chosen to do something else like high frequency trading, programming at a large company, or grad school, the likely outcome would not be on the same level as where we're at now. Even our worst case scenario, selling for a talent acquisition, ends up ahead of those other options.
This is just the gamble that success requires. It's easy to say that objectively they may have been better doing something else in retrospect, but perhaps they felt some satisfaction trying. In any event, it's impossible to know whether someone is going to succeed in advance, or remain unsuccessful.
It appears the decision to persevere, like the decision to "give up", cannot be made rationally. I'd love to be shown otherwise though.
But as long as you like it and want to do it, lack of success should be easier to take.
Good for Ang Lee!
He's talked there before about the time he spent preparing to become a screenwriter. His initial plan was to take 10 years to learn the craft.
"Since Ted and I were going to be working and studying screenwriting for ten years, that took some of the pressure off. It doesn't make sense to kick yourself after failing at something for four years, when the path you're on is designed to take ten. This allowed a period of time to undertake an analysis and exploration of the business, the techniques, the craft, the history, etc. Step by step, from style to format to character to concept to theme, etc. In other words, we gave ourselves room to practice."
He's also got a fantastic column on why you should give up at screenwriting.
I think a lot of people here can apply it to startups.
"That's what I'm really trying to do here (and you're smart enough to see it). And I'm not quitting. Oh, no, I'm not even warmed up. This is important, and I'm gonna give it my best shot.
Because what's at stake here is pretty damn big... oh, just, let's say, your life. A wasted life, potentially, or at least wasting the best years of your life. Days, months, years of effort endlessly trying to do something that you'll never be able to do well. And how many sunsets will you miss before you finally give up? How many walks in the moonlight are forever gone? How much laughter with friends are you willing to sacrifice? How many times will the kids not get the attention they deserve because 'Daddy's trying to write something' that nobody wants to read?
Oh. Gee. Did that one get to you a little?
Feel a little twinge in the pit of your stomach?
When I was reading the story and Ang Le said he started taking computer science classes at the local college, I though, "that's great - he finally came to grips with reality ad went from being a daydreamer to being a harsh pragmatist." I was therefore dismayed when he then said he tore up his class schedule and went back to his passion.
A lot of people glamorize his choice with things like "his dedication and commitment paid off" but what if t had not? Would we hear about Ang Le today?
In hindsight his choice was the right one. But hindsight is 20/20. If you really want to maximize your chances of success in life, be flexible and ready to change course often.
How do you quantify this? What is your data? I think it's easy to claim there are "thousands" who faded into obscurity, but is it truly the case?
And for that innumerable set of folks that never made it . . . did they really stick to their passion?
I'm inclined to agree with the top-rated comment on this one:
>If you stick with it, you'll be successful. It doesn't matter where you come from, who your parents are, what you know, who you know, or how you look. All that is required is a choice -- a commitment to excellence.
I've had my 7 years of fat followed by 7 years of lean. There is a very real correlation between attitude/commitment/hard work and success.
I think all those art majors who graduated from college and still work as baristas at Starbucks is sufficient evidence for my claim.
>>I've had my 7 years of fat followed by 7 years of lean. There is a very real correlation between attitude/commitment/hard work and success.
I'm a fitness buff too, and I have to say your analogy doesn't really hold. Success in fitness is very much about dedication, because your result is a direct result of the amount of work you put in. Whereas success in career is affected by a ton of other factors that are outside one's control. Primarily, luck. When there's 200 spots open for a job that 50,000 people are applying to, it doesn't matter how hard each of those 50,000 people work to get it. Only 200 of them will.
At what point would you call it a day? Is there some point you can determine it's worth giving up? I'm curious to know how you'd make such a decision.
It is that his wife and family supported him for all those years (granted, it seems he was providing childcare). And believed in him, to the point of scolding him when he considered switching to a more immediately lucrative career.
We should all be so generous to our partners.
As a former film school graduate myself, I must admit I took the other route and settled for a safe, but rather mindless career in marketing. At 31 I think I still have some fight in me, but alas not everyone is Ang Lee.
He's got talent, that's for sure. I suspect much of the flak should be thrown at the industry rather than at the filmmakers.
"Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019."
This reminds me of the "Story of Longitude" where John Harrison spent decades of his life in search of his prize (the first "X-Prize"?), and everyone is betting against him. How could a self-educated clockmaker beat the best minds of the day? Anyway it's a great story, which I've read a couple of times.
A few years ago when I was thinking up a name for my mobile "hobby start-up company", I took inspiration from Harrison and called my company h4labs (http://h4labs.com). His fourth clock (H4) won the prize. As a software developer, I image myself more as a craftsmen. I'm taking one idea and I'm going to refine it over several years. Hopefully, by my major forth version, I'll have something really worthwhile.
Btw, here's the book: http://www.amazon.com/Longitude-Genius-Greatest-Scientific-P...
My sister won the Miss Hong Kong Pageant a few years back and is one of the top celebrities in Asia. One thing I learned from her was that success is all about determination, focus, and a lot of work; talent is in fact overrated.
For her, there have been ups (winning the pageant she was at the top), and downs (a year after winning the pageant, she was given the standard actress contract and was basically at the bottom), then ups again (she had to work her way up to the 'acting' totem pole).
Success in my view is what you make of it as well. Dave Chappelle talked about it when his dad confronted him about wanting to be an entertainer. His response was if he could make a living comparable to a normal white collar job (I think he used the example of 50K a year), then he felt in his mind that he achieved success. It's probably why he went to Africa! (Unless you believe in the Oprah Conspiracy lol).
DHH and the guys at 37signals have it right in my mind too. There is a huge difference being -10K in debt and having 10K in savings. Another huge difference between 10K in savings and having 250K in savings. However, there really isn't much difference between 1 Million and 10 Million and above (First Class vs. private jet... one Mazeratti vs. 5 Mazeratti's). For the majority of us, success is hitting that 250K mark. At that point, you don't need to worry about rent, food, bills... etc.
Lastly, a piece of advice I learned from Derek Sivers was what do you want? He broke it down to Fame, Fortune, Freedom, excitement, quiet, comfort.. To some all they want is Fame. To others, all they want is the money. His advice was to choose only one and go for it. A nice little byproduct is that you might get the Fortune and end up getting the Freedom as well. But know what you want and set yourself to achieve that goal!
Tragic...we came so close to having Ang Lee be a programmer!
I guess it's a small consolation that he's one of my favorite directors ever.
The picture of the tape and the business card sucked me in.
I was hoping that the author will be sharing in detail the travails of Ang Lee during his early years and how he managed to pull through. Instead the author spins his own story of how Ang Lee stayed the course.
The reality of how Ang Lee felt ( 1984 - 1990 ) and kept himself motivated or if he was even worried about "success" remains a mystery and I am still curious to know more about this wonderful director and his early years...
What I struggle to imagine is the distorted sense of self and entitlement required to have the opposite perspective, which seems to be the author's view - that 6 years is too long to work hard at something and become good at it???
The ones that succeed go home after that crappy job and spend hours writing. The ones that don't, don't.
Edit: Found it. http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html
1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
Blimey me, that's some solid hustle. That too when you have young kid. Seriously inspiring. Time and again it has shown that determination can change fortunes.
EDIT: I got # of kids wrong
I've known a number of people (including myself) who have had film projects with interest from some of the biggest names in town. But what counts isn't interest, or someone thinking it's great, but someone signing some checks. And that can be incredibly elusive.
Even then, the results aren't always satisfying. There are some screenwriters who have sold scripts for some of the largest amount on record who refuse to watch the movies that eventually resulted.
I've read the average time from start to a produced film for a screenwriter is 7 years. And during those 7 years, you don't know if you're going to be a success or if you're just delusional.
Having been around the edges of the business for a good while now, I believe people who say the existence of each and every film is a miracle.
It's a crazy business.
You might make some money along the way if you option a script, but probably not more than a few thousand or so.
Specifically this: http://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/an-open-letter-to...