Below is a 27-and-a-half minute presentation that I gave earlier this year at the Photography Videography Summit in Salt Lake City. Although I was speaking to photographers and videographers, the message is equally applicable to any profession or dream career. Below that is even more thoughts on the subject (think of it as extra credit).
As if 27 minutes of yours truly wasn’t enough, here are some additional thoughts on the subject I’ve had since then:
Since I’ve given this presentation, I’ve become aware of an interesting book called Ignore Everybody by the artist Hugh MacLeod. MacLeod seems to concur with the message of my presentation, albeit through different phrasing. I haven’t read the book yet, but I read some in-depth reviews on it. Once I read it, I’ll probably do a review of it on this blog.
What a simple but beautiful idea: Ignore everybody.
That’s really the secret to how Apple became wildly successful. I know it’s cliché nowadays to use Apple as an example—probably because they are the most valued company in the world now (in dollars). The situation was reverse when I switched to Apple in 2006. Back then, most people looked at Mac users as some sort of cultish group who used the “wrong” platform.
People may think that Apple’s ascent to world domination came about because they designed products with their customers in mind. Actually, that is false. As the quote in my presentation reveals, Apple created their products for themselves. They created the computer that they wanted to use.
A fallacy taught in the business world is to focus on giving others what they want. That is a great recipe for mediocrity. Actually, the only way to create truly great things is to do what Apple did—to create for yourself.¹ Of course, feedback can still be help you see things you may have missed, but ultimately it’s your own obsession that will drive the greatness of your creation.
A great story about feedback comes from Jim Jarmusch’s days in film school (which he dropped out of.) Jarmusch is credited with instigating the American independent cinema movement.² While in film school, he wrote a script, which he gave to his professor, Nicholas Ray, the famous Hollywood director who directed Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean. Ray read the script, and criticized it for its lack of action. Jarmusch then went and rewrote the script, purposefully making it even less eventful. After reading Jarmusch’s revision, Ray then praised him for his obstinancy, and for ignoring (actually doing the opposite of) his feedback.³ Ignore everybody. Even your professor.
I believe the way to be successful in life is not to kiss butt and try to do what everybody wants you to do, but the exact opposite: to do what you want to do. Assert your individuality and authenticity and the purpose of your existence. No one else can determine that for you. In a way, being authentic is harder than caving in to what others want. It’s easy to just take orders. Doing what you want requires courage, audacity, and faith in yourself when no one else believes in you.
Of course, you may still have to work a sucky day job for a while until you have built your reputation to where it needs to be in order to cut the umbilical cord. Do so with patience and cheerfulness. But don’t be too patient, or cheerful. Never be satisfied. Never give up on your dreams. Take every chance you get to work on them. Sometimes impatience can be a boon. It can shake you out of inaction.
As I’ve stated on my blog, I’ve decided to write and direct a feature film this year. While I am behind schedule, I have by no means given up. In fact, events in my life have helped me to revisit my script and to follow my own advice to an much greater degree. I’m ignoring everyone, and creating a much different film. As I’m coming up with ideas and writing them down, I’m shocking even myself. The script is becoming more radical, but also more authentic. It delves beneath the glossy surface, much like the film Taxi Driver did. As I contemplate making this film, I’m simultaneously scared and invigorated.
To succeed in life, do what everyone else tells you not to do. Of course, still follow the basic correct moral principles. Don’t kill. Don’t lie. Etc. But correct principles still leave us with a lot more freedom than most people would think. When it comes to figuring out what your personal contribution will be in life, you still have almost infinite options. Radically ignore the advice of others when contemplating those options. There are six billion people on this planet. If you are just going to do the same thing everyone else has done, you may as well not even exist. To justify your existence, you must live a life that is unique from the life of every other person that has ever lived. To do so is really not that hard: follow your heart, and ignore everybody. And above all, do what you love.
1. Paradoxically, you can only create things of worth to other people if you create what you what, not what they want. My theory is that this is because, as Dale Carnegie states in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, we intensely care about ourselves and our own desires. Therefore, one will work much harder to create something that benefits oneself. But because of the universality of human nature (that which is most personal is also most universal), something that truly benefits one can benefit many. If one reverses this by beginning with trying to create something to benefit others instead of oneself, one is at a disadvantage, because we inherently care more about our own desires than those of others.