The 5 Best Pep Talks

Being stuck with a day job at a gardening center far from anything remotely literary, I often think my life has taken a wrong turn.  This happens at least once a week, usually just before my weekend begins when I’m exhausted and vulnerable to negative thoughts.

I was out for a walk yesterday reading an article by Sara Benincasa about writers (or any artist, really) needing day jobs to support their craft.  It seemed to do the trick of lifting my spirits at just the right moment.  Benincasa’s tone almost said, “Yes, you hereby have permission to not get yourself down for doing what you have to do to pay the bills.”  And in case you’ve been feeling like you’re taking a similar vacation to Funkytown – the bad part of Funkytown, the part without Cynthia Johnson – here are five successful individuals give you the pep talk you need.  I know their words came along when I really needed them.

Neil Gaiman

I’m a writer, so obviously those of my ilk are getting the first shout-out.  Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech at the University of the Arts was so well-received that it was later published.  Unpretentious and with an almost child-like sense of honesty, Gaiman reflects on advise he ignored from Stephen King when Sandman became a hit: “This is really great.  You should enjoy it.”  But at the time, Gaiman didn’t enjoy it.  He couldn’t when he was so worried about what his next writing job might be.  He must have had all the questions many of us would have.  How am I going to pay my rent?  How am I going to pay for groceries?  What if this is all a one-time thing and I’ve peaked?  I can’t blame Gaiman for this because, as an artist, you’ve got to keep producing new material to stay in business, and I think he might have been worried that he wasn’t as creative and action-packed with ideas as the public might have thought he was.  But the first lesson is this: Enjoy yourself.  Have fun with what you’re doing.  If you’re too focused on the bottom line, you’re not focused on telling a good story.

Max Brooks

This is part two of a great interview Brooks gave at Mansfield University.  The whole thing is about an hour, so if you have some spare time, I highly recommend it, but fast forward to 15 minutes and 20 seconds.  Brooks is asked for writing advice.  He looks straight at the camera and gives the audience a no-bullshit answer: “if you want to be a writer, just write.  Don’t worry about being a great writer.  Don’t worry about being a prolific writer.  Just write.” For Brooks, there’s no substitution for the work.  A lot of writers say the same thing, and a lot of us think that’s a lie, but it’s not.  If you want fame and success and all that, fine, but the success will never come if you never do the work.

Bryan Cranston

Yes, Mr. Say My Name.  But in spite of achieving success with two television series – Malcolm in the Middle and the more critically acclaimed Breaking Bad – Cranston admits his only goal was “to be a good, respected, working actor.”  For Cranston, like Brooks, it’s about the work.  A lot of people say an actor showing humility is just an act.  Maybe, whatever.  I think it’s genuine for Cranston.  Cranston gets it that you’ve got to spend years working boring, mind-numbing day jobs in order to do what you really want to do.  And don’t feel like you’ve got to apologize to anyone else for that.  You don’t.

Henry Rollins

If Gaiman understands the value of fun.  If Brooks understands there’s no substitute for the work.  If Cranston understand working the job you hate to do the job you love, then Henry Rollins understands you have to be focused.  I wasn’t very focused as a kid, and I’ve had to pay for that, but Rollins, having worked that day job managing a Haagen-Daz, knows that talent isn’t enough.  If you don’t have the discipline to work your potential to the max, you’re just wasting that potential.  Yes, you could say that Rollins is a workaholic, but he has to be. I think he’d agree with me when I say that once you’ve hit your lowest point, or when you’ve moved on to better things, you never want to regress.  Success can go away.  I remember talking to a film executive earlier this year after temping for his company.  He’d actually just been hired after a period of unemployment, so he knew the boat I was in quite well.  And I told him that you can’t experience a recession like this and come out of it taking things for granted.  Of all the people on this list, Rollins is the one I turn to when I feel like I need a kick in the ass.

John Paul DeJoria

I can’t write this list without giving props to DeJoria.  The man went from homelessness to founding two very lucrative companies: Paul Mitchell and Patron Tequila.  Not only that, he got out of his predicament without sulking.  I’m sure it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but the way he’s able to present himself with enthusiasm and diligence, even happily admitting that Paul Mitchell should have gone out of business on a weekly basis when it began, all of it leads me to one conclusion: everything gets better.

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