Wednesday, January 01, 2014
THE 3 LAWS OF THE HUSTLE (aka It's 2014 - Now Get to Work!!!)
Many creators I know had a remarkably shitty 2013. The combination of a sluggish economic recovery, the globalization of entertainment options and an increasingly fickle marketplace of ADHD millennials has made it tough for the independent creator to gain a foothold on the marketplace.
That said, there's also been an incredible amount of self-pity that leads directly into self-delusion. The introspective nature of the artistic process easily becomes a blueprint for the steady development of a self-fulfilling prophecy of stagnation and failure. Once you lose the momentum, it becomes very difficult to keep pushing forward and this destroys many careers before they get started.
Far too many talented people lack the one crucial element to get them over the top: HUSTLE.
What is "hustle?" There are probably 150,000 rap tracks and twice as many self-help gurus all with flashy definitions of that word, but for me it's always come down to three fundamental ideas:
1) The Law of N-GAS (Nobody Gives A Shit).
2) The Law of Letting Go.
3) The Law of Forced Discomfort.
THE LAW OF N-GAS
It took me most of my 39 years to fundamentally grasp this concept. When you're a kid in a somewhat normal family situation, you can't understand this because everyone around you is dedicated to keeping you fed, clothed, housed, bathed and educated. When you hit college, less people care, but there's still a vast support network of professors, staff and counselors/therapists available to you when you have some tough times.
However, this is assuming that you had access to college and from what I've seen, a lot of creative folks bypassed the college scene and began studying their craft. I've also run into a lot of creators who have strained and/or dysfunctional relationships with their families so many have been forced out into the world prematurely and developed specialized survival skills instead of career-boosting techniques (and this is where socio-economic class privilege kicks in).
In any case, you have talent, you have a plan, you have ambition and you enact your scheme for global domination as a writer, dancer, illustrator, singer, actor, etc. You rush out into the world with open arms only to be greeted with glassy-eyed indifference; a collective shrug from those you consider to be unsophisticated and undeserving of your brilliance.
From this point on, creators take the first step on the well-worn trail of pity, regret and a yearning for attention from their respective industries and a non-existent fan base.
The basic idea of the Law of N-GAS is very simple: Nobody Gives A Shit about you.
Nobody cares about your last break up.
Nobody cares about your shitty living situation.
Nobody cares if you had an abortion.
Nobody cares if you can't make the rent.
Nobody cares if you're homeless.
Nobody cares if you've been single for 15 years.
Nobody cares if your parents kicked you out while you were in 10th grade.
Nobody cares if you're broke.
Nobody cares if you have an eating disorder.
Nobody cares if you have a horrible job.
Nobody cares how many degrees you have.
Nobody cares if you're a single parent.
Nobody cares if you have a tragic disease.
I could go on forever but you get the point. Nobody Gives A Shit about you unless you can make them FEEL something.
You ever wonder why complete fucktards like Snooki, J-Wow, Honey Boo Boo, the Kardashians, the Duck Dynasty assholes and every other cheap, manufactured "reality" TV personality manages to grab the attention of millions of people worldwide?
Because they elicit an emotional response.
Somehow, they've gotten in front of a camera (or created a situation where someone would WANT to put them in front of a camera) and dazzled the zeitgeist with wild, sexy, ridiculous and simple-minded stories about excess. And guess what, it works.
The entertainment industry is in the throes of a movement known as the POST-CONTENT ERA which means that studios are no longer looking to "develop" an unknown talent from scratch, they only wish to capitalize on those who have already have "pre-awareness" aka an established fan base to bring to the table. If you don't have something to show (and preferably something already known by thousands of people) the chances of you breaking in are significantly diminished.
Sure, there will always be that "lucky" person whose lighting-in-a-bottle script, song, monologue, etc., gets them a deal, but it is far more likely and common for those creators who bring their rabid fans to the dance to get the attention they want and deserve.
You cannot sit still and wait for the world to show up at your door.
It won't happen.
Nobody Gives A Shit.
THE LAW OF LETTING GO
So many artistic people find themselves in horrible personal situations usually caused by family, lovers, best friends or colleagues. They are enablers to emotional addiction. They are usually hosts to financial or spiritual parasites unwilling to inspire or break away from their meal ticket. I've known way too many creative people who cannot move forward in their lives because they believe they "owe" someone else their undying loyalty or obedience.
Usually, these are dangerous and corrosive co-dependent relationships and it is a tough thing to remove someone from their symbiotic trap without them making a consistent, conscious effort to do so.
Here's the thing: the people that sponge off of your generosity, time, energy and kind nature will be FINE if you cut them off. No one is saying you need to shut them completely out of your life, but if your goal is to be a screenwriter and you work three jobs to help maintain a household while your siblings hang out all day, and your parents give you a hard time about nonsense and you can't find a moment to clear your thoughts in order to compose a story... well, you know where I'm going with this.
I've had to cut off a lot of people. It wasn't easy. I won't sit here and pretend it was. I lost a bunch of friends over the last 5 years. The thing that struck me hardest was the fact that the more successful I became, the more resentful and distant these friends behaved toward me. Suddenly, I was getting attitude from guys I'd known for over a decade. Folks who I'd turn to when things got dark for me would respond with nasty and negative comments. Dudes who I'd helped when they were down and out turned into raging bastards over the smallest perceived slight. People who'd say "I always knew you were going to make it" but never once purchased any of my graphic novels nor spread the word when incredibly cool things happened in my career.
After much soul-searching and long nights of whisky-induced angst I came to a realization: there are folks out there who are only comfortable with you when you're on "their level." The moment you start to follow the path to your goals and ambitions is the moment they start secretly resenting you and cheering for you to fail. It doesn't happen overnight, but the seeds are planted whenever you make a life-altering decision that removes the parasites from being the center of your existence.
GET AWAY from these black holes of negativity. Just because you have a lifetime of shared experiences thus far doesn't mean that they are meant to be with you on the next phase of your journey.
Let go of anger about ex-lovers.
Let go of disappointment about your family (we've all been programmed to believe our lives are supposed to be like the Brady Bunch or the Huxtables - not gonna happen, grow up and move on).
Let go of your expectations for immediate success.
Let go of being superficial.
Let go of being exploited.
Let go of friends who bring nothing to your life except drama.
Let go of friends who don't encourage you to be the best person you can be.
Let go of those who are comfortable with you being miserable.
Let of of those who have no goals or ambitions of their own.
Let go of your excuses. All of them.
Let go of feeling sorry for yourself.
Let go of expecting the worst.
Let go of those who won't make time for you.
Let go of confusing a few positive experiences with a legitimate friendship.
Let go of sitting around waiting for something cool to happen while the rest of the world continues to ignore you.
Which leads to the final law...
THE LAW OF FORCED DISCOMFORT
This means change. Forcing a change in your habits. Forcing a change in geography. Forcing a change in your self-perception. The reason a lot of people don't make it has nothing to do with their talent, it has a lot to do with their inability to take big risks in service of their dreams.
I've spoken often about how I left a great life behind in NYC to go to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams of being a screenwriter. CLICK HERE if you want to read that story.
I also dedicated an entire podcast episode to my decision many years ago.
It would have been highly unlikely, if not impossible, for me to have achieved what I have so far if I hadn't left my comfort zone in NYC. The film and TV industry is not on the East Coast, it is in Southern California and as much as it tore my soul in half to abandon the culture and people I love, it was a necessary evil to accomplish a monumental good in my career and personal life.
If you want to make it in the entertainment biz, you've got to find a way to stand out. Regardless of what some will tell you, the reality is that you need to move to Los Angeles if you want to be a screenwriter, film or TV actor, filmmaker or do conceptual artwork for production companies. In fact, there's so many jobs for illustrators in LA as storyboard artists and so on that I wonder why so many are afraid to make the move.
Will moving to LA suck ass? FUCK YEA.
It will mean couch-surfing.
It will mean working really, really, really shitty retail gigs.
It will mean having asshole roommates who might lie or steal from you.
It will mean needing a car to get around.
It will mean having to deal with spoiled, insensitive, superficial jackasses.
It will mean spending a few years relegated to the very bottom of the social order.
This isn't just a Los Angeles thing, if you move to NYC and want to become an actor or a novelist or a musician or a dancer, you will likely go through the same crap except the subway in New York goes just about anywhere you need to be.
I get that it's not easy to give up the things that make our lives comfortable. When I first moved to LA I had to give up video games, fast food, living alone, cable television, clean bathrooms and a sense of security. I got up each day not knowing if I was going to make it or not.
Guess what happened? I wrote more in the first three months of living hard in LA than I had written in the previous SIX YEARS.
A good, swift kick in the ass removes our complacency and forces us to become something new. It forces us to evolve.
There are things we don't like about the world we live in. There are things we would like to see happen. I've learned the only way to change it is to DO IT ourselves. For example: I've long been pissed off at the treatment of African-American writers in the comic book and sci-fi world. Instead of complaining about it, I decided to get off my ass and make a documentary that showcased all the Black writers who've been ignored by the mainstream as well as fandom. I cherry picked the best creators I could find and interviewed them about their ideas and experiences.
Well, here's the result:
The documentary should be in the can by April 2014. I made that with a budget of under $1,000. Key words: I. Made. That.
The easy thing to do is sit around and complain. Anyone and everyone does that.
To get up and do it? Well, that's why a minuscule sliver of the population gets from Point A to Point B.
One of my favorite quotes is: "Adversity introduces a man to himself."
That shit is real.
There's no secret to achieving your dreams. It's hard work. Hard work. Hard work. Hard work. Hard work.
And then there's not being afraid to change your surroundings. Not being afraid of cutting off dead weight. Not being afraid to go out into the world regardless of the odds.
That's it. No tricks. No cons. No magic potion.
That's all there is.