October 22, 2018

Do the Work

I am fascinated by old comedians rehashing their early days playing dive clubs for pennies, shacking up with seven roommates in a New York studio apartment, or getting their first big break on The Tonight Show.

For someone like me, Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is a dream come true.

The premise is simple. Seinfeld picks up his guest in a rare automobile, drives him or her to a coffee shop, and they talk. My favorite episodes are when Seinfeld chats with a comedian he broke into comedy with back in the late 70s. Their stories are riveting. These millionaire superstars (Jay Leno, David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, Larry David, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock) were all once unknown and dirt poor.

I love listening to them rehash old memories because of where they are now. They did it. They made it. Seinfeld, Leno, Letterman, DeGeneres, David, Stewart, Rock … all remarkable success stories. And the best part? They worked hard for it, putting in long hours, cramming into tiny studio apartments, eating Ramen Noodles every night for years. They failed over and over again, but kept improving. They got heckled and booed off stages, but kept fighting, persevering, and working. And now look at them.

The world is different today. Fame is readily available to anyone with an iPhone. Reality television takes people with zero talent and turns them into celebrities for acting like buffoons in front of the camera. And, honestly, that’s fine. I’m entertained by some of the nonsense I watch on television, so I don’t want to judge anyone for enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame. It simply amplifies my respect for people working hard to hone their craft.

Years ago, while walking through downtown Cincinnati, I stumbled upon a teenager hula hooping. At the time, I tweeted that she's better at hula hooping than LeBron James is at playing basketball, and it wasn't much of an exaggeration. Her skill and artistry mesmerized me. She obviously invested hundreds of hours honing her craft. Cynics might scoff at so much time spent hula hooping, but people who become experts at anything in life deserve our respect. She certainly earned mine.

People love shortcuts. I don’t want to read books, I just want the knowledge hidden inside. I don’t want to work, I just want someone to hand me a million dollars. If you don’t believe me, swing by a casino or visit a convenience store the next time your state’s lottery jackpot reaches nine figures. We want fame and fortune without earning them. But every successful person I know worked for his or her success. No matter how many YouTube stars or Instagram models society produces, shortcuts are rare. The long, narrow road ultimately takes you where you want to be.

In one of my favorite episodes of Mad Men, in the midst of a meltdown while searching for a shortcut to regain his place at the top of the corporate ladder, Don Draper receives some simple advice that rattled my soul. “Do the work, Don.”

Wherever it is you want to be, do the work to get there. Whatever your dream, put in the necessary hours. If you want to be a writer, start writing. Try, fail, try again, fail a dozen more times, but keep working. If you want to be a comedian, find a stage. If you want to make movies, buy a camera and hit the record button. Hone your craft. Be excellent at what you do. It may take decades to achieve your goals, but there’s only one way to make those dreams come true.

Do the work.