Here is my weekly email with some insights and ideas pulled from conversations I had on my podcast.
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Be Sincere: How to Live a Life of Awesome
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
No, I didn’t have Michael Jordan on the latest episode of the Success Story Podcast, but I think my guest would love that I started this piece with a quote from the GOAT (LeBron truthers — talk to him, not me).
I recently sat down with Saul Blinkoff to talk about life, career, and happiness. Little did I know I would end up singing songs from The Lion King and getting schooled on my football movie trivia.
The filmmaker, podcaster, and inspirational speaker took me on a journey of his life from the moment he sat down to see E.T. with his mom, to walking into the office of legendary Disney animator Glen Keane for a lesson on how to draw Pocahontas.
Dotted along the way were nuggets of wisdom that only someone with real perspective could impart, and I came out the other side with more clarity on the life I want to lead.
The happiest place on earth
Saul doesn’t take no for an answer. When he was still a teenager, wondering how he would ever become an animator, his mom took him to Disney World and walked him around the park until someone finally explained the hiring process.
After years of trying to make it into the studio, he finally landed an internship that led to a successful career that included the aforementioned Pocahontas, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, and Tarzan, among many other great films.
He’s directed commercials for some of the biggest brands in the world, including ESPN and Mercedes Benz, and now hosts the successful podcast Life of Awesome.
More than anything, what I took away from our conversation was not how to become a success in the film industry, but how to become a success in life — no matter what job you have.
Push through the pain
Saul told me a story from his teenage years when someone at school found out how about his dream of moving to Hollywood and becoming a filmmaker. They were kids in New York, and California was for “weird” people.
His goal of making movies like Steven Spielberg died that day (or at least went dormant for a while) because we often let other people derail our dreams. He didn’t want to be weird.
It’s something all of us deal with. We’re told something is impossible, and we start to believe it. We give up on a project because it’s too hard, or someone makes us feel stupid for trying. Whether you think that is fair or just, doesn’t matter. It happens, and it will keep happening your whole life.
The only way to combat that is to push through the pain. It’s going to suck, and it’s going to be hard, but you have to keep going. The people who make it are the ones who don’t give up when things get tough — they find a way to push through.
“You want it to be difficult,” said Saul, right before he found out that I can’t remember the specifics of Rudy (it came out in 1993, Saul.)
The green room
To get through it, to deflect some of those negative voices, you need to surround yourself with people who believe in you. I’m not talking about your parents or your spouse (although, they matter too). I’m talking about a group of friends, colleagues, or mentors who will tell you that you can do it — even when you don’t believe it yourself.
Who we choose to be close to matters, and shows exactly what we believe about ourselves.
Saul related something that Tim Storey once told him about how to spot which people in Hollywood were going to be okay. “Just look at the green room.” That is, look at the friends that they bring backstage, and the entourage that they travel with, and you can see who already has a support group that believes in them.
The people who are going to be successful are the ones with a green room — a group of friends, family, or colleagues who will tell them they can do it when they don’t believe it themselves.
Something sweeter than happiness
Believe in yourself, push through the pain, and you can achieve anything!
You might have heard all that before, but this is where it is different. Saul had his dream job. He found the love of his life. He was lying on a beach sipping a pina colada with his friends and getting paid handsomely for it. He reached his goal, and found his happiness — and it wasn’t enough.
He discovered that life isn’t about abundance. It’s not about having so much money that you can lie around and do nothing. It’s about one thing that is sweeter than happiness, and more important than all the fame and power you can ever achieve: meaning.
“We make a living by what we get, but a life by what we give,” said Winston Churchill, as told to me by Saul Blinkoff.
It is not about what we achieve, but what we do with what we achieve. Do we help others? Do we make the world a better place? Do we focus on our children and spouse? All of that is more important than any job or title we could ever have.
It’s also known by another name: responsibility. “The ability to respond” as Saul puts it. How we choose to take our situation and use it to make a difference is what will determine whether we live an awesome life or not.
Stop working (just for one day)
To achieve any of this, you’re going to need to get away from the idea that work is the only thing that matters. That was Saul’s problem. He was so focused on his career that he didn’t have time for anything else. It got to the point where he realized he needed to make a change, so he took a break. A sabbatical, if you will.
He got in touch with his Jewish roots and started embracing the idea that for one day a week, he would turn off. He would be unavailable. He would not work. He would spend time with his family, and friends, and do things that he loved.
There has been a change in recent years toward this idea of work-life balance, but it is still very much a struggle for most people. We are constantly bombarded with the message that we need to be working all the time. That is not true. What you need to be doing is finding what works for you.
You don’t have to be religious to practice a day of rest on the weekend. It has only been the last decade or two that work has stretched into the evening for most people. In years past, when you left the office, you were done for the day. You had time for a social life, family, and things that you enjoyed outside of work.
The key is to find what works for you, and then make it happen. It might be hard at first, but it will be worth it.
Windows of time
If you don’t, you’ll quickly realize that time is the most precious commodity anyone has. You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.
If you have a decision between attending a funeral and a wedding, go to the funeral, if only because it will make you contemplate your mortality and what you want to do with the time you have left.
Moments appear fleeting, but usually only because we are focused on getting to the next one. When you pick up your kid from school and have a 20-minute drive home, don’t focus on the emails you have to send later that night.
Be present in the moment. Listen to them tell you about their day. It will be over before you know it, and you’ll be glad you took the time to connect with them.
The same goes for your partner, or your friends. When you’re with them, be with them. Be present in the conversation and truly listen to what they are saying. If we can learn to focus on the people and things that matter most to us, we can start to make the most of the time we have.
Shorten your list
One of the things I always ask my guests at the end of our interview is what success means to them. For Saul, it was constantly becoming a better person. He explained that everyone has a list of things they aren’t good at. The goal, every day, should be to shorten that list.
“Success is only one thing. It is ‘am I becoming a better person?’ It doesn’t matter how many zeros are on your bank account if you don’t have sensitivity to a person you walk by on the street. The clarity that I have for my life is that I try to work on myself to become a better human being — that’s it.
Each one of us should make a list of our negative character attributes. We all have them, nobody is perfect, and that is what it means to be alive. You know what life is about? Only one thing. Take that list and make it smaller.”
I’ve met a lot of people in my life that are motivational speakers. Success Story is full of them. But there aren’t many who would throw away all the money and prestige they’ve earned for a chance to make a bigger difference in the world, in their children’s lives, or to the people close to them.
For Saul, I believe it.
We talked about so much more than what I’ve touched on here, you have to listen to the entire interview. Head over to the Success Story YouTube page to check it out, or just to hear Saul’s pitch-perfect impression of Mufasa.
I’ll be back next week with another amazing guest!
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Thank you for reading,