I started this project last fall with audacity and hope: audacity that I had something worthwhile to say, and hope that someone out there, or some group of someones, wanted to hear. I had hope of finding an audience. At one count, I had twelve. That’s a good number. One teacher and his twelve students influenced two thousand years of human history. Thirteen humble colonies gave rise to the American century. Okay, maybe those comparisons are sheer arrogance. No, not maybe, they are definitely sheer arrogance.
Here I am six months later; no, actually barely more than four months later … scared. I’m scared that I don’t have anything to say. ((Yeah, right. We’ll come back to that.)) Maybe I can’t reach enough people, because I don’t have a microphone the size of Senate Leader Harry Reid’s, or Al Franken’s, or even Al Sharpton’s. Maybe, no one wants to hear. Or maybe, I’m not saying it right. Maybe I’m not witty enough, or authentic enough. Or maybe a thousand other things.
Everyone starts out from square one. Even Eddie Murphy was once an unknown high school student in New York City, more interested in making his classmates laugh than anything else. Even Sean Hannity once worked construction jobs to pay his bills while he was starting out in radio. And even famous stars like Bono and Eddie Van Halen were once unknown musicians. We all start out from nothing, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the Amazon.com guy: literally in our garages, or at our dining room tables with nothing but an idea and few friends who believe in us.
You have a vision for your life. And I have a vision for mine. None of us knows quite how we’ll get there. But we all know we have to take that first step. And then the second, third and fourth steps. You have to tell that first joke, write the first story or essay or sentence, build the first gadget. And the twenty-first and the hundred-and-first. Even William Gibson, the father of the cyberpunk movement in science fiction, started off with an old, second-hand, manual type writer and a dream of one day making a living as a writer. He wrote one sentence that first day, and it took him years to sell a story. But Gibson’s novel ‘Neuromancer’ won the Hugo and Nebula awards and inspired the makers of ‘Blade Runner.’ Arguably his ‘Sprawl’ series helped pave the way for ‘The Matrix’ trilogy. Even Christopher Nolan started out making movies on an 8 mm camera with his friends. And the greatest cartoonist in history – Walt Disney – failed art in high school because he drew and painted the world as he saw it, not as his art teacher’s books and curriculum said it was.
None of them gave up: Not Murphy, nor Jobs, nor Disney. They just kept honing their craft, improving their skills. Eddie Murphy kept telling better, funnier jokes. Steve Jobs scrapped the Newton message pad and launched the iPod. Walt Disney, sitting on a train, having lost the rights to all his prior creations, invented Mickey Mouse on a sketch pad in the dining car.
We don’t want someone to make people listen to us, or read us, or buy our product, if they’d rather choose something else. We want people to choose us because we’re good, or unique, or we touch something inside of them. And then they come back, maybe because of our wit, or our charm, or just to see what crazy idea we’ll have next. Or maybe, like Amazon.com, they come back to us, because we reliably bring them what they want in a way no one else can.
We all have a dream inside of us. We all have a unique idea. Maybe several. In the craft of writing, we say every one has at least one book inside them. No, you say. Yes, I say: The story of your own life. You have to find out what that unique, inborn, God-given talent is and light it like the first spark of a fire. Then you have to protect the flame and feed it until it becomes a campfire, providing warmth and light to weary travelers in the night. You have to groom your talent and practice it like Colonel Harlan Sanders, who started a restaurant chain in his sixties. Never think you’re too old. Never think that you’re too washed up (how many times has John Travolta come back from nowhere?). Never ask to have your competition silenced; make yourself better instead. Do what you can do, to pay the bills, but never give up on the thing you love doing, the thing that makes your soul sing. Keep doing the thing that you love, until one day you can make a living doing it. And then like the guy who invented a better mouse trap – or in Walt Disney’s case, a better mouse – the world will make a pathway to your door.