A lot of people are afraid of success. Rightfully so. Success can put you in uncomfortable situations. Do you now have more people to let down? Do you have more to lose? Do you have the means to uphold your new responsibilities?
If you are reading this, you want success. You wouldn't have clicked the article if you didn't have a burning desire to see what lessons from the comic great, Steve Martin, could teach you about conquering your fears in your pursuit to professional dominance in whatever sphere you're pursuing.
Steve Martin achieved some of the biggest success in comedy during his prime. He was one of the first comics to sell out sports arenas for stand up shows. He was one of the most memorable SNL hosts during what is considered the pinnacle of SNL tenure. He reached heights most people merely dream of. His struggle to reaching such heights is documented in his memoir, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, where he divests much of what it took to cement the value with his name today. While many lessons on how overcoming your fears can be gleaned from the memoir, the most impactful have been chosen for your consumption.
Learn To Love the Process, Not the End Goal:
“I just believe that the interesting time in a career is pre-success, what shaped things, how did you get to this point?”
Martin only spent about four years at the height of comedy before he quit stand up forever. Before that time, he spent years working on and perfecting his craft. He would record his shows, taking copious notes on the nuances of his timing and delivery. He read countless books on the art of magic and performing (Martin was an amateur magician at Disneyland during his youth). When he later reached a nightly audience of ten thousand his shows became routine and drone-like. He recalls that the lack of tinkering and progression laid the groundwork for his self removal in stand up.
Talent Alone Won't Bring You Success:
“Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.”
Martin never considered himself a comedic genius. He often times found himself funny, sure. He always believed that showing up every day and hard work would bring him to the promised land. One can't rely on God given talent and intervention if one wants to reap any type of true, genuine success. Realize your talent and then use it to create the work every damn day.
Have Fun With Both Life and Your Craft:
“I opened the show with this line: "I have decided to give the greatest performance of my life! Oh, wait, sorry, that's tomorrow night.”
Along with Martin's extreme persistence he had a knack for sticking to his schtick and having a blast with it. Martin was blasted by critics for much of his career. He couldn't get a record deal due to many of his bits being visual in nature. The comedy scene hadn't seen much of his style, many comics were still utilizing the cookie-cutter build up to a punch line. Martin was much more cerebral in his approach. Many times he would end the show by walking through the audience. The audience wouldn't believe the show to be over and they would follow him out. He once brought the audience out to the front of the club, he left in a cab, circled around the block only to reach out the window and receive an applause on his return. Have fun.
Your Craft Doesn't Fully Define You and You Don't Fully Define Your Craft:
“In psychoanalysis, you try to retain a discovery; in art, once the thing is made, you let it go.”
In our pursuit for greatness, many of us are creating art. At a certain point it doesn't belong to us. It belongs to the rest of the world to accept it, reject it, critique it, share it, destroy it, worship it etc. Martin fell into many depressions during his life in stand up. He felt the expectations of who he was controlling him. When he reached his peak success he felt isolated from people. Fans saw him as the person he was on stage or on SNL, not Steve Martin. After disconnecting himself from this pressure he was able to find solace in his creation and work.
Be Relentless In Your Pursuit:
“Despite a lack of natural ability, I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naïveté, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.”
Martin appeared on Jimmy Stewart 16 times before anyone recognized him. He didn't find much success as a TV writer for CBS and left that decent paying job to get back on the road, performing at clubs for little pay. He reinvented himself countless times. He received scathing reviews, had his heart broken, performed shows where no one showed up (and also at shows of strictly Japanese tourists who didn't speak the language). While he was born standing up he fell down countless times.
You are going to fall down. Many times. You are going to be riding a high and probably fall again once you think you've made it. This is a part of life and a part of creation. Stop thinking about what people think of you. All of this, life, very much could be an illusion. If that's true, dream as big as you possibly can! What do you have to lose?
Steve Martin has influenced countless scores of people. His humor and intellect have delighted and influenced many creatives to this day. His memoir offers an in depth snapshot to the struggles and successes and many more lessons that can be learned to help you overcome the obstacles that stand in your way on your path to success.
Martin's book is available in many formats. A link to his paperback edition can be found here