Hollywood mega star Will Smith is in full video swing, “Self-discipline is the centre of material success”, he says.
Of course Smith is right, but no matter how much you listen to it, to many people that next step, the acquisition of self discipline, seems elusive and unknowable. Smith and a slew of celebrities occupy a rarefied habitat enveloping ambition and success that we as minions can’t get enough of. Our inbuilt heuristic drives us to seek out what famous or rich people have done as a seamless pathway for our own intended achievements.
Something else too, many successful people often retrospectively and cogently frame their journey as neatly aligned sets of events and practices. This happened, then this, as if by elegant design. If not we the receivers engage in the illusion of selective memory. Ms Vallaud-Belkacem got to where she is through hard work. Yes, but other things are at play. At best these milestones become the genesis for many a quick read lifestyle books, or highly insightful ones in biopics and books like Mastery by Robert Greene, which I love.
Smith serves as an allegory for my premise. I’m like you within that strata of making do. Like you, I’ve had a fair amount of accolades from work (the above title photo) from a number of people. Like you I ponder what next? Hence there are a couple of things I’d like to share in which we could all use to help each other.
Smith’s success is well deserved. He earned it, but imagine Smith before he was brand Smith. The period where he’s standing outside a TV studio almost penniless seeking to be the warm up guy, before he forms his DJ Jazzy Jeff which I danced to with my own flat top, or he convinced Quincy Jones he was the person he needed for Fresh Prince, or Six Degrees of Separation, which I loved after watching the play at the Royal Court in London in 1992. As I sat down to interview Quincy Jones, I thought, how could I avail myself of a similar opportunity- in-waiting.
I know one of Smith’s London friends who dressed him in films like Bad Boys, the designer Ozwald Boateng. We used to bump into each other on the night club circuit at The Wag night club, or Legends. In the early 90s before Ozwald became brand Ozwald, Chris Cleverly, Jo Mosaku and I would hang out. Here’s a short film I present where Ozwald is chastising me. “I have known you quite a while, but you still haven’t bought on my suits”. I had actually!
In the 80s going into the 90s Ozwald wanted to be on Saville Row — the epicentre of tailored menswear. We would shoot his first promo there. As the director we needed an endorsement from GQ to give the film cred. Ozwald was just coming onto GQ’s radar, so we blagged our way into their offices for an interview.
We’d go out clubbing and Ozwald would take a stack of cards and was never shy about approaching celebrities. His arm draped around a surprised Simon Le Bon from Duran, he confidently attempted to sell him one of his suits. He was the model and impresario. Genes, environment, resilience acting in concert.
The two aforementioned examples open up what’s stated e.g. hard work and self discipline beyond our own driven intentions, as well as, well-meaning advice. We all must dream, but be cognisant of the palimpsest of multiple causes we can’t control and often require alignment towards success.
Who we are and what we become is a distillation of composite influences. Our genes prefigures what we might to do; our environment and the influences of friends, family and work bring something, and then there’s an inner will (soul) a potential disruption to our own internal circuitry that facilitates direction. You know that moment when nothing’s worked and you hit that Damascus cross road and something just happened. And then the others — you the audience. I’m not suggesting you need all of these, but it provides a map which I’m certain is ripe for more variables.
In Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney, the authors say about 30–50% of what we could become depends on your parents. That’s right their genes. Your environment, apparently contributes (50–70%) of what you may become. Then there’s you, the internal change to which you’re susceptible — an almost spiritual quality, where one day, without notice you give up smoking, drinking and see a new day.
There’s another, a necessity that intervenes at a moment and time dependent on you the audience. Why did Kylie Jenner’s fanbase decide now is the time for her to be appointed a self billionaire? Why was Pierce Brosnan overlooked as James Bond, the first time around? Why did audiences laugh at the early works of impressionist painter Cézanne, then change their mind? Sometimes the audience isn’t ready. There’s a reason why perseverance and resilience pay off. Keep on doing what you’re doing. At some point the audience’s catches up with you.
Robert Greene’s Mastery comes closest to this phenomenon that when you analyse Smith and Ozwald or any number of people there’s a pattern, a trend, yet there are variances. For instance I grew up in trying conditions with foster patents ( I’m on the left) that I recognise amongst several successful people. What is it about growing up away from your parents. Not everyone comes out ok the other side. I was then taken to Ghana by my father who both loved his family and was hard a no nonsense patriarch.
Ghana was wretched at times. I got caught up as an innocent bystander in a Coup d’état, could often go without food, and saw books as my salvation. Back in Britain, I pursued a career in the sciences yet really wanted to work in the media. My friends and family tell me I’ve achieved a lot. I’ve worked on network television shows, won international competitions for my work and been in positions working with teams producing high impact projects.
This year we launched a radical creative storytelling course (above photo, Nasma), in which students performed in a professional TV studio, which we filmed as they pitched to our new friends, the Guild of Entrepreneurs. Yes I thought! This is the coming together of a vision beyond the normalcy of Masters programmes.
On my original hand-coded website www.viewmagazine.tv I’m in the midst of displaying works across photojournalism, design, Blockchain, Entrepreneurship, history, media, AV psychology, music and film — from Obama’s 100 Days film, interviewing CIA director James Woolsey, working on the Syrian border.
But here it is. Success must not become equated to the inners of Linkedin. That would be sad. What about the lollipop woman who’s been helping children across the road for thirty years? The office worker content with his environment making others smile? And my sister — single mother to five lovely children and a nursery teacher who’s caught the attention of the Saatchi studios with her charges works?
What about the reluctant media players who are reticent about being the product? There’s a phenomenon most active on Social Media which is fresh within this sociology of success. Not the “When will be famous”. Bros the boyband got their first. Firstly, it is how SM frames subjects as successful. Linkedin forges influence and success in an unprecedented networked manner. Firstly, and gratefully, we know more about one other.
Secondly, and conversely sometimes we’ve developed our own veneer of framed successes. A quality that once others brought, we’ve felt the need to become self-appointed. It’s cultural, yet fairly pervasive. The result, and why not, is an environment predicated not necessarily on success, à la Cezanne (a doggedness going about one’s business) but one where we short cut the pathway to knowing. We must all seemingly and swiftly become experts given the amount of time you can spare. And if you have reached this far, ping me a hello, I’d love to say hello back.
At some point, Smith, Ozwald, you and me look across the aisle and in that mirror, we might glimpse ourselves. It’s a state where a certain confidence, not arrogance, suggests you have the wherewithal to impact others. The phrase, most quoted back to me, and thank you, is “Inspiring”. It’s our personal stories and how we’ve shaped them to help others. For instance, I have a duty to prefigure who I’m talking to and shape my language and construct to maximise what might come from the exchange.
The great Cézanne is truly one of my heroes. He continued to do what he did battling immense hardships. Then in his early 50s, he finally had his own show. I’m not suggesting we all wait till then. No! Resilience, luck (you make your own) and then choice. Cézanne evolved into the person he was aspiring to, the person he often saw in others. It didn’t stop him learning yet his most immediate reward was within his community of painters, who tossed around ideas, supported each other when they could, and provided him meaningful deeply engaging discussions. Yes there is a template for success, but there are some things we can’t control, but let’s keep on doing what we’re doing with a little help from you.
David Dunkley Gyimah @viewmagazine