Neil Gaiman – Everything I Wished I Knew


Two to three times a year, I find my inner monologue asking myself, “What are you doing?” Questions include where I should be placing my focus, if I’m spreading myself too thin, what needs to happen now, etc. – streams of thought on riding the waves of life in search of balance.

I often talk about my older brother, who throughout my life has afforded me years of wisdom (commonly through brotherly taunting/torture).  Even now, we talk regularly, and because of this, I’ve developed a habit of always being on the lookout for wisdom that I can reciprocate to others and myself – words of advice, workflow processes, guiding thought principles. My most recent taste has been for podcasts that I can consume while driving, walking, etc on a variety of topics – education, culture, entrepreneurship, and more.  My most recent listen this morning was an archived episode of Entrepreneur on FireJohn Lee Dumas interviewing Tim Ferriss, and at the end, Tim recommends a commencement speech by Neil Gaiman.  A great video for when you have 20mins, but here’s a summary of the first 3 pieces of advice he offers:

Neil Gaiman
University of the Arts
2012 Commencement Speech

1. When you start out on a career in the arts, you have no idea what you’re doing.  This is great.

Gaiman explains that people who know what they’re doing know the rules, and they know what is possible and what is impossible.  You do not, and should not.  These rules were made by people who have not tested the boundaries of the possible by going beyond them.  You can.  If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do.  And, because no one’s done it before, no one’s made up any rules to stop you from doing it again.

2. If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

He agrees it’s much harder than it sounds, but also much easier than most imagine.  Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do is clear cut, and sometimes it’s impossible to balance.

His suggestion is to imagine where you want to be (e.g. author, musician, artist, independently wealthy).  Imagine it as a distant goal, a giant mountain. When distracted, remind yourself as long as you’re walking towards the mountain, you’ll be alright.  This will help you choose when to say yes, and when to say no.

3. “When you start out, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick-skinned, to learn not every project will survive.”

We all face challenges.  Gaiman lists failure, discouragement, hopelessness, and hunger for success among them.  “Things will go wrong.  Don’t do work solely for the money.  If something goes wrong and you don’t get the money, you don’t have anything.  If you do work that you’re proud of and don’t get the money, at least you’ll have the work.”

These points, along with several very powerful messages particularly struck a chord with me concerning the work I’ve been doing and the work I plan on doing.  Gaiman continues to craft his moving message to the hopeful graduates with the theme of “Make great art.”  Oh, ok – good idea, I’ll do that.

If you create content and seek definition in your process and purpose, take a moment to watch the full video below:

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

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