Life Lessons From the Movie Stars and Hollywood – #4

Write your own personal definition of success.

John Cantu
Comedy legend John Cantu was the founder of the Holy City Zoo in San Francisco.

My friend the late John Cantu was a humor writer and was co-producer at the legendary Holy City Zoo comedy club in San Francisco. Many great comedy stars got their start there. When he counseled young comedians and new speakers about their success, he always says “Don’t compare yourself to where Robin Williams or Dana Carvey is today. Compare yourself to where they were at the same point in their development.”

Success is an elusive and relative concept.

When my friend Hall of Fame speaker and best-selling author Scott McKain interviewed Tom Hanks, Scott was the fifty-eighth interview of sixty that the two-time Oscar winner did in one day to promote his latest movie. (That’s got to be harder work than making the film!) But Tom acted as if it were his first meeting of the day. He actually walked over to Scott, introduced himself, and shook hands. Tom is the only star who has ever asked Scott, “What do you think of the movie?”

Scott asked Tom Hanks, who had already won two Oscars back to back: “What is your definition of success?”

“It’s too soon to tell if I will be successful or not,” Hanks replied. “To me, success is constantly getting better at your craft and performing at a high level for an extended period of time. Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck — those are people who have been successful. Fame is different than success. Fame does something to your head from which you may never recover. Sure, I get to cut in line at restaurants and airports, but if you think that is a success, you are sadly mistaken — as the tragic events of today clearly show.”

(The interview was taking place in Los Angeles during the infamous O.J. Simpson Bronco freeway chase.)

We’d all like to have the esteem and admiration of our colleagues and being exceptionally well known in our business community or professional association. But I recommend avoiding the kind of “fame” that has the paparazzi going through your garbage for scandalous tidbits.

My brother, international guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson, says, “Why would anyone want to be ‘famous’?

Picture of Robert Fripp in His Own Words performing with King Crimson.
Picture of Robert Fripp in His Own Words performing with King Crimson.

Can you imagine what it’s like to be gawked at and followed everywhere you go?” Celebrities have great inconveniences despite the solace of the extra income that their status sometimes brings. Your “five minutes of fame” may be very pleasant, but never sacrifice your true success, earned by hard work, for mere notoriety.

How would you define success?

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