I must admit: I watched the movie La La Land the other night. I know, but it gets worse; it wasn’t the corn fueled dumpster fire I expected it to be. I actually found it strangely relatable and inspiring. The movie follows the story of two disagreeable creatives. One more disagreeable than the other, both disagreeable nonetheless, and both worth admiring in their own right. The character I found particularly revealing was Sebastian Wilder, played by Ryan Gosling. A jazz musician and piano aficionado with great taste who often finds himself ranting on and on about – what seems like from the outside – abstract nonsense (wonder why I found this character relatable?). He talks about everything from what exactly the birth of jazz music is, its philosophy, and even how jazz is intellectual compromise between the members of the band. This is a guy so passionate that if there is even a fraction of a disagreement he is sure to double down and try to convince you of how you’re just misunderstanding, and convince you of how – with a little enlightenment – you too will also learn to appreciate the musical philosophy that is jazz and swing music. He wants you to be interested in what he is interested in oh so badly. You can see it in the character. (Again, it hurts how much I relate). In a way, he’s intentionally obnoxious, and he is certainly the guy you avoid water cooler talk with at the office, and he is most definitely a know it all who takes himself far too seriously. An outcast of sorts. Bottom line is this dude is annoying and very flawed. (3 for 3 on relatability.)
In the movie Mr. Wilder is lovingly confronted by his sister and basically told to “grow up” and “get a job”. Up until now, Mr Wilder has made his money playing set-lists at bars and other nightlife scenes and he can’t even follow a set list without pissing the boss off. Not surprisingly he can’t even stomach the thought of “getting a job” if that phrase even means anything to him at all, but if it did it would mean death itself. He’s even had piano playing gigs where he is doing what he loves that he can’t handle. He’s a highly intelligent, stubborn creative who knows what he wants. In this case, his dream to one day own night club called “Chicken on a Stick.”
When I recognized the disobedience from Mr Wilder I realized it is counterintuitive to just about everything we are told by the mainstream and the generations before us. Mr Wilder is even confronted by his own sister to follow this same advice, which is essentially: “Get a job. Get a job that matches 401k contributions, a good health insurance plan, maternity leave, the works.” I mean this is how it’s been done since, what, the industrial revolution? “What you want to do is get a job at toward the bottom of the company, and then work your way up to the top over time” Climbing the hierarchical ladder. This is the plan of the careerists, not necessarily the creatives. To be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting a job, or even liking a job. If that’s what you find fulfilling, then go for it, more power to you. The world would be a lot simpler if it were that easy for everyone.
Sebastian gives himself a helpful advantage (and a kind of unintentional life-hack) to keep himself going, whether he has done this purposefully or not. He keeps someone by his side who is going to hold him accountable to his dream no matter how off the wall. In Sebastian’s case this person is Mia Dolan, the other disagreeable creative mentioned earlier, and Sebastian’s love interest throughout the movie. She keeps him in check and is willing to call him out when he starts to waver on the journey he has set out on. It may be that nothing can motivate a stubborn person quite like an equally stubborn friend of the opposite position. Someone like this may be worth keeping one around.
What I am starting to believe is that the careerist model is working for fewer people than it did before and there are lots of Mr. Wilders out there who – no matter the efforts they make – can’t seem to make it work for whatever reason. I think as modern business culture rolls on the more people will find themselves in the shoes of Mr. Wilder, uncomfortable with the majority and stubborn enough to make a change. As the cubicle farm gets more and more intense, demanding more and more from us physically and intellectually, it specializes for an even more specific breed of person, a truly rare specimen. As the specialization grinds on it is going to leave more people on the outside than on the inside than ever before. Those on the outside are the weirdo’s with eccentric taste, the college dropouts, the crafters, and those with obsessions of various objects such as stools that a one Hoagy Carmichael allegedly sat in, these are square pegs in an ever rounding world.
What I really want to get at is this idea of taking your own risks, especially if you are feeling used. Not someone else’s. Risks that are appropriate for you in your situation. These might be artistic risks, career risks, entrepreneurial risks. But never risks that could ruin you completely. Appropriate risks. If you’re worried about if your risks are honorable enough or difficult enough or whatever enough, just stop worrying about it and start somewhere. I promise you my risks are dingier. Sometimes liking what you like and being interested and passionate about something peculiar is risky enough. Start there. If you’re looking for some kind of fulfillment all that it requires is a start. I’ve noticed that the creatives that seem to thrive are the ones that have zero intimidation of failure. Being shameless is a great tactic for success. Aim for the type of shamelessness that if you were to open a night club, you would seriously consider naming it “Chicken on a Stick.” Talk about shameless. The thing is this, the masses don’t know what they like until someone shows them something shiny enough to get fired up about, and they love what other people are passionate about. Nobody likes jazz until a really cool, passionate guy makes an enjoyable jazz club. Like what you like – even a dying music genre.
That’s the risk.