“You’ll figure it out,” Rodney Dangerfield informed a young, aspiring comedian that sought his counsel on how to succeed in their shared craft.
The first thought that comes to mind when one reads the Dangerfield quote, is that the respected comedian was being dismissive. We can guess that aspiring comedians have asked Rodney various forms of this question so many times that he’s grown tired of it. Thus, when this comedian approached Rodney, Rodney said whatever was necessary to have this comedian leave him alone. Either that, or Dangerfield found the answer to that question to be so loaded with variables, and so time-consuming, that he didn’t want to go down that road again with, yet, another aspiring comedian. Dangerfield might have even viewed the young comedian’s act, and decided that it was so bad that he didn’t know how to fix it.
“You’ll figure it out,” does feel dismissive, but as with all good advice, and the perfect strawberry, it becomes tastier the more you chew on it.
Some advice is more immediate, and usable. Major League Pitcher Randy Johnson once talked about a piece of advice fellow pitcher Nolan Ryan offered him. Nolan Ryan informed ‘The Big Unit’ that the finishing step of his pitching motion should end an inch further to the left. Randy said that that trivial piece of advice changed his career. He stated that he wouldn’t have accomplished half of what he did without that advice. He even went so far as to say that he owed Nolan Ryan a mighty debt for that career-changing piece of advice. Some of us have received such advice, but for most of us, advice is more oblique and requires personal interpretation.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard combines an acknowledgment of the struggle to succeed with a notice that the recipients of such advice are going to have to find their own path to it. The best advice I’ve ever heard does not involve miracle cures, quick fixes, or the true path to instant success “that can be yours for one low installment of $9.99”. Most of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard, such as “You’ll figure out” how to be successful, are so obvious that the recipient often thinks that the adviser’s answer suggests that recipient of that advice wasted everyone’s time by asking the question.
The “You’ll figure it out” piece of advice has an underpinning to it that suggests that there are no comprehensive methods to achieving true success. A struggling individual can learn the “how-to” steps from a training manual, and they can watch how others use such steps in their process. They can also study the various techniques and interpretations of those techniques that experts offer, and they can internalize the advice that everyone, and their brother offers, but at some point an individual that hopes to succeed will have to “figure it all out” for themselves … if they want to achieve true, individual success.
Instant success is rare in the arts, as it is in every walk of life, but if an individual is lucky enough to be able to avoid having to “figure it out”, they’re apt to find that measure of success meaningless when compared to those that have struggled to carve out their own niche.
In the course of my employment, I’ve worked with a number of “flash in the pan” workers that didn’t have to bother with figuring anything out. These people considered themselves naturals. They were high-energy, fast-talking, glamour types focus so much energy to a new job that they burst out of the gate with thunderous resolve. Trainers and bosses love these people. “Look at Bret!” they say high-fiving Bret in the hall to inspire those around them to be more like Bret. The one thing these bosses and trainers often don’t see, or won’t admit, is that these high energy, fast talking, glamorous flash in the pan types often burn out after reaching immediate goals that define them as successful.
Instant success, immediate gratification types are often the studs of the training class that can answer just about every question asked, and they often enter the training seminar with a number of quotes on success from the successful. They treat training as one would an athletic event, and they’re not afraid to do touchdown dances when after the release of the initial productivity numbers. They wear the clothes, and drive the car that fosters the image. They may even go so far as to get caught by the trainer, reading a “personal success” guide that some of them may read to chapter two, but most instant success, immediate gratification types aren’t built for the long-term.
They’re bullet point people, and large idea people, that have no patience for the time it takes to figure out the minutiae that the rest of us will pine over in the agonizing trial and error process. Instant success types don’t “figure it out” in the manner Rodney Dangerfield advises, because they already have it figured out, or they have done so much to foster the image of one that already has it figured out that they don’t want to stain that image with new knowledge. They seek the “quick learner” perception, and most of what they attain after the “flurry to impress” stage, is knowledge that us dismissed as either “something they already knew” or inconsequential minutiae. They just know what they know, and that’s enough for the show.
These people are also not good at taking criticism, because most criticism calls for a restart, and they’re too smart for a restart. To be fair to them, some criticism is bestowed on quick learners by jealous types that enjoy having some form of authority on them, but some of it is constructive, and we all have to figure out which we’re receiving when that time comes. Some criticism should make us wonder if we’re deluding ourselves with the belief that we’re as accomplished as we think. Some criticism will suggest that to find success in our craft, we may want to consider doing it like someone else. In some cases, they may even be right, for there’s nothing wrong with following a proven path to success. That advice could also be wrong or wrong for us, but we’ll have to figure that out too.
“Do you have any tips on how to keep writing?” a fellow once writer asked me. My first inclination was to tell him about a book I knew that covered this very topic. I empathized with the idea that writing has few immediate rewards, and I enjoyed the perception of being a writer that knows what he is talking about when it comes to writing. I didn’t read the book, in question, but I was sure it was loaded with ideas. “Keep post-it notes on hand, so you don’t miss out on those little inspirations that could turn into great ideas,” is one idea most of these books have. “Write stories about your life, for your life is an excellent cavern that can be mined for constant gems,” is another idea these books often have. Then there is the ever present, “Read, read, and read some more.” I could’ve told this writer about this book, I haven’t read, but even if I had read it, and I found it invaluable to me, my recommendation would be half-hearted. This is based on the idea I have that true success in writing requires nuanced ingenuity and creativity that you’ll have to figure out for yourself, or you won’t, and if you don’t … go do something else. This idea would form my addendum to Dangerfield’s quote. “You’ll (either) figure it out,” or you won’t, and you’ll figure that out too.
I’m quite sure that the aspiring comedian that sought advice from Rodney –after I assume Rodney saw the comedian’s act– that would allow the aspiring comedian a shortcut in their attempts to exit their personal cocoon and transform into a bona fide star.
The “You’ll figure it out!” answer this aspiring comedian received alludes to the struggle a butterfly goes through in their efforts to escape its cocoon. If an outside influence cuts our struggle short, we will not gain the strength necessary to survive in the wild.
On that note, some critics grow frustrated with the amount of self-help charlatans moving from town to town in their “Miracle Cure” stagecoaches, promising elixirs to those seeking advice, but these frustrations should not be directed at the charlatans, so much as those seeking the elixirs that provide them easier exit from their personal cocoons. The comedian that approached Dangerfield, the aspiring writer that approached me, and some of the people that want to learn how to succeed in a craft, seek an alternative route around the failures, and the resultant, almost imperceptible adjustments that a craftsman makes to separate their final product from the rest of the pack. The final answer, for those seeking a “quick-fix” is that there is no perfect piece of advice that one can give another unable or unwilling to display the temerity necessary to endure the failing, learning, and adjusting necessary. The final answer is that the struggle provides the answers. The struggle informs the craftsman if they are desperate enough to “figure out” if they are willing to do what it takes succeed in their craft.