"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Keeping Your Spirits Up In Troubled Waters

If you’re a writer, director, composer, performer, producer—you’re an entrepreneur in the most challenging business of all—

The so-called business of self-expression known as “show business.”

But believe it or not, show business is not about you—it’s about your audience. That’s why I tell my clients—and myself—to take the WORK, not YOURSELF, seriously.


1) Toughen up. It’s the ultimate school you’ve enrolled in, because the rules are always changing and you’re making them. If it wasn’t tough everybody would be doing it.
2) Because it’s a Recession, toughen up even more. The good news is that everyone is feeling it. Only the toughest will survive. What could be more exhilarating?
3) Persist. Endure. Continue. Shaw wrote “Pygmalion” in his old age. Henry Miller didn’t start until his late forties. Dune was rejected 36 times!
4) Dream Big—there are fewer people at the highest altitudes.
5) Redefine your inner circle: Associate with positive people. Stop associating with negative people. Be ruthless about this. Life is too short.
6) Stay off everyone’s “Life is too short” list.
7) Place no deadlines on your career.
8) Follow your instincts.
9) Don’t depend on luck or timing.
10) Take responsibility. No magic thinking. “I never get personally involved in my own affairs”—an actress once told me. Wrong approach!
11) Take charge of your own thinking. You can’t fail at being you so long as you focus and communicate it clearly.
12) Let go of the wrong kind of control. Even the most successful people can’t control everything. Arthur C. Clarke said, “The mark of intelligence is not to resent the invevitable.”
13) Figure out what you really want and start living as though you already have it. Form follows function. A client had gotten her wish: she’d been hired as a staff writer, but she was miserable. She’d forgotten to wish to be a staff writer on an intelligent series—now she was paying for her oversight.
14) Congratulate yourself and celebrate. “Let’s drink a toast to folly & to dreams—they are the only reasonable things.”—Paul Loup-Sulitzer


1) Keep moving forward despite your moods. “Never despair, but, even if you despair, work on in despair.”—Edmund Burke. Or as Ray Bradbury said: “Start doing more. It’ll get rid of all those moods you’re having.”
2) When things get tough, take a vacation. Don’t confuse fatigue with depression. No deadlines on your career.
3) The difficulty you are experiencing is normal--and necessary. Tom Hanks’ character to Madonna’s, in “A League of Their Own”: “Of course it’s hard. If it weren’t hard everyone would be doing it. The hard part is the great part.”
4) You’re the one who chose this life. You can do it.
5) Don’t doubt yourself. Lack of self-confidence never goes away. Those who succeed ask as though they don’t have it.
6) Face your fear. Make it your ally. Anxiety is a good sign. Remember what the Cajuns say: “If you ain’t scared, you aint’ doin’ anyting woithwhile.”
7) Try just “coasting” for awhile. Live in the present as much as you can. “If worse comes to worse, I’m happy now.”
8) Exercise—walk—travel—vacation--> regain your perspective.

[revised notes from keynote to South Florida Bar Association, South Beach]


Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused by the statement, "Keep off of everyone else's "Life is too Short" list. What does this mean?

Anonymous said...

It means you don’t want to end up on that list. Everyone has one, whether written down or not. Sometimes even the most talented writers are so difficult to deal with they go onto the “life’s too short” list. Is that clearer?

joe cervasio said...

Ken, you made my day. We are traveling in Florida, doing business, respectfully paying little regard to time frames, living "as if" with great expectation. Indeed, you confirmed some hunches--in your unique coaching style you reminded us of the discipline required to make a valid impact. While its tough to connect the dots ahead, as we glance back, not staring, we marvel at how those dots connected in the past. Indeed, we wait with faith, hope, and the love to create, write, and give without the expectation of receiving. Thanks for publishing this blog entry... talk to you soon, we are sure.

Joe Cervasio

Anonymous said...

Great, Joe. Keep up the good work of maintaining your forward motion and belief in yourself. While waiting, which is the hardest part, keep working!