Motivation from Mentors

I recently finished a book called Getting There: A Book of Mentors, which I found on Brain Pickings. In the book, some of the most accomplished people in a wide variety of fields share their personal journey to success. I’ve read many self-help books about goal setting and getting through creative blocks, but there was something really special about seeing the practical application of those concepts in many real life scenarios. If you or your students are feeling beaten down on your way to your goals, you might give this book a read.

For a month, I started each day with one person’s story, and after each’s morning’s reading, I consistently moved into my day feeling inspired to persevere through any struggles. Everyone in the book experienced setbacks, rejections, and failures, and had many people telling them they should give up or that their ideas were just plain bad. I think I was most astounded by just how much each of them overcame. One guy even went to jail before reaching success. They all share their mistakes, their detours, and their wisdom for people who are working toward things that others (and sometimes they themselves) can’t really see or understand, yet.

Since each persons’s story is just a few pages long, it’s a great coffee table book for the studio.  Also a great graduation gift.

Here are some the quotes that really stuck out to me:

You have to be able to think independently. If I take a poll on every investment decision I make, I’m going to be doing exactly what everyone else is, and I usually don’t think much of that.

— Warren Buffet, investor

Most people sweat it out for years and encounter some degree of humiliation and failure along the way.

— Anderson Cooper, journalist

[Getting there] is like sailing. The way you go upwind is to tack back and forth from one side to another and slowly work your way up. You can’t go straight into the wind.

— J. Craig Venter, scientist

While I have always been somewhat of a risk taker, my time in Vietnam really helped put things in perspective. Out there I had to worry about losing my life multiple times a day. Being back in the comfort of America with my life relatively protected, career risks seemed pretty trivial.

— J. Craig Venter, scientist

People tend to think way too linearly about career paths, but career wanderings often have great outcomes too. There’s a whole lot less urgency than you think. It’s okay to drop out, breathe, and try other stuff.

— Jim Koch, brewer and founder of The Boston Beer Company

In the end, there’s so little that separates people. Those who want success the most and are relentless about pursuing it are the ones who get it.

— Ian Schrager, entrepreneur/hotelier/real estate developer

When we first started the business, if the number 1 represented how hard I thought it would be, it ended up being more like the number 1,000. It was that much harder. But I think being naïve helped. Because I didn’t know what was coming around the corner, I didn’t live around the corner. I lived in whatever was right in front of me at that moment. If you start off focusing on everything you’ll eventually have to figure out, and all the problems you’ll eventually have to solve, it can be overwhelming, even debilitating. You don’t need to know all the answers right away. Everything has an organic time and place. Being patient can be a huge advantage.

— Tom Scott, Nantucket Nectars co-founder

I tell everyone who is charting new territory or pursuing big ideas that the best way to think about getting support is to view it as a search for allies. You don’t need everyone; you only need a few people who really believe in you and your ideas. So don’t worry about all the nos. Stay positive and keep up the pursuit for those few yeses.

— Wendy Kopp, Teach for America founder

But one of the big advantages of Silicon Valley is that failure isn’t stigmatized. It’s assumed that most ventures will fail, so actually doing so is not that discouraging. The important thing is to keep trying. I’ve talked to a lot of people on the East Coast and in the UK and learned that in those places failure is stigmatized. I think that’s why their business cultures have not been effective in some ways. Fear of failure can stop people from trying new things.

— Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder

Understanding how you are being stereotyped is the first step in remedying it.

— Helene Gayle, Care USA CEO and President

My music has often been ahead of its time and, as a result, easy to criticize. When I was a teenager, hearing people cut down work I was proud of was very painful. But as time progressed, the feedback went from my mother’s neighbors complaining about the “ungodly noise” I was making to them asking, “When is your son coming back to play some of that beautiful music again?” The main difference was their perception. I was basically playing the same thing.

— Hans Zimmer, composer

When someone tries to get in your way, don’t let it squash your ambition or stop you, just change course and keep going.

— Daniel Boulud, chef

If you encounter miserable customers, don’t take it personally— instead, view it as a challenge. Remember that your job is to serve politely and professionally, and make people feel special. If you don’t have a very good reason to bother with an issue, let it go. (Complaints, by the way, are not always unfounded. They are right as often as they are wrong, and they can help you improve and make corrections. It is important to be attentive to criticism and learn from it.)

— Daniel Boulud, chef

I realized that my anger was getting in my way professionally. I would often decide beforehand that a prospective client wouldn’t get me, and I would walk away from potentially good opportunities. In addition, projects weren’t working out because people were uncomfortable with me. Building something new and original can be scary because no one wants to push it too far and end up with a structure people make fun of— so it is essential for clients to trust their architect. Understanding all this was a major turning point. It enabled me to dismantle the wall I had built around myself and connect more with people. As a result, my career progressed, and I was able to move toward larger projects.

— Frank Gehry, architect

My work gets criticized all the time and it can get pretty harsh. If I am criticized because I inadvertently did something that hurts somebody, I pay attention. Otherwise, I just do the best I can and keep moving forward. If people like what I create, I’m thrilled. If they don’t, I don’t try to sell them on it. You can’t please everybody.

— Frank Gehry, architect

What are some books that you use to help yourself and your students keep going? Share in the comments.

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