My friend Steve Cameron was featured in the LA Times yesterday. The article was part of a series titled "How I Made It," in which successful individuals tell their rags to riches story. Steve is a self-made man and wealthy developer, so his is a particularly intriguing tale. He laid out in specific detail the brilliant masterminding of his empire — and it is truly that — from the moment his plan was conceptualized until the moment it became reality. Knowing Steve's drive and determination, I'm sure it came out just the way he told it.
I see a lot of stuff like that in the LA Times. As Hollywood's newspaper, the features are more often about this actor or that director telling how they bulldozed their way to the top with genius and vision. Not possessing either of those qualities, I couldn't help but wonder how my "How I Made It" would read, should anyone ever ask.
My story is simple: guy takes seven years to finish college, guy marries the woman of his dreams, gets a button-down corporate job, early excitement about said corporate job turns to boredom and disillusionment, guy starts writing tiny articles in running magazines, guy quits corporate job and becomes a full time writer. No plan. No genius. Lots of prayers. Somehow, fifteen million books later, it all comes together.
But it turns out there may be an overriding reason that happened. When I first left the corporate world and pledged to make it as a full time writer, my wife made me promise to find a way to make it work. No excuses. "No looking at the want ads, no other jobs. Just make it happen," Calene told me. We had two young sons, a mortgage, and zero savings. I adopted a policy of taking any and all writing gigs that paid the bills, with the exception of those that felt morally wrong (I did, however, cash a check from Larry Flynt during the short period of time he ran an outdoor adventure magazine whose name escapes me). I was fueled by a desperate desire to succeed, but also well aware that three other people were depending on me to "make it happen." I sometimes envied my colleagues who were single and childless, and the fact that they could live on a shoestring and still play the writing game. But somehow I kept going. To this day, I wonder what made it all come together.
Studies say the answer is simple: Purpose.
I mean, I could tout hard work and talent and a ton of other things, but the bottom line is that I'm a relatively undisciplined guy whose writing skills are solid but not transcendent. However, studies at the University of Michigan, as related in the phenomenal book Peak Performance, by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, show that when an individual is doing things for people other than themselves, they are capable of achieving more than when it's just about me.
I think back on all those faraway adventures in the early years of my career, when I'd be the homesick married guy who couldn't wait to get the job done and fly back to my family. Or those forty days and nights working on the first Survivor, where all that drove me was that my fee for writing the companion book was going to save my home from foreclosure — so it better be good. All those things that felt like pressure were actually motivators, driving me to perform in a way I could never have achieved by myself.
Purpose is a wonderful thing. My number one job as a writer has always been taking care of my family. That's what dads and husbands do. I don't care how well someone can string together sentences, or make words dance on the page, it's hollow if you're just doing it for yourself.
So if someone ever asks me to tell them "How I Made It," I'll just say four words: Calene, Devin, Connor, Liam.
My career would be nothing without them.