Brain Pickings

Opening Lines: How Famous Creators Got Their Start

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Stick-to-itiveness, the case for self-delusion, and what Steve Jobs has to do with illegal phones.

It is often said that the key to happiness and fulfillment is finding the one activity that puts us in a state of “flow” — the kind of work immersion in which makes us lose track of time, transcend thirst and hunger, and get “in the zone.” So discovering and pursuing this passion is integral to our life satisfaction. But the road to discovery and pursuit isn’t always a smooth or straight one.

Opening Lines is a wonderful project exploring how famous writers, artists, musicians, innovators, philosophers and politicians got their start, pushing past bumpy beginnings towards epic triumphs. Bob Dylan puts it beautifully in a 1963 interview

I used to play the guitar when I was ten, you know. So I figured maybe my thing is playing the guitar, maybe that’s my little gift. Like somebody can make a cake, or somebody else can saw a tree down, and other people write… Maybe I got a better gift. But as of right now, I haven’t found out what it is.

The Opening Lines editors scour libraries, archives and the web, even conducting original interviews, to unearth how cultural icons went about pursuing their passions in those early days when setbacks were prolific, rejection unabashed and affirmation scarce. From legendary physicist Stephen Hawking to Mashable’s Pete Cashmore to guitar legend Jimmy Page, the project covers an impressively rich and cross-disciplinary spectrum of mavericks and masterminds, go-getters and geniuses.

In his magnificent 1990 commencement speech, Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson reflects on his career as a cartoonist and creative rebel:

[I]t’s worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success… I still haven’t drawn the strip as long as it took me to get the job. To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work. I loved the work.

Some of my favorites: How Steve Jobs and The Woz started out making illegal phones; Francis Ford Coppola and his early skin flicks; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on overcoming internet addiction and aimlessness to build today’s most robust reservoir of human knowledge; how Malcolm X battled a cornucopia of addictions to unearth his true calling and become one of the most inspirational human beings in modern history; and artist Raghava KK, who shares his creative evolution in this entertaining and illuminating TED talk:

At its core, Opening Lines is about providing that little boost of inspiration for those discouraged in the pursuit of their creative passions. It’s a reminder that the myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — and that, as Thomas Edison famously remarked, stick-to-itiveness is an essential component of getting anywhere worth going.

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