Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, recently revealed the truth about his excruciatingly slow, difficult, rejection-filled road to success.
In an essay published over at Fast Company, he writes:
“Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes […] If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that […] I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.”
Matthew never wants to “hide the brushstrokes.” He’s committed to telling the truth about what it took to become the successful writer and show creator that he is today.
Unfortunately, in many circles, hiding the brushstrokes is the norm.
You hear countless stories of authors, artists, performers and business owners who catapulted to success seemingly out of nowhere. The story is always spun in a way that sounds so sexy and alluring — “Oh, I just sip kale smoothies by my laptop and poof! Sales come tumbling into my PayPal account while I’m out jogging with my hot fireman husband and Golden Labradoodle, Snickerpiddles! I literally could NOT be any richer if I tried! And oh my GOD I have so much free time! Whatever shall I doooo?”
Don’t get me wrong: it is totally possible to create a life and career that you love, working on projects that feel deeply satisfying, earning plenty of money while enjoying plenty of freedom. Of course.
But as my friend Nicole often says, “Big, sexy dreams are only accomplished one tiny very, very unsexy step at a time.”
By glossing over all of “unsexy” points of your journey — all the brushstrokes — you’re doing a disservice to your fans, clients, customers, everyone in your business audience, and quite honestly, everyone you meet.
By pretending that it’s all “easy” and “perfect” and “drama free,” you’re missing an opportunity to actually HELP somebody.
By sharing the truth about your past AND your present, you can help someone to…
:: Stop feeling dejected and alone
:: Handle rejection without face-planting into a pie
:: Remember that mastery doesn’t happen overnight
:: Remember that life can STILL be hard even once you’ve “made it”
:: Find the courage to keep marching onward even when it’s tough
:: Never. Ever. Give. Up.
Mathew Weiner did not go from zero to Mad Men. He was told by teachers to give up on writing. He never won a film competition. For a long time he couldn’t get a job in the entertainment industry, even with a degree in film. He couldn’t even land a meeting with an agent. He didn’t land a job in show business until he was 30 years old.
As a staff writer, he went on to write Mad Men. But initially it was met with complete rejection. No one wanted it. It bounced around town for SEVEN YEARS before it even got picked up for a pilot episode.
Imagine if you asked Mathew Weiner about his story and he said: “Oh, right. Well I just wrote Mad Men and I sold it and we won all kinds of Emmy’s and stuff because we are awesome.”
You might be in awe of his success, initially. But then you’re left kinda… empty.
There’s no emotional connection to this kind of “overnight success story” because it’s too clean, too shiny, too perfect. You might feel envious of him, for a moment, but that’s the extent of your response. You just can’t relate.
Instead of choosing to hide his brushstrokes, Matthew is choosing a more vulnerable, courageous path: telling the truth.
He truly wants to help fellow screenwriters by not feeding them lines of bullshit. By saying: “Hey, I’m just like you. I know how it feels to get rejected. I know what it feels like to stare at a blank page and feel depleted. I am living proof that success takes time, but guess what? The longer the journey, the sweeter the rewards.”
Like Matthew, I am committed to being an open book in business — as well as in my budding screenwriting career.
All of the inspiring business owners that I genuinely trust and admire do the same.
If you truly want to serve and help (and I know you do), don’t hide the truth about your journey.
Don’t hide your big mistakes, your rock-bottom moments, the launches that flopped, the wrong turns, rejection letters and botched strategies, and all of the other unsexy steps that brought you to where you are today.
Don’t hide your brushstrokes.
The lessons that will make people fall in love with you — and truly change peoples’ lives — are hiding in those bristles.