Book Review 4: Born Standing Up
Born Standing Up, The story of Steve Martin.
This book reminded me a lot of The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. A homage to the trials of life and how the lowest of lows paves the way to overnight success. You won’t be surprised if you read this blog to know I relate to this narrative.
We begin with Steve as a kid, fascinated by magic, by performance, and completely unsuccessful. He took disparate arts - music, magic, comedy, sketch comedy and put something together the world had never seen. He strived, strived, strived, strived, succeeded, loved it then quickly found he hated it.
I learned as much about the path to success as I did about the loneliness that accompanies it. Steve was a pensive man, he had his share of romantic relationships, but in all the biography, no woman took center stage. Sadly, he never really had much of a relationship with his family either, until the end of their lives. Upon finishing the book, I called my mom and dad and booked a flight home.
The story is the story, and it's a biography, so let’s focus on the implicit lessons, because there weren’t many explicit ones.
1) You can gain something from every phase in your life
Steve Martin was a tiny-time performer at Knott’s Berry Farm for years. He didn’t love it, sure. But he got his reps in. That’s a theme in this book - repetition. This served him incredibly well once he *was* popular. Get your reps in, wherever you can. Be grateful for reps. My analogy - working at small startups. These are my reps. Win, lose or draw, I’m learning. The more the better.
2) Greatness can be a combination of slightly above-average skills
I’ve seen this theme before - talent stacking. But Steve did it in performance, his act had music, magic, stand-up, physical comedy, sketch ad-libbing, so many diverse facets. It was unlike anything done before in comedy. The best word I heard to describe it was absurdist. He just wanted to be memorable, and funny. My application: future product company plans. I’m going to create the blended average of all the awesome products I love. The unique aspect will be how they blend together, between e-commerce, digital membership, events and branding.
3) It’s always darkest before dawn
Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. But Steve placed incredible emphasis on ONE review of his act. One. He set an artificial deadline of ‘making it’ before 30 years old. As he closed in on that deadline, he wasn’t on track. He was ready to retire. But one awesome review turned him around. It sparked the fire of his success. My analogy: the combination of my back injury, quitting my job, living in my parents basement with no income, not many friends, and no idea what to do. That was 12 months ago. I busted my ass and Perfect Keto opened the door. I haven’t looked back since.
4) Great work is art
I think this is a huge growth area for me. But I loved Steve’s constant brooding over the feeling of his act, his performance, his craft. He treated it so carefully. Every gesture, every twitch of the eye mattered to him. This led to frustration later in his career when the audience would laugh at everything, or interrupt his act. But, that obsession is admirable. A mentor recently told me that we should think of our work as art, as a creation. Business can be art, right? My analogy: Act like an artist. Think about “creation”. Accept my eccentricities as part of my process. Protect my time to create. Feed my creative urges.
5) You never really “make it”
When Steve hit the big time, he was the most popular comedic act in human history. But he still wasn’t 100% happy!! The length of time he spent describing how fun it was to make it, vs. how quickly it turned ugly on him was remarkable. The euphoric period was a flash in the pan, and the darkness was an eternity. What didn’t he like? Fame intruding on his personal life. Fame intruding on his comedic timing, his ability to judge if material worked or if people laughed on autopilot because he was Steve Martin. Fame made his stand-up artistic process hyper difficult. So he iterated, he found movies. Movies didn’t have live audiences that guffawed blindly. Movies were quiet. Steve had to rely on his comedic instincts…and wait for feedback upon release. They also gave him much needed time on and time off. During stand-up he would do 60 cities in 63 days. Can’t imagine I could ever live like that.
My analogy: understand that things get better but will always create new problems. If I nail my amazing product idea and crush it, I’ll have new problems. I might be CEO. Maybe they are better problems. Maybe not. But new problems. That’s ok. I am prepared to tackle those as well. The work I do in meditating and finding inner peace will keep me sane.
Thanks for reading - have a great day :)