Jul 072014 5 Responses

What Jerry Seinfeld Knows About Success

There are few things like the feeling of being on stage, unable to speak, because the laughter of the crowd would drown out anything you might say.

It’s an addictive experience.

One which pulls me toward comedy, but I’m not a comedian.

Why not? (See: A Dangerous Assumption About God’s Will)

The obvious answer is “because I’m not funny.” Comedians are funny so I’m not a comedian because I’m not funny. It’s a fair argument.

But that’s not the reason I’m not a comedian.

It’s not my inability to be funny which prevents me from being a comedian; it’s my unwillingness to be unfunny which has prevented my comedic career.

In his documentary, Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld chronicles his return to the road after his sitcom went off the air. Having retired all of his old jokes, Seinfeld worked to create new material. His method—write a joke, crash a local comedy club and try out the joke, review what worked, rewrite it, find a different local comedy club and try the new material.

Imagine, the funniest comedian of this generation was working on getting five good minutes of material, then ten, and then twenty. In one scene, Seinfeld forgets the setup of his new joke. As he stumbles on stage, someone from the crowd shouted, “Is this your first time?” Even Seinfeld understood the humor in the heckling.

But what amazes me—Seinfeld kept doing it. He continued the process of writing, trying, failing, learning, and re-writing.

He continued because Seinfeld knows what it takes to succeed. Before he could be funny, he had to fail at trying to be funny.

What he was willing to do, I am not. (See: Success Is More Than One Shining Moment)

I refuse to stand on stage telling jokes which do not work. Because of this unwillingness, I am not a comedian.

Obviously talent, intelligence, and other factors are at play when it comes to who is successful and who is not, but none of those things matter if a person is not willing to do what it takes to succeed. Part of what is takes is a willingness to fail.

While I’m unwilling to fail at comedy, I haven’t been unwilling to fail at writing or speaking. The thought of standing on stage and telling jokes that do not work makes me nauseous, but I have been willing to stand on stage and give speeches which don’t work or to publish articles which do not connect.

Because I’m willing to fail, I have the chance to succeed. (See: A Map for Navigating Life’s Disappointments)

Until you are willing to fail at something, you will never have the chance to succeed.

Until you are willing to have your heart broken, you will never love.

Until you are willing to be rejected, you will never get hired.

Until you are willing to be ignored, you will never speak.

Success requires at least the threat of failure and often the actual experience of multiple failures so that you can learn what is necessary to succeed.

What prevents most people from success is their unwillingness to fail.

We need to fail more so that we will have the opportunity to succeed.

Am I funny enough to be a comedian? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not even a useful question, because I am not willing to do what it takes to become a comedian—tell jokes that fail.

Thankfully, there are areas in which I am willing to fail. My desire to learn is greater than my fear of failure.

Show me the area in which you are willing to fail and I’ll show you the area in which you will most likely succeed.

5 Responses to What Jerry Seinfeld Knows About Success
  1. Michael Newcity Reply

    I could not agree more. I have seen plans and people succeed more on the willingness to try and fail versus raw skill, uniqueness, etc.

  2. Joao Reply

    As I read this, I remembered evangelism. It’s so difficult for me, it looks so unrewarding because people just aren’t interested! I did give up. Maybe I should take it up willing to keep failing?

  3. Will Reply

    Great post

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