Creative Mondays #006 – Don’t do what you don’t want to do.


Saturday night I got to see one of my creative mentors,  Joel Hodgson, speak at the Tower Theatre in Roseville, CA.  He was presenting his one man show ‘Riffing Myself’ which is a look back at what lead to his creation of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and a talk on how he approaches creativity.

I’ve seen this show three times before this and though the skeleton of the content remains the same, there is no formal script, so his talk can vary in some areas and I always glean something new from it.   There were a couple of really interesting points that hit me tonight that relate to the work of creative minds that I wanted to share with you over the next few Creative Mondays posts.
The main story that hit me this time was a story Joel told about his time in Los Angeles.  He a was young, around 23, stand up comedian who had one goal: to get on David Letterman.  So he worked at it and in a very short amount of time he had achieved his goal.  He got a spot on Letterman.  He actually was on Letterman about 4 times and, during that time he also made regular appearances on Saturday Night Live and was a regular at the comedy store.  His goal in doing stand up was to get on Letterman and he says that the rest: SNL, Comedy Store, was all just gravy.
Then, NBC offered him a part on a sitcom.  This is how hollywood works.  A comic gets white hot and then you get a sitcom deal.  It’s how was done for Tim Allen, Ray Romano, Kevin James, Whitney Cummings, Jerry Seinfeld and, heck, even Bill Cosby (though he was on TV before The Cosby Show).  That’s just how it is done.  Joel was the hottest comedian in town so they offered him a sitcom.  It would have been a sitcom that would have also starred a young Michael J. Fox.  Golden ticket right?
Joel read the script and felt it wasn’t funny and he didn’t want to commit to the time to produce the episodes, so he passed on it.
Then, Brandon Tartikoff, head of programming of NBC, called him in and personally tried to convince Joel to take the offer.  Joel said that Tartikoff was super sweet and nice guy, but he just didn’t feel the TV show was right for him and he again, politely, passed on it.
Later, Joel’s agent called him and said, “Okay, they have doubled the money.  They really want you to do the show.”  Joel still said no. He said the whole experience made him feel that his opinion didn’t matter to Hollywood.  In fact, no one’s opinion mattered if they could just keep throwing money around to get what they want.  Joel just didn’t want to do the show.  It wasn’t right for him.  So he left LA and went back to Minnesota.
Millions of comics would have sold their first born to get a chance to take that offer, but it just wasn’t right for Joel.  So, despite the lure of a big payday, he passed.
This really struck me tonight.  Don’t do what you don’t want to do.  No matter the money, no matter the stage. If you aren’t going to be happy, don’t do it.  Joel wasn’t going to be happy doing that sitcom so he said no.  He said no and he went back to Minnesota.  And what did he do after going back to Minnesota?  HE CREATED MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000!
If he had gone for the money and the TV show he may not have created MST3K.  He was able to do so because he was working on projects he wanted to work on.
Now, we can’t all say no to something and then immediately create a show like that, but we can say no to things we don’t want to do and be truly happy.  Be happy and be open to create what we want to create.  Don’t just work on something because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do.’  Do what you want to do if you really want to be creatively happy.
Having just come off two back to back jobs that I took ‘because I needed the money’ and thought ‘this is what I have to do,’ this part of Joel’s speech really hit home.  Neither of these jobs were ‘right’ for me and I learned that very early on in the process.  Instead of saying no and then pursuing something I did want to do, I kept at them and was miserable.  A goal for the new year is to only say yes to things I’m really excited about.
Derek Sivers has a great post that sums up this thinking.  No more yes.  It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.
This year, for me, there’s going to be a lot of HELL YEAH!

Are you doing what you don’t want to do?  How can you change that?  Even if you can’t change it immediately, what step can you take right now to  be headed in the direction of doing what you want to be doing.  Headed in the direction of HELL YEAH!?  Leave me a note in the comments below and let me know!

4 thoughts on “Creative Mondays #006 – Don’t do what you don’t want to do.”

  1. Sometimes it’s a fine line. If you actually DO need the money, it can be the unwise decision to not take the job. Then the skill is to know when it’s time to cut and run.

    1. Clinton- You are correct. You, unfortunately, need money to live. I have found, however, that you can get by doing the things you want. You aren’t going to live like a king, but you’ll survive. I think that’s much better than having a lot of money coming in but being completely miserable at your job. Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. Boy this hit home! The universe has been handing down this same lesson to me, too. Made me think of this post by Neil Gaiman:

    “I decided that I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work.

    Every now and again, I forget that rule, and whenever I do, the universe kicks me hard and reminds me. I don’t know that it’s an issue for anybody but me, but it’s true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience. Usually I didn’t wind up getting the money, either. The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.”

    1. Kate – I love this. So true. Thanks for passing it along. You can only be bitter making money at a job you hate. Found that out too much recently. Thanks for chiming it and passing on the link. I look forward to reading it all.

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