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The “Richard Pryor” Guide for Entrepreneurs

March 31, 2014

Richard PryorIf there is one misconception I see among creative entrepreneurs, it’s that “everybody else” is able to create easily, effortlessly, and quickly, while you are the only one who struggles with getting a product out, finding your voice, and making money.

On one hand, you probably realize that it takes a while, sometimes years, to write a great book, record an amazing album, or produce a mezmorizing live performance. But when you’re in the middle of that creation, it’s easy to look at everybody else and think “those guys didn’t have to struggle like this.”

Lesson #1 – Do What Scares You

Most people know Richard Pryor for his raunchy brand of humor, but his entertainment career didn’t start that way. In the early 1960s, he worked as a singer…

Does this look like the confident man the world came to know later in his career?

Nina Simone once described his performance anxiety during early shows saying that he was so nervous, he shook like he had malaria. When they performed together, she would put her arms around him and rock him like a baby until he calmed down.

Have something that scares you just as much? The solution is to get on that horse, and when you fail, back on it, as quickly as possible. It’s scary as hell. but if you don’t, your fear will only get worse.

Lesson #2 – Destroy Your “Shadow Career”

People change and career plans change. The “right direction” isn’t always clear and it’s common to start down a path, only to discover it doesn’t work for you.

This situation often appears in the form of a “shadow career” and Stephen Pressfield has a great quote on the subject in his book Turning Pro

My life used to be a shadow novel. It had plot, characters, sex scenes, action scenes. It had mood, atmosphere, texture. It was scary, it was weird, it was exciting. I had friends who were living out shadow movies, or creating shadow art, or initiating shadow industries. These were our addictions, and we worked them for all they were worth. There was only one problem: none of us was writing a real novel, or painting a real painting, or starting a real business. We were amateurs living in the past or dreaming of the future, while failing utterly to do the work necessary to progress in the present.

One of the reasons I think creative entrepreneurs hide behind “shadow careers,” such as what Richard Pryor did when he was working as a singer — they enable us to participate (sort of) without really risking much.

This makes getting on stage a lot easier.

This makes releasing a book a lot easier.

This makes doing anything that will be potentially criticized easier.

This happened to Richard Pryor. By the late 1960s, he’d dropped his singing act and was working as a Bill Cosby knockoff.

The shadow career isn’t always obvious. Sometimes, like with Richard Pryor’s early comedy, it’s very close to an authentic career. And the success you can have with a shadow career can confuse the situation even more — The Ed Sullivan Show, for example, is a pretty big deal.

But don’t look at things from an outside, extrinsic perspective. How do they feel from the inside?

Onstage in September 1967, Pryor walked on stage before a sold out crowd at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas and asked, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

And that’s when things really took off for him…

Final Thoughts

Two lessons. They’re simple, but not necessarily easy. There is ease to them though.

Creative entrepreneurs get great by keeping at it, taking chances, and learning from what works and doesn’t.

So go do it…

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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