Don't sacrifice what you love just to achieve your dreams
It's easy to lose yourself in your dreams. But better not to let your big ideas get the best of you, says Nick Offerman.
Nick Offerman is an actor, writer and woodworker, best known as the character of Ron Swanson on NBC's hit comedy series Parks and Recreation. His long list of film credits also includes The Kings of Summer, 21 Jump Street, Smashed, and Sin City.
Nick Offerman: One of the great secrets to maintaining a discipline in one’s life is that it has an incredible meditative or Zen quality to it. My character in this film, Frank, is a little bit obsessed with playing music and creating music. It comes out in sort of an ugly way in the scene on the porch at Toni Collette’s house where he just simply says—but it’s kind of nicely underwritten—he says “I don’t want to sell music.” And what I take from that is, he’s saying “I don’t want to be the salesman of other people’s albums. I want to be making my album. Even if nobody buys it, that’s what I should be doing.”
And I know that feeling firsthand. As somebody in the performing arts, when—it’s an ugly business, we’ve all kind of heard stories about, that are true about how much rejection and how superficial the business is. It’s very seldom merit-based.
So, for example, I’ve done very well. I’m very grateful for all the wonderful good fortune I’ve had. But me and my wife and all of our friends who have done well, we all have friends that we think are more talented than we are and it didn’t work out the same way for them.
And so one of them is teaching college; Their life took them on different paths. And so knowing that, people often ask me, how can I get my kid involved in show business?
And the same might be asked of Frank, you know. How can we make it? How can our band make it as musicians?
And I always say, I would advise that you take up woodworking, because it’s addictive.
It’s an addictive craft that is so satisfying, that doesn’t require the input of any corporate entities.
So quite frequently in Los Angeles when I would go to a big audition for like a TV pilot or something that like really would change my life, it’s incredibly stressful.
You’re just doing your best for days to keep your cool. You go do the thing and it’s invariably for a room full of bankers. It’s a terrible room.
Usually with me I’m trying to get a laugh and they’re all like—they all have their abacuses out and are like, “Well in Maxim magazine…. he has a mustache…. that’s 17 points….”
And you leave, and it’s just inscrutable. You’re like, “I have no idea how I did,” which gives you a lot of stress and a lot of agita.
So I would go straight to my shop and just start sanding a walnut table.
And after just an hour of that (and put on some music) and I would see the tangible result of this work that I had done.
That’s the thing is there’s no way to describe the sensation. There’s magic in it, whether you’re working with glass or metals or food or knitting or wood. You’re making something better than it was. It was a pile of stuff, and now it’s a lasagna. And you’ve done that with your magic powers.
And so that sensibility, that Zen I find so incredibly healthy.
Again, as a human being with foibles, when left to my own devices I will happily, especially when I was younger. I’d be like “Oh, I suddenly have the day off unexpectedly. Let’s go get drunk and go to the movies.” And that’s fun once in a while. I don’t disparage it, but it should be a special occasion. When you get to doing it with any regularity, that’s when it becomes unhealthy.
And so anything in this realm I have found it to be lifesaving.
And the thing is it’s antithetical to what we’re talking about business. And especially about show business. Show business, you’re supposed to hustle all the time. You’re supposed to beat people’s doors down and be flashy and selling yourself. And I was never able to do that stuff. If people weren’t going to give me jobs based on the merit of the work I was doing I wasn’t interested in selling myself beyond that.
And so—I didn’t do this because I was wise.
I did this, I tricked myself into this by listening to the right teachers, by going away and working in my woodshop.
That gave me a mellow demeanor to the point that I no longer cared as much about the TV shows. Also related to this movie, I mean this is the theme for me of this movie, is if you are having dilemmas in your life, if you’re experiencing loss or there’s any kind of trauma or tragedy, it’s something we all have to deal with at some point. As long as you focus on the love relationships in your life and the health of them – and that health could mean screaming at each other and saying “I’m sick of how you leave the toothpaste cap off!” or whatever it is. That is healthy. You’re working it out so you can live together and love one another, whether it’s your mom or your daughter or your spouse or your sibling. If you focus and maintain the health of those relationships everything else is going to be okay. You may lose your job. You may get another job. That doesn’t matter. Jobs will come and go.
But you want that love relationship to always matter. And in this movie my character Frank learns that if he makes the right decision and focuses on his love relationship his dream will always be there. His dream is playing music. He makes the right decision as a parent. Everything works out in a satisfactory way.
He doesn’t become a rock star, but his dream continues. And in my life by chilling myself out in my woodshop, amazingly when I got my big break they said “Oh! We love your woodshop. We’re going to make him a woodworker.” And somehow my woodworking, my antidote to show business became part of my persona. And now I have a campaign doing commercials for a glue company.
So if you want to get on stage, learn how to use a chisel.
Nick Offerman, star of the new movie Hearts Beat Loud, has some great advice about following your dreams: don't lose yourself in them. In a city like Los Angeles where the business of show puts glitz and glamor first and foremost, Nick was able to keep himself grounded by working in his woodshop, as he puts it, by simply "making something better than it was." It's incredible advice about staying focused and realistic. Nick's latest book is Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop and you can pre-order his next book The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History, too.
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