Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Inefficiencies of Anger

Unknown-3Around the WPA offices, I am sometimes called Obi-Wan.  I try not to take this as the old, decrepit and hooded Alec Guinness of Star Wars, but rather, the sage, father figure and hooded Alec Guinness that is all at once serene and powerful.  I suppose we all tell
ourselves the stories we need to hear.

When I was a young agent in New York.  Well, a younger agent, I was prone to getting angry about the weirdest things, little things, big things, anything really.  One day, I actually got a call from the head of the agency in Los Angeles, informing me that if I kept throwing my phone headset against the wall and breaking it, I would have to supply my own.  Fair enough I thought at the time.

I’m not sure when I realized what a waste of time my emotions were becoming or when I realized the amount of mistakes I was making sans calmness, but at some point I turned over a new leaf. As I think back, I wonder if it was inexperience that made me angry or my fear of failure when I found myself in unfamiliar territory, or an addiction to the drama of it all.

I think I calmed down for good when one day, on a negotiation I said something out ofimages-1 anger to a producer, who instantly used it as leverage and not only beat the hell out of me in the deal, but then he (of course) used the comment to deride me to my client. I ended up losing that client, even though what sparked my outburst in the first place was my feeling the client was being insulted and taken advantage of.  Hard lesson.

Once I turned the corner, I was left with a few undeniable philosophies:

  1. We’re making movies, not saving the world.  We’re white collar executives, not Seal Team 6.  No one dies in what we do if we are close to competent. In the movie industry, it’s only the extreme hubris of a Ryan Miller that will kill a Sarah Jones. 99.999 percent of the time we are perfectly safe.
  2. If your client will walk away from a negotiation, you can go hard because you have all the leverage.  If your client is desperate, you’ll have to accept what they give you and there’s no use in being upset about it. Supply and demand.
  3. At this point I’ve seen so many people get into trouble through their emotions that it’s hard to miss the lesson.  I have passed on so many clients after hearing their reputation as a screamer on set or unreasonable in negotiations.  It means at the least that they don’t understand principles 1 or 2. At the most, they are just assholes. In a business based on repeat business, they will have a short shelf life. Sometimes, they are in the “so talented, they’ll be around forever category.”  But, that just puts them in my “life’s too short category.”

I’m left with the image of Abe Vigoda’s Tessio in the Godfather as they put him in the car to drive him to his execution.  They told him it wasn’t personal.  It was just business and he understood with a resigned calmness.  For him, it was life and death, well pretend life and death anyway, but again, in the end it was just business.

images-3Now, when things start to get heated at work, I take an imaginary step to the left and let the other person’s emotion pass by me instead of through me.  If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that the person who is more emotionally invested ALWAYS loses a negotiation. It’s a simple success model, be the calm one.

 

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Scars

stapled-scar-resultsI have a scar on the knuckle of my left thumb.  I got it when I was in 7th grade and it was the first of many. It’s very faint now 40+ years later but it’s still there.  There was a kid in my neighborhood named John Coakley.  He was two years older than me and he had a penchant for terrorizing younger kids.  One day, outside a store in town, I came upon him pushing around a friend that was a year younger than me.  I stepped in the middle and told him to stop it.  He asked: “What are you going to do about it?” I hit him with a solid roundhouse from the left side and I caught him square in the teeth. Unfortunately for John, he didn’t expect that particular answer from a smaller kid, but he also wore braces and I think he assumed the unwritten law of “no hitting kids with braces” was in effect.  It wasn’t.  So the blow ripped open the inside of his mouth as well as my thumb.  He ran off yelling at me with blood flowing into his hands.  He never bothered us again.

All these years later, I have plenty more scars.  Physical, emotional and even spiritual I suppose.  I was reminded of it this morning when I got out of the shower and looked in the mirror.  I had surgery for a separated shoulder three weeks ago so I have a beauty now.  About 4 inches long, red and angry looking.  It runs from the top of my shoulder down almost to the top of my chest.  The result of another misadventure between man and horse.

I have some on my right shoulder from a Labrum repair, a few on my stomach from Gallbladder surgery and others here and there that I don’t even remember how they came about.

It begs the broader question: what are the cost of my scars?  See, horseback riding is a contact sport. Contact with the ground, with hooves, with dicey terrain and gaps in my horsemanship. The Gallbladder scars?  Bad eating habits. My emotional scars are from incessant worrying about my wife and children, the death of my father, mistakes, rejections, business failures and stepping up to do the right thing when I knew it would hurt my business and my finances.

But, now I realize that every scar means something to me. It’s the cost of standing up to a bully.  It’s the cost of having the sense of adventure to get back on horses that invariably will throw you into the woods now and again.  It’s the cost of doing business with integrity when others can’t or won’t, and those people will find the justification to call you inhuman, ruthless and worse when you show them the door.  They will multiply your scars by poisoning what they can long after. It’s the cost of loving someone who won’t be here forever and that particular scar will be where no one else can see or understand it.  That scar is on your heart.

I’m proud of my scars. I’ve earned them.  They mean that I tried.  They mean I stood for something. They mean I’ve loved some people and said goodbye to others.  They mean I had courage and I wasn’t afraid to fall down and fail.  And all those things put together ultimately lead to a successful life.

So, a big thanks John Coakley.  I hope you learned something from your scar too.