Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Address


I honestly think Steve Jobs said it best. After I saw the commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005, every single word he said really made an impression on me. For a person who lived the majority of his life creating things he was passionate about, he truly sets an example of how far hard work and knowing how to think and how to execute your ideas can take you. 

I know it’s still early in this book but I’m about to get a little conceptual here, so just bear with me. This will be worth it though. What I’m about to briefly talk about in this section is probably the most important thing you can take away from this  entire book. It is the foundation and starting point in which I measure everything I’ve achieved so far as a result of understanding this simple truth:

You will eventually die.

I know it’s harsh to hear but biologically speaking, it is an undeniable fact. You will die at some point in your life. Some sooner than others. Believe me, it’s not something you want to dwell on too long in terms of details or stuff like that because that’s just counter-productive. What I am trying to say is that by recognizing and accepting the fact that you will eventually die, you should use that as a motivating factor to get out there and make your dreams and goals happen. 

As far as we know, you only have one life to live and spending your time on anything less than pursuing and achieving goals would be a grand waste of time and talent. Knowing yourself and believing in your abilities makes achieving your goals possible. But keeping that simple fact about your own mortality is what should push you over the edge to get stuff done. 

Enjoying life and living in the moment should be the primary focus of everyday. But never fall into the mindset that says you are comfortable with where you are and okay with what you have achieved if it’s not truly what you have in your heart. 

Comfort is the nail and acceptance is the hammer. Never settle for anything short of what you know you are capable of. Even when faced with failure and what seems like the impossible, never give up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Knowing that you want something but not knowing how to go about getting it should never deter you from getting to it. If you really truly want something, you will find a way, one way or another.

Question Everything

But I digress. The point being is that I’ve come to understand that you’ve only got this one life to do what you want to do and live how you want to live.  Doing anything less than what you want is truly a waste of time. There are people who live their whole lives wanting to do something or be something but the fear of failure and the unknown is what prevents most of them from chasing their dreams. And I am no exception. There are certain things I personally wish I was doing or experiences I wish I would have been able to say I’ve lived through, but the thing that probably gets in the way is practicality. 

The question you should really be asking yourself is if what you truly want to experience is practical, meaning, do I really truly want this and does it make sense to leave what I have going for me to make this dream or goal happen now? Is it worth all the trouble of adjusting to new experiences and struggles to make this worth my time? The answer is…. you need to figure it out on your own. Nobody can or should make that decision for you. It’s a question that bears the weight of extreme consequences that can either be good or bad. But only you can weigh the risks yourself.

I personally have dealt with this at certain points in my life, as well as seen my friends go through this same thing as well. Right now I’d like to share with you a brief story about how I have struggled with this myself and how in the end, everything seemed to fall into place.

Back when I was still in high school, I was pretty much into all the same stuff I’m into now. The only difference was that I was just starting out and wasn’t very good at anything yet. Yet I kept going along and had to struggle to make a choice about which one of my passions I wanted to focus on and study in college. It was a task that was definitely not an easy one to make. But luckily I had the option of making a choice in what I wanted to do. I’m super thankful that my parents were really supportive in all that I was interested in. They knew I was destined to be an artist and were behind whatever choice I decided to make. 

So senior year was upon us and I had started looking at colleges for design, and they scared the hell out of me because of the price and the intensity of the stuff you had to know how to do. I was eager to do it, but the fear that maybe I wouldn’t be that great of a designer was too much for me to handle that early on. I had only been messing with Photoshop for about 2 years at that point, so that was out of the picture. 

Next I looked at photography programs at some colleges. Those were pretty neat but to really excel in the course, you needed to own a DSLR. I had been doing photography for about 4 or 5 years at that point and had mainly been shooting with a cheap little Point-N-Shoot Canon A550 camera. I learned everything I could learn with that little camera but it wasn’t enough to get into a photography program. I felt as though you either needed prior experience shooting with a DSLR or had enough money to buy one for school. Both of which I had neither. 

My next (and final) option was to go to school to study music. Music was probably the option I was most excited about. I was heavily involved with music all throughout high school. From writing and composing my own music to starting and joining various hardcore bands to taking 2 years of piano courses, to being a live session guitarist for the high school choir, to eventually joining the choir as a Bass and traveling all over California and performing at Disneyland and competing in a nationwide competition in San Francisco. Music allowed me to experience lots of amazing things that were so fun and rewarding. My goal for wanting to study music was to become a session guitarist at a recording studio and be a touring musician. Traveling was something I never did a lot of so I felt that if I became a touring musician, I could travel the country and take photos of stuff because I was into photography after all, so That kind of went hand in hand.

So I searched for some schools and came across Musician’s Institute in Hollywood and immediately fell in love. The courses seemed to fall right into my interests. I requested a catalog and registered for the next upcoming Open House and anxiously waiting for both to arrive. Once it was time for the Open House, I took my parents and sisters with me to check out the school. It was amazing! The campus was really cool and the teachers were nice. The amount of opportunities and resources you had at your disposal to be a working music was pretty much what sold me. I knew I wanted to go there. I even won a scholarship at a raffle they held that day as well. It was like the Universe was clearing a path for me to attend that school.

So after a few weeks, the deadline for enrollment for the next semester was nearing closer. I was already done with the application and was in the process of acquiring a student loan with the help of my parents. The next thing was to buy a laptop computer for use in the Independent Artist program I was applying for. I ended up looking around for a good computer for which I could get lots of use out of. So I bought an HP Pavilion TX2000z, which was one of the very first tablet PC’s to ever hit the market. I got it because I was still into design and wanted to improve in that field, as well as the music field. 

The deadline was nearing closer and closer and I still had not gotten approved for my student loan. I was beginning to worry that maybe I would not end up being able to attend MI when I wanted to for a few reasons. First being that it was pretty damn expensive. Even with the help of financial aid, it would still be way too much for my parents to afford. Second, the laptop I ended up buying? Yeah that wasn’t going to cut it. It turns out the laptop you needed to get was a MacBook. Once I found this out, I was crushed. I was so excited about being able to attend MI that I failed to even pay attention to the specific details.

So the deadline passed and I didn’t get to go to MI. I moped around the house for a few months. Picked back up on my design game, got a bunch of new bands to do work for, got super inspired to get better at design and eventually attended a a semester at Mission College. While I was there, I ended up taking a design & photography course that pretty much changed my life. It was from then on that I knew design was going to be my thing. I got lots of great reception on the projects I had to present in front of the class that I felt a sense of validation in what I was doing.

After that semester was up, my parents told me that it was either continue going to community college, or get a job. I did not want to go back to school. If I did, I would have to take general education classes, which I absolutely refused to do. So I was off to find a job. I applied everywhere I could think of but I never got called back anywhere. I felt defeated. 

But then one day while driving around Downtown Burbank, I saw some large signage in front of a building across from the mall. It said “Video Symphony: TV and Film Institute” in large letters up above the doors. Needless to say, I was intrigued. So I went home and searched online to see what that place was. I came to find out that it was a film school where you could learn how to edit film, edit sound and how to do motion graphics and special effects using 3D programs. Pretty much this school teaches you everything you need to know to work in the post-production side of things for TV and film. 

Coincidentally, at that same time was when I found a bunch of articles and tutorials online that taught you how to do some basic motion graphics stuff. I had been trying them out and thought it was really fun to do. So I requested a catalog and booked a tour of the school with one of the admissions reps.  He showed me and my mom and sisters around the campus. It was small but welcoming. Everybody there seemed to know what they were doing.

So we sat down and he showed us some stuff I could potentially learn how to do if I decided to attend. I was blown away with a lot of what he showed me. I was really excited because even though motion graphics was new to me, I felt nervous. But it was that kind of nervous that is mostly consisted of excitement rather than of fear. So we filled out the application and over the next few weeks, applied for a student loan. 

Everything was set. All I had to do was wait for the start date, which was sometime around August 2009. The courses were very fast paced but since you’re in a classroom from 9am to 6pm, and for 3 days at a time, stuff tends to stick with you. And after I was done, I got hired to work at a couple of different places before I ultimately got hired to work as an Art Director at an agency in Los Angeles. 

The Power of Learning

So now in retrospect, all the possible avenues I could have gone down would have led me to extremely different lives and experiences. Do I ever wonder what my life would have been like if I became a photographer for National Geographic magazine? Or if I became a touring musician in a metal band? Of course I do! Everyday I think about those things. But just because I never became those things doesn’t mean I let those interests or passions die. In fact, the very reason why I never became those things is why I work so hard at learning all that I can about them. And the reason I do it is because its possible. Taking the initiative to learn something you’re interested in, regardless of the ease of access or attainability of it is what separates the dreamers from the doers.

I still do photography all the time. Since deciding not to go to photography school, my skills and knowledge in photography have grown because I decided that if I can’t go to school for this, I’ll just learn on my own. I’ve purchased a DSLR and have lots of equipment that makes shooting a hell of a lot more fun. And that’s the key here; learning on your own. If your preferred method, or the status quo, of education is not possible for you, then do everything you can do still pursue those dreams. Learning on your own and feeling that sense of accomplishment in knowing that you showed enough interest in something that it made you find any possible way to achieve it is the true definition of being a self-starter. 

The same can be said for music. I was very let down because I could not attend music school. But you know what? I kept my interest alive in music because it became a part of me. That interest in writing and recording music stayed with me and I chose to continue learning all that I could on my own. I got better at playing guitar and bass and drums. I researched how to properly record music at home on a small budget. Bought an audio interface and a MIDI controller. Got a copy of Logic Pro and have been writing and recording stuff for myself and even for local bands in my area.

The Internet is Your Friend

So you see, traditional forms of education aren’t necessarily needed, or the only way to do things.  Sure finding stuff on your own might be harder since you don’t have a clear path to follow along. But the fact that you do have access to almost anything online should make you question why most people aren’t as resourceful. The internet is a powerful tool and when used correctly, you can find lots of invaluable information that will guide you along the way to find the answers you need. If I ever get stuck on something or need to look something up, I just search online. Sure, you might do the same, but for me I do it for things most people wouldn’t normally search for. Because their minds have built up a sort of barricade around what are the proper forms of learning things. 

I’m constantly searching for things that directly relate to stuff I need answers for. Like for instance, this book. When I decided I was going to write this book, before I even typed a single word, I searched, “How to self-publish a book.” And I found lots of useful information that made me even more excited about getting to work on this. The ability to think around an answer you need to find is what will give you the results you need to see in an online search.