I recently learned a new word: Autotelic. From the Greek auto (self) and telos (end), an Autotelic is “someone or something that has a purpose in, and not apart from, itself.” So that is this week’s theme…
No, No, No…I Won.
Before he was a big-time comedian, Hasan Minhaj was asked if he thought he was going to become a big-time comedian. “I don’t like that question,” he said. “I fundamentally don’t like that question.” Because that question implies that he is only doing comedy as a means to some end (money, fame, etc.). “No, no, no,” he said, “The set I get to do tonight at 7:20 PM is the win. I get to do comedy—I won. It being predicated on doing X or being bigger than Y—no, no, no. To me, it’s always just been about the work. I’m on house money, full-time.”
The Godfather of Skateboarding
Rodney Mullen is the “Godfather” of skateboarding for inventing most of the sport’s tricks. He started the first skateboarder-owned company, which he eventually sold for $46 million. In his 50s now, he still skateboards every day. He was asked, to what do you attribute your sustained success? “It’s such a gift to be able to [do] something and to love it for the sake of it…I have that. I’ve nurtured it in my life,” he said. “I see people with talent, with all those things,” he says, “but the one thing they don’t have is just that love for doing it for the sake of it…So if there’s anything, just find joy in what you do for the sake of it.”
Quentin Tarantino’s Pure Obsession
When he was 17, in 1981, Quentin Tarantino dropped out of school and moved to Hollywood. There, he briefly studied acting at the James Best Theater Center. One of the teachers, Jack Lucarelli, would never forget Tarantino’s pure obsession with movies. “I think he’s watched about every movie in the history of movies,” Lucarelli said. It was this pure obsession that made it obvious to Lucarelli that Tarantino was destined for a successful filmmaking career. “He was in it for all the right reasons,” Lucarelli said. “It was very enlightening…that he was in it just because he loved cinema. Too many people are in it for the wrong reasons — fame, fortune, attention…And I look back, and for all those who didn’t make it and Quentin did, he made it because he was pure.” Because he was an Autotelic.
This Has Nothing To Do With “Making It”
In the back of a comedy club, the comedian Orny Adams got a chance to talk to his hero, Jerry Seinfeld. Adams was struggling to break through. He committed his twenties to trying to “make it” as a big-time comedian and at the age of 29, he was starting to wonder if he’d taken the wrong path. “I see my friends,” Adams says to Seinfeld in the documentary Comedian. “I see people making a lot of money on Wall Street. I see people with a wife and kids and a big house. I just see people moving up.” “They’re moving up?” Seinfeld asks. “Are you out of your mind?” “This has nothing to do with your friends,” Seinfeld says. He points in the direction of the stage—“this is such a special thing. This has nothing to do with ‘making it.’” Seinfeld and Adams aren’t in it for the same reasons. Seinfeld is an Autotelic. Adams isn’t. For Adams, there’s some amount of money or celebrity that would make him feel like he won, like he “made it.” For Seinfeld, the work is the win.
The Work Has To Be The Win
Ryan Holiday once told me, “the work has to be the win.” You control the effort, he says, not the results. “So ultimately, you have to love doing it. You have to get to a place where doing the work is the win and everything else is extra.”