by David Carus
Once in a while an artist comes along that changes everything. Michael Jackson was that kind of artist. His influence on popular culture continues to resonate and his legacy is as rock solid as they come. People will be talking about Michael Jackson for generations; but why? What was he able to do that set him apart? How did he go from intensely shy to the greatest entertainer in the world? He was so famous he couldn’t walk the streets of any country without people recognizing him. How did he do it? His story may surprise you.
Most people look at someone with talent and say things like, “He’s a natural,” or “He was born with that talent,” and in the case of Michael Jackson you’d be tempted to say these kinds of things. However, there is no talent gene or magic dust sprinkled on a few lucky folks. When you see talent, know that it is the result of practice alone, and in the case of Michael Jackson he had lots and lots of practice. He not only had to work hard to sing and dance like he did, but he had to fight his way in from a very young age. Many people remember he got his start performing with his brothers in the Jackson 5, but he was never supposed to be in the group. His older brothers wanted to form a band and make music and when young Michael came into their bedroom, they’d kick him out. He was too young, just a kid. But he kept knocking on the door and eventually he became part of the group when they heard him sing. He had music around him his whole life. His father was a musician and his tight knit family always had music around and he’d been listening and learning.
The Jackson 5 didn’t explode onto the national scene right away. They performed lots of shows, practiced to get better and worked hard to get signed to Motown Records. Once there, Michael Jackson became surrounded by musical greats like Diana Ross, James Brown, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and others who all influenced him. As a child he got a priceless education, recording and performing during one of music’s greatest eras. His career wasn’t founded on natural born talent or luck, it was the result of study, practice and hard work. And what makes it even more incredible is the fact that Michael Jackson was one of the shyest people you’d ever meet. He’d spend so many hours practicing that by the time he went on stage he completely owned it, exuding tons of confidence.
Michael Jackson achieved great success performing with his brothers but no one could have foreseen just how successful his solo career would be. One of the key factors in his success, aside from the hours he devoted to his craft, was writing his own material and consciously creating his image. Michael Jackson and his brothers had been restricted at Motown. They were told which songs to record and never got the chance to produce their own music. By the time Michael went on his own, he believed in his ability to write songs and determine the course of his career. He was the one that chose to work with Quincy Jones and from his first album “Off The Wall,” music would never be the same again. The follow-up “Thriller” would sweep the Grammy’s and go on to sell more copies than any album ever had. He went on to dominate music and change its entire landscape.
How was this achieved? Michael Jackson had a vision. He knew what he wanted to create and all those years of hard work and practice paid off. This didn’t mean now he then coasted and took it easy. He worked even harder, spending countless hours recording and performing to give the world what we now know as Michael Jackson. This image was his total creation. From the fedora hats and sparkling glove to the groundbreaking videos and moonwalk, Michael Jackson knew what he wanted and made it happen. There were no favors, no back room dealings, no luck, no connections, just 100% working on art. Michael Jackson chose to be an artist and achieved such phenomenal fame because he dreamed more, imagined better, worked harder and practiced longer than most people dare to do. The next time you watch him effortlessly glide across a dance floor understand all of the effort that went into making it happen. There’s no reason you can’t moonwalk like Michael Jackson. You just need to practice.
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I recently decided to ask the following question to all of my artist friends: “What's the one thing that stops you the most from being a successful artist?” I got back more than a hundred responses and I was actually surprised to discover that one answer was overwhelmingly at the top: lack of confidence. It was so popular that it more than doubled the number two answer. I was surprised for two reasons, one, I consider myself confident when it comes to being an artist and two, I consider artists extremely talented and skilled individuals, which should make them automatically confident, right? Well I quickly realized having confidence is something lots of people struggle with and artists more than anybody, and here’s why:
Simply, artists have to communicate their ideas but other people not so much. Artists put themselves out there (with their heart and soul embodied in their work) and when you do that it’s like waving a big sign that says, “Hey everybody! Look at me! I’ve created something new!” We live in a world where too many people are comfortable and don’t want the boat rocked and here you come with your art, rocking it! Anytime they see an artist you’re reminding them of what they should be doing: creating! So what happens next? “Oh, that’s nice.” “I had a friend that tried doing that.” “Is that what you do for a living?” “What’s your real job?” “Well, that’s nice.” “Good luck with it.” There’s this inescapable tenseness that travels from them to you leaving the thought, “I should keep practicing because maybe I’m not good enough yet.” Let me tell you something. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH.
Why? Because no matter how bad you might think your art is, at least you’re making it. All of the people you’re worried about pleasing probably aren’t artists and if they are they’re probably not making much art. Here you come with your finished piece of art. There they are without one. Luckily, they don’t have to matter much because there are plenty of people that support artists. If that wasn’t true then you wouldn’t be able to watch a movie, listen to an album or read a book. There are millions if not billions of people on this planet right now that support artists and the art they make. You just have to weed out the ones that don’t by standing strong, flourishing and prospering in the face of opposition. You just have to keep lifting up, extending out and presenting your art to people. No matter what. Don’t let one hater prevent all that will love it later.
Finally, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to be Bob Dylan the moment you pick up a guitar. So you’re not Hemingway yet and they haven’t put a Nobel Prize around your neck, who cares? Know that you’re always going to make the best art you can, so why beat yourself up over it? The real reason any of those haters or critics can set you on fire is because you’ve got some small pile of firewood laid out somewhere inside you. Guess what? You don’t have to be society’s idea of what a successful artist is, you just have to be YOUR idea of what a successful artist is. As long as you can do that you won’t have any problem walking up to somebody and showing them what you made. Be confident knowing you’re doing something most people can’t and every time you do it you’re getting even better at it. Build confidence like you’d build a house, one brick at a time. And there’s no reason you can’t be a skyscraper.
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.