I’ve never been a huge fan of Michael Jackson’s music, although his gift as a performer and dancer has always impressed me. I grew up hearing his songs, like many of the readers, so he felt like a distance cousin, far away but still part of my life.
Despite the fact that THRILLER (1982), his second solo album after he left The Jackson 5, sold more than a 100 million copies, making it the best-selling album of all time, I was never really interested in mimicking the steps and choreography of the promo video clip, and was left sitting alone with my rum and coke at the parties of that era, while all my zombie friends took over the dance floor.
In the early 90s, before the advent of cable television in Brazil, when regular TV still had the power of unifying people, making most of us watch the same shows and discuss them at the water cooler the following day, I waited excitedly for the release of every new computerized video clip featuring a Michel Jackson hit, just like everyone else at the time. To say nothing of the fact that, in Brazil, a lot of kids from the generation after mine were named by their parents MAICON, in honor of the King of Pop. They couldn’t get it right.
Obviously, I was shocked by his untimely death and saddened by all the allegations of child abuse he had to confront (hoping that the verdict of not guilty was fair and right after all). The Oscar-winning Danish movie THE HUNT presents us with a nightmarish scenario of what it must feel like to be accused of this sort of crime if you are innocent. Once the doubt is planted in people’s minds, it will not be uprooted.
This evening, however, I watched a documentary about Michael Jackson on Netflix, and it was fascinating to be reminded of how talented and mature he was at the age of 10, an old soul. Nevertheless, in a scene in the film, someone comments that whatever he missed in childhood due to his extreme professionalism, he made up in adulthood. Of course, he was referring to the toys he got as an adult, to Neverland, and to the obsession of physically transforming his body through plastic surgery, rather than only in his imagination, like most kids do.
But what really resonated with me was all the evidence that, besides being a naturally gifted person, he was a workaholic, and added much to his innate talent through a lot of studying and dedication. It was said that even after his voice changed in adolescence he could still carry on being a great singer, as he had learned what to do technically with his voice when rendering a song, from analyzing famous singers from the past. So, what does that teach us about how to become a Michael Jackson, or a John Lennon, or a Bill Gates? Or, in other words, an extremely successful person in our career.
Work and drive
I’m a great believer that hard word and dedication are the most important levers for success in life – whichever standards you choose to measure success by. Malcolm Gladwell, in a book called OUTLIERS (which I strongly recommend) speaks of the magical number 10,000, as the minimum amount of hours necessary for someone to dedicate to a specific task if they are to excel in it. Not all of us had or will ever have the opportunity and drive to do this, let’s face it.
Of course, being endowed by nature with a special talent, such as a higher than average IQ, amazing kinesthetic intelligence, or the looks of Scarlett Johansonn, will already place you ahead of the pack. But you cannot dismiss the effort that all real celebrities – as opposed to the Paris Hilton type – must have put into building their careers. There are odds working for them, that is undeniable, but in general, this is accompanied by unusual amounts of time and effort invested in accomplishing their endeavors.
A Mentor and team work
Also, in all interviews I read and documentaries I watch about people who have done amazing things, there is a strong element of team work and mentoring involved. You just can’t make it on your own. Talent needs coaching, support and help with the hard decisions to be made along the way. Surround yourself with friendly and supportive people, who maybe complement your skills, and get yourself a mentor. Today.
I know a lot of talented people who do not advance further in their career for lack of resilience and toughness. They shy away and quit at the prospect of every obstacle (and there will be many) they face. If you ever have the chance to watch a couple of episodes of the popular series HOUSE OF CARDS, you will understand that it is impossible to get ahead without single-mindedness and a very thick skin.
This is what hindered Michael Jackon’s success in terms of longevity and balance. His instability, due mainly to growing up under an overbearing and controlling father – whom he never called Dad, but Joseph, his Christian name. Besides, the pressures of living and working in an unbelievably competitive environment must have played a strong role in his unravelling. Also, he never developed sophisticated interpersonal skills, such as being able to read people beyond their words and superficial behavior – he is said to have been naively trusting of everyone.
Basically, I should say that, in a very simplified way, the characteristics listed above translate into success. In the sense that they get you where you want to be in the corporate world, in show business, academia or politics.
Let’s continue the discussion later. In the meantime, please let me know what your views are on this post.