What it takes to be Michael Jackson

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.


Michael Jackson

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.

Emotional intelligence

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.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.


5 thoughts on “What it takes to be Michael Jackson

  1. Hi, there!! You´re amazing and the article is beyond beautiful, intelligent…… and the list goes on. I have always been a fan although didn´t like all the songs themselves, but I´ve always been impressed by his dedication, perfectionism, and natural-born talent.
    You´ve linked his oersonality and skills with important concepts. You´re the guy!!!!!
    Thanks a bunch for this excellent article.
    Still missing you…


  2. The majority of what you wrote is right on point and I greatly appreciated you mentioning the book “Outliers” in regards to Michael Jackson. He was a perfectionist and as such did put those 10,000+ hours of dedication to his craft. So much so, that he inspired many people including, Kobe Bryant of Los Angeles Laker fame – Kobe said it was Michael Jackson who was his mentor, not Michael Jordan. He gave him the advice to “believe in yourself” even if others find you odd or different.
    However, there are a couple of issues you could have further explored. His plastic surgery was at first selective, as he wanted to change his nose, just like all of his siblilngs. Unfortunately, Michael suffered from lupus and many of his surgeries beyond the initial one was for reconstructive measures, not aestethics. A Dr. Schtrick went into great detail of what Lupus does to the delicate tissues of the face and reported that Michael was most likely just trying his best to look normal. Also, his autopsy confirmed he suffered from Vitiligo which not only does a number on your skin by removing the pigment, it can emotional traumatize a person, especially a person of color, who is very proud to be black man. But as you say, Michael was strong and resiilent to say the least – He faced and handled these skin conditions quietly, without goting public, which is another emotional burden. Imagine being the sexy Michael Jackson on stage with millions of fans screaming in adoraton, only to go remove mekeu-up and become “a spotted cow” which is what he finally told his mother he felt like. He hid it from the rest of his family too. His brother Jermaine was not even aware of the extent of his skin condition until one day Michael exposed his chest to him. This man face much difficulty in his life but kept on going forward.
    Secondly, the issue of “longevity and balance” seems a tad heavy handed- While I do agree he was terrorized by a domineering father and his childhood nearly non-existent as we all understand childhoods to be, he had an over abundance of Emotional Intelligence considering the circumstances of his life. His career spans 40 years ..that can hardly be considered a short time. Had he not been killed by a greedy, malevolent physician who infused him illegally with Hosptial grade Propofol, Michael Jackson would still be creating innovative art with messages that break cultural, religious, and racial barriers. Everyone he ever worked with has remarked on his professionalism, his openness to hear others input while working in studio, or video, or musical charity song, like We Are The World.. Long time friend and associate, Bruce Swedian said that in a world where courtesy is not often afforded, Michael was always polite, with “Thank you’ and ‘please’ in abundance. Barton, the director of Billie Jean said he never seen a man so quiet yet so powerful -Yes, he was extremely trusting and that was a drawback when it came with dealing with evil people but within the midst of those who didn’t want to harm him it was a wonderful characteristic. Elizabeth Taylor said she thought he was “other-worldly” and he “gave of himself to the point of pain”. I truly believe that as well.

    Thank you so much for writing about Michael Jackson and appreciating his strength, dedication and emotional stamina . It’s so refreshing to find someone who might want to examine him way beyond the false narrative of “weird” and “wacko” that the media has shovelled out to the masses for decades, as he was neither.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s