Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Random Thought: Eddie Murphy on taking advice

A recurring theme in this space is to observe and analyze successful people. Because Biography rarely delves into the stories of people like the guy who invented the sliding glass door, we're exposed to entertainers more than anything else.

By anybody's measure, Eddie Murphy is a successful entertainer. A huge hit on Saturday Night Live before his 20th birthday and a crossover to movies shortly thereafter, he's been a prominent figure in the entertainment business for 25 years. During his promotional tour for Dreamgirls in December, 2006 he made a visit to Inside the Actor's Studio.

Usually when you see Eddie Murphy on a talk show, like with Leno or Dave, he's playful with a hint of cockiness. Like a lot of people who sit opposite James Lipton, he was almost all business during this particular interview. Stoic much of the time and, as the environment tends to foster, very reflective of what he's done with his career, Eddie was very different than every other time I've seen him plug a movie. Throughout the main part of the show with Lipton, he made multiple references to studying the successful aspects of those who had come before him. He made the expected references to people like Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, but it is clear he does his homework based on his other comments. For example, he went as far as to admit stealing aspects of certain performances for his own such as Charles Laughton's Hunchback of Notre Dame and its influence on Eddie's version of The Nutty Professor.

During the student question section, though, he said something very interesting about advice. He was asked a variant of the typical question, "What advice would you give to an up and coming actor?" Here was his answer:

"The advice I would give an actor is not to take any advice from anyone. . . When you make that choice [to be an actor], you know it and you know what's in your heart and you know what you want to do and you know what your abilities are deep down inside and lots of times advice can screw you up."

Now, it might seem a bit strange for someone running a blog on engineering career advice to quote someone recommending you ignore career advice, but he then told a story that gave some more depth to what he was trying to say.

He said that as a 16-year old on the stand up comic circuit, Rodney Dangerfield saw Eddie do his act. Many people reading this have no idea who that is, but do yourself a favor and follow the link to find out. Suffice it to say, Rodney Dangerfield was a comedy king in the late 70s and early 80s (best known by general audiencces for his role in Caddyshack) when this incident took place, so naturally Eddie sought guidance from him. Dangerfield advised Eddie to cut down on his use of profanity. He told Eddie he was funny, but was going too far with his use of expletives.

Ultimately, Eddie decided that his use of language was a fundamental part of who he was as an entertainer and he ignored the advice. Years later, after Eddie had achieved fame, he next saw Dangerfield when they happened to be using adjacent urinals at a bathroom in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. When Rodney noticed who it was next to him, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, "Who knew?"

To me, the point of the story isn't that you simply ignore advice out of hand, as the original quote implies. Instead, it shows that you have to know who you are and what you want to achieve in order to put whatever suggestions you might get to their best use. Ultimately, your day to day decisions are nobody else's but yours. You have to decide what advice is good or bad given the situation. The important part is that you be open to ideas in the first place and know enough about what you are trying to achieve, both in the short term and the long term, in order to make an informed choice when advice comes your way.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 7:42 PM   2 comments


At 9:21 PM, Blogger Elton said...

How can someone not know who Rodney Dangerfield is?! That would be a travesty.

Nice random thought!

At 11:26 PM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...

Elton, my lead commenter, thanks for dropping by again.

Given that I'm old enough to have seen Caddyshack in theaters when it came out, I didn't want to assume there wasn't an age gap there. You score big points with me for knowing, though. If you can quote any of Bill Murray's monologue on caddying the Dali Lama, you get even more points (big hitter, the Lama).

Also, some readers are non-US and I'm not sure Rodney got much play in Europe. Next week, I've got a post brewing on the use of slang in an international work force that focuses on that sort of thing.

Thanks again for stopping by. Keep 'em coming and tell a friend (or 3).


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