How Saying Thank You Leads to Greatness

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Photo by Nathan Rupert via Flickr.

One of the things I love about drinking alcohol is that it puts blinders on my mind — in a good way. I don’t see all the reasons I shouldn’t say something, write something, or do something. It shuts off fear.

Without fear clouding my mind, I feel a burst of creativity — the ideas and the words to describe the ideas flow freely. I would say I’m confident, but it’s not quite that.  I don’t even think about it. I just do.

Perhaps this is ultimate confidence, when the idea or feeling of confidence isn’t even present and you just create.  You just take action with 100% focus on the present.

The Terrible Filmmaker Turned Successful Artist

In the documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the famous street artist Banksy has a chance encounter with a Frenchman named Thierry Guetta. Thierry had been filming street artists ever since he discovered his cousin’s penchant for street art. The cousin’s “pen” name is Invader because he makes little tile re-creations of the characters from the video game Space Invaders.

It’s a terrific film in which a businessman (Thierry) with no apparent artistic skill finds himself deep in the world of street art. He made connections with the biggest names in street art simply by being around the artists, filming them, and helping out however he could.

Thierry filmed relentlessly and the artists came to know him as a filmmaker — until they saw his finished product.

“When Mr. Guetta and camera eventually tunnel into the world of street art — he was introduced to the scene through a cousin, the Parisian artist Space Invader — his enthusiastic recording melds nicely with the artists’ desire to have their otherwise ephemeral work documented. He captures that scene’s luminaries, like Shepard Fairey and Swoon working on rooftops and in alleys under cover of night.


It seems to be a natural fit for a documentary. But Mr. Guetta’s nonstop footage turns out to be unwatched (he has boxes and boxes of unlabeled tapes) and even when he cobbles something together after years of shooting, largely unwatchable. “He was maybe just somebody with mental problems who happened to have a camera,” Banksy says in the film.


So Banksy decides to take control of the material himself — or so we’re told. Robbed of his camera and prodded by Banksy, Mr. Guetta, meanwhile, morphs into a street artist, inventing an alter ego called Mr. Brainwash and staging an opening exhibition in Los Angeles that turns him into an overnight sensation, all of which is captured in ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop.’ ”

Melena Ryzik, New York Times, April 13, 2010

Thierry exemplifies a number of characteristics, which come together to form a trait common to people who create big things. Although this trait may exist in many people that are not widely considered to be successful, I have only noticed it in successful people — people who have created works of widespread notoriety and/or significant economic value. So, disclaimer, there is somewhat of a success bias here in that success tends to get more attention than failure.

The Forge Ahead Trait

This trait is the ability to forge ahead when there is little to no evidence that you will ever succeed — no historical evidence, no current signs of progress, no concrete reason to believe you can create something of significance to many. What stops many people cold in their tracks at this stage — fear, lack of confidence, lack of skills — seems to have little effect on people like Thierry. In some way, it seems that lack of awareness becomes an advantage.

Thierry did not seem to perceive that he did not have the requisite skills to make a movie or be a street artist. He just kept forging ahead, kept filming, kept creating “art.”

Importance of Mentorship

An important factor in Thierry’s story that may be a catalyst for this “forge ahead” trait is the presence and support of Banksy. It is logical that the presence of a world class person believing in you and consistently pushing you would be a significant dose of confidence and inspiration.  This brings to mind the much vaunted Steve Jobs reality distortion field in which Jobs seemingly wills people to perform beyond what they thought possible.

Another fact worth mentioning is that Thierry’s financial resources. He was able to hire people and invest himself fully into these projects due to his financial position. It’s impossible to say if the resources led to the proper mindset or if the mindset created the resources, but nonetheless, this is something to keep in mind.

Emotions for Action

Certain emotional states push fear out of your mind. Somewhere it was said that gratitude is the highest energy state. Love, similarly, is an emotional state that does not allow fear to be present. Think about when you felt love for someone in the past. You probably took some actions that in the absence of love seem pretty bold, terrifying, and possibly stupid. This is the perfect place to be when trying to start something big.

Whether it be a relationship, a business, an idea or really anything that requires you to put yourself out there and face rejection, you need to be in an emotional place where fear is not the controlling factor. Fear can be there and will be, particularly, at the start of something, but there are other emotional states that can push fear to the background and allow for massive action.

Gratitude Drives Action and Well-Being

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.  — John Milton

Explore the power of gratitude.  Spend time each day focusing on what you are grateful for.  It takes practice, but you need to take the time to realize that you are grateful for the water you drink, the clothes you wear, the furniture that supports you. Writing down all the things for which you are thankful is a powerful practice.

Tim Ferris recommends practicing stoicism.  I think of it as depriving yourself so you can appreciate more.

After we come through something challenging, we feel a sense of great appreciation for things that previously seemed very small and ordinary. I got a job while I was in law school at Mahoney’s Garden Center.  My brother was a general manager at one of their stores and helped to get me some work on short notice.

After three hours of lugging around Christmas trees in the winter cold and wet, I gave up. I went to the manager and said, “I can’t do this” and left for good.  Now, we could get deeper into what was going on in my head that made me quit a job that I needed badly only three hours into it, but let’s save that for later.

When I got back to my apartment that afternoon, I was never so appreciative of warmth, a couch, food, and tv. I was in love with all aspects of my life at that moment, and was completely present in my gratitude for these things that I took for granted not four hours earlier.

Push yourself into an uncomfortable situation even for a short time and it will open you up; it will allow you to feel gratitude for small comfort, for stability, and your tolerance for discomfort will grow with each small push. The ensuing gratitude you feel for the comforts in your life will put you in a place where action is possible.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @WiliamWallis.


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William W Barnes

Creating and evangelizing world-changing products. I like Lions and Cows.
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