Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull’s life changed in 1995. His company went public a week before its first movie, “Toy Story,” became an instant hit.
But after achieving the biggest goal he had ever set for himself, creating a revered and successful film, he was filled with doubt.
In the latest episode of business guru Tim Ferriss’ podcast, Catmull — who is now the president of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios — tells Ferriss that he now realises the question he was asking himself at that time is a common but dangerous one for those who become successful.
That question is: “How much of it was me?” That is to say, how much of this achievement was I directly responsible for, as opposed to the efforts of my teammates or the effects of external factors?
In Catmull’s case, he was comparing his contributions with those of his highly talented team, which included Steve Jobs and John Lasseter.
Years later, he says, he “realised that the question was not a useful question. And that in somehow trying to do that, I was actually misleading myself.”
Catmull tells Ferriss that successful people should dismiss this question if it pops into their heads because it becomes isolating and distracting.
“This desire to separate oneself out is like asking for a clean answer to a question when there is no clean answer,” he says. “It is true of most of the things in our lives, whether it’s personal or business. The inner connection between them and the way they’re all mixed together is inherently messy, confusing, and there aren’t clear boundaries. And the desire for complete clarity actually leads one away from addressing the mess that’s in the middle.”
So the next time you achieve something that you have been working tirelessly for, don’t slow yourself down by second-guessing your abilities and contributions. Leaders know how to accept both success and failure without letting either keep them from moving forward or overly swaying their emotions.
Catmull, the author of “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration,” shares plenty more wisdom in the podcast, which you can find on Ferriss’ site.
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