How To Go Out At The Top

Jerry Seinfeld was asked by Howard Stern, “why didn’t you continue the series?” After all, Seinfeld was being offered $100,000,000 by NBC if he agreed to just one more season.

For Seinfeld everything boiled down to timing. He didn’t have any special gimmicks in his act. So timing and writing was everything.

In an interview with the LA Times he once said, “A laugh is not just a laugh. It has different breadth, different pitch, different amplitude, and you learn to interpret what those things mean.”

Analyzing every detail like that is what made his comedy special. So he learned to interpret what the laughter was about for his show, the highest rated show in history.

He told Howard Stern, “The public wanted more. But, Howard, the public is NOT in show business. So you should do the OPPOSITE of what the public wants. There’s a reason they are not in show business.”

This is almost like the stock market. If everyone in the world thinks the market is going up then it means it’s probably going down soon. And vice versa.

Everyone is the same when they die. But many people become the same as everyone else much earlier.

Why “die” earlier than you have to?

Seinfeld never followed the herd. He kept his comedy clean when nobody else was. He created a show about nothing when every other show was about something.

And he went out at the top when $100,000,000 was being offered to him and everyone was begging for more.

It’s hard to do that. We have needs. We have bills to pay. If everyone is doing it “this way” then maybe “this way” is the right way? It’s scary.

So we often do things we don’t really want to do. Other people, or societal myths, make our decisions. And much later, at least with me, I would start feeling “stuck” or depressed. I wandered off of my path and ended up on the crowded death path.

At every fork in the road you have a choice. This is what I try to do now: I ask, “which choice makes me feel better”.

Then I don’t think about it. Thoughts are too biased by evolution, society, our past, our neuroses. My only job is to ask the question.

Then I take a breath. Maybe more. What’s my heart say? What’s my stomach say? Eventually, if I’m healthy in other ways, my body will tell me the answer. (maybe this sounds corny, but it’s what I do).

The public is not in YOUR business. That’s why you are you. Choose the path at the fork where your heart goes on fire. Go down that path.

Don’t look back.

 

  • A. Markusen

    The song “Troublemaker” by Weezer really sums up this post quite nicely. Good stuff, James!

  • Excellent post.

  • It reminds me of the story Jerry tells in the Comedian documentary to Orny.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeckXGffHN0

  • Monica Scalf

    Why do we always think that everyone else will know what is best for us? It’s taken me a long time to learn put up a mental force field when people are giving me unsolicited advice. But now that I know how to do it, it’s totally freeing. Your post today reminded me of that! Thanks. Kudos to people like Seinfeld who remind us too.

  • Kenneth Nuckols

    New to the blog but I’ve been following you for a while, James. I first became aware of you from the talk you did in Miami at the end of January, and have been listening to the podcast ever since.

    Seinfeld taps into a theme that I have found quite refreshing in your interviews, writing, and a number of the authors you’ve had on your show–following the herd will never help you stand out. And yet, it’s such a powerful temptation because we get sucked into thinking that doing the same things as everyone else will help us fit in and be accepted, when really it seems (in my experience) that all it does is help you disappear and become invisible. After all, if you look like and act like everyone else, how will you ever stand out?

    Just wanted to take this opportunity to say hi to the blog regulars and thank you, James, for helping me kick start some creative thinking and motivating me to start acting on all those “some day…” and “I wish…” statements that have been knocking around my head for years.

    • I recently heard someone say that “your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world” – wish I could remember who.

      • Christopher Brand

        Its Jim Carrey

  • The biggest opportunity is always found where most people don’t look. It can seem counterintuitive to think that doing something completely different from the masses will allow us to be successful… but it’s true.

    I think it was Henry Ford that said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

  • Jacob

    Hell

  • Jacob

    Hello all, and james. My name is jacob, I’m 20 years old and I want to be a writer. I’ve been trying to build my idea muscle as of late but It turns into short stories or poems instead. I really want to choose myself to write for a living and start a blog. I wrote this as I was making my list of 10 ideas for the day. It was insane this just came out of me,. Cheers james and a thanks to all who read this.

    ” I could not find a single star in the sky, where did they go? Maybe they died maybe they moved, maybe it was I who somehow was lost? I looked around puzzled and shrewd so scarcely I whispered “To good to be true” but It was evident to me I knew nothing of this place, where the stars were gone, the grass was tall and the hills pillow soft, a decorative place for lovers to fall? But it was me and only me I stuck with I, could I have been the first to ever die?

    • RG

      Hi Jacob, beautiful writing.

      If I were your editor, I would keep ‘ I could not find a single star in the sky, where did they go? Maybe they died maybe they moved, maybe it was I who somehow was lost? Could I have been the first to die?’

      This turns it to prose, the two most important lines are the highlight, the message of the paragraph is still intact, the only emotion that of being lost. You could bring in the line ‘ the grass was tall and the hills pillow soft, a decorative place for lovers to fall’ at the beginning of the next paragraph.

      You are gifted.

      RG

  • Do you think of “getting out”, James?

  • Hi James,

    “At every fork in the road you have a choice. This is what I try to do now: I ask, “which choice makes me feel better”.”

    … I finally got this around the age of 46 ;) Since then I’ve been working hard at changes so I can go down the path where my heart goes on fire.

    I spent most of my life dreading the next moment. Or focused on regret, like you say, traveling in time. I also always had a big goal that once reached would change my life, stuff that never even came into view.

    I always tried so hard to just enjoy a few fucking seconds but never could. Sad sack.

    I finally get “in the now” and my daily baby steps … well, yes, they are part of a goal, but I’m having fun and choosing THAT path daily. The only difference now is, I’m like that kid in the Disney commercial … I’m too excited to sleep :)

    It’s all becoming more like a craft. Love that.

    Thanks again, James :)

  • Gonzalo

    It’s always best to go out on top! James, maybe you should consider retiring now that you’re famous ;)

  • tomas__86

    Good post, reminds me about the Mark Twain quote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. “

  • One more reason to love Sienfield. :-) Your inner compass will always point towards the best direction for you. Thanks for highlighting this very important truth James.