By Antonio Graceffo
Since earliest childhood I had the dream of being a movie star. I wanted to be rich and famous. When I read that Elvis had to rent out an amusement park, just so he wouldn’t get mobbed by his fans, I said, “that is exactly how famous I want to be.”
I am still not there. Occasionally my family recognizes me, and I do get fan mail from people I owe money to, but I am more famous this year than last year. Since leaving the world of finance behind me in New York, I have published five books. I do get fan mail every single day, but usually only one or two pieces. I earn book royalties and magazine story fees, but not even enough to afford the concrete bunker I was living in the Philippines.
I got a few spots on TV shows on the History Channel and wrote a show for Discovery.
I didn’t get my own TV show, but I did manage to get my own web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey.” I also starred in a series of videos shot inside the war zone in Burma. Even with spelling errors and doing a low budget production, we were able to bring a lot of attention, and help to the people of Shanland Burma, while raising awareness of their plight. It also gave me one more credit as a journalist and film guy. Would it have been better to do a big production for television? Yes. But if I had waited for that to happen, it might never have got done. Also, now, I can show my flawed videos to production companies and say, “If you back my financially I can do a better version of this.” They can see the concept, and make a more informed decision.
It’s not Hollywood. After seven years of traveling and writing, I am not rich or famous yet. But this year was better than last year. And hopefully next year will be better again.
The point is, if you have a dream, follow it. You may not get the exact success that you want, or it may take a long time to get there, but you will Never reach your goal if you don’t try.
Because of my decision to leave the normal career path, I have had the opportunity to do and see things that most people can’t even dream of. Sometimes I don’t have food or a place to sleep. And of course, a lot of people tell me I would be better off quitting. It gets tough sometimes to stick to my dreams, but I have learned to live by two very important axioms:
Incremental success is better than no success at all.
Doing something is better than doing nothing.
My friend Shlomo is a would-be film maker, who helped me with a lot of my youtube videos, which related to Burma and my work with the Shan refugees and rebels. He wrote me, while I was at school in the Philippines and said that, although he had spent almost as many years in Asia as me, and although he had shot hundreds of hours of raw footage, the only videos he ever managed to finish and publish were mine. And, he didn’t know why.
I told him that when I worked on Wall Street we learned that there are a lot of people who never even begin working on their dreams. In fact, probably 80% of businesses dissolve before they sell their first widget. The person, or people, who conceived a particular business plan made it seem like it was their life’s dream, an all consuming desire. Then it evaporated for one reason or another.
Back in the States, a friend of mine wanted to start a wine importing business on the internet. He talked about it non-stop for weeks, drawing up plans, designing logos. He saw the wine business as a ticket out of restaurants where he worked as a waiter. And best of all, he could work on his business at night, when he got off work, so he wouldn’t need to quit his day job. He didn’t even have to buy the wines. He would just find them, take orders, then purchase them. The plan sounded good. In my opinion, even if he didn’t make millions, he would earn something, more than what he had now. And once you get started in business other opportunities and problems arise that you never planned on. But you can’t know until you get there.
The guy who started Wrigleys gum, gave the gum away as a premium for people who bought his soap powder. After several months, he realized the gum was more popular, so he did it the other way around, selling the gum and giving away the soap. He made millions. In fact, most people don’t know this, but Wrigleys gum is the only American product which is sold in every single country in the world. Even Coke doesn’t have the penetration of Wrigleys. Nearly every stick of gum, made by every company, is owned, in some way, by Wrigleys.
But Wrigley couldn’t have anticipated that. He couldn’t have known it until he got out there and gave it a try. I think you are always better off doing something than doing nothing.
My friend with the wine business applied for a small business loan to buy a computer. The bank turned him down and he went into a violent deep depression. “Now, I will never be a business owner. I will be stuck as a waiter forever.”
“Why don’t you just work from an internet café until you earn enough to buy a computer?” I asked.
I don’t remember his exact objection, but my friend gave up on his dream. He liked to believe he was a victim of fate and this experience confirmed his belief. People like to be right, not successful.
Reasons are always given when people give up their dreams, but the fact is, people sabotage themselves. And I don’t know why they do it. And I have done it to myself. Just be aware of it and ask yourself why you didn’t do this or that, which you have always wanted to do.
On my last visit to Cambodia, my master needed my help with several things. We had been working together, over a period of years, to preserve the Cambodian martial art of Bokator, which had nearly died out.
1. He needed a free basic website
2. He needed me to write the English text for his book.
3. He needed us to do some youtube movies together.
4. He wanted to build a massive Bokator temple, and he needed $30,000,000 to build it.
I looked at his list and I told him, “I will interview you every day over the next few days, and then transcribe the interviews. We can use that text for your book, and your website. I can set up a basic, free, website for you, but someone with more skill will need to refine it afterwards. I can write the Bokator videos and arrange for my friend Alfred to film them for us.
We made an appointment for me to come and start the interview process. When I showed up, he told me, “I am sorry. I am too busy designing the temple. And I just can’t get any of these other projects done till I know the temple is complete.”
Obviously he didn’t have thirty million dollars. He would never have thirty million dollars, which meant the temple would never be done. Which meant, he would never do the other things on the list.
This is how 99% of people live. They are incapable of completing anything.
Another master I train with told me, “I received phone calls and email from around the world because of the youtube videos you did of me. And many journalists found me and did stories on me. And the association gave me an award for helping to promote the art.”
I thought this all sounded positive. Then he said to me. “But I looked at the video, and I wished we hadn’t made it because it is not perfect. I wish we could take it down till I make a perfect one.”
Once again, he had no capacity to make a better video. He reaped so many positive benefits from our faulty one, and yet he wanted to go back to when he had nothing.
People who read “Monk from Brooklyn,” and my first several books complained that there were a lot of misspelled words and typos. And I agree. They also say that there was no marketing and sales were low. Also true. But, because of those early books, I am a published author, which now is opening other doors for me. I am infinitely better off for having published faulty books than I would have been had I waited to publish perfect ones. I don’t care about the problems with my books. The rights to Monk revert back to me in 2008. I can rewrite it and released it with better editing. The same is true of the other books.
So many people send me email to tell me that my website, speakingadventure.com is far from perfect. I always say, “ok can you fix it for me?” The answer of course is always “no” and that I should take it down till I can afford to do a good website. Screw them! I have no money for a better website and don’t anticipate having money for a better website. Right now, at least I have a website. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get any work at all. Later, hopefully I can hire someone to build a better one. But take away my books and take away my website, and I am not a working author, I am back at square one. And no one gives you anything when you are at square one.
People are hung up on stupid details that prevent them from moving forward. I don’t know why, but seems to be the natural way of man.
The first step to achieving your goals is to start. The second step is failure. You will fail along the way. You will meet problems, and successes, that you never could have imagined till you started on the path. Most people don’t fail to achieve their dreams, they QUIT. So, the obvious two rules are, “Start working on your dream.” and “Don’t quit.”
And one more rule, tell everyone about your dreams and ask for help.
So, taking my own advice: My dream is still to get my own TV show and be wildly successful, rich, and famous. So, if you liked this article, and you can help me with that dream, please contact me.
Antonio Graceffo is a former investment banker. He left the world of finance to pursue his dream of being an adventure and martial arts author in Asia. For seven years he has traveled around Asia, living and studying in temples, learning languages and martial arts. He has published five books, available on amazon.com and several hundred magazine articles. He is the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey.”
See his website: speakingadventure.com. Join him on facebook.com
Write him: Antonio@speakingadventure.com
Antonio is a professional, motivational speaker, available to tell his inspirational story of rags-to-riches-and back to rags.