Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

3 minute read

No Pain, No Gain

Tattoos become addictive if your first one was done right. Several years ago, I got a piece done by a most amazing NYC-based artist who does fire art, oil paintings, sculptures, and other media beyond skin. So when I stumbled upon an interview with Henry Lewis, a San Francisco-based artist who also tattoos as a way to refine his technical skills in drawing and painting, I took notice.

The most important similarity between iconoclastic and game-changing artists and entrepreneurs, or anyone seeking to be at the top of their game, is the utter lack of compromise to the vision they are pursuing. They stick to it, and they don't allow themselves to be distracted by anything. Perhaps this drive comes from obsession, passion, a reason for being, or perhaps they're simply not good at doing anything else. Of course this lack of compromise could be disastrous if you're headed down the wrong path tactically speaking, but successful artists keep their eyes pinned to the end goal and stick with their strategic direction.

The second most important quality is hard work. The first thing I learned from my Shaolin Kung Fu teacher, Sifu Lee, is that "kung fu" in Chinese means "work". There are no short cuts. If you want to knock someone out with a backfist-underpunch you've got to do it 1,000 times on each side. Every day. That's tiring. Your legs start to shake, your arms begin to feel like rubber, and slipping and sliding on your own pool of sweat.

The vast majority of entrepreneurs I've met and read about toiled their way up from the bottom. While many in their modesty may attribute their success to luck, there's no denying that hard work and sacrifice were prerequisites. Period.

I felt Henry Lewis encapsulated this nicely in his interview:

"A lot of people are in love wiht the idea of being an artist or a painter and nobody wants to do the footwork. You know, the lifestyle is really glamorous for most people but it's fucking bullshit. You don't get better at anything you do just fucking your life off. You have to put in the work and the time. A lot of people I know and a lot of people in the scene don't really challenge themselves, if you ask me."

You got to be honest with yourself. Are you putting it all out there? Or are you just going through the motions? Are you going to do this half-ass? Or are you going to hit it hard? Are you going to show up in your cubicle with coffee in hand, and sit through meetings in an apathetic haze? Or are you going to get out there and be a lion, living out your dream, killing your prey?

Do you think that you chose art or that art chose you?
"To tell you the truth, I think that I chose art for the simple fact that my last real corporate job was at Kinko's. After I got laid off I had to scrape the bottom of the barrel and I got a job at Kinko's. Fuck that place. I remember when I got the job as a shop assistant - I remember burning my Kinko's uniform and never looking back. I think at that point I chose art even though it sucked and I didn't make money for a long time. For a long fucking time - I just kept at it. Then after a certain point I think art chose me. It's another love/hate relationship."

Say "No" to your friends after work tonight. Go home and build something. Paint something. Write something. Change your oh-so-comfortable life. Do it now.