The Artist’s Path to Success: Jamie Foxx

Posted on 26. Jun, 2017 by in Get Motivated, Lifestyle

It’s been over a month since my last post but I only get compelled to write when something really moves me.

Lately I’ve been fascinated by learning about paths to success.

Particularly the path of the artist. The artist, who I loosely associate as anyone who creates something for a living or for fun, doesn’t always have a clear path to success. The path isn’t clear and sometimes even the destination, success, is blurry.

How do I know if I’ve become a success as a writer? Page views, Facebook shares, book sales? Right now the only measurement I can think of is if I positively impact my children with my written words somewhere down the road. I might become a “success” in 5 years, or 25 years. My only hope is to become one, eventually.

There are plenty of success stories in the business world. Every company started out of a garage, and every entrepreneur dropped out of some level of formal education. I say this with love, because I truly admire and aspire to the business tales of triumph as well.

In business, it’s a lot easier to measure success. We use financials and numbers to determine if we’ve gotten to our goals. You can see the target, you can engineer a path to it, and implement it.

I want to share an artist success story that has continually impacted my life since I heard it over a year and a half ago.

This story is about Eric Marlon Bishop. You might know him better as Jamie Foxx.

Jamie is known by most for his Academy Award and Golden Globe Award winning performance playing singer Ray Charles in “Ray” in 2004. This is when most of the world got to know Jamie, when he was 37 years old.

With these accolades, Jamie became only the second male in history to receive two acting Oscar nominations in the same year for two different movies, the other movie being “Collateral” opposite Tom Cruise. The only other male actor to achieve this was Al Pacino.

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Jamie is also a 2x Grammy Award winning recording artist. He doesn’t just play one on the big screen. Through “Ray” and his album “Unpredictable” (2005), he became only the fourth artist to have both won an Academy Award for an acting role and to have achieved a #1 album in the U.S. He joins the ranks of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Barbara Streisand.

When you look at these tremendous achievements and the wide spectrum they cover, it’s easy to say Jamie has a lot of talent. But saying someone is talented often infers a God-given gift, rather than years and years of hard work. If you’ve read my previous post about the growth mindset, you’d know that a compliment of “natural talent” is a red flag for a fixed mindset.

The thing I admire most about Jamie is his relentless pursuit of doing things really well. In addition to his prior accolades, he’s also a world famous comedian. I first watched him on “In Living Color” in the 90s. It was there that he learned from a fellow co-star and writer on the show, Keenan Ivory Wayans, that if you don’t write great stuff then you don’t exist. “Be great or be unknown” was a mantra he adopted.

As a kid in a small, very segregated town in Texas, Jamie Foxx was heavily influenced by his grandparents who raised him, particularly his grandma, Esther Talley. She started him in piano lessons when he was only five years old.

“The reason I want you to learn piano is so you can go across the tracks and play your music for people,” his grandma would say. Going “across the tracks” meant more than just a geographical location. It was a different life, a better life. Grandma Talley knew that a talent of playing the piano could take her grandson places no one in their family had ever been.

Jamie followed his grandma’s advice through grade school continuing to play the piano for their church and private events (across the tracks). He was a top student in high school and got a scholarship from United States International University where he studied classical music and composition.

Here’s what really strikes me about Jamie’s story, and if you listen to his interview on the Tim Ferris podcast, it’s almost as if the story surprises him too. When he speaks about his performance in “Ray” and the times he got to hang out with the actual Ray Charles, it’s like he’s talking about an out of body experience.
Jamie says,
“And all of the hard work my grandma put in, all the days my grandfather drove me to piano lessons, here I am sitting with a legend…and I’m like playing the blues with Ray Charles. …I’m on Cloud 9.”

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That’s what I find amazing about the path of the artist, you never know where it’s going to lead. You endlessly pursue perfection in your craft, working at it every day, not knowing where the end is, or if there is an end. But you work and work, you create and create, and every little thing builds on the day before. You don’t take any days for granted and continue to practice. Some days you get better, some days you get worse, but you learn more. Every. Single. Day.

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Jamie had no idea piano lessons in Terrell, Texas could one day mean Grammy Awards, #1 hits and albums, and playing his music all over the world. He got to play music with an idol of his, a legend, Ray Charles. To me, that’s the coolest part of all because there’s no way you could ever have that as a goal and reverse engineer a path to it. It’s impossible.

(I’m still wondering how to reverse engineer a game of catch with Derek Jeter and/or Bernie Williams. And I’m still working on getting a game of H-O-R-S-E together with Michael Jordan. At this point, I would settle for a round of golf with Tiger Woods.)

Through Jamie’s life he found success in many other areas besides music.

He first found out he could be funny in grade school when he told jokes to his class. Later honing his craft at open mic nights at local bars. He found his stage name, Jamie Foxx, at an open mic night when he randomly put it on the list to make it sound like a female’s name so he would get picked. And then worked hard to perfect his craft on the stage of “In Living Color” as I mentioned earlier. He was also a star quarterback at his high school setting the school record for most passing yards in a season, clearing the 1,000 yard benchmark. No doubt this helped him play the part of Willie Beamen in the movie “Any Given Sunday” in 1999.

Despite Jamie’s other successes, he never lost sight of sharpening his talents in music. I say “despite” because he could have easily been seduced by his success in other areas.

The artist’s mind is gifted, it’s creative, it’s endless with possibility.

But in a way it’s also cursed. It’s easy to leave one thing you are good at to go create in another. The difficulty is, you may never realize your true potential in a given craft because you left it too early.

I admire Jamie because he has realized a great potential in music and acting. I don’t want to say his “full potential”, we have to leave some room for improvement.

Jamie is a true artist and a champion of the fellow artist.

It’s hard to listen to popular radio for ten minutes nowadays without hearing an Ed Sheeran song. Most don’t know the British singer spent 6 weeks crashing on Foxx’s couch in 2010 as he was trying to make a name for himself.

Sheeran came to Los Angeles not having a plan to “make it”. He found Jamie and got him to listen to his music. Jamie then gave Sheeran a chance to play live in front of “like 800 black people”. Jamie makes sure you can picture the contrast between the crowd and the redheaded, pale-skinned Sheeran. He also notes it was a tough crowd, use to seeing the best musicians. After 12 minutes, Sheeran and his ukulele got a standing ovation.

“The rest is history,” says Jamie.

If this post does one thing for you today, I want it to motivate you to research someone you admire, preferably an artist, as I loosely defined. Or next time you read an article or hear a tv pundit speak about how talented someone is, pause for a second and research their story.

Don’t just listen to what the pundits have to say about talent and luck. They have a funny way of making everyone sound like an overnight success.

Look for the REAL story of the artist. It may take some time to find it.

Know that the artist’s path is never easy, never straight, and never a single avenue.

If you are an artist, keep creating, learning, growing.

Do this everyday and you will find success.

Or success will find you.

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Listen to Jamie Foxx on The Tim Ferriss Podcast Episode #124. Dec. 6, 2015

If you have an artist’s success story that inspires you I’d love to hear it. Comment below or shoot me an email, livingsuperhuman@gmail.com.

Keep Living Superhuman. ~Tony Frezza

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