Work Hard and Be Kind Part 1: Work Hard

“It’s simple: work hard and be kind.”

This would usually be the response from Chris when people would ask for his ‘secret to success.’ 

You may have heard this phrase before – I’ve heard Conan say it’s his secret mantra as well (of course because Conan is the best), but Chris was the first person in my life to introduce the mantra to me. I don’t believe there’s one single secret to success, but if there is, this algorithm may be the closest thing to it. In my experience, the artists who employ it build successful careers. This post will focus on first half of that mantra. 

Many of us work in industries where the metric for success is subjective. There can be  a myriad of variables and cooks in the kitchen that determine what exceptional work is. This can leave you feeling like you’re trying to hit a moving target, which I’ve definitely felt throughout my career. But in a world filled with variables and subjectivity, your discipline and dedication to your craft is something you can control.   

We can spend a lot of time and energy looking for a short cut to success because we don’t like the discomfort that comes with challenge and growth. However, I’ve found  the fulfillment I received from doing the work and accomplishing something, was greater than the comfort I got from avoiding it. And I believe every time we avoid the opportunity to work our creative muscles, they atrophy. 

One of my favorite books on writing is Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. A philosophy from that book on the subject of working hard at whatever craft you choose has always stuck with me: 

“What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich? Every single pursuit – no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem – comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects. You must decide what sort of suckage you’re willing to deal with. So, the question is not so much “what are you passionate about?” The question is “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?” If you want to be a professional artist, but you aren’t willing to see your work rejected hundreds, if not thousands of times, then you’re done before you start. If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer but you can’t stand eighty-hour workweeks, then I’ve got bad news for you. Because if you love and want something enough – whatever it is – then you don’t really mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.” 

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

I love this concept because I think many of us expect the pursuit of our personal calling to be blissful all the time… and when it’s not, we quit on it and we quit on ourselves. This concept also rejects the notion that highly successful artists are just “born with it.” That they just show up and produce genius on the spot with no forethought. Imma tell you right now that’s just not true. And no matter how many times people tried to ascribe that to Chris, he’d reject it too. The best artists I’ve worked with (including Chris) will tell you themselves they became great one rep at a time. Sure, the un-disciplined “genius” does exist, and even succeeds sometimes. But in my experience they’re easy come, easy go. Hard work and discipline produces staying power. It’s the easiest way to separate you from the pack, and it ensures an upward trajectory no matter where you start. 

“Ok Eric, so if you believe you can achieve ‘genius’, how does one do that?” 

Great question, Eric’s always present self-critic! Here are some answers.


Chris was obsessed with the concept of achieving flow. The first book he ever gave me was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. We would often compare our personal journeys learning about the concept. 

A large piece to my self-discovered roadmap to flow was something I learned in high school. My football coach required all of us to take track in the off-season even though I wanted to play soccer. As my personal rebellion, I picked the least transferrable discipline — pole vaulting. It did not lead to a life-long career as a pole vaulter but as I tried to acquire a strange skill that did not come naturally, I had to utilize a road map for acquiring skills that was taught to me by our famous track coach Roger Burley. I’ve used it in every endeavor since. It posits that there are four stages to obtaining expert level skill/flow/genius and that you can work your way there.

(1) Unconscious Incompetence – I don’t understand how to do this thing, and I’m unable to do it. 

(2) Conscious Incompetence – I understand how to do this thing, but I’m unable to do it.

(3) Conscious Competence – I understand how to do this thing, and when I focus on it as much as I can, I am able to do it. 

(4) Unconscious Competence – I understand how to do this thing, and I can do it well without thinking about it.  

Unconscious Incompetence××
Conscious Incompetence×
Conscious Competence✓ – with focus
Unconscious Competence✓ – without thinking

First, you identify which stage you are currently in, then you work on your craft until you reach a state of unconscious competence. Unconscious competence is true mastery, it is where I believe ‘genius’ lives. (For more on this concept, here’s an episode of one of my favorite podcasts Freakonomics Radio called, How to be Great at Just About Anything that beautifully delves into achieving ‘genius’ level skill. It thoroughly debunks the notion that genius level of talent can’t be acquired.)

OBSTACLES TO WORKING HARD: Comparison, Motivation, Impatience.

Just because you have a map to being great at something doesn’t mean there won’t be obstacles along your path. One of those obstacles to staying disciplined and dedicated to our craft is comparing ourselves to others.

It’s been said “comparison is the thief of joy,” and I think joy in our work is crucial to staying motivated. In our modern world it is incredibly easy to look at what others are doing and languish in our failure to achieve more. These negative habits can often lead to a depletion of motivation and completely abandoning our endeavors.

Although I’m not Mormon anymore, I’ve always loved the wisdom and poetry of the New Testament, and a lot of that wisdom has stuck with me. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew wrote that Jesus said,

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

Though this is about serving others, I often think about it in context of competition, comparison, and social media. We often get distracted by someone out there being loud about their accomplishments and too often we end up comparing our achievements, life, art, and even ourselves instead of being genuinely happy for them. And that is when our fear brain/joy thief takes over: Why didn’t I just do what so-and-so is doing? I should have thought of what so-and-so thought of! How is so-and-so doing that already and I’m not! All the good ideas are taken! Everything is so easy for everyone else! Do I have anything worth saying? Does my voice matter? Do I matter… 

But what this passage in the New Testament reminds me is that people who are performatively loud about their achievements are usually more interested in being in the spotlight than what they are actually contributing to the world. And as this passage says; that’s their reward. But I know that reward is also an empty one. 

I’m not saying that sharing yourself and your accomplishments is wrong! It’s important to be celebrated, to share your voice, and to be heard. Every single person’s voice is important in this world. I also have to remind myself that when I see someone’s success, most of the time I only see the shining white peak of the iceberg and not the submerged shadowy underworld of sacrifice, discipline and dedication beneath the surface. So, when my fear brain/joy thief interrogates me on why I’m not as successful as so-and-so, I focus on doing the work because doing the work I love should be its own reward, and what’s supposed to come to me will come to me. And doing the work in secret prepares me to be ready for a reward that comes openly. I guess that’s an act of faith… but even though I’m not religous anymore, I’m still a believer.     

Chris embodied the idea that disciplined, consistent hard work is its own reward. And the benefits he gained from how hard he worked – the education, the skills, the wisdom, the relationships – he freely shared with others. There were many ways he demonstrated this. One way is that he respected every opportunity to create by being prepared to work, no matter how big or small the opportunity was. Even when he showed up to shoot the no-budget college web-series I was directing, he showed up memorized every time. Every time! Here’s a guy who was getting cast in every commercial in Utah and directing who knows how many shows and teaching who knows how many classes, and he showed up to shoot a hot tub scene chugging diet Shasta with some freshman theater majors, completely memorized and game to work. He fully showed up for the people he was teaching and who he was creating with. Even though none of those projects went viral, creating with someone that dedicated, that disciplined and that generous, was its own reward. 

WORK ETHIC: A superpower any of us can have.

The subject of this post is something I’m particularly passionate about because I don’t consider myself to be naturally gifted at just about anything. One of my favorite parenting books is How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. In it, he demonstrates through case studies, interviews, and data how learning the character trait of grit (or what my mom would call “sticktoitiveness”) is the number one factor correlated with successful adulthoods. Grit is the one thing I could control in my life, and I like to think I’ve made it a super-power. So even though this blog post is dedicated to exploring Chris’ craft, I’d like to close it by sharing some personal experience of mine on the topic.

In 2015, after a couple years of working unscripted jobs or post-production jobs, I landed my first gig as a Writers Production Assistant on a scripted television show. Mostly getting coffees and lunches and other random creative duties, but it took years of hustling to even get this job. There are literally thousands of young writers vying for these rare foot-in-the-door jobs. 

On my very first day, the Executive Producer/Showrunner gathered the support staff at the end of the day and said, “By the way, my inbox is open to any script that any of you want to send. I’m happy to read you right now.” 


The E.P offers to read your script!? This is the opportunity you dream of as an aspiring screenwriter! By the time that E.P was home from our writer’s room that day, he had a pilot script of mine in his inbox. Because I had spent the previous years writing that pilot, and behind that pilot were the thousands of hours of writing screenplays, sketches, musicals, one-acts, etc. I had spent those years rewriting, taking classes, submitting, getting notes (and taking those notes), workshopping, doing staged readings, shooting hot tub diet Shasta scenes, and mostly getting rejected until I felt I had something that was good. Not knowing at all that this opportunity would come, hoping it would, but also doing it with the sense that creating was its own reward. I bet on myself those late nights after putting my toddler to bed, or early mornings before work, or during lunch breaks, or instead of going out, or while on vacations, or instead of vacations because what are those. 

That E.P responded that he liked my script and eventually he began letting me pitch in the room. He had me create our show-concept book, and fill-in for our writer’s room assistant when they earned an episode to co-write. Work. He took me to his next show, this time as the writer’s room assistant, where I pitched ideas and wrote scenes. More work. Toward the end of that show he said, “give me your best two scripts to send to [Network that I cannot name] and if they like you, you may be able to co-write an episode.” Werkkk.

Net[work that I cannot name] is going to read me!? 

In an hour, Net[work that I cannot name] had two more scripts I had written that were better than my last because I continued those practices of getting better, which included taking hard notes from the generous writers I was working with professionally now. It’s not because I was a genius or naturally gifted or that it came instantly or easy, I had developed my creative muscles won rep at a time in those stolen moments between jobs. I was stronger, I was better, and I was ready. 

My dad bought my brother and I a weight bench when we were teenagers and above it my older brother hung up a poster that read, “The Harder You Work The Luckier You Get.” I am fully willing to acknowledge my luck and privilege in all things. Because of my gender, my skin color, and sexual orientation, I started on a further base than a lot of people. That’s the reality, and anyone of my demographic who wants to claim otherwise is flat wrong. I know what I’ve worked for, but I also know that I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways in my life. I also know that during that show where that E.P offered to read our scripts, I was the only support staff member ready to send one.

I don’t think I’ve “made it” by any means, but even if I did, I’d still write and rewrite any time I can get. I’ve written when I’ve had nothing in my bank account. When my writing was belittled by friends. When my college professor told me I’d never make it. When I was ghosted for season two by that same Executive Producer and had to start my career over. When I lived in my car. When I was sexually harassed on job after job. When I was waiting tables during the day and a working as a Post P.A at night while I had a newborn. When I was made fun of at work lunches for my belief system I was raised in. When I left that belief system I was raised in. When I got divorced. When I got concussed. When I got concussed again. When I’ve gotten a page one rewrite on my script. And when I lost my best friend to ALS. 

What can I say? I’ve worked to find a flavor of shit sandwich I really love. I know Chris found his. And I hope you’ve found yours. 

Nom nom nom. 

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes and failures.”

–Elizabeth Gilbert