The Paul Newman Guide to Finding Flow and Following Your Dreams

Lessons learned from “The Hustler”

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All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today’s clip comes from the flow scene in The Hustler:

You have to lose yourself to find yourself. Since I was a kid, music was always my gateway into flow. The inner sanctuary. The one thing that made every other thing fall away. I may not have used the word flow when I was twelve years old, but all I knew was, playing and singing songs was my optimal state of consciousness. The bliss station in which action and awareness merged, my perception of time disappeared, the inner critic went quiet, neurochemicals flooded my system and I transcended the inner division between self and ego. Complete engagement, total immersion and pure freedom. Music was what made me feel like the best, highest, truest version of myself. And that was the irony. Only by losing myself did I find myself. Only by letting go did I unlock the real me. But music isn’t everybody’s drug of choice. Eddie’s gateway is playing pool. Long before researchers identified the scientific principles behind flow, he understood it intuitively. Some things in life are like that. Easier to experience before they have been explained. And so, when he saw that everything was working for him, and all of the sudden, he got oil in his arm, he didn’t have to look, he just knew. That’s what made it great. But his girlfriend shared perhaps the greatest insight of all. She reminded him that some men never get to feel that way about anything. And so, any time we experience flow, even if only for a moment, we should be grateful. It’s the optimal state of being for our species, and should not be treated lightly. What experience allows you both lose and find yourself?

You’re better because it took longer. There’s nothing more painful than being patient with a dream. When you have this thing that sticks inside of you and says now, this idea that you want to fly so badly that you would gladly tape wings on it, any impediment to progress feels like a shot to the heart. You’re just so eager in those early stages. You almost say to your dream, why can’t you come true faster? But nine women can’t make a baby in one month. Which is usually a metaphor for the software development process, but it’s equally applicable to the dream management process. I remember listening to a fascinating interview with a successful comedian, who revealed that she didn’t become successful until her early thirties. The host, however, told her that she was better because it took longer. Had she found her comedic voice too early in the process, she would have bypassed the necessary existential, emotional and psychological work required to get there. Had her dream been handed to her right away, she never would have logged the thousands of hours it took to make something of herself. And so, it’s the foundational development that becomes long term benefit of delayed gratification. Which might be difficult to see with stars in your eyes, but if it’s worth dreaming about, it’s worth waiting for. Don’t worry. You’re better because it took longer. Are you willing to keep your hand raised until it’s your turn?

The best technique is commitment. The Hustler was published in the late fifties. Tevis’s book was the first and best novel written about billiards in the four hundred year history of the game, and it quickly won a respected readership and later an audience for this movie. More importantly, the book and the film brought the excitement of pool to a new generation, activating a revival around the country in the early sixties. And so, we have to consider the story with a healthy dose of context. Because back then, billiards wasn’t a mainstream dream. And that changes everything. For example, when I started my career in the publishing industry, not everybody was doing it. Because not everybody could do it. The digital revolution hadn’t happened yet. But thanks to deflated industry ecosystems, massive advances in technology, cultural shifts in taste, evolutions in genre and nonexistent barriers to entry, now anybody can make anything for nothing and win everything. Let me say that again. Anybody can make anything for nothing and win everything. It’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Because when anyone can do anything, they will. And when that happens, the marketplace will saturate. Making it harder and harder to stand out. Yet another reminder of the power of delayed gratification. Because talent isn’t enough. When the pieces of the pie keep getting smaller as more people throng to it, the best technique is commitment. What inspires your persistence and determination?

What did you learn from this movie clip?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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Written by

Author. Speaker. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Founder of Pioneer of Personal Creativity Management (PCM). I also wear a nametag 24/7.

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