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What I Learned This Week: Stop Working, Start Fighting

06/16/2013 09:49 EDT | Updated 08/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Last week, amongst a dozen meetings I had over a two-and-a-half day touchdown in Los Angeles, was one with a sage mentor of mine.

Said mentor is intensely private which is why he unfortunately won't be mentioned by name in this post (despite his many years of history being a major power player in Hollywood, a Google search of him brings up practically nothing).

To put him into perspective though, he started off as an agent at the industry's all-time most King Kong-ian talent brokerage; he then ran one of Hollywood's most legendary TV production companies, one responsible for over two decades of epic and beloved television series; then he dabbled in talent management, theater ownership and tech company buying-and-selling.

Now into his '80s (I suspect, we never ever talked age, but I did some basic detective math), he still works, and does so from a gated palace high in the Hollywood Hills...where he hosted me for a late afternoon conversation over iced tea in a room filled with magnificent art and handcrafted furniture. We don't talk as often as I would like, but when we do, the outcome is always the same -- time well, well spent.

Notwithstanding the fact that there's so much I want to ask him, my mentor always starts every conversation the same way: "So tell me...what's new in the life of Andy Nulman?"

So last week, I told him lots. About the accomplishments of my two children. About some new artist I discovered. About the last great book I read and how I wish I had time to read more. About a new book idea I had germinating. About the C2-MTL conference and other "shows" I had done. And, of course, about the trials and tribulations of my professional life; about dealing with a rapidly-changing showbiz landscape, about inter-office hassles and internal struggles.

We chatted chum-like and happily for the first few subject matters, chuckling over anecdotes and similar situations. But when I touched on my personal/professional side, my mentor's demeanor downshifted into serious, with fewer conversation breaks and extended periods of contemplative listening.

After some uneasy moments of silence, he looked at me an uttered the words that formed this week's learning.

"Not that you have a major problem, but you know what your problem is?" he asked.

I didn't have to answer, because he continued.

"You're at the point in life when you gotta start working less..."

Pregnant pause.

"....and start fighting more."

He then went onto explain.

"Work is a task. You go into the office, you do what you have to do. You get things done, or you don't. Then you go home, or go off to do things you really want to do, and start all over the next day. It's a not the greatest routine for anybody...but especially not for someone like you.

"The fight is something else. It's a motivator, energizer and driver all in one. It's tougher than work, but it's way more rewarding. It's exhausting and exhilarating but when you're in the thick of it, you forget that you're working altogether. The concept of fame, being in the papers or on TV never appealed to me. But that next battle is what kept me going. And is what keeps me going to this day.

"Once you lose the fight, it's just another job and you're just another working stiff."

After 90 minutes, I didn't want to overstay my welcome, so I said goodbye, expressed profound appreciation and asked how the imposing gates would open to let me out (weight sensors on the path to them was the answer).

On the drive back to the hotel, I had the time to contemplate my mentor's words and realized how easy the transition from "work" to "fight" can be, no matter who you are or where you're situated on the corporate structure.

  • You can fight an enemy (the competition, a rumor, etc.).
  • You can fight for what you believe in
  • You can fight for a cause
  • You can fight for what's right

But you've gotta fight.

Forget the cliche "Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life."

Thanks to my mentor, I think the new adage is:

"Find the right fight, and you'll never work again."

So...who's the next challenger?