This industry is like surfing. It’s that you have to get on a surfboard and paddle, paddle through and wait for a long time, hoping that you catch a wave. And you’ll try and catch them and you’ll miss them and someone else will catch them and everyone will cheer. And eventually, you’ll catch a wave and you’ll ride it and it’ll be fantastic and you’ll be really great and you’ll get all the way to the end and then the wave will inevitably crash and you’ll have to turn around and you’ll have to paddle back out. And you’ll have to get hit by waves as you get back out there.
While some younger readers of this blog may know Neil Patrick Harris better as Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother or as the caricatured version of himself in the White Castle movies, those of you who are roughly in the same demographic as I am will know him best as Dr. Doogie Howser, M.D. And we also know him best as the world’s first blogger. Sort of.
You may recall the common trope we saw in every episode of the 90s TV show. Doogie would sit down in front of his computer to type out his
blog post journal entry, pause partway through, look pensively into the distance, delete the previous line, and rewrite it with his newfound insight or epiphany. It’s not unlike how I tend to write most days, really.
In an Off Camera interview with Sam Jones, Neil Patrick Harris talks about some key advice he received from Doogie Howser, M.D. creator, writer and executive producer Steven Bochco. Even though NPH was only 15 years old at the time, Bochco spoke to him “like a human person, coworker [and] not like a child.” He explained that the entertainment industry is like surfing.
And then once you get out there, you’re gonna have to sit around there for a long time, waiting for another wave to come along. But the way that surfing works is that there are always sets of waves that will always come through. And that the goal is to be patient enough to value that metaphor.
Some of those waves are going to come crashing down on you. Hard. And they’ll hurt. You’ll look upon your friends, family and colleagues with envy as they catch waves that take them in new and exciting directions. You’ll think that you’ve finally got your chance, but the wave fizzles out beneath you. This can all be terribly deflating.
But you’ve got to keep paddling back out and trying again. And you’ve got to appreciate that even should you be so lucky as to ride a glorious wave, it can’t last forever. But you can learn from it and apply that experience to the next time. And the time after that. And the time after that. Just like how Neil Patrick Harris was able to leverage his Doogie experience into opportunities on Broadway, on the silver screen and on Netflix.
I desired longevity more than I desired fame. I think the immediacy of fame, although it is an opiate, is certainly double-edged. And so fame like a shooting star, which is bright but dies out. I would much rather learn how to operate a telescope, so I can have some kind of perspective and sit and wait for the next chapter.
For my part as a writer, I want to be able to look back proudly at my body of work. I want to see how my style and skills evolve and mature over time. My writing is my legacy, because it will survive far beyond this bag of flesh and bone. But even before we get that far, I want to feel inspired to co-author the next chapter of my life, both personally and professionally. I just have to wait for the right wave, even if I’m not a teenage prodigy.