The Perks Of Not Knowing Any Better

In my previous post I talked about how you should ditch your hero’s path and lower your standards. Today, Tom Hanks is going to tell us why.


In a recent episode of the delightful Smartless podcast, hosts Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes (dubbed "Hosts" below to save lines) had a great back and forth with Tom Hanks. They were trying to figure out how Tom Hanks became Tom Hanks.


Hosts: As a kid, every actor wanted to be Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks: Really?!

Hosts: Yeah! Still to this day. You had this string of massive comedy hits from Big and Splash

Tom Hanks: I didn’t know what I was doing. They asked me to be in a movie so I said, “Yeah.”

Hosts: But after you did a movie like Big, did you know where you were going [career-wise]?

Tom Hanks: No! No. I had no idea!

Hosts: But you were playing the lead. You were charismatic. You were carrying roles right out of the gate. Had you always had the confidence and the sort of leadership qualities growing up?

Tom Hanks: Confidence? (chuckles) No! [When I was starting out] I was just trying to remember the words. I was trying to speak loud enough to be heard...The biggest lesson I learned when I was 20, acting at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, was to show up on time, know your lines and have an idea in your pocket. That's all I tried to do. And through all of my gigs I tried to remember that advice. That’s all I did. I didn't know anything.


Not that impressive, huh? What inspires us about Tom Hanks is what Tom Hanks has become, but not how Tom Hanks became. That’s because his early years are as banal as anyone’s would be in his position. In the interview he kept scoffing at any suggestion that he must’ve “known,” or felt some sort of predestined, Messianic call to become America’s leading man.


Like the hosts, we almost wished he did, because if Tom could manifest some elevated reality, maybe we could too—or maybe if he had always felt it, it would be reason enough to tell ourselves why we can’t be like him.


But he had no inkling, even when he was tasting major success. What he had was a craft he wanted to get better at.


That’s it. He didn't know any better.


Show up on time. Know your lines. Have an idea.* That advice can be adapted to all our pursuits, no matter what path we trudge. It won’t guarantee success, but without it, we don’t stand a chance.


*Or, to make it industry agnostic and even shorter: Prepare. Interact. Return. Return because it’s not just about showing up on time, it’s about coming back, again and again. Even for Tom Hanks.

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