Famous writer and director Aaron Sorkin recently gave the commencement address at his alma mater. Not surprisingly, he talked extensively about failure.
You can read the full address on the Syracuse website, or watch the video below:
Sorkin has some incredible passages about the power of failure. He tells one story about the earlier part of his career:
When we were casting my first movie, “A Few Good Men,” we saw an actor just 10 months removed from the theater training program at UCLA. We liked him very much and we cast him in a small, but featured role as an endearingly dimwitted Marine corporal. The actor had been working as a Domino’s Pizza delivery boy for 10 months, so the news that he’d just landed his first professional job and that it was in a new movie that Rob Reiner was directing, starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, was met with happiness. But as is often the case in show business, success begets success before you’ve even done anything, and a week later the actor’s agent called. The actor had been offered the lead role in a new, as-yet-untitled Milos Forman film. He was beside himself. He felt loyalty to the first offer, but Forman after all was offering him the lead. We said we understood, no problem, good luck, we’ll go with our second choice. Which, we did. And two weeks later, the Milos Forman film was scrapped. Our second choice, who was also making his professional debut, was an actor named Noah Wyle. Noah would go on to become one of the stars of the television series “ER” and hasn’t stopped working since. I don’t know what the first actor is doing, and I can’t remember his name. Sometimes, just when you think you have the ball safely in the end zone, you’re back to delivering pizzas for Domino’s. Welcome to the NFL.
Sorkin also discusses his drug addiction in stark terms:
I’ve made some bad decisions. I lost a decade of my life to cocaine addiction. You know how I got addicted to cocaine? I tried it. The problem with drugs is that they work, right up until the moment that they decimate your life. Try cocaine, and you’ll become addicted to it. Become addicted to cocaine, and you will either be dead, or you will wish you were dead, but it will only be one or the other. My big fear was that I wasn’t going to be able to write without it. There was no way I was going to be able to write without it. Last year I celebrated my 11-year anniversary of not using coke. (applause) Thank you. In that 11 years, I’ve written three television series, three movies, a Broadway play, won the Academy Award and taught my daughter all the lyrics to “Pirates of Penzance.” I have good friends.
Failure is the secret to success. You must experience loss to know gain. You must go through troubling times to find the right path. Your script must be terrible to receive the editing it deserves. Your characters must struggle in order to triumph.