777 Third Avenue. David Leddick was Revlon's Worldwide Creative Director in 1966. Steven Pressfield's boss at Grey Advertising. David helped the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance get a junior copywriter job.
“I can't hire you here. If I did, you would always be remembered as the young man who used to carry copy from one office to another. Go elsewhere, make a name, then come back, if you dare.” Pressfield never did, but he remembered the kindness, and something else.
To a young aspiring writer, Leddick's artist code came from his center. Years later, when he and partner Shawn Coyne started Black Irish Entertainment LLC, Pressfield knew the kind of book he wanted to publish. I'm Not for Everyone. Neither Are You. is that book.
The book is a collection of aphorisms David Leddick lived and worked by, his philosophy and style. A brief conversation with three of his Zen-like koans.
1. Style as expression of inner self
“Style is indivisible from authenticity,
from being and becoming the 'real you'.”
To Leddick, style is at the center of inner life, relationships, and life among others. Individuals express their essence through style. Action is how life unfolds. Style develops as you live. “It is the pursuit of authenticity that produces style.”
To me style is agency. All day long, we're driven by habit and (often without noticing) the actions of others. Agency is the a small space between the two. This is why I called my company Conversation Agent. Elaboration and action. Substance and style.
At ItalianStyle.me I say, Why style? In the words of Jean Cocteau, Style is “a simple way of saying complicated things.” Why now? Because there’s never been a better time to build bridges to joy … and visiting often. What's not to love about Italian food, travel, and inspiring people?
Style is what you do for yourself. How you do what you do is a unique identifier.
2. Talent and emotional involvement
“I never designed a good dress
until I didn't care anymore.”
Coco Chanel said what every professional knows: you know when your work is good. What others say is an expression of where they are on their journey. This is hard to do, but it's valuable to achieve. Decoupling from rejection or approval.
Chanel also said, “Before leaving the house, stop, look in the mirror—and take one things off.” The more you are as you are, the better. But also, with professional maturity, we learn the art of subtraction. When you can see what matters and what's superfluous, that has value.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life.” It takes someone who can observe and see beyond the confusion and illusion.
Emotional involvement gets in the way of doing the work. I'm with Pressfield on his pragmatic view. I do pre-mortems at the beginning of any conversation about a project.
This helps me stay out of my own way—I'd love to do the work—and focus on getting the structure of a collaboration right. Sometimes the obstacle is in the brief. The sooner you clear that, the higher the value you can deliver.
3. Want and need
“Don't be so sure that what you want
is what you should have.”
Our current culture is high on want and scarce on need—in talk and walk, respectively. But things seem to be changing. I'm hearing about bulk quitting. First one person, then another, then yet another. Companies with steady, well-paying jobs.
On the surface, it may seem each individual has a different reason. That's what people learned to say in exit interviews. To keep the peace. “Companies continue to struggle to retain talent because leaders don’t understand the real reason why people are resigning,” says Mita Mallick.
MacKinsey found that one of the top reasons has nothing to do with compensation, work–life balance, or mental health. People don't feel a sense of belonging at work. Many quit without a job lined up.
This is want and need clashing. You get to a point of no return. I've been talking about this dissonance showing up in their marketing and communications for decades. The pandemic has been long enough to reset want because of this deeper need of connection.
The sense of belonging is also weak in our communities. I'm talking to a lot of people who are moving to new places. It's like a global migration of the mind and heart. Our gut has been telling us the current system wasn't working for a while.
Insight about the human condition
“There is no lasting comfort in a safe landing.
Better to stay in flight…
and embrace impermanence.”
Frank Lagella's memoir talks about many famous people and very little about himself. It's probably why he titled it Dropping Names. I first saw Lagella in Mel Brooks, The Twelve Chairs. Just writing it still makes me chuckle.
You may or may not like him as an actor, I like more of his later work, very honest, but his book conveys pathos about the human condition. Warts and all. His book is about failure. Many of the actors he met who were early promise, never made it.
But also, many of the actors who succeeded eventually found ruin because of neediness, self-destructive behavior, reality-denying narcissism, lack of emotional control or emotional immaturity. Actors are people, too, after all.
Leddick's aphorisms are good prompts to get grounded on what matters.