A couple years ago, after Robin Williams passed away, I dove deep into his life story. I listened to podcasts before and after his death, watched interviews on YouTube, and watched the new HBO Documentary Come Inside My Mind.
It was all fascinating to me — and if you read Work In Progress, you know I’ve always been deeply interested in comedy and entertainment, so this rabbit hole wouldn’t come as a surprise.
But, similar to other long-form interviews I’ve listened to with people who have “made it,” there was something both daunting and comforting about Robin’s story.
When you think of Robin Williams, you probably think of The Genie from Aladdin, his standup, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Mork and Mindy, Flubber…
Even by other comedians’ standards, Robin Williams was prolific. Here’s his filmography according to The Numbers.
Marc Maron said on his podcast:
“He achieved just about everything a comedian could achieve in his career.”
And while we always assume there was some body of work by an artist or performer before they broke through, we definitely underestimate it.
Robin was playing small clubs (as many comedians do) for years and was asked to play “Mork” on Happy Days – and that came about because he was gaining a reputation as a “weird” street performer.
And before that, he spent a summer performing Shakespeare at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. When you talk to someone about Robin Williams, I bet no one would point to his work as a cast member in The Taming of the Shrew at Edinburgh.
It’s easy to get in your own head a lot about how big and important your work feels right now. It may feel mission critical, like everyone is watching. It may feel like if this doesn’t work, your career is over!
But in reality, you may just be starting the street performing days of your career. The stuff you’re doing now may not even be a footnote in your biography someday.
You still have a ton of flexibility and agency to try things, the ability to take weird chances like “going to Edinburgh.”
David Letterman talks about missing the days when he could go to a club – unknown to anyone – try things out, and bomb. Bomb without consequence, because no one knew him anyway.
It’s a gift that you have right now.
So don’t get too caught up in feeling like this thing is your defining moment.
It may be daunting to think about all the steps between now and the future you envision for yourself.
But it’s certainly better to know your best work is ahead of you and not behind you!