You probably already know the name M. Night Shyamalan, but if not, he's the director of The Sixth Sense, which was followed by two other successful (though not quiet as profitable) films - Unbreakable and Signs.
After this, things took an ill-fated turn, and continued to get more grim with each movie he made. The lowest rated of them is The Last Airbender, which has an aggregated score of 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. That's pretty brutal.
During his post-2006 run of critical and box office failures, a campaign started online to send Shyamalan back to film school. When I read about this, I thought about how that would feel if it was me, and needless to say, it felt like shit. It would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for me to read that kind of mockery and criticism and continue on.
But M. Night Shyamalan pushed that aside and continued on. And this is something I find inspiring and fascinating about him. For a lot of people, their worst fear is to fail. An even bigger fear is to fail publicly, and to be humiliated on a grand scale. And I'm sure, some of those people (or maybe most) who fear failure more than death are the ones who attack Shyamalan. He triggers their deepest anxieties about life and their sense of self-worth. The fact that he refuses to see failure as a stopping point upsets people in ways they can't explain. It makes them question their own fortitude, willpower and sense of self.
This might sound like I'm analyzing people I don't know, but from what I've seen time and again, things don't bother people unless it feels personal to them. Things don't sink in and sting and rile us up unless we either agree it's true about ourselves, or we fear it could be true. So the fact that people are so relentlessly obsessed with cutting Shyamalan down says as much about them as it does about the director's career.
Everything we do and say is a reflection of ourselves.
There is a tendency to think that failure and criticism doesn't hurt famous and/or rich people the way it hurts everyone else. There's almost an expectation that not only does it hurt them less, but they deserve it in some way, like they should have to "pay" for being so successful.
In truth, a painful experience is not dulled because of your success. In many cases, it's the opposite. Your failure is witnessed, talked about, digested, made fun of and examined by MILLIONS of people.
If success softened the blow of failure, criticism and judgement, we would not bear witness to a multitude of celebrities having mental breakdowns, addiction problems and public meltdowns. But, the thing with success is, whoever you were before, that's who you are after. If you are sensitive now, you will be sensitive when you're rich. If you feel defensive when people criticize you now, you will feel that when you're famous, and at a higher level of intensity.
So if you have big dreams, (yay if you do, keep going!) the time to cultivate inner strength, peace and self-worth is now. It will not get easier later, but in fact, may only get harder as you find yourself in a new arena that triggers things in other people.
Which is what makes Shyamalan such an intriguing person to me. There is something about him that is so centered, so inwardly connected, so tuned into his passions above all else, that he can rise above the chorus of boos and negativity. He is a man that has never let outside circumstances dictate his fate. He has never let other people tell him what's possible, and who he should be. He has never let failure tell him he's not worthy of trying again.
He knows that the only thing stopping him is him.
This is a rare thing in this world. Most of us stop before we've even started. He has hit obstacles the size of which I cannot even fathom. But he sees them as just that - obstacles, challenges to be met. They don't mean anything other than find another way.
The last Shyamalan film I saw was The Visit. And I liked it. A lot. I didn't even know he directed it until I was talking to a friend about it afterwards. It was creepy and surprising and made good use of what looked like a low budget. And maybe this is what Shyamalan needed - to have the excess stripped away, to have to work with a small amount of money, so he would be forced to focus on his characters and storytelling.
I'm sure it was an incredible learning experience for him. And also, very humbling. But had he given up, had he let the cruelty that often accompanies being a public figure get to him, he would have missed out on making this surprisingly good comeback film. And I would've missed out too. Not just on enjoying an entertaining little film, but I would've missed out on what this taught me about resilience, persistence and embracing the art of failure.
Cheers to you M. Night Shyamalan. Haters gonna hate. But you're having a blast in this journey of life, and doing it in your own way, and for that, I raise my glass in a toast to you. I think of you and your work when I feel afraid of failure, and I then remember the only thing to be afraid of is my own inner voice, and for that, I thank you.
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