The Day I Went from Cheapskate to ‘Succeed at Any Cost’


Succeed at any cost - the reason I came to New York CityIt was raining the day I arrived in New York City.  It was a cold rain on Friday, May 1, 1998.  And I wondered if the inclement weather was an omen, a sign of things to come.

I stepped out of La Guardia airport into the cold drizzle and hailed a cab.  It took about 45 minutes to get to my hotel in Manhattan.

I had given up my life in Louisiana.  I had come all this way alone to live the dream: the privilege of being a penniless artist in New York City.

During the earlier and leaner years in Louisiana, as I cut my teeth on learning what I could on marketing and selling my art, I spent as little money on education as I could get away with. We had lots of debt and no extra money. Some months my education investment was as little as twenty bucks a month. Occasionally I finagled a trip to a marketing or negotiation seminar somewhere. Sometimes I managed to stick a product or book on my expense report.

My goal was:


That plan was fine for where I was at - employee with art marketing projects on the side, little minnows that reel in a couple hundred bucks here and there. I'm not sure anyone squeezed more out of a twelve dollar a month newsletter subscription than I did. Yessir, I got myself a quality, economical education.

From Cheapskate to 'Succeed at Any Cost'

Then....suddenly, here I was in New York.  Struck out my on own. Started meeting artSucceed at any cost directors, art collectors, and art critics. I even met a few movie stars and rock stars.  Trying to publicize myself and my ability and sell my paintings. Began running into all manner of people and situations I'd never encountered before.


The slide-on-by with as little cost as possible strategy was obsolete. I was now on a STEEP learning curve and I could NOT afford one bad move.

Suddenly I never spent less than $300-400 per month on my education. As I recall, in my first full year out of the Dilbert Cube, my total investment in all such things, including plane tickets and everything else was $11,000.

I was getting my Street MBA. I could not afford to miss any relevant insight. If I needed a skill and if someone could teach it to me, I was paying their fee.

I made my purchases very carefully... but I did not hesitate to make them.

I went back to art school and took full-time drawing and painting classes at The Art Students' League of New York.  I wanted world-class art teachers and I didn't care what it was going to cost to get them.

Oh yeah. That's right, I almost forgot. Most people need to be sold... and sold again. And again. And again. On the necessity and value of investing in yourself. Most people stop halfway.

You must not let any lack of knowledge or skill get in the way of finishing what you need to finish. You master it... you hire it done... whatever it takes. But you don't cheat.

There's a couple of other things that really helped.

When I found a good well, I drank it dry.

I did NOT run around all over the place, sampling every free thing in the world. I kept my list of mentors narrow. It takes a brainiac superhuman to integrate the approaches of 26 different masters. I can count on one hand the people I know who can do that, and I'm not one of them.

Another thing: I "picked the chicken clean." This was a very big deal. I read and listened to things 2, 3, 4 times, not just once. In 2012 with Twitter and Facebook and the bulging firehose of information most people drink from, that almost sounds antiquated. But it's necessary.

Most folks are 10 miles wide and a quarter-inch deep. Having nine communication channels just gets in the way of learning or mastering anything. There's 144,000,000 videos on YouTube and you'll learn nothing by watching 10 nanoseconds of each one of them.

You only master by going deep.

I have friends in the art marketing world who tell me, "Gary, you sell mastery. Nobody wants mastery. That's not fashionable. Everybody wants a quick fix. Just give it to 'em."

Sorry. That's not how I roll. I think the best quick fix of all IS mastery. Always has been, always will be.

Master SOMETHING. Any skill you know will last a long time. Know how to do it backwards and forwards, inside and out, and guarantee someone a definite result.

3-step algorithm for success:

1) Find out the price
2) Pay the price

Maybe it takes you a week.

Maybe it takes you a year.

Either way, a bit of mastery is better than a big, half-ass fantasy.


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Louise Foerster

    Thank you! In the writing community the past few weeks, there has been intense, heated debate about quantity versus quality of novels that a writer produces each year. I’d paid close attention to both sides of the argument — now that I’ve read this piece, I am thrilled to declare that I land on the side of mastery, of developing craft, and of being very selective in who I listen to and what I learn.

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