Come With Me if You Want to Thrive: James Cameron’s Top 5 Tactics to Push Your Business Envelope

He’s king of the [directing] world!

What is your favorite James Cameron flick? There are so many iconic movies to choose from: Avatar, Titanic, Terminator, The Abyss… Piranha II: The spawning (I’m not here to judge your tastes). Few film directors can boast they’ve achieved the kind of critical acclaim and Hollywood mainstay status that James Cameron has. What can you say, the man knows his way around a camera. He’s not afraid to take risks. He is constantly searching for the new-new, never staying comfortable repeating the tricks that make him the most money. The key to his cinematic success seems to be his relentless enthusiasm for innovation partnered with his uncanny ability to see past roadblocks. Check out my personal collection of critical lessons entrepreneurs can learn from this motion picture pioneer’s example.

“There are many talented people who haven’t fulfilled their dreams because they over-thought it, or they were too cautious and were unwilling to make the leap of faith.” James Cameron

1. Shoot Something
James Cameron has always been passionate about going for it, regardless of whatever excuses or twisted logic trying to hold you back. On becoming a director, he has said, “Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that… you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”

Bold, right? Maybe, but so often we hold ourselves back by sticking to what’s safe and considered appropriate by societal standards. We don’t attack our careers; we approach carefully. Cameron’s advice to get out there and just do something — anything — is solid. Start the company. Launch the product. Get on the plane and establish business connections internationally. Whatever your biggest, scariest, most against-the-grain dream, just get out there are start shooting it. Without risk, there really is no reward.

2. Hold on to your curious spirit.
Throughout Cameron’s career, there has been a noticeable pattern of his being drawn to new genres and new directing styles. Cameron is constantly testing the waters and pushing the limits to see what he can get away with and what he can pull off. I mean, this is the man who directed both Titanic and Piranha II. Let’s just say those movies cannot be found under the same Netflix header. What are you curious about doing, but are being held back from diving into? What are the hobbies and interests you have that you believe are unrelated to your career?

For me, that was creating music. I wasn’t sure how I was going to find a way to bring that passion into my business, but I knew I wanted to stretch myself and my venture. Had I resolved that music was some extracurricular activity reserved for my garage, I would never have built my studio. I use the space not only for music, but also for business professionals, who come to record audio for advertisements and to deliver podcasts. I never even thought of those possibilities when I was tinkering with my tunes from home; I was just curious about what I could do with this admittedly limited talent I enjoyed on the side. My curiosity drove me to where that project is today. You’d be surprised where inspiration can be found for your next business venture. Don’t close your eyes to potential; lead with curiosity and discover the possibilities.

“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”James Cameron

3. “Ambition” is not a dirty word.
You don’t get to make films like “Titanic” and “Avatar” without having some serious cajones. Cameron had plenty of skeptics and challengers when it came to directing his most ambitious films, but he trudged ahead. He was too focused and driven to be slowed down by questioners.

I, too, have been criticized for being “overly” ambitious. It’s tough trying to explain my business model, which can sound obscure, and have people recognize its potential for growth and profit. I can’t tell you how many times close family and friends have demanded that I stop being so “distractible” and give all my attention to one project to excel. It never made sense to me that I received so much backlash for wanting to do more and pursue my passions. There were plenty of moments when I thought maybe they were right, but then I reminded myself of James Cameron’s example, screwed my head on straight, and focused on doing whatever I wanted. Haters gonna hate.

People have a tendency to reject that which they don’t allow for themselves. When the people around you aren’t used to following their dreams and using their ambition to fuel themselves, it makes sense that they would challenge you doing that for yourself. Don’t allow them to shame your ambition, and don’t believe it when someone tries to tell you something is “impossible.” Your goals may be lofty, and they may be difficult to attain, but chances are they are manageable and you can find solutions. You have all the tools you need to accomplish your “big idea.” It’s all about settling on the right strategy, and that strategy doesn’t include underestimating the power of your own ambition.

4. What everyone else wants doesn’t matter. Cameron has had a lot of doors slammed in his face throughout his career, but that has done little to deter him from moving forward with his vision. As director of your venture, you may feel torn between playing peacekeeper and rebel. Sure, you want to honor the collaborative angles, but you also want to bend the rules and make your mark. Stop caring about what others want when it comes to your work, because more often than not, you end up producing something tailored to them when it’s supposed to be about you. Your passion won’t be present in the product, and the chances that it will be a big fat flop are greatly increased. Find something you believe in and follow it through to the end. There have been so many times when I was told my ideas were not worth the time I was investing or I was out of my league. Faced with so much outside pressure, it’s hard not to consider giving up your passion project and focusing on more predictable career paths, but those were the times I would reference examples like Cameron. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am someone’s shot of whiskey! I had faith that I would find my audience if I kept going, and I did. It wasn’t quick or easy, but it was what I wanted to do with my life, and I had to blaze my own trail, like Cameron.

“To convince people to back your idea, you’ve got to sell it to yourself and know when it’s the moment. Sometimes that means waiting. It’s like surfing. You don’t create energy, you just harvest energy already out there.”James Cameron

5. It’s not about how you start; it’s about how you finish.
Cameron’s career had a famously rocky start when he was very publicly fired from movie sets and allegedly “blacklisted.” Most people would have changed their goals, too ashamed to go back to the same industry that had literally kicked them to the curb. Cameron knew that he was a director; he knew that he had something he needed to contribute to the history of film, and so he came back with a vengeance.

I don’t always play well with others, especially when told I can’t do something. I’m stubborn that way. This has caused major rifts in some business relationships, and I have been dropped like a bad habit on more than one occasion. But I wasn’t about to conform the product I was so proud of just to accommodate what they needed. In my personal opinion — which, by the way, is now highly sought after — I am hired because people like what I provide. So it doesn’t make sense that just because it may be hard or inconvenient we change paths and alter my style. That is just not happening. I established my business on quality and standards that I stand by, and I will not bend my integrity (or my will) to make a client feel more comfortable. After all, if it turns out that I don’t accomplish what I promised, I would still look bad. I would just also be kicking myself for wimping out and giving in to what someone else wanted.

When it comes to your career, don’t worry about starting late in the game, being behind everyone else, or making the wrong move. It’s not about where or how you start. Take that fighting spirit and usher in the next exciting chapter of your professional life.

Final Thoughts:
  • Shoot something. Find the thing you’ve been dying to do and go do it. Take those risks and create your career on your own terms. Most of the greats, including James Cameron, did not follow standard procedure to stardom.
  • Lead with curiosity. Explore those hobbies you’ve always been interested in, and don’t worry if you are good at them or if they appear to “fit” into your business model. Experiment and discover what suits you.
  • Do what YOU want. Follow what inspires you and stop worrying about what other people think or want. You want a product that you developed, not something everyone else came up with.
  • Ambition is not a dirty word. Ambition will get you far. Just because the road to success is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Use your ambition to fuel your progress.
  • Focus on the end game. Stay true to your passion. Your style will not be right for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be successful. If you start with passion, it doesn’t matter how slow your start. It will eventually lead you to what you really want.

Innovation is key to James Cameron making it in the movie industry. When he was turned away or fired, he didn’t use it as a reason to quit; he knew there were places where he could thrive, even if it wasn’t the norm. Jame’s Cameron’s amazing career and attitude shows us that the only person who can keep you from doing what you want to do is you. Follow your passion and use your ambition to drive you to work through setbacks and keep moving forward. Everything doesn’t have to be on a major scale right away, because no matter where you are in your career, it’s never too late to pursue what drives you. Follow Cameron’s example and don’t let the critics define how you accomplish your goals.

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