In the early 1900s there were a handful of men who saw something -- a movie. These men were mostly Jews from Europe who grew up in the fringes of society and were never 'supposed' to make it out of the rather bleak conditions they grew up in. However, they moved swiftly through what should have happened in their lives. While each man had a different approach they all had one thing in common -- a drive to be better than they were expected to be and ultimately... an eye for an investment.
At the time movies were quick, shown in small theaters, and cost about a nickel. They were relatively far from having sound and were the simplest form of what we see today in theaters with almost everything but the heart of a story stripped away. But they were entertainment. And these men, these extraordinary men who desired to be something greater than their past had set them up for, saw the entertainment value in films and even more importantly saw the potential business waiting to happen. In the years to come these moguls found their way out to California, settled in a little town called Hollywood, and built an empire that occupies a space in all of our hearts and minds in some way or another.
After doing tons of research about the time for a project, and my own personal shame of not knowing it better, it started to feel clearer to me why all of this came together. Yes, there was desire for success, but, there was an even deeper desire in these self-made men to prove to the places they came from, to the people they encountered on the way, and to themselves that they deserved it. So many of them were disenfranchised when coming to America by the social strata that existed in the Northeast (where most of them resided and started their careers). For them, California represented a frontier unmined not only geographically but socially. And that is what we really all sort of want, isn't it? A place, an occupation, a family where we can be as successful and happy as we can possibly be?
The reason I ramble about this time period, besides my newfound fascination in this history and characters of the time, is because the more that I think about it the more I feel it has mirrored itself in many people I know in my life who I admire. While the golden age of Hollywood is over -- or maybe for my sake just beginning again -- the essence of being 'self made' has existed in so many other forms since then. It's something that I feel I naively took for advantage until this point. I always knew that my parents, my friends' parents, my friends even, were driven and self-motivated, but how that is really a cyclical part of history is now what I confront.
It was this realization of how surrounded by self-made people I truly am that made me feel another level of responsibility to get there. I would by many measures consider myself driven. I would by many other measures consider myself goal-oriented. However, beyond that, I find it hard to set into the future with no idea of what I might be undertaking but with absolute confidence that I will accomplish it. The men of the early 20th century who made it to Hollywood had a plan, but only in a vague sense. All they knew was they had ideas and investments that they wanted to grow. I think it's important that we all try to find that self-made part of ourselves that isn't just accomplishing specific dreams, but that is taking the risk to encounter the unknown.
I've seen the generation above me take advantage of a world in which they could have what seem like very little resources and find themselves at the top of their game to provide for their own families. I've seen people my age grab life, which my have not been ideal thus far, and change the scope of their future forever. What at one time really felt like coming to terms with an anxious uncertainty, now is starting to feel like getting excited about the abyss ahead and what it could hold. If the men who made the wonderful city I live in today could dive off the deep end, why can't I? In the end, isn't it all about walking right to the edge of the cliff, looking down, and taking a step to find our own self-made and successful happy place?