Breaking Bad has to be one of the greatest shows to come out on TV in my generation. It was definitely one of my favorites to binge watch and share conversations with my colleagues about.
Just recently after revisiting a few of the story lines, I’ve come to realize that there are some great lessons to take away from the fictional world of Breaking Bad into the actual world of being an artist. Spoilers included below.
1. Don’t be flashy with your success
Now I’m sure that statement alone just turned off all of my hip-hop aficionados who believe that hip-hop in and of itself is a “flashy” culture. But how many stories do we hear everyday of rappers and other entertainers getting robbed? Just recently fellow Georgia rapper Young Dolph was the victim of a robbery after thieves clearly recognized his vehicle in the parking lot of a restaurant.
Which made me think of drug kingpin Gustavo Fring and his modest appearance. Even being owner of a successful chain of restaurants, Gus still kept his appearance lo-key and was content with the level of success he knew he had and was building on. That’s not to say that you can’t go to the club and make it rain or floss a new whip from time to time, I’m just saying that “flashiness” comes as a cost. And as an artist I have to decide whether I feel like being a target today, or just blending in. Knowing that I’m successful without having to show the rest of the world.
2. Hire slow and fire fast
We are in the age of instant gratification, and the promise of someone making you an instant star, or instantly rich, is the phrase you’ve been waiting for. Unfortunately, I see many artists get burned jumping on the “instant” bandwagon and end up either out of money or a serious loss of time that they can’t get back.
Even so-called record label deals have us jumping at the bit and not fully understanding the repercussions of the “instant” effect, and after the label has milked us, they send us out to the pasture or back home worse off than we were when we signed.
But once again I turn to Breaking Bad and remember that Gus had his reservations about working with Walter. He liked him, sure. And was in love with his product. But it was something about his motive, demeanor, and just overall personality that didn’t sit right with Gus. But he took his time and slowly came around until he felt comfortable with working with Walter. And I think that’s important for us artists to really take time to develop relationships with people and understand what partnering or working with them means to our overall career. And just like with Gus, if it ain’t working out, don’t feel bad cutting bait.
Which brings us to number 3….
3. Sometimes you have to follow your gut, not your greed
Even though Jesse had his reservations about Walter White, against his better judgement, he decides to cook with the Meth Master and starts a whirlwind of situations that causes him to lose not one, but two girlfriends, and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
Although him and Skinny Pete were barely making any money before he met Mr. White, he was at least still in control. And able to work at his own pace.
Unfortunately the thought of a better product leading to more money turned his world upside down, and not only did he get high on his own supply, he even later became a slave to that initial fateful decision as Jack’s gang forced him to cook for them.
As an artist a lot of times good deals will come to us. Some in the form of more lucrative financial opportunities, some in the form of more lucrative exposure opportunities, and all forms in-between. But we have to be careful to weigh the risks and rewards of those deals, and if something in our gut is saying “drive away”, that we don’t hesitate to put our foot on the gas.
4. Know the difference between doing stuff for others, and doing it for yourself
The every running commentary from Mr. White the entire show, was that everything he was doing, he was doing it for his family. And at the beginning I completely felt him on that. He was diagnosed with cancer, and was going to leave a wife, son, (and later daughter), with not only a big hole financially, but one emotionally with the head of the household being gone.
But as the money started rolling in, there didn’t seem to be a “number” or a situation, that Walter would have been satisfied with. We seen him lose money, and get it back, and lose it again, and get it back, but all the while continuing to go back to that “risk-filled” well of danger, as he would put it, “for his family”.
Now one may have looked at all of these mishaps as signs that maybe this isn’t the life for you Mr. White, and maybe he should quit wayyyy ahead of when he did. But as the final episode of the series clearly stated, he did it because he “liked it”. It stopped being about his family a long time ago.
That got me to thinking about all of the times that work has come up, or another opportunity to perform, and make money, and “provide”, but at the cost of either missing out on life with people you love right now, or putting extra strain on yourself because you think you’re doing the right thing.
This situation got me really evaluating the difference between actually making a sacrifice for others, or making the sacrifice because you really want the experience from it. No one I’ve ever talked to enjoys being overworked, shot at, almost killed several times, all for the sake of doing it “for their family”. So as an artist I’m clear what I do for me is for me. And what I do for others is for them. And never the two shall mix.
5. When you mess up, be willing to do what it takes to make the situation right
And so as the series comes to the end, the biggest lesson I learned from the show rears its wonderful head. Even after all that Walter White did to the lives of all that he came into contact with, in a last ditch effort to make it right, he confesses to his estranged wife his true feelings all along, takes out a couple of bad guys, and frees the one guy he probably hurt the most while giving him the opportunity to take from him the only thing he has left, life.
It was a great vision of sacrifice and really owning up to your own stuff when you mess up. So I learned that whatever you end up causing a mess over, you need to be willing to go the distance to make it right. And sometimes that means it going to suck for you, but think of the people affected by your bad decision in the first place..
Man up and make it right!