Stories and opinions that spark creative thinking


I will move mountains. I will do what no one else has done. I will have my opera house. 

Of course, my opera house is a metaphor for any number of seemingly impossible endeavors. Tell me I can’t do a thing and I’ll try that much harder—just to prove you wrong. The road may be long and winding, and the path not always clear, but that usually doesn’t stop me. 

When I worked for Jonathan Adler he taught me an important lesson: You need a few naysayers in your life. Those who will question your ability to do whatever it is you're determined to set out to do. Those who want you to be safe—risk-free. And trust me, you'll need them to knock you down a few pegs and point you to the straight and narrow because you'll have other ideas that probably are way too lofty.

But here's the thing. You need the naysayers, but you also need to be able to say, “This is just an obstacle. I’ll find my way through.”

I’ve always believed that obstacles are tests, not absolutes. Go ahead and put an obstacle in my path. I will devour it, and the outcome will be even greater than what you feared. 

I want to talk about life as a journey here, and like so many before me I want to liken my stubborn way of being to Werner Herzog’s acclaimed film, Fitzcarraldo. If you’ve never seen this film, I recommend you seize the moment and watch it now.

In the film, failed railroad tycoon and would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman known as Fitzcarraldo, dreams of establishing an opera house in Iquitos, a small town in Peru where he is living, and hire Caruso to sing in it. That means he needs a lot of money that he doesn’t have. Since all the money seems to be in the rubber trade, he buys a steam boat and leases the last unclaimed rubber territory from the Peruvian government, which is, of course, inaccessible due to a lengthy section of rapids one would need to cross in the Ucayali River, a major tributary of the Amazon. But Fitzcarraldo has a plan, and he’s determined to strike it rich so he can build his opera house.

With the help of a local tribe, Fitzcarraldo fashions a pulley system and literally hoists his three-story, 320-ton steamer over the muddy hillside across a portage, from the Ucayali to where it meets the Pachitea River, another Amazon tributary. Using the steamer, he then plans to collect rubber produced on the upper Ucayali, and bring it down the Pachitea and the Amazon to market. Instead, all hell breaks loose.

After all that dream-fueled effort, Fitzcarraldo finds himself aboard a steamer headed into the very rapids he meticulously avoided.

But the payoff, you see, is in the final scene. Because screw the plan, Fitz is having his opera house. And when the boat returns to Iquitos, it does so with the full cast aboard, acting the opera.

Herzog's epic journey to create the film, fraught with obstacles of his own making in the name of crafting his vision exactly right, parallels Fitzcarraldo's. Never the easy way, but the resulting touches are what make the film so special.

The message? Obstacles are not absolute, and neither are plans. If you dream of achieving something difficult in life, you’ll need to be fluid, nimble and open-minded. And probably a whole lot of stubborn. And maybe just a little bit crazy. Such is life, the journey.

Take what you will from that. For me, it’s always inspiring.