Donald Glover, on productive gentleness

When Donald Glover asks himself, “What’s a good man to you?” he replies, “Someone who knows themselves. Who loves themselves. My father was really gentle with us. Physically and mentally. It felt radical at the time. I really miss him.”

Similarly, when he’s recently asked what advice he’d leave with his kids (emphasis added): 

The only person you can’t let down is yourself. That’s the only person in the world that you should try to never let down. It starts with you. If you have a really good relationship with yourself, you can kind of do anything, and you’re always building that. But once you break trust with yourself, then you can’t do anything. That’s the hardest thing to regain.

I see the two quotes as super related. A younger Donald Glover wouldn’t have let himself down, though he also wasn’t very gentle with himself. One journalist following him would write, at the Village Voice:

Three hours of sleep over the previous 48, Glover finally found his bed at 5 a.m. on Monday morning for some semblance of a proper rest.

He woke up three hours later, stumbled into the bathroom of his new Silver Lake home, and started throwing up.

He didn’t drink any whiskey the night before. It wasn’t food poisoning, either. It was the pace. His work—from the clueless jock Troy on Community to the indie rapper Childish Gambino to his black-nerd stand-up—constantly needing to be fed, had just left his flesh in its wake.

“My body was just done,” says Glover, safe in Austin. “My left arm was numb. I had to stop and sit down.”

Everyone—from his manager to his mother to his Gambino co-producer—wants him to slow down. He even raps about them telling him to slow down. But he’s not having it.

“You don’t get to where all my heroes were without giving up a part of who you are,” he says. “Right now, I refuse to even have a dog. No girlfriend. I don’t want anything tying me down. I want to be everywhere. I don’t see a limit for me. I want to do everything. I never thought I was this type of person: Have a good time, not a long time. As a kid, I was always afraid of dying.” But now, he’s driving full-speed. Pushing himself. He crashes. He gets back up. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Compare this to how he structures his days now:

I’m a morning person. I used to be a night owl. I used to love to stay up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, actually. But now I love waking up at like 4:00, 4:30 in the morning, and everyone’s asleep, I get to answer emails, do anything I want, and then go to the gym at like 6:00. It just feels like, man, I really started the day. I can do anything. A lot of artists like recording late at night. I know rappers who come to the studio at 3:00 AM with the girls from the club and start recording, and to me, that is the most insane thing. I literally have a plaque in my studio that says 10 to 5.  Banking hours. You need to have a life. This is for living. That’s how I feel, anyway.

I previously covered that rule he mentioned here; this is related to what I wrote earlier about creating a life.

There’s an alternate reality in which Donald Glover doesn’t slow down, the same way Ye hasn’t (Glover says to himself, “Maybe it depends on what you value. Ye always seems relevant. But at what cost?”), or Elon Musk hasn’t. 

It reminds me of what Ryan Holiday says:

You can’t be whipping yourself, like, “Why am I not doing what so and so is doing?” Especially if those are, you know, if they’re crushing it. Not because they’re not good, but maybe they got breaks that you didn’t get or circumstances lined up in a way that it didn’t work for you. If you’re gonna do it, I say do it right and then give yourself enough time to see if it’s gonna work or not. Don’t quit early.

All of that happens a lot more easily when you’re gentle with yourself.
One last doubling on this, because it’s a topic that really resonates with me (Trying Not to Try comes to mind), is grepLeigh’s comment at Hacker News on, “What books helped you in your entrepreneurship journey?” grepLeigh recommends only books on “mental health, emotional intelligence, and relationships of all kinds.” I entirely agree with this; it echoes Glover’s point on your relationship with yourself, and recruiting and sales entirely have to do with relationships with other people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *