The 9 Celestial Dragons of Creative Success (Or Things What I Learned In China)

By Seamus Anthony

Wow! China! What a place! I mean just look at these mountains!

chinese mountains limestone karsts

Here is an epic post about “what I done learned” while I was there. With some fun holiday snaps for eye candy along the way.

Seamus Visiting the Sun & Moon Pagodas in Guilin, China

That’d be me, in Tourist Hat Mode, visiting the Sun & Moon Pagodas in Guilin, China

I felt very aware during my visit that the Sleeping Dragon is definitely awakening. No two ways about it, after all they went through last century, the Chinese have put it behind them and are getting on with business. Given that the average IQ in China is so high, I think we can safely assume they are going to kick some serious business butt!

Nothing to fear though, 99.99% of the native Chinese I met were gentle, friendly and particularly helpful. I think they (like other old civilizations) have had enough of destruction and just want to get on with building a better, more prosperous life and a more harmonious world.

I learned so much while I was there, both directly via things wise people told me, and indirectly, via observing the Chinese in action. I think any creative person would do well to pay attention to the following, if you wish to prosper and build a better world through your good works.

giving a talk on creativity to a room full of writers and animators.

Giving a talk on creativity to a room full of writers and animators at Crane Animation Studios. That’s Jenny, founder and CEO, standing to my left.

Note: special thanks to Simon & Jenny, my hosts while in China, for their wisdom. Much of what follows flows out of me second-hand, via the things I heard them say and witnessed them do.

1. Create an Emperor Cult

One thing I noticed during my stay is that in China they are not afraid of establishing a pecking order. In fact, they seem to do it quite naturally and willingly. The business leaders I associated with, while not numerous, did have one thing in common: they made it pretty clear (without being tyrannical) who the boss was. Big offices, with big desks and a clear and strong chain of command.

In the west, we have grown up so indoctrinated by the cult of individualism, that we tend to assume that if we stand up and claim a leadership role, we will be ridiculed or despised. In fact, the opposite is true. Most people want to follow a strong leader. This is why in the absence of a wise strong leader, people will follow a moronic strong leader. Ultimately, they are attracted to strength. No doubt it goes back to the origins of humankind. Tribes with strong leaders probably worked together well and prospered. Individualism back then was more likely a surefire route to starvation or danger.

If you want to succeed as a creative, stand up and lead a tribe. Get other people to worship you and put them to work for you. Get a big desk and sit behind it. Make them follow you around while you walk, make them visit you for meetings, as I witnessed one multi-billionaire do, at 10pm on a Sunday night. Do odd things that scream “I am the leader, I can be idiosyncratic, you cannot”.

One man I met, a very wealthy self-made man, has apparently been known to stand up and walk, wordlessly, out of them room while being pitched at, returning after a few minutes only to simply say very little. I saw this man in action and the way his people obediently followed him was remarkable, all while apparently adoring him at the same time.

arnie success

Arnie has very little to do with China per se but this article coincides with me having a bit of an obsession with him. No doubt it’s just a phase.

2. Don’t Break The Energy Chain

Credit for the title & concept of this point goes direct to Jenny, CEO of Crane Animation, even if I have added my own weird pop-culture twist to it all. She is also directly responsible for the titles of points 3, 4 & 6.

While “a journey of a thousand miles” and “persistence, persistence, persistence” have become cliches in the self-improvement game, the truth is, they are cliches because they are true. I was given a very earnest talking to by Jenny, the CEO of a successful company in China, who showed me example after example of situations, both from history and from personal experience of people who get nowhere because they chop and change, or start and stop, to often.

The true creative success stories are not tales of people who did this, that and then the other, leaving a trail of half-finished projects behind them, but rather they are stories of people who, once they found something that resonated with an audience, kept at it.

It is yet another example of my personal motto “Consistent, focused action, over time”. I truly believe that every time I have failed in this life it has been because I quit or changed tack when instead it would have been more effective to keep going. That is how people build huge personal brands. That is how creative success stories like The Simpsons, Arnold Schwarzenegger or The Cure succeeded.

When The Simpsons struck a nerve with society, they stuck at it to build an icon out of what might just have been another fad that came and went.

Arnold Schwarzenegger created himself into an icon by focusing solely on body building until after 6 consecutive Mr Olympia titles, he could go no higher. Then he swapped to making movies, until by the time he released Terminator 2 in 1991, he was one of the most unlikely screen icons ever.

The Cure were just another Gothic punk band, and not a very good looking one at that, but Robert Smith stuck very solidly to his teen-gloom-meets-quirky-lipstick-pop act until, long after his original 1980s new romantic goth peers had all gone home, he was filling stadiums around the world.

Another example: Stan Lee from Marvel comics. He was a mere employee to begin with, but he stayed around long enough to build a personal brand and a lifetime career as “the Marvel guy” while all of the other players came and went.

Create a vision, experiment until you stumble upon something that gets a little traction and then stick to it, long term. That goes for me too.

3. No Excuses

Have clarity of thought and self/other awareness. Listen and you will hear all the excuses people make. You may also hear those you make yourself; catch yourself out and reverse that. Stop making excuses; set yourself apart by not allowing excuses to stop you. Invest in yourself and go the extra mile. Do what others are not willing to do.

china chicken feet

Reality is hard – especially if you are a chicken in China because they will eat your feet.

4. Accept that Reality is Hard

Do what you have to do, don’t waste energy complaining about reality, plan how you will deal with reality.

Accept that it might take hundreds of attempts to get what you want. It will probably take longer and be harder than you thought it would. You will need to pay the bills, so if you need to work for cash AND build your dreams, then accept this. The alternative is to just suck eggs, so what else can you do?

If you don’t exercise and eat properly, you will become unhealthy. So you need to eat healthy and exercise. This is the reality, whether you like it or not, it doesn’t change. If you want to grow wealthy, you have to learn how to manage your money. If you spend more than you earn then you will have a lot of consumer goods, and a lot of debt, but little real wealth or financial security.

This is the reality, you cannot change reality. You can change certain outcomes within the mainframe that we operate in, but you cannot change the rules of reality. Blink your eyes as many times as you like, you will never open them to find you have been magically transported to Paris in an instant.

Decide, plan, work, get the money, buy some tickets, and get on the plane and you can absolutely enjoy that dream holiday sipping wine at a little cafe in Monte Mart.

Same goes for your creative aspirations. You WANT the ability to paint wonderfabulous canvasses of awe inspiring colour and skill all you like. But the only way to actually do it is to paint every day, whether you have a full time job and two kids or not.

What I notice about people who are doing really well for themselves, they still have to do a lot of stuff that they don’t want to do just for its own sake, not because it feels good, but because they know what they want and doing the hard stuff is the price they must pay to get what they want. Watch Arnold Schwarzenegger pump iron in Pumping Iron and he is not enjoying that part of it, it clearly hurts him big time, but it is the price he pays to get what he wants. He invests his time and effort towards extracting the desired result.

Unfortunately I think us creative people sometimes just want to loll about dabbling in our creative pursuits while enjoying the easy life. The truth is, we can (most of us) do this already and yet, we don’t feel satisfied when we do. I know, I have tried that for years and it is very dissatisfying. It doesn’t take any real skill or commitment to chill out being an arty hippy type, floating from whim to whim, making the odd creative flourish here or there without really focusing down and doing the hard yards – and there is little real reward, beyond the odd pleasant moment with a glass of cheap wine in your hand and an afternoon in the sun.

That gets boring after a while, there is a law of diminishing returns at play there, eventually, you find yourself staring at a fistful of bills that threaten to seriously cramp your lifestyle and a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with how nobody but you and your 3 best mates give a flying fuck about your so-called creative genius.

But how do you get out of THAT familiar and uninspiring scenario?…

Chinese scooter guy

Harness your personal power … failing that get an awesome 3 wheeled scooter truck like this dude.

5. Harness Your Personal Power

Have clarity of thought and a vision, obsess about it, talk about it (prudently). Do not talk about what you do not want as you only give it power. Develop a bullshit filter that assesses both your own thoughts, words and deeds and those of others, see clearly what others cannot (will not) see.

List the things that you probably need to do to make it happen. And then assess why it is you do not do the things that you know you should do. Be tough on yourself. All this self-congratulatory, self-love, be-kind-to-yourself twaddle is all very well, but ultimately it is not very useful at getting you to level and move mountains. It’s just another form of instant gratification, like a would-be actor awarding themselves a home-made Oscar statue. It might be fun (and possibly a good way to focus on getting what you want) but it is ultimately just masturbation.

The real Way is about understanding that you have personal power, and working out how to focus it, use it to create outcomes, and then learning how to leverage it. Arnold Schwarzenegger, while not everyone’s cup of tea, is a remarkable example of mind over matter. He literally willed himself to the top by understanding that he had personal power, and learning how he wasted it, and how to redirect that wasted power into a more constructive way.

He tells a story in Pumping Iron of how he wouldn’t allow any negative thoughts or emotions to distract him from his purpose. He said if someone stole his car, he would not allow the story of this wrongdoing infect his positivity and burn up his energy, as this would negatively detract from his workouts. Instead he would laugh it off, have someone call the insurance company, and stay focused on pointing his personal power at his objective, his Major Definite Purpose.

This I noticed happening in China, when people were working, they were working. They were focused in a way that I don’t often see here in Australia. They were not on Facebook, they were not mooching about the staff kitchen for half the day. They were butt-in-chair, eyes front focused on the work at hand.

I think that any creative person who can harness their personal power in this way – in a focused and consistent way – can move mountains.

In my life, when I got back from China, I have created a list of things that deplete my personal power and I am on a mission to control these energy leaks, and redirect that wasted energy towards my stated mission. It is not necessarily what I want to do, like for fun, but it is what is needed to make my plans reality. (See “reality is hard”).

coco and little love gemini fables

Coco & Little Love of Gemini Fables fame are everywhere in Guilin and throughout China. Being chosen to create the theme songs for their soon to be released spin-off show was good luck that I somehow attracted!

6. Self-discipline is not enough (you need Luck)

At first, when my host CEO told me this one, I did not quite know what to make of it, but after some reflection, I got it. While having self-discipline is not necessarily as common amongst people in the West as it is in China (they seriously kick our butts when it comes to self-discipline from what I can tell, per capita that is), I can also see how actually Jenny was right, it is not enough.

We do also need to “attract” good luck in the form of opportunities. This made me reflect on how it came to be that I was in China. Without going into the details of other people’s private lives, the situation was that during a turbulent time in a long standing connection’s life, I did not judge them nor get involved in the details. I simply stood by them, giving them the benefit of the doubt and supporting this person in their journey to find personal fulfillment. Hardly worthy of a sainthood, sure, but in such situations, people often tend to jump to conclusions, choose sides and pass judgments. I didn’t see any of this as my business and instead I just tried to be friend as best I could.

A couple of years later I got the surprise call with the offer to go to China and make the music for the TV show from the same person. Of course my self-discipline in continuing music through many years helped, and will be necessary to complete the job, but I can see that having “a good heart” helped me to attract the “good luck” in the form of opportunity. This would not have happened if I had not stood by my friend.

flow with the Tao

Flow with the Tao – like these two guys I snapped having a post-lunch chillax on their scooters!

7. Flow with the Tao

In the south of China where I was staying, while they work very hard and long hours, they also have a cute custom of chilling out with a nap for half an hour or so wherever they work. So the office of diligent, nose-to-the-grindstone animators, writers and other office-types would all stop to eat lunch, then curl up in their chairs or on mats on the floor to have a snooze, right there at work. I even saw people napping on their parked motor scooters and one lady (not homeless) fast asleep on a bench, right on the street corner near a major intersection!

Clearly these people are flowing with the Tao: when working, work, when hungry, eat, when sleepy, sleep!

I also noticed that while they worked very hard, they did not seem rushed or stressed out. Their spirits were light and they stayed focused without frowning or appearing miserable as so many do in offices here in the West.

  • Relax even when you are busy,
  • do not be too attached to outcomes,
  • keep a universal perspective,
  • keep a sense of humour,
  • have fun (play),
  • when you are eating, eat.
  • When you are working, work.
  • Rest if you need to.
  • When you are eating AND working, eat and work (don’t worry that you “shouldn’t be” doing that, if you choose to do it, just do it.)
  • Do not get hung up on minutia (I noticed the Chinese not being too bothered about fussy manners).
Seamus train driver china

This chap was the driver of the bullet train, who, on seeing I was struggling with my luggage, kindly offered and helped me with a suitcase for about 300 meters. This was indicative of the populous in general, very fast with offers of help without prompting.

8. Cultivate Relationships and a Good Reputation

One thing that stood out for me when I was in China was how kind, friendly and helpful everyone was. With such an enormous population, I was expecting a dog-eat-dog jungle but in fact it was just the opposite. The place has the feel of a (bloody big) village.

Many times when we were out and about, local people approached us to offer their help when we looked lost or were struggling with luggage. And it was not just because we were foreigners. I also saw locals going out of their way to help other locals too.

An interesting part of this was how after meeting in such a way, there was often a quick exchange of contact details, usually facilitated by their preferred local tech: QQ and We Chat.

These social media apps proved quick ways to add each other and it did not seem to be something that people wanted to only do with their actual real life friends and loved-ones.

It was clear to me also, that people are very protective their of their reputation, and not surprisingly, in China, as far as I can tell (I am not an expert on the country!), the emphasis is strong on cultivating a strong family and (old school) social network around you to help you should you need it. So your reputation as a helpful, hard working member of “the village” is super important there.

Personally, I think we could learn a LOT from that here in “the west”.

9. Fame Can Be A Strategy

Once everyone knows your brand, you can easily find things to sell. The animation company I was there to work for, have an animated TV series, the characters of which were everywhere, at least in the city I was staying in.

They were on giant posters that lined fences, they were in tourist signs in roundabouts, they were in elevators, they were on giant digital screens, everywhere.

Impressed, I tried to sound intelligent by asking what the strategy for making money was.

“Make the brand really famous,” came the simple reply. “Then sell lots of stuff.”

And if you think about it, while many of us claim that fame is not the goal (it’s OK if it is, by the way), it is hard to think of a better strategy to make your creative work (artwork, music, novels, whatever) successful and financially rewarding than to achieve a measure of fame.

So fame in and of itself can actually be a strategy: Get famous, you can sell your art.

Obscurity is the enemy of creative success, for most creatives anyway.

So this means placing an emphasis on courting media attention, something that many of us shy away from or just simply don’t think about.

I decided on the way back from China, while reflecting on this, to begin sending out media releases regularly, to try and see just how much press I can get for what it is I do. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of my creative output getting under-appreciated anyway – bring on Seamus the media whore!

Well that wraps up my notes about what I learned in China. I did learn more during my adventure, so no doubt I will have more to say about it all later.

Meanwhile – onward with focused, consistent action over time!

Hi, I'm Seamus Anthony. I am an author, artist and musician from Australia. Here at Rebel Zen, I document my journey as an creative artist and human and in doing so, hopefully help you in your own progress through your life of creativity. Go get your free E-book by me: "Taming The Monkey Mind".

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