10 Rules of Success According to Seth MacFarlane

Few animators are as recognizable and as successful as Seth MacFarlane. You probably know him as the creator of the hit TV show Family Guy, which is currently in its 15th season, or perhaps as the writer, director, and star of the Ted films. MacFarlane has found lots of success in television and movies, but perhaps his most successful trait is his creative versatility.

Did you know, for example, that MacFarlane can sing? And he’s not just any ordinary singer — the man can croon like Frank Sinatra, and he’s recorded three big band studio albums. He’s also an actor, having appeared on shows like Gilmore Girls, Freaks and Geeks, and Bones. Plus, he hosted the 2013 Academy Awards, and has appeared on countless talk shows. Finally, MacFarlane is the winner of three Primetime Emmy Awards for his work on Family Guy.

Clearly, MacFarlane has come a long way since his days of studying animation at the Rhode Island School of Design. He’s turned his passion into tremendous success, and we can learn a lot from his career. Here are the ten rules of success according to Seth MacFarlane.

1. You have to do what you love.

MacFarlane has always harbored a great love for cartoons. Sure, most kids do, but he took it to a whole other level. He started drawing his favorite characters at a young age, pretended to do silly voices, and tried to figure out how the cartoons he loved so much actually worked and how those characters moved. He made his first cartoon as a young teenager, and even though it wasn’t good, he loved the process so much that he kept at it and turned it into a career. So, you need to ask yourself: what do you love? That’s what you should pursue if you want to be successful. You need to have a natural curiosity about it and want to figure out how it all ticks. If you do what you love, you’re a lot more likely to find success.

2. Always keep them guessing (and surprise yourself too).

Predictability may be good for the stock market, but it’s not a desirable trait if you want to achieve success. Instead, you have to take chances and do things that scare you a little bit. It may all be totally unpredictable, especially to yourself, but few people maintain success by doing the same thing over and over again. MacFarlane continually pushes himself to do new things, whether it’s acting onscreen and doing a song and dance routine, or hosting a major awards show, and it’s this unpredictability that people notice first.

3. Being successful means hustling.

Success is a direct result of hard work. That’s not to say that working hard is a guarantee of success, but no one ever achieved his or her goals without it. For MacFarlane, putting out a prime time animation series is a hustle; it’s a ton of work to get the hand drawn aspect of the show done for each episode. Skip the work, and the show doesn’t get done, and his success simply evaporates. Similarly, if you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to hustle every day.

4. Get started now.

This rule is especially important if you’re hoping to find success in a creative field, but it really does apply to every line of work. Simply put, waiting around won’t do you any good — you need to start working in your field or your medium right now. Even if it’s just experimentation or working out rudimentary techniques, the time you put in now sharpens your skills and prepares you for the work — and the success — to come.

5. Strike the right balance between comfort and discomfort.

This rule applies to your own comfort level as well as the comfort levels of the people you’re working with and the people you’re hoping to woo as customers and clients. This is what MacFarlane tries to do with his comedy (which is always risque on one level or another): appeal to the comedic sensibilities of many while offending just a few. If you’re appealing to everyone, they’ll quickly grow tired of you, but if you’re making a few people uncomfortable, you’ve got them thinking about what it is you’re doing.

6. It’s OK to push the envelope a little.

And, if you’re aiming for a large audience, the key phrase here is “a little.” Again, just like you need to find the balance between comfort and discomfort, pushing the envelope a little is good, but if you do it too much, you’ll lose people. MacFarlane has learned during his time working on Family Guy that there’s only so far he can go with jokes on TV. He’s removed lots of jokes over the years because, for one reason or another, they’re just too offensive. However, he does keep them for the DVD versions of the shows, where his audience is more narrow and the chances of offending a lot of people are slimmer.

7. Let your ideas dictate how they will play out.

MacFarlane works on both TV shows and movies, and whether he does one of the other is totally dependent on each idea. Some work better as a series, while others work better as a feature. No matter what line of work you’re in, you can apply the same philosophy: put your primary focus on your ideas, rather than the execution of those ideas. MacFarlane finds that he gets the best results if he lets his ideas lead, and it’s likely that you will too.

8. When you see an opportunity, take it.

While being motivated allows you to create more opportunities for yourself, the truth is that sometimes, you encounter a person who’s willing to take a chance on you or give you a chance to really shine. When you get that opportunity, take it, then have confidence in your abilities and your knowledge to make the logistics work. Even if they pay for a particular opportunity isn’t great, try to take the long view and recognize that great work almost always pays off in the end. Successful people often look back on great opportunities offered to them as one of their stepping stones to success.

9. Intend to stick around for the long haul.

Success is fleeting, and longevity is valued but so hard to attain. Like Stephen Covey wrote, begin with the end in mind — the end being that you want your success to last. When you come up with ideas, ask yourself if they have lasting relevance. It’s OK to be topical and it’s OK to take advantage of the latest trends, but longevity comes from repeated success, not momentary success.

10. Being creative means doing great impressions.

Clearly, MacFarlane is an outstanding impressionist. He can impersonate lots of celebrities, including Liam Neeson, Bobcat Goldthwait, Pee-wee Herman, Ray Romano, and especially Kermit the Frog. Even if you’re not aiming for success as a voice artist, being able to emulate certain characteristics of others who are successful can often help you on your own path to success.

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