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Lesson #5: Drive Yourself Hard
Jim Henson was a loving father to his five children; he filled their lives with endless amounts of imagination and affection. But, if they had to make one complaint, it would have been that Henson was often so busy with his work that he was unable to spend enough time with them. He would even resort to taking his children along with him to business meetings in order to squeeze in some quality family time.
That was the price Henson paid for his success – and one he readily accepted. He knew that professional success would mean sacrifices in other domains, including his family life. “I don’t resent working long hours,” he said. “I shouldn’t – I’m the one who set up my life this way. I love to work. It’s the thing that I get the most satisfaction out of – and probably what I do best.”
Henson had a reputation for going above and beyond the call of duty – of doing whatever it took to get the job done. While filming a scene for The Muppet Movie, Henson wanted to shoot a scene with Kermit the Frog sitting atop a log and playing the banjo. In order to create as realistic a scene as possible, Henson, who played Kermit the Frog until the day he died, decided to lower himself into a Georgia swamp using a bathysphere. Henson fixed Kermit and the log atop the bathysphere and compressed all six feet, three inches of himself into the tiny compartment. Sitting in a cross-legged yoga position, Henson spent a series of four-hour periods underwater, breathing air in through a hose, in order to manipulate a life-like Kermit.
To Henson, it was all in a day’s work and the reward at the end of his efforts was knowing that he did the best job he possibly could have. “Not that I don’t enjoy days off,” he said. “I love vacations and loafing around. But…the feeling of accomplishment is more real and satisfying than finishing a good meal – or looking at one’s accumulated wealth.”
Recognizing that his good ideas came from a blend of hard work and inspiration, Henson directed all of his energy to turning his ideas into reality. Before The Muppet Show even got off the ground, it took a lot of hard work for Henson to convince anyone that it could be a success. Few besides Henson saw anything in the Muppets outside of children’s entertainment, let alone anything that would work in nighttime television. It was only through Henson’s persistence and hard work that he finally convinced British entertainment mogul Lord Grade to back his venture.
Part of the reason Henson was able to devote himself so fully to his work was because he loved what he did and in a sense, didn’t even consider it work. “I think much of the world has the wrong idea of working,” said Henson. “It’s one of the good things in life.”
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