Lesson #1: Overcome Your Fears

“He was scared of just about everything,” recalls Leah Adler, Spielberg’s mother. “When trees brushed against the house, he would head into my bed.” From childhood anxieties to professional worries, Spielberg is a living example of the success that is possible when you move beyond your fears, when you put away those nagging worries in your head and focus instead on your goals.

From an early age, Spielberg was forced to overcome his fear of standing out and of being different. His years at Saratoga High School, which he calls “the worst of my life”, exposed Spielberg to much anti-Semitic sentiment. The family had recently moved into this affluent San Francisco suburb, where Spielberg found he did not fit in. Classmates would often sneeze “Haw-Jew” when he passed by in the halls and he was the frequent victim of bullying after school. He was ashamed of his Hebrew name and all things Jewish. Spielberg lived in horror of being considered different from others. To the gratitude of much of America, Spielberg threw himself in his work, eventually overcoming this fear. He would learn to cherish his religion, leading to the creation of such hits as Schindler’s List and Band of Brothers in tribute to his ancestors.

Spielberg also had to learn to conquer his fear of failure. After being rejected by the extremely prestigious film school at UCLA, upon which he had pinned his hopes and dreams, Spielberg was unsure what the future held in store for him. While he knew film was his passion, he began to wonder whether or not he would be able to succeed at it. Unwilling to give up his dream, he enrolled in California State University and continued on his path. But, again, after getting a C in his television production course, Spielberg had to wonder whether he would ever amount to anything in this industry. He then took the even riskier decision to drop out of school and pursue his passion on his own.

In order to succeed, Spielberg had to fight the urge to give up and continue believing in himself. But, Spielberg is not the picture of perfection he might appear to me. To this day he is still afraid of the opening nights of his movies, where friends and film critics come to see an advanced screening. He has typically far fewer people watch his movies beforehand compared to other major Hollywood stars, and cannot manage to sit through the preview himself. “It’s flop sweat,” he says. “My stomach can’t take it.”

There are still some fears that he has yet to concur, but now instead of worrying about them, he uses them to his advantage. “I still have pretty much the same fears I had growing up,” he says. “I've carried them with me right through my life until now. And I'm not sure I want to give those up because I think a lot of those insecurities are fuel for the stories that I tell.” He is still deathly afraid of flying on planes and riding on an elevator, as well as being in any closed-in spaces. But, it is these kinds of fears that he uses to drive his films. “That’s just the kind of scary stuff he would put in films like Poltergeist,” his mother says.

Spielberg managed to not only overcome his most debilitating fears, but also to use them to his advantage in becoming the movie powerhouse that he is today.

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