Ben Okri on Life’s Plans

“We plan our lives according to a dream that came to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans. And yet, at the end, from a rare height, we also see that our dream was our fate. It’s just that providence had other ideas as to how we would get there. Destiny plans a different route, or turns the dream around, as if it were a riddle, and fulfills the dream in ways we couldn’t have expected.” –Ben Okri

The Best Kind of Luck…

Is the kind you make for yourself.

This was my fortune after a business lunch at P.F. Chang’s Friday:

The word ‘apropos’ came to mind.  So true.


Interview Series: Zach Nelligan

DCM Photography

Pursuing your passion and turning it into a career is the American dream.  In this interview, Zach Nellian, tattoo artist and businessman, shares his life and what drives him.  

Could you fill readers in on your background?  

My name is Zach Nelligan.  I’m 26 years old and a life-long resident of Austin, TX.  I’m a tattooer and I work at Triple Crown Tattoo Parlour.  I have a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin.  Note of interest for people that might care:  AJ and I have been friends since the 3rd grade, and he’s always been a top notch dude.  Thank you so much for taking me into consideration for this.  

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist as a profession?  

 I’ve been drawing my entire life and have always wanted to do it as a living, and always just assumed it was what would happen.  Of course, this is rarely the case, so I couldn’t be more grateful that it actually happened!  I have no idea what I would do otherwise…
How did you decide on being tattoo artist?
It was at some point later in college.  I had been getting tattooed since I was 18, and they steadily got bigger and better.  I began researching the art and profession more and more.
Can you describe your experience breaking into the Austin tattoo scene?
Austin has a huge tattoo scene.  Just about everybody here is tattooed and we have one of the highest per capita counts of shops.  Some of the world’s finest tattooers work here and there are more and more everyday.  It’s very tough and competitive, but unlike other cities, there isn’t too much drama between shops.  As far as breaking in and making a name for myself, I’ve just done what I always do:  be as nice and genuine of a person as I can be, while working as hard as I can and constantly keeping up with my clients as far as communication and updates of my online and physical portfolios.
How would you describe your tattoo style?
I prefer to do primarily old school, traditional designs or subjects that evoke a vintage nostalgia.  I do bright, clean, bold tattoos that will hold up over time instead of super delicate, rendered, soft tattoos that will blur and fade quickly.
No tribal or Chinese characters then?
If that’s what you really want, I will gladly do it!

Bring ’em on!  I’m also here to get paid, haha.  


What has been the “wackest” tattoo you’ve given someone?
Wackest?  Maybe some of the stuff I was doing when I first started, haha.  Wackiest?  I do a lot of wacky tattoos.  I still really like the $%^# wizard riding the dragon.  It took up a girl’s entire thigh.

I do a lot of weird tattoos.  It’s a niche I’ve broken into.  See the answer above, and I also did a skull eating a @#$%&# in this dude’s armpit.  That was an interesting challenge.  

Whom or what do you draw (no pun) inspiration from?
Anything vintage or nostalgic, and also my clients’ ideas.  Old clip art, ads, tattoo designs, objects, etc.  I have a lot of reference material.

What’s your approach to attracting customers?  Any networking involved?
My business is primarily word of mouth.  If I’m kind and attentive to my customers and give them a nice tattoo worthy of being proud of, then they will pass my information along.  Besides that, the internet is huge.  I have a web site, Myspace, and Facebook for that.
Our shop also participates in different fund raisers, South By Southwest, East Austin Studio Tour, and we did a movie night for a while.  I also travel often for tattoo conventions, and our shop is involved with the Austin tattoo convention.
To what extent has the internet and social media been integrated into your business?
It’s a huge part of it.  I’d say half of my business comes from the internet, especially with Myspace, Facebook, and Yelp.  That’s where everybody turns to for everything now, so you have to participate and take advantage of its possibilities.  I try to keep all my stuff online as up to date as possible.
How long have you operating online?
I’ve had my site and profiles since I was an apprentice.  I guess about five years now.
Besides tattoos what other mediums do you work with?
When I paint, I use watercolor paper and liquid acrylics.  I used oil paint in college, but haven’t used it since then.
How do you see yourself advancing as an artist and businessman?
There’s no place to stop advancing.  It’s a natural thing to just want to get better at your craft, and it happens exponentially.  Especially now that tattooers and artists are getting better and better at younger and younger ages, it’s really important to always be on your toes.
As for business, I’ve recently broken into the publishing game, but it’s mostly been for fun.  I don’t plan on owning a shop until I have the means and the market needs another one.
What keeps you hungry to get there?
Personal growth primarily.  I don’t want to short change my potential or my customers with work that isn’t striving to be the best I can possibly strive to produce.
Lastly.  For those readers looking to get inked, where can you be reached?
I can be reached at:
Thanks Zach!

But, I Paid My Dues!

Photo Credit

This man (Lloyd, assistant with a Stanford MBA) can quote from the entire stack [of movie scripts], that is what he is willing to put in for his own success. He’s paying his dues. When have you paid yours?- Ari Gold, Entourage

I don’t think often we are aware of when we are “paying our dues.”  When people make the claim that they’ve paid their dues, it smacks of self-entitlement.

As if something is owed to them because they did something they felt warranted whatever reward/promotion they sought.

No one owes you anything.

True, one should be aware of the value and contributions you bring to an organization, and not be afraid, tactfully to bring those to the attention of the powers that be, but generally, if your good, if you’ve got “it”, you will be recognized and elevated.

But not before someone believes you are.

Get that.  You present through actions, someone else decides that you have paid your dues (though you could decide to quit, I guess).

I like analogies, so here’s one.  You want to make varsity on your ______ team/squad, so you train, hard.  You miss out on dates, you miss out on family time, you have only one thing on your mind.  And when the time comes, you don’t make varsity.  You may think “But I did everything I was supposed to, I paid my dues!”

It doesn’t matter.  The coach, for whatever reason, didn’t believe you were ready.  You don’t decide when enough is enough (if you are choosing to work in an organization or firm).  You do evaluate your past moves, adjust where necessary, and persist towards your goal (this is fundamental in life, and in your career).

At 26 years old, I’m still in that “verge zone.”  And I enjoy it.  Along the way I’ve accumulated some great (at least learning) experiences.  Have I paid my dues?  I don’t know.  I do know I have made hard decisions concerning my career goals.  Where they the right ones?  Only time will tell.

Remember this: It’s not a matter of dues being paid, but of you becoming someone who is worthy of that next step.


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New Hustle Music: Aleo Blacc

This the opening theme song for the new HBO series “How to Make It In America“. I found out earlier this week that it was in fact not a 70’s era soul song (think David Ruffin or Billy Paul).

The singer Aleo Blacc has made a great song. One that speaks to you, and that anyone trying to come up, whatever your situation, understands.


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Mo’Nique and Second Acts

“There are no second acts in American lives.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sunday Monique Imes-Jackson, aka Mo’Nique, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the film, Precious.  Her acceptance speech was the only part of the Academy Awards I watched, and only because my mom was clapping loudly from downstairs when she won.

I knew Mo’Nique had been nominated, that Precious by-and-large had been lauded, and that she was the front-runner; still, seeing Mo’Nique receiving her Oscar was inspiring.  More than a decade ago, when I first saw her on Moesha, and then the spin-off, The Parkers, Oscar winner was the last thing that would’ve come to mind.  Yet there she was Sunday.

The lesson for us all (her win being one example) is this: Through drive, talent, or luck (usually a combination of the three), second acts, third, fourth, and so on, ARE possible.  As long as you breathe and possess the will a new act CAN be written, and the world can be amazed.

Congratulations Mo’Nique!


p.s. Mo’Nique, I loved you in Beerfest!

Five Points on Persistence (Mine)


Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” -Calvin Coolidge

Five Points on Persistence:

1.  Action

  • Persistence requires action.  You don’t think about being persistent, you ARE persistent.  So you go knocking on doors.  You make the phone calls and emails.  You cultivate a network.  DO something.

2.  Create wins

  • We all get down when set backs occur.  What helps is to re-frame your goal from all or nothing and into parts.  Imagine it broken down into pieces of a puzzle.  Each piece you gather and lock into place is a small victory.  A victory could be getting a five minute phone call with a potential mentor, or it can come by way of a “defeat”, like not getting THE job.  But say you made it to the second or final round.  And that had never happened before.  That’s a win.

3.  Be realistic

  • Don’t be lofty.  OK, be lofty, but reasonable.  Being realistic can prevent you from burning out, or becoming disheartened when things are not going the way you imagined they would.  While one should “go big” in achieving their goal, it is easy to get caught up in the emotion of the idea of the goal.  For example, I can be as persistent as I want, but I will most likely not NEVER ever, play in the NBA and NFL.  Just out of the realm of possibility.  Conversely, completing a triathlon would not be.  However, I’m not going to be able to complete one tomorrow.

4.  Have enablers

  • There’s the saying that you are the company you keep.  The collective traits of your friends and associates can rub off on you for good or bad.  In the context of persistence, having peers with this trait can be helpful for days when you aren’t feeling as motivated or just plain down about the whole process in achieving your goal.

5.  Follow-through

  • Persistence means taking 1,000 steps if necessary, not just one or two.

Hope these help!