How Steven Spielberg became remarkably successful

Mar 25th, 2009 | By | Category: Risk, Uncategorized

I love reading and writing stories about successful people who overcame obstacles to live out their dreams.  Today I am delighted to share a story about Steven Spielberg. It is not only inspiring, it is also chock full of coaching tips and strategies that you can apply to your own business goals and dreams.

It was written by Doug Stevenson of who gave permission to re-print it here.  Enjoy.

Get Out of Your Own Way

by Doug Stevenson

Why are some people successful and others are not? Why do some people pursue their dreams with relentless determination while others give up before they ever get started?

From my observations, people who succeed get out of their own way and people who fail let self-limiting beliefs, challenges and setbacks get in their way. One of the most common ways that people get in their own way is when they interpret obstacles, limitations or difficulties personally, and therefore they believe that something is wrong with them or that they cannot reach their goal. People who get out of their own way don’t take anything personally! They just get creative and find alternative ways to continue towards their goals.

I’ve been researching successful people and what it took for them to get where they are today. One person who has always intrigued me is Steven Spielberg. His personal story is as fascinating as one of his favorite characters, Indiana Jones.

From my research, I discovered that when Steven was 8 years old, he borrowed his dad’s 8-millimeter movie camera and started shooting anything in front of him. On family vacations, he’d get his family to restage their activities to make the scenes more artistic.

When he was 12, when most guys his age spent their weekends watching Flash Gordon on TV (it was 1958) or playing baseball in the park, Steven was busy pursuing his goal to be the next Cecil B. DeMille. At that time, there were lots of World War II fighter pilot movies – probably all starring John Wayne – so Steven decided to make his first movie a fighter pilot story.

Take An Idea and Run with It.

Without concern that he was only 12 and didn’t have much money, Steven went to the manager of the Phoenix airport and somehow gained his permission to shoot fake dogfight scenes in the cockpits of Vintage airplanes. He got his friends to dress up in army surplus World War II uniforms, splattered them with ketchup for blood, and told them to act like enemy aircraft was shooting at them.

Steven created an editing room – probably in his bedroom or in the basement – and interspersed the badly acted scenes with real documentary footage of midair dogfights. He called his first film, Fighter Squad.

Talk about someone who’s a self-starter! Here is someone with a passion and a strong desire to achieve a goal.

No excuses.

There is more to Steven’s story. As I understand, Steven didn’t have it easy growing up. He was the oldest of four kids, with three younger sisters. His dad was an engineer and his mom was a concert pianist. His family moved three times. His dad worked long hours and was seldom home, and when he was home, it was reported that his parents fought all the time. You can imagine what it must have been like around the dinner table, when his dad was home: lots of arguments and tension.

Steven longed for a father figure in his life. When he tried to connect with his dad, the two of them argued about Steven’s poor grades in school. So Steven escaped into the fantasy world of his movies. In fact, he spent so much of his time making films that he didn’t pay much attention to his studies, which is why he ended up getting C’s instead of the A’s and B’s he was capable of.

His teachers described Steven as an intelligent but awkward and geeky kid who was bullied by the other kids. He was also the only Jew in a very “wasp” neighborhood. And to top it off, he had a strange preoccupation with cameras and movies.

By the time he was 17, he’d made four films. His parents were divorced by now. Steven applied to the two best film schools, UCLA and USC, but his poor grades kept him out. After a summer job as a clerical intern at Universal Studios, he enrolled in Cal State Long Beach. Bored by his classes and anxious to get on with his movie career, he dropped out and began to hang around on the Universal Studios lot where TV shows and movies were being shot.

Push the Limits.

Even though his clerical intern job was over and he no longer had any business being on the lot, Steven knew that the guards would still recognize him, so he dressed in his suit and tie, grabbed an old briefcase, and as if in a scene from Indiana Jones, he walked right up to the gate, waved to the guards and strolled through onto the studio lot.

Once on the lot, he hung around every department he could get into, asking questions. He introduced himself to actors, producers and directors. He watched movies being shot and soaked up everything he could. Years later, he said he probably got kicked off of a set every day. Obviously, rejection didn’t stop him.

View Obstacles as Detours to Success.

Steven was relentless and found creative ways to break the rules and write his own. Eventually, after being on the lot so much, he had people assuming that he worked for someone. With his ruse firmly established, it was time to make the next move. He had an 8-millimeter film that he wanted the studio executives to watch. He got it into their hands, but they told him they’d only look at it if it were shot on 16 millimeter.

Undeterred, he rented a camera and over the weekend made a new film in 16-millimeter. Then they told him not to come back until he shot it in 35-millimeter. Without hesitation, he went home and shot the film again.

Impressed by Steven’s relentless determination, the studio executives agreed to look at it. The 26-minute movie was called Amblin, and it won a prize at the Atlanta film festival. More importantly, though, Universal signed him on a 7-year contract to direct TV and movies. Steven was 22 years old.

Steven Spielberg is the most successful movie director of all time. His films include Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, ET, Poltergeist, The Color Purple, Shindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

Pursue Your Goal with Relentless Determination – Get Out of Your Own Way!

When Steven didn’t get into the prestigious film schools, he didn’t take the rejection personally. He simply charted a different path to his goal. When he was kicked off of a movie set, he didn’t call the plan a failure. He just moved over to another set. When he was told to shoot his film in another format, he didn’t let the obstacle stop him. He accepted the challenge and shot the film again… and again.

Successful people don’t make excuses. They don’t take rejection personally. They don’t turn limitations into self-limiting beliefs. They pursue their goals with relentless determination. They take chances, break the rules and get out of their own way. They tear down walls and remove the obstacles that others put in their path.

Life is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by building your own walls from the inside and getting in your own way. There are plenty of walls to climb and knock down without you making more. Get out of your own way. If you have a dream, pursue it. If you have a goal, work a little every day to achieve it.

Steven started when he was 8 years old. His dream came true when he was 22. It took him 14 years. If it’s true that it might take awhile for your dream to come true, shouldn’t you get started today?

Get out of your own way.


For more inspirational stories of remarkable people who reveal proven strategies for living out your dreams,  check out my award- winning book, “I Can’t Believe I Get Paid To Do This!” by Stacey Mayo

About Stacey Mayo, The Dream Queen

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  1. Good to read & know stories like above”Steven’s” one, but we can’t denie that there are many many obstacles : 1 of them the age… what if it is too late to realize what I want !? can I become younger to have the energie .. the time to go onto my dream .. I wana be a designer … YES .. I WANA BE A DRESS DESIGNER.
    In my country this is not important … doesn’t make u earn money ..
    Who knows … may be 1 day somebody help!

  2. Good for you for claiming what you want. Yes, there are lots of obstacles in life. How can you work around them? Take a small step toward your dream everyday. Focus on what you want, not on the obstacles and see what opens up. You may be older, but as long as you are living, you might at well do things that you love to do. (even if it is part time while doing something else that makes you money for now) For more inspiration, watch the Dream Movie at

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