Today is March 17 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you making something happen?” Navigating the chaos often requires one to make something happen from nothing. Actor Mark Ruffalo and botanist George Washington both know what it means to make something happen. After high school, Ruffalo moved with his family to San Diego. After six months of “surfing, smoking, just wandering aimlessly”—and working as a busboy—Ruffalo was “just about ready to jump off a bridge.”
Then he went to L.A., found out about the Stella Adler Academy and “walked into a class, and immediately where he felt “this is right. This is where I’m gonna be until I learn how to act. I was there for seven years.” During that time, Ruffalo and a group of actor friends started a theater group but needed to make money so he worked as a bartender and appeared in in soft-core horror movies.
Around that time, Ruffalo says, “I realized nothing was happening for me—I thought, I gotta make something happen.” And so he co-wrote and appeared in The Destiny of Marty Fine, a low-budget thriller about an ex-boxer who witnesses a mob hit and then has to kill to save his own life. Marty Fine led to other indie-movie roles and some random TV work, but his breakthrough role came on the stage—in Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 L.A. production of This Is Our Youth, a story about privileged twentysomethings resisting adulthood.
Before moving to New York to reprise his role as Warren in the play’s 1998 Off Broadway run, Ruffalo actually quit acting. His mother told him ‘You know, I have never told you to do anything in your life. But if you don’t get back to California, I’ll never forgive you. Are you crazy? You can’t quit now!’ Ruffalo did not quit and eventually landed a role in XX/XY a 2002 American romantic drama film nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
After ten years of creating and finding his life as an actor, Ruffalo finally made it. Acting teacher Stella Adler said “If you can live without acting, then don’t act! It’s brutal, man. It’s so brutal. Because it’s too fucking heartbreaking.” Ruffalo spent a decade finding and creating himself in order to deal with the brutal and heartbreaking world of acting.
Much like Ruffalo, American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver could have used any number of excuses to fail in his life. But he chose otherwise and decided to pursue his passion for botany and, as a result, became one of the nation’s most prominent inventors devising over 100 products using one major crop—the peanut—including dyes, plastics and gasoline.
Carver was born into slavery around 1864. The conclusion of the Civil War in 1865 brought the end of slavery in Missouri. Moses Carver and his wife, Susan, decided to keep George and his brother. Susan Carver taught George to read and write, since no local school would accept black students at the time. The search for knowledge would remain a driving force for the rest of George's life.
Accepted to Highland College in Highland, Kansas, Carver was denied admittance once college administrators learned of his race. Instead of attending classes, he homesteaded a claim, where he conducted biological experiments and compiled a geological collection. While interested in science, Carver was also interested in the arts. In 1890, he began studying art and music at Simpson College in Iowa, developing his painting and drawing skills through sketches of botanical samples. His obvious aptitude for drawing the natural world prompted a teacher to suggest that Carver enroll in the botany program at the Iowa State Agricultural College.
Carver moved to Ames and began his botanical studies the following year as the first black student at Iowa State. Upon completion of his Bachelor of Science degree, Carver's professors Joseph Budd and Louis Pammel persuaded him to stay on for a master's degree. His graduate studies included intensive work in plant pathology at the Iowa Experiment Station. In these years, Carver established his reputation as a brilliant botanist and began the work that he would pursue for the remainder of his career. According to Carver “ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”
Are you busy making something happen like Carver and Ruffalo or are you sitting around waiting for someone else to make something happen for you?