Four Steps to the Summit: An Introduction

Four Steps to the Summit: An Introduction

I love learning and I love making things. I really love creating communities that make things.

Over the years I have formed amazing artistic communities that have continued to grow and create long after I left them. I have also overcome devastating personal problems of my own making. Looking back I realized that there were commonalities in every successful project I was involved in. After taking a look at what worked, I organized those common techniques into a framework I originally called the Three Simple Steps. Recently I realized that a fourth step was needed so now it’s The Four Steps.*

  1. Step Back – The Creativity Step
    • Looking at the big picture and the temporal, cultural and personal context, articulate where you want to go and how you want to get there. Stepping Back is about defining your dreams and creating concrete goals.
  2. Step Up – The Integrity Step
    • Take responsibility for what you are responsible for and create structures to hold you accountable for what you say you’re going to do. Stepping Up is about taking control of your life.
  3. Step Forward – The Productivity Step
    • Take action and create good habits that will help you reach your goals.
  4. Step Out – The Community Step (this is the new one)
    • Involve other people in your project. Expand your circle of friends and colleagues. Get out of your comfort zone.

Here’s how the 4 Steps came to be.

Growing up, I had some wonderful teachers, Mrs Olney in first grade, Mr Petillo in Fifth and Ms Martin in 6th, who admired and nurtured my love of reading and math and science. My parent’s marriage started falling apart just as I started kindergarten. As a result of the emotional chaos at home, I took refuge in the relative safety of school and I developed a strong interest in academics.

For various reasons, I ended up attending 4 different schools from Kindergarten through 3td grade. Without a consistent peer group and with my parent’s focused on their own problems, I worked on winning the approval of my various teachers. Luckily, I had some great ones. Mrs Olney, Mr Petillo and Ms Martin were especially amazing.

I was a bit of a loner as a kid, happiest when I had my nose in a book. In fifth grade, I kept track and I finished 100 books between September and June. By eighth grade, however, I’d had enough of being a geeky outcast. When I got to a new high school the next year I consciously reinvented myself as a more social person.

I spent the first few months of freshman year observing social interactions and I realized people appreciated being listened to. If you were interested in other people, they would be interested in you. I also realized that the biggest barrier to social acceptance was my own shyness. Social rejection was much less likely and, when it did happen, less painful than I thought it would be. Applying these two principals I became a person who could cross the invisible boundaries between cliques and as a senior, I was elected as my schools first Student Body President.

I high school I also started doing theatre and in college that developed into a passion. Interestingly, I fell in love with creating theatre. I didn’t really love seeing theatre, at least not theatre in houses that are big enough to pay actors a professional wage. I loved and still love tiny spaces where you can reach out and touch the people in the front row.

The theatre and improv I did in college gave me a sense of family and belonging that I had when I was very little. When I graduated I was shocked (SHOCKED) that everyone I worked with didn’t want to start a small theatre with me. The members of my improv group wanted to go to law school or start real careers. I was very like a bassist from a college rock group who kept saying “what about the band, man!?!” at graduation.

So I moved west at the invitation of a classmate named Bryan Cole and helped re-start Bainbridge Island’s Annex Theater in downtown Seattle. There I found a new family and I fell in love with the woman who later became my wife.

Six years later, she and I moved to Los Angeles. After a couple of lonely years, I needed an artistic family so I created one. It was clear to me that what the city (and I) needed was another small theatre. I invited everyone I knew who did theatre to my living room one Sunday afternoon and we invented Sacred Fools Theater.

A few years after that I teamed up with Peter Lebow and Charles Papert and we created Instant Films, a company that randomly connected filmmakers, writers and actors to create short films over the course of a weekend. It worked like magic and after less than a decade we had made over 250 films with some of the most talented people in Hollywood.

Looking back at everything that worked, from plays I directed to communities I founded, and the many things that didn’t work, it became clear that having a clear goal and a strong team was crucial to success. Having a high level of integrity and staying in action was also vital. About 10 years ago I invented these Steps as a fun way to remind me of these important components of achievement.

Creating all this community could not plug the holes in my heart that were there since childhood and so while I was doing all this great stuff, I ate too much and I drank too much and I did other things to try to heal these psychic wounds that I didn’t know I had. In short, I became an addict.

Luckily, no one (including me) had to die before I reached rock bottom and started to deal with my problems. I ended up using 12 step programs, therapy, hypnosis, medical intervention and a lot of hard, hard work to recover and to stay in recovery. Along the way, I learned a lot about what works. All of this has gone into the 4 Steps.

I listened to and read a lot of Ziglar, Robbins, Covey and others while trying to solve my problems and get things done. I also took classes and seminars (I highly recommend Landmark Education to anyone who wants to look at their life in a new way) and studied religious ideas and behavioral economics. All of this has influenced the ideas in the 4 Steps.

So now I’m codifying the 4 Steps and creating a workbook so that I and others can use the 4 Steps as a guide to creating a life that is full of creativity, integrity, productivity and community.

*If you are interested in getting an advanced copy of the 4 Steps to the Summit Workbook, put your email on the mailing list or send me an email at the4steps@johnsylvain.com.

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