Lessons from Jonah Hill's Therapist Phil Stutz
Jonah Hill’s new film Stutz is out on Netflix. In it, Jonah interviews his therapist, Phil Stutz, in a documentary meant to share Phil’s powerful visual mental health tools with a broader audience.
I’ve always found Jonah to be an interesting character, hilarious but with something tragic under the surface, and with an eye for style and now for filmmaking (the video Sunflower he directed for Vampire Weekend / Steve Lacy really stuck with me, and not just for the low key cameos of Jerry Seinfeld and Fab 5 Freddy).
In Stutz, we start to see the anxiety, depression, tragedy and shame that Jonah struggles with, and how the tools he learned from Phil Stutz over the past several years helped him cope.
Early in the film, just after the first ~20 minute scene (spoiler alert), Jonah breaks the fourth wall and reveals to Phil that the process of making the movie isn’t going well. Jonah feels stuck because he’s been dishonest with Phil, and because the original premise of the film (that it was all shot in one day in Phil’s office) is totally false. In reality, they had been shooting for two years, wearing the same clothes in front of a green screen. Jonah wears a wig in parts of the film because his hair changed throughout the project.
This breakdown (whether intentional as a filmmaking device or not), makes it clear what the film is really about, as Phil explains:
The thing is, if you wanna move forward… you can’t move forward without being vulnerable. And the reason is, everyone needs help in moving forward. Failure, weakness, vulnerability, is like a connector. It connects you to the rest of the world. Because, what you’re doing is, you’re giving out this signal to the world, “I need you because I can’t do it by myself.”
At this point the film pivots from being solely about Phil Stutz and his tools, to focusing on Jonah, and using his honesty to propel the film forward. It struck me as a hero’s journey type of moment, except on this journey the hero has to embrace vulnerability and transparency to succeed.
Jonah’s display of vulnerability goes much deeper than addressing the audience and his fears of the film not being good. He goes on to share his experience with loss, shame and other intimate issues few of us would want featured in a Netflix documentary viewed by millions. But the film wouldn’t have been nearly as remarkable or memorable without the vulnerability, which reminded me of Brene Brown‘s excellent TED talk on the subject:
Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.
Here we have Brene Brown associating vulnerability with joy, creativity, belonging and love, and in the film, we have Stutz associating vulnerability with progress and growth.
When I worked with entrepreneurs in my previous business Fizzle, we often talked about the myths of entrepreneurship. There’s a common view of the entrepreneur as some kind of genius inventor, who toils away on a brilliant idea for months or years before unveiling it to the world, after which adoring customers flock to you and everything grows organically from there. But the reality is, you have no idea whether customers want what you’ve built until you launch. As Paul Graham says:
The reason to launch fast is not so much that it's critical to get your product to market early, but that you haven't really started working on it till you've launched. Launching teaches you what you should have been building. Till you know that you're wasting your time. So the main value of whatever you launch with is as a pretext for engaging users.
Launching a business idea fast/early is a form of vulnerability. You’re putting it all out there for the world to see, even though you know your thing has flaws and could be much better. But you’re admitting that for your thing to become better, you need help from the people who might use it. You’re admitting that you don’t know everything, that you’re not perfect, and that what you created isn’t perfect.
It turns out then, that personal growth and business growth both depend on vulnerability. Again, to paraphrase Phil Stotz above: everyone needs help moving forward. But you can’t move forward without vulnerability, because it connects you to the rest of the world. Vulnerability is signal to the world that says, “I need you because I can’t do it by myself.”
This becomes especially interesting and complicated when you and your business are inextricably tied together, as many of us are in today’s world of personal brands and creator-driven businesses.
As I look at my own life and periods of growth/joy/creativity vs. periods of stagnation/depression/anxiety, I wonder how much of the latter could have been avoided by simply being vulnerable and asking for help. As entrepreneurs, we often feel like we have to project a sense of control and imminent success to the world. Social media constantly tells us we’re not enough, so the solution often feels like we have to pretend things are better than they are, to “fake it till we make it.”
Faking it has never led to growth or positive feelings, for me personally. It’s always a one-way ticket to an isolated, depressed, dead-end. On the flip side, I can’t think of a time where being honest, transparent and open hasn’t led to something positive, like connection, understanding or growth.
The next time you feel stuck, lost, alone or uncertain, whether personally or in your business, try opening up and letting people in.
And give Stutz a watch on Netflix. I got so much from the film. It’s going to be one I watch again very soon.
In the interest of transparency, I want to share a couple of things about this newsletter before we go today. I wanted to share with you that I’m having second thoughts about my initial plans for paying subscribers.
Originally I expected to launch a community feature and some regular live coaching sessions, but I’m struggling with the idea. It seems like there are so many places to spend your time, I don’t know how much value yet another online community would really provide. Plus, I’m not sure I want to run a community again after having just closed the chapter on the Fizzle community after 10 years.
I’m also having some fear of failure. What if I pour a bunch of time and effort into a community that never really becomes all that popular or useful? What if my time could be better spent elsewhere, like in writing additional essays, or in starting a podcast, or something else? What if the comments section on articles is enough to satisfy my (and your) desire for connection?
I guess this is all to say, I want to figure out what’s best for both you and me at the same time. I’m not going to rush into anything. You have plenty of ways to occupy your valuable time, and you’ve already given me 10 minutes today just reading this article.
Thoughts, ideas, something to share? Please leave a comment on the post. I read/respond to all.
As always, thanks for reading.
Thanks, Corbett for your vulnerability. The word 'time' kept coming up and I'm wondering if your answer is connected to it. Do you want to know if we have time (or interest) or is this really about your time (or inclination). We can be easily polled but getting to your reasons might take more thought.
I recently joined a community via another Substack. A writers group with a connected Discord channel. To be honest, I’m not much of a joiner and find the ritual of keeping up and all the commenting quite exhausting. It takes me away from my writing and artwork. I tend to favor books and helpful newsletters over podcasts and social media communities.