There’s a lot we can learn from celebrities. Success stories evolve from an indomitable spirit and resilience in the face of rejection and uncertainty. Much has been said and written about Richard Attenborough since his recent passing.

Richard Attenborough
photo credit: Gordon Correll

In this post I would like to present 6 lessons entrepreneurs can learn from Richard Attenborough’s life and work. The lessons and learning I am writing about are related to the making of the film “Gandhi“.

1. Don’t Give Up on Your Dreams

If you believe in it, go for it. Fear and lack of belief displayed by others usually deter us from going after what we want. To produce and direct his film, a biography of the life of the Indian leader and Father of the Nation, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Attenborough persevered for 20 long years.

2. Know What You Want

Clarity about what you want in life and what you want others to know you as is important. Most of the time we go after obvious roles and ditch what it is that we truly seek. “I have no interest in being remembered as a great creative filmmaker,” Attenborough once said. “I want to be remembered as a storyteller.”

3. Bootstrap Your Venture

Very often people give up on their entrepreneurial dreams for lack of finance. Don’t let that deter you. You must begin with yourself. Start with your own resources, in a small way. Attenborough had worked for 20 years to raise money for Gandhi, he even put his personal money on the line.

1982 Gandhi movie poster

4. Keep Your Focus

If you have an idea, you must focus on it. Don’t let other opportunities distract you. Even if you take up other things that come your way figure out how you can use them as a means to achieve the end you have in mind. In his endeavour to make a biopic on Gandhi, Attenborough turned down an offer to be associate director of Britain’s National Theater.

He pursued his dream with a steely resolve and did everything he could to gather money. For this he had to mortgage his house, sell his cars and pawn his paintings. In the process he took on a number of mediocre roles in films such as “Brannigan,” “Rosebud” and “Ten Little Indians”. He even directed “Magic” for producer Joseph E. Levine, a move he made as a favor to interest Levine in financing “Gandhi.”

5. Carve Your Own Path

Attenborough’s choice of actors for Gandhi was revolutionary in its own way. Rather than going with prominent actors such as Alec Guinness and Dustin Hoffman he picked theatre actors like Ben Kingsley, Alyque Padamsee and Rohini Hattangadi. The lesson here is “ditch the herd mentality”.

As an entrepreneur make your choices revolutionary. Do not take the path most people would take. Go out on a limb; listen to your own voice. Conventional choices do not always pay off. Similarly unconventional choices could be the best things that happened to you!

6. Share Your Story

As entrepreneurs, sharing your story is one of the biggest contributions you can make to nurturing future entrepreneurs. You never know who will be inspired by what you have done. Attenborough detailed his struggle to make Gandhi in a book titled, “In Search of Gandhi,” published in 1982.

As you set off on your entrepreneurial journey I hope these lessons from Richard Attenborough inspire you. Look within and you will find all the answers. That is perhaps the biggest learning in life. Gandhi bagged eight Oscars, including two for Attenborough as best director and for producing the best picture. Come to think of it, it all began with a dream and the resolve to make it happen. What are you waiting for?