29th July 2021

Matthew Jessner: Retracing The Path

Matthew Jessner

What Have You Been Up To?

Recently faced with retracing the path I’ve been on over the past 15 years, the scent of nostalgia yields to the freshness of perspective that it lends.

“So, what have you been up to…?”

Who would have thought that that was such a loaded question?

It was asked sincerely, and it jolted me to reflect. Often in this situation, we review chronological milestones to the best of our recollection; A zig-zaggedy ride that reveals wild improvisation, and how much we are affected by unforeseen circumstances.

To answer this question I took that curious utility belt from my expanding virtual girth, and laid it on the table to share some of its contents.  I burrowed down into the pockets of my wandering jeans, to find riches I’d not even sought for. Those treasures winked back up at me as if to confirm that the experience of the rainbow is far more worthwhile than the pot of gold.

Back to Basics

There is travel equipment for such an adventure. We take on appropriate tools at significant junctures, and they become part of our knowledge and experience, or more what I call “personal patrimony.” Some of the fundamental attributes that fuel potential for sustained growth are courage, passion, and humility.

You must have the courage to rise to the challenge of your own potential. If you don’t fixate on goals as finite accomplishments, the horizon will always reach further and you will continue to grow. There is no finish line. Moreover, courage is a matter of character; you will never get a medal or award.

The passion of engagement – is not at all the ephemeral and capricious caricature we too often paint. It is deep and constantly pressing. The discipline required to express passion is born of engagement and not of ambition; it will take you down an entirely different path.

Humility is necessary to observe the talent of others,  not as a comparative measure of oneself, but as a demonstration of the realm of possibilities.


Too often, we separate our career from our life’s story and spend much more time nourishing career progress than personal development.

Thus, be vigilant about what career path you mould. It is not a pre-determined road on which you stop to get petrol; it is a trajectory that is and should be, constantly impacted by present experiences.

The turnaround moment of my career is when I understood that I didn’t want one. Career is a collection of chapters, a story.

If you concentrate on your career and not the content of the chapters, the story can’t unfurl. The plot will no longer fit the person you become as you write that book.

Your initial intention may change. If you get stuck in a career plan you might realize that plan, but may miss out on some very valuable content called LIFE.

Another concept that has shaped my ideology was embracing the idea that “moving up” is less like climbing the rungs of a ladder, and more like moving to subsequent and related plateaus or plains.

A ladder provides a straight, narrow, and precarious ascent with limited periphery and mobility. In truth, the periphery is where the majority of the action happens. It is just as much a part of if not literally the true context of any focal idea.

Thus, in the pursuit of any career, it is essential to remain focused in the present rather than fixating on a predefined progression.

Metaphors like this have guided me as an individual, and have served me greatly as a manager, director and “leader,” although I recoil from that word. The metaphoric approach allows for an emotional illustration. Anyone you’re trying to reach can appropriate it for themselves which is precisely the point. It is more useful than ingurgitating pearls of relative wisdom.

“Leadership training” has become like buying car insurance. We stop caring for what is to be followed when we watch ourselves lead, and I’ve always found that the integral adhesion of a leader to a process, endeavour or concept is the force of that drives much more than charisma or style – let alone a formatted set of behaviours or conduct.

Growth and Development

Educate yourself as largely as possible and know that education is not extracurricular. Focus more than on just learning applicable skills or “tooling.”

We live in an era with potential information overload, yet at the same time in a miraculous era of potential knowledge sharing. Knowledge is literally at our fingertips – what an amazing opportunity to grow on a personal level.

Who you are is what you do – ultimately much more than the other way around.

Personal Creativity

Any creative endeavour needs considerable space in one’s life. You must adopt a mental, emotional and spiritual predisposition to the creative state. If you only carve out free time, you will quickly find yourself pursuing your creativity as a mere hobby.

Getting swept up in accomplishment can shroud what you should be developing. Time goes by fast, even faster in this age.

How many happy overachievers have you met?


I touched upon this regarding humility. There is a great deal of discussion and debate related to talent. One of the most overlooked characteristics is that of capacity for assimilation. Skill sets are important but talent is not a measurement of what you have more or less of than others.

There are many talented people out there, but what they do with their talent distinguishes them more than the nature of their predispositions.

The adage that excellence is the result of 10% talent and 90% work is overly simplistic. The principal element missing in that calculation is passion.

If talent is defined by visibility, then many poets are losers – and so are most painters…until they die. 


I view job crafting, or any crafting, more as sculpting. It takes vision to do it – there is also skill and technique involved, but that technique is not really the deeper impulse.

If one thinks in terms of marble, for instance, there is the age old anecdote that Michelangelo didn’t sculpt the David, that he merely chipped away to reveal what was already present there in that beautiful block. Perhaps there were other masterpieces in the same block, but his vision yielded that one.

It is up to you to understand that there are many possible ways to realize your vision. Cultivating that vision is essential and will drive your skill acquisition.

No Holding Back

In my vision, the most beautiful shared adventure starts from what you put forward. You have to manifest your adventure yourself, and not ask for some higher power to do it for or to you. The quality of our interactions starts with our generosity.

I often hear about “earning” respect and “gaining” trust. That is not my experience, especially in large group situations wherein the lack of proximity makes incremental relationship development or maintenance impossible. I firmly believe that one must manifest respect, manifest trust, and go all the way with no reserve.

The connection must be qualitatively established like a synapse, then time and distance between contact and exchange have a far less dispersive impact.

To take these bold personal steps requires courage – yet not the courage to fight, but the courage to give.

In that way, we retain the bonds that we’ve consciously engaged in and they pervade our projects, endeavours and even our lives.


Also on TheatreArtLife:

I Turned 40 And Here Are 40 Things I Know To Be True

Technology Is Changing Entertainment And Us


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Matthew Jessner has over 40 years professional experience in a wide range of entertainment and cultural activities from Classical Indian Music, through Classical and Contemporary Dance, Musical Comedy, Corporate Entertainment, Circus and large scale Creative Productions. Matthew held the role of Project Artistic Director for the development of the show: “The House of Dancing Water” in Macau, China and was Cirque du Soleil's Artistic Director for “Saltimbanco”. Other credits include Disneyland Resort Paris Principal Casting delegate for non-character performers, Interim Director of the creative development team for Special Events, Trade and Convention Shows and Buena Vista International Artistic Director and Choreographer for the "Mulan" promotional show with the Chinese Acrobatic Troupe of Beijing. Onstage, he has performed for The Really Useful Co, Joop van den Ende Theater Produkties, Houston Ballet, Cleveland Ballet and Oakland Ballet. Matthew has performed all around the world and sung and performed in a number of languages including Dutch and Flemish. Matthew has a long history of working with multiple languages, cultures and artistic disciplines and genres, his experience provides TheatreArtLife with a highly valued view of the global entertainment arena.

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