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What a $2 Halloween mask can teach us about being good enough...

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

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Did You Know? with Gorick is the weekly newsletter by Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules, where we deconstruct the untold paths to success — of people (or things) you know!

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Did You Know? You’re probably wasting time and money

(1) A story from the past

Did you know? Halloween, the movie franchise worth $700 million, was made possible thanks to an iconic mask that cost $2.

Halloween (1978) is considered one of the top horror movies of all time (#26 out of 200, more specifically). It is also the film that spawned 13 more movies that make up a $700M movie franchise.

Halloween’s claim to fame? An off-white, beaten-up mask that elevated Halloween’s villain, Michael Myer, with an “expressionless facade [which] took all sense of humanity out of [him].” This iconic mask has “become the stuff of horror film legend” that helped “launch the era of the slasher film.”

What you may not know is that Michael Myer’s mask was actually $2 and was purchased from a local costume store.

Why not go to more creative lengths to establish a memorable prop?

The original movie’s budget was $300,000 USD. For reference, other films of the era like Carrie by Stephen King (1976) had a budget of $1.8M. (Read more about how Carrie almost didn’t make it to the big screen here!)

With much of the money already spent on equipment (the camera alone was $60,000), production designer Tommy Lee Wallace drove to the nearest costume store and bought a William Shatner (protagonist of Star Trek, the 1960s sci-fi TV series) mask for $1.98.

One trip to the hardware store later, and Wallace had the final product: a spray-painted mask with “widened eye holes and [removed] side-burns and eyebrows.”

Fast forward, and Halloween raked in $70 million at the box office, making it “the most successful independent film throughout the 90s.” And the film really had the mask to thank. Whenever different masks were introduced (Halloween 4, Halloween 5, Halloween: H20) moviegoers complained so much that the designers reverted to the original 1978 prop for later movies.

So, the next time you’re stuck with less than what you wanted—whether it’s a lower marketing budget than you wanted or a less polished software release than you wanted—remember Halloween—and how a $2 mask proved to be more than good enough.

Actor Nick Castle, who played the original Michael Myers in Halloween (1978), with the original modified William Shatner mask. Image via iHorror.

(2) A strategy for your future

Did you know? Good enough is good enough.

If $2 is enough to create a $700M franchise, you probably have enough to pursue your dreams. The problem is, in the age of social media, it’s easy to feel inadequate—and it’s tempting to pursue perfection.

The result?

We don’t apply for jobs. Instead, we apply for graduate degrees to boost our odds, only to boost nothing but our debt.

We don’t build our ideas. Instead, we build PowerPoint presentations to analyze our “competitive positioning,” only to lose time and lose track of what we set out to do in the first place.

Feeling stuck?

(1) Ask yourself: “What do I want to do?” (e.g., I want to be a content creator)

(2) Ask yourself: “What’s the fastest way for me to start doing what I want to do?” (e.g., open LinkedIn and write a post)

(3) Ask yourself: “What does the perfectionist in me want me to do instead?” (e.g., do competitive analysis, interview some experts, get a coach, get a certificate, switch jobs, etc.)

(4) Throw out your answer to question 3 and try whatever you answered under question 2.

While you could certainly benefit from all of the things you brainstormed under question 3, many of them are likely what I call “artificial prerequisites”—they seem like things that stand between you and what you want to do, when they’re all things that you put in your own way. It’s your brain convincing you to build a $10,000 mask when a $2 mask would have worked just as well. (There are exceptions, of course. If you want to become a doctor, you do need to go to medical school. If you want to become a tenured professor, you do need to get a PhD.)*

I know it because I’ve experienced it: Whether you call it analysis paralysis or perfectionism, I’m the biggest culprit out there. In fact, on my computer is a spreadsheet with 215 rows of so-called “research” that took me over three years to amass—when the very first row of the very first spreadsheet I created back in 2016 housed the idea I’d take seven years to return to: an online course.

Just try!


*PS: An anonymous community member gave me a helpful reminder last week: We are all different and what works for the majority does not mean it works for everyone. Take what you need or what you want... and leave the rest!

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