The thoughts, stories and advice of Bill Riddell.

The Wisdom of James Dean

August 16th, 2009 Posted in advice

“Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.” – James Dean


Inspiration for me often comes from a number of odd sources. A former world champion motorcycle racer taught me some of the most important life lessons I have ever head and probably saved my life in the process. I also picked up some great advice from paparazzi king Darryn Lyons’ autobiography.

Today I want to share some of the wisdom I have absorbed from long since departed actor James Dean. His actions spoke as loud as the words he made famous on and off the screen. The rising movie stars life may have been tragically cut short in motoring crash but he achieved more in his brief 24 years than most do in a full lifetime. Fortunately for us he left behind a legacy of great work and wisdom to inspire all of us.

Here is an excerpt of a small autobiography James wrote in high school at the age of just 17 entitled My Case Study:

I had always lived such a talented life. I studied violin, played in concerts, tap-danced on theatre stages but most of all I like art, to mould and create things with my hands. I came back to Indiana to live with my uncle. I lost the dancing and violin, but not the art. I think my life will be devoted to art and dramatics.”

dean2It was obvious at 17 James had plenty of interests and observed a lot of what life had to offer. He was on his way to discovering how he would spend it. James went on to list a range of other careers and possibilities in case he struggled to achieve his dreams. Though his fall back plans included a farmer, he had complete faith in his abilities:

“I know if I better myself that there will be no match. A fellow must have confidence.”

In addition to his passion for art James had a healthy and diverse range of hobbies:

“When living in California my young eyes experienced many things. It was also my luck to make three visiting trips to Indiana, going and coming a different route each time. I have been in almost every state west of Indiana. I remember all.”

“My hobby, or what I do in my spare time, is motorcycle. I know a lot about them mechanically and I love to ride. I have been in a few races and have done well. I own a small cycle myself. When I’m not doing that, I’m usually engaged in athletics, the heartbeat of every American boy.

“As one strives to make a goal in a game, there should be a goal in this crazy world for all of us. I hope I know where mine is, anyway, I’m after it.”

At the age of just 17 Dean was already so wise, determined, sure of himself and where he was going. He had a firm belief in his passions of art, travel, motor racing and sport. If he could not make a career out of his passions (which he was incredibly confident about) he had alternatives in mind that he would have been quite content.

dean_spyderDean passed away just 6 years later at the wheel of newly acquired Porsche race car, but in the years between he achieved so much. In addition to appearing on 7 television shows he acted on Broadway several times before progressing to film. He made only 3 movies yet was nominated for 2 Academy Awards for ‘Giant’ and ‘East ofEden’ and was set for superstardom but passed away before his third film ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ premiered.

Away from center stage Dean was also a promising race car driver, talented photographer and had planned to become a movie director with plans to take the helm of his next film.

In a letter to his family in Fairmount in 1952, Dean informed his family that he had been acepted into The Actors Studio, a theater company that had launched the career of Marlon Brando and other before him. Rather than brag about his achivment or ponder about the potentional fame and money that was to follow he instead focused on the impact he could make:

“If I can keep this up and nothing interferes with my progress, one of these days I might be able to contribute something to the world.”

More quotes:

“The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.”

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

“Only the gentle are ever really strong.”

dean3Dean’s own prophetic words make for a fitting final thought:

“If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”

  1. 5 Responses to “The Wisdom of James Dean”

  2. By Randy Nichols on Aug 16, 2009

    You know, I have to tell you, I really enjoy this blog and the insight you share. I find it to be refreshing and very informative. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyway, I felt it was about time I posted, I’ve spent most of my time here just lurking and reading, but today for some reason I just felt compelled to say this.

  3. By Bill on Aug 24, 2009

    Glad to be of service Randy.

  4. By Mark on Apr 25, 2010

    “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

    I’ve always known it to be by James Dean quoted under his nickname “Jimmy Dean”, but now I see all over the Internet the quote credited to Jimmy Dean the country singer. I think this is wrong, but almost every big quote site (and Iphone app) credits Jimmy Dean (if in name only) with no reference to James Dean.

    I am stumped. Have I been wrong all of these years to believe the quote came from James Dean?

  5. By Bill on Jun 5, 2010

    Hi Mark I checked the quote from multiple sources, some attribute it to James Dean, others Jimmy.
    After taking another look and seeing it is not included amongst other quotes on the official James Dean website (ran by his estate I believe) I’m inclined to think it should be attributed to Jimmy.
    Having said that, its a wonderful quote so for now it shall remain where it is.

  6. By David Vleestra on May 3, 2011

    My favorite quote of his is “The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.” This believe results in great work and talent. I also find it interesting how talented and successful people often have many talents and interests in related and non-related areas in their life. I suspect the multi-faceted aspects of their life inspires and helps with being creative.

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