It Is Possible to Be Both Successful and Kind At the Same Time

Over the past fifteen years working in Hollywood as a film & television editor, I’ve shared a lot of walls with fellow editors and assistants. When you make your living off project-based work, you become somewhat of a nomad moving from one random office space to the next every three to six months, and rather than working with the same team for years, you become acquainted with new people in your field on a regular basis.

Some people are just co-workers you’ll most likely never stay in contact with, others become casual work friends you bump into at industry mixers twice a year, and sometimes you develop meaningful friendships that last for years.

If you’re truly lucky, on extremely rare occasions your life is changed by that person on the other side of the wall.

In my case, that person happened to be Raúl Dávalos who was one of my main inspirations for launching Optimize Yourself. He was in fact the very first beta member in my Move Yourself program.

In short, he embodied the Optimize Yourself philosophy to a ‘T.’

Therefore it is with a heavy heart that I announce Hollywood recently lost one of the editing greats after a grueling battle with brain cancer.

Raúl’s editing credits are simply too numerous to mention but his most notable recent editing credits include Empire, The Glades, and 52 episodes (all 7 seasons) of The Gilmore Girls. He worked with directors such as Lawrence Kasdan, Philip Noyce, Mario Van Peebles, and perhaps the collaboration that he was the most proud of was working with Emilio Estevez on The Way. He came up in the industry under the tutelage of editing legend Carol Littleton working on such films as The Accidental Tourist, Silverado, Wyatt Earp, and Benny and Joon. He had been an incredibly active member of the American Cinema Editors (and he even wrote one of my sponsorship letters for induction), and just last year Raúl fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams – being inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

What you cannot learn from Raúl’s IMDB page, however, is that he had a heart of pure gold and was the kindest, most considerate, most compassionate person I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a wall with. His colleagues in ACE wouldn’t hesitate to say Raúl was one of the kindest people they’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. And he was hopelessly and utterly devoted to his wife (and assistant editor) Cindy, as well as his children.

But Raúl was equally devoted to his craft: He was an intense cinephile who didn’t see editing as a job or even a career, it was his calling. He was at his core a storyteller who understood the emotional impact his choices had on the audience and their lives.

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Rarely do I remember a morning when I arrived at the office during the two years Raúl and I edited Empire together where he wasn’t already working away to make his work just that much better.

Rarely do I remember a night when I was leaving where Raúl wasn’t still cutting to hit a deadline as I ran walked out the door.

And despite the arduous and brutal nature of working in Hollywood for long hours in a dark room, rarely do I remember a time when Raúl complained about…well…anything. He absolutely loved what he did for a living and I doubt he ever imagined doing anything else.

Raúl was a soldier who fought every day in the trenches in service of his craft and the enjoyment of his audience. In his own words, Raúl loved character-driven stories that “reflect and contribute to our human experience.”

After spending a few hours at Raúl’s memorial service listening to friends and family members talk about how generous and kind he was to everyone he knew, and if you spend just two minutes reviewing the unbelievable contributions made by many to Raúl’s memorial fund,  it’s clear that Raúl contributed to the human experience of many in a very positive and profound way.

In fact while dating my future wife, she and I spent a good deal of time binging on The Gilmore Girls together. Two children later, it’s safe to say that Raul’s work had an impact on my life years before I knew him personally.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

When I got in my car fifteen years ago preparing to drive 2200 miles across the country to La La Land and embark upon a potential career as a Hollywood film editor with zero contacts or experience, I made a pact with myself that I would never allow myself to climb the ladder of success if it required me to step on others in the process.

While I can proudly say I don’t believe I’ve ever had to step on someone to get where I am today, I can also honestly say that after working in Hollywood for fifteen years it’s become much harder to stay focused on being “nice” when I’ve seen firsthand how much easier it is to become rich and successful by treating other people poorly. The higher you get in Hollywood, unfortunately the uglier it can become if you don’t make the effort to look for the positive in every situation.

Taking advantage of people is easy…but it’s a choice.

Bringing people down to make yourself look better is easy…but it’s a choice.

But the approach Raúl preferred was to climb higher by virtue of improving himself, not by bringing others down. And by doing so, everyone else around him became better because of it.

Kindness is also a choice.

The entire foundation of the Optimize Yourself philosophy is to lead by example and focus on taking actions that make you better while also bringing others along with you.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

John F. Kennedy

Despite working on an incredibly high stress show such as Empire where everyone is jockeying for position hoping to reap the benefits of working on a high profile project, never once was there a moment where Raúl was anything but complementary or helpful to everyone on our team.

Competition simply wasn’t in his nature.

If there was a time when I was buried in dailies and I couldn’t catch up, Raúl wasn’t thinking about how me getting behind would make him look better, he was instead helping me catch up on my dailies…when he could have been home with his family. And furthermore when asked if he would like a partial credit, he adamantly refused. We were a team, and it was “the least he could do to help out.”

Furthermore, despite the ridiculous schedule on the show, Raúl would go out of his way to watch the work of all the editors on our team and complement us. But he would go beyond simply saying, “Great work,” instead he would go deep into a specific scene or sequence and break down what he liked about it so much. And if there was an editing technique that he was unaware of, there was no ego he was trying to protect, he would ask how you did something so he could become better at his own craft.

He demonstrated on a daily basis the importance of leading by example which makes it that much more difficult to accept the fact that he is now gone.

The Desperate Search For ‘Why’

Upon hearing of Raúl’s passing I experienced sadness as one would expect, but what I didn’t expect was the intense amount of anger that came up as well.

I simply couldn’t make sense of the fact that in the current state of our society, especially in Hollywood where we’re dealing with such an uprising of hatred and negativity (and decades of unspoken abuse), how such a rare gem of a human being could be the one taken from us.

Why Raúl? What good could possibly come from taking Raúl?

So few people in our world today are able to effortlessly generate pure kindness, especially those who have risen to the level of success that Raúl had in Hollywood. Yet while so many continue to dominate this industry by stepping on others to reach the top, Raúl became successful because of his kindness, not in spite of it.

Not more than a few days after Raúl’s passing I found myself unable to sleep and watching Patton Oswalt’s brand new Netflix special Annihilation, and during his set Patton takes a very deep and emotional turn into the recent and tragic passing of his wife.

Patton candidly shares that his wife vehemently detested the phrase “Everything happens for a reason,” and she believed there was an alternative perspective that led to living a happy life. It’s simply understanding and accept that:

“Everything is chaos. So be kind.”

At this moment I realized this is the lesson that Raúl was teaching everyone who came in contact with him every single day.

There is no logical explanation for what happened to Raúl, so when faced with the tragedy of him leaving us too soon, I’m sure Raúl would agree that rather than to grieve or be angry, the better option is to find the lesson in his experience.

Raúl was a teacher his entire life, and his final lesson to all of us was that the key to being successful is simply to be kind.

Choose kindness.

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Rest in peace Raúl, you are loved by many and the positive energy you have left in this world will be felt for decades to come.

If you’d like to support Raúl’s wife Cindy and his children, please click here to donate what you can to their GoFundMe campaign.

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”