In the competitive world of acting, good advice can be good as gold. And fifteen-year-old Neil Patrick Harris was fortunate enough to receive such helpful advice early on in his career. Producer Steven Bochco took the time to inform the budding star about the big picture when it comes to working in the entertainment industry. As Harris was initially cast in the pilot for Doogie Howser, M.D., he says Bochco sat him down and shared the following metaphor:

“This industry is like surfing. You have to get on a surfboard, and paddle through, and wait for a long time hoping that you’ll catch a wave. And you’ll try and catch them and miss them, and someone else will catch them, and everyone will cheer. And eventually, you’ll catch a wave. And you’ll ride it, and it will be fantastic, and you’ll be really great, and you’ll get all the way to the end. And then the wave will inevitably crash. And you’ll have to turn around, and you’ll have to paddle back out. And you’ll have to get hit by waves as you get back out there. And then once you get out there, you’re going to have to sit around there for a long time waiting for another wave to come along. But the way that surfing works, is that there are always sets of waves that will always come through. And that the goal is to be patient enough to value that metaphor.”

Indeed, Harris did ride the Doogie Howser wave for 97 episodes over the course of four years, and he went on to win several awards including a People’s Choice Award. But when the show ended, Neil had to paddle back out and figure out what to do next. First off, he needed to make sure he could be perceived as more than just Doogie, the coming-of-age doctor–not an easy task.

At first, less exciting acting gigs presented themselves, but he took whatever opportunities that came his way–mostly episodic television roles. Harris also satirized his Doogie days a few times to keep a sense of humor while he worked to move beyond the character. But most of all, Harris continued to build his outstanding skill set. In fact, over the years Harris developed into a multi-talented showman: in addition to being an actor, he’s a magician, comedian, singer, best-selling author, and award-winning host who has hosted the Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, and the Academy Awards.

Now Harris’ remarkable accomplishments include over 100 film, TV, and theater credits. Among them is his portrayal of the womanizing-playboy Barney Stinson in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. His nine-year run with the show features 208 episodes which earned him Golden Globe and three-time Emmy nominations. And in 2014, Harris received accolades for his performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch for which he even took home a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Longevity in the entertainment industry was what most mattered to Harris. And he now reflects back on just how well Steven Bochco’s surfing metaphor has served him; it’s helped him keep a perspective throughout his long-lasting career.

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