I recently called four actors about a potential gig on a television series.
Only one of them got back to me. Four days later. By email.
All of them, without exception, regularly complain to me about the lack of work in L.A. and now, all of them, without exception, were missing an opportunity to work in their field. Worse still, I might not call them next time.
It’s possible that the opportunity wasn’t right for them.
Or they each had scheduling conflicts.
Or, they each just got in their own way.
Call it audition fatigue. The continuous, consistent rejection inherent to the profession is bound to erode the motivation and enthusiasm of even the hardiest of thespians.
I’ve seen the same self-defeating behavior in lawyers, agents, production executives and other so-called “suits” in the business. Recently, I received a resume by email in response to an opening with my law firm. The resume arrived in a word.doc format which when opened, was covered with very visible, “red-lined” changes clearly revealing that the job seeker’s CV was based on someone else’s resume.
If you’re going to take all the time, effort and expense of putting yourself out there, you might as well follow through by taking just a bit more time and a bit more effort to do it right the first time (in the above case, by removing all the metadata before sending or better yet, attaching a .pdf file to preserve formatting). In the short term, that old saw is true: you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape and developer of the first widely used web browser recently raised similar concerns in his blog:
Opportunities that present themselves to you are the consequence — at least partially — of being in the right place at the right time. They tend to present themselves when you’re not expecting it — and often when you are engaged in other activities that would seem to preclude you from pursuing them. And they come and go quickly — if you don’t jump all over an opportunity, someone else generally will and it will vanish.
I believe a huge part of what people would like to refer to as “career planning” is being continuously alert to opportunities that present themselves to you spontaneously, when you happen to be in the right place at the right time.
* A senior person at your firm is looking for someone young and hungry to do the legwork on an important project, in addition to your day job.
* Your former manager has jumped ship to a hot growth company and calls you three months later and says, come join me.
* Or, a small group of your smartest friends are headed to Denny’s at 11PM to discuss an idea for a startup — would you like to come along?
I am continually amazed at the number of people who are presented with an opportunity like one of the above, and pass.
There’s your basic dividing line between the people who shoot up in their careers like a rocket ship, and those who don’t — right there.
Marc was lamenting the road not taken; I’m more concerned with the road taken badly. At the end of the day, your success and certainly your capacity to even understand what success is in this business or any business is based more on your motivation than raw talent. Anyone who has watched this season’s lineup of mediocre TV programming or been forced to watch Norbit knows this to be true.
The world is a very malleable place. If you know what you want, and you go for it with maximum energy and drive and passion, the world will often reconfigure itself around you much more quickly and easily than you would think.
To be fair, Andreessen has likely never tried to break into the entertainment business and probably can’t appreciate its unique challenges. But certainly Steve Martin has. In a recent interview on Charlie Rose, Steve Martin waxed philosophical about how to succeed in this business:
When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them . . . and nobody ever takes note of it cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this. But, I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.
Hey, it’s worth a shot.