Every industry – Entertainment, Sports, even Catering – has it’s own set of rules. Rules for how to break in, how to advance, how to prosper. These aren’t those rules. Laying out separate rules for each industry would be prohibitively complex and time consuming. Call these meta-rules if you like. These are rules to change your thinking and get your moving in the direction of your chosen field. If these all seem simple and obvious to you, congratulations. You’re probably already on your way to getting a foot in the door of your chosen profession. Why are you sitting here reading this?
For the rest of you I’ll lay out a few things to speed you on your way.
First, realize that what you love isn’t created by magic, but hard work. It’s not a easy as it sounds to drop this belief. It would be easier if just watching someone do your chosen profession — in a documentary for example — cleared this up, but we tend to glamorize what we love. We forget the day to day boredom that can be a part of even the most exciting job. And it can be easy to forget all the sacrifices that it takes. I remember once seeing a reality show where men and women wanted to be wrestlers. They all wanted to do it because it was fun to watch. They adored it. But then they had to get in the ring, learn to take a fall and not get hurt, learn a routine, deal with fatigue and joint pain…. and that was just the first day. You can imagine day 225 of that. Just watching their faces, it was clear that the job was getting less and less glamorous. A painful lesson perhaps, but necessary. The sooner your find someone who does what you want to do, and find out the down sides, the better. The flip side of this of course is that you can get talked out of something you might be good at by a very negative person. So as with all these rules, keep the exception in mind.
Second, realize that having ideas is great, but also easy. It’s a peripheral part of a job. Not the main one. Creativity is an amazing thing. Being able to be critical of other people’s work can help you develop your mind and your ideas of what you want to do. But having ideas and thinking that you can do better can also be a shortcut to being a know-it-all and a loudmouth. I’m exaggerating a bit here for effect, but falling in love with your ideas and critiques hurts the real process of developing ideas and having to throw them out. The good news is, if you’re smart enough to be creative and have a critical mind then you have a necessary trait for success. It’s just not the only trait, and some would say not the primary trait that you need.
Third, develop a skill. Even if you become a film critic, for example. You might think all you need to do is go to movies and have an opinion. Now go read something by Roger Ebert and tell me you can write that well. You see the problem. No matter what you want to do… no matter how passionate you are, though that’s important…. no matter how creative and bright you are, there is a process that creates the things that you love. And a major part of that process is work done by a skillful hand. Make no mistake, it can be a lot of work. But if you choose something right for you because you really love it, then you’ll want to work at it. You’ll love working at it and want to do it a lot. Yes, sometimes you’ll hate it and be bad at it or burned out. But it will surprise you how passionate you can become, and how talent and passion can feed each other. And always remember that if you have a skill and you try to teach someone else, you’ll learn your skill faster. Crystallizing your thoughts to explain and show what you do to someone else can be a very good way to grow.
Fourth, develop a portfolio or way to show your skill and develop your own projects. Don’t wait for someone to “discover” you. Find ways to present yourself as if you’d already been discovered and working at what you love. And here’s an extra tip – if you find a skill you love, in a profession you love and you find a way to do it in the public eye… all those things will feed of each other and build your success more quickly. That fear you feel that others will see you and what you do? That’s a very necessary part of your success.
Fifth, make connections with people and join in the community that does what you want to do. The Internet can make this easier, but I’m not talking about virtual contact. Sometimes that works for certain jobs. But face to face is better. If you have trouble with the face to face part, then talk to someone and tell them the problem you’re having, because this part is important. You need strong support, strong feedback and strong criticism. Sometimes you need to learn how to deal with difficult people. Sometimes you are a difficult person and you need someone to point that out. You need to know the “ins and outs” of what you want to do. Even if you can’t do it yet, you need to get as close to the process as you can. And it needs to be in a way that challenges you as a person. If you don’t go out on a limb, then you can’t do what you need to do to break in. This step can be the most complicated and involve the most emotional risk. If you need help, ask for it.
Sixth, be persistent. If you’re doing all the other stuff I’ve talked about you’ll find a lot of energy coming up. Everything you do will create some type of enthusiasm or thought process, or, sometimes, negativity. You’ll have to learn to channel the good stuff when it comes up. You’ll have to learn to make it into something tangible or understandable to other people. And you’ll have to learn to deal with the doubts and fears that come up, because that’s very real too. Maybe you’ll even come to see that they are all part of the process of breaking-in, creating, making mistakes, learning and improving. That’s the cycle, and you never know which step is coming next or how it will effect the flow of what you do. Sometimes the flow will just plain stop, and you’ll have to quit and try something new or take a break or ask for help. Sometimes getting stuck and pushing your own ego aside to move forward is part of persistence.
Seventh, don’t take yourself too seriously or lose your sense of humor. Be good to yourself the way no one else is. Give yourself a break when you screw up. If you have trouble laughing at yourself it might not be the right time, or you might need the help of someone who’s objective and can see the funny side of thing. And when it’s too tough to laugh at, find someone who can listen and sympathize. We all have times when we need to be really and truly listened too without judgment as we blow off steam. Friends who can understand this can be rare. When you find one, stick by that person. And while you’re at it – become someone like that to the people around you. There is no reason you can’t get what you want out of life and help others do it too. In fact, your success will encourage others and vise versa. So will your sharing the bad times and helping each other up.
In the end, if you find something special, even if it wasn’t the thing you started off looking for, then you’re doing pretty well. If you pass the time with a few laughs, some satisfaction and a few steps forward, then stop and reward yourself because you’re living and doing what you were meant to do.