There’s more to success than just hard work

Inspiration for blog articles, indeed inspiration for anything that involves creating, can come from all manner of places. I was eating dinner whilst scrolling through a picture based Facebook page (who says multi-tasking is a chore?) and came across an image I’ve seen multiple times which reads:

“No one is forcing you to work at that job you hate” – I think you will find the threat of starvation and homelessness is fairly coercive

Which was met with some interesting responses such as this “Yes, you may have to work at a job you hate for a short while in order to stay afloat, but you have no excuse to be “stuck” at a job that you don’t like. Work your ass off to get something better, people do it every day. You’re never stuck unless you choose to be stuck.” Followed by “Cue the sarcastic crybabies whining about their excuses as to why it doesn’t work… (spoiler alert, it does work, I’ve been in this situation)”. This is similar thinking to “you can be anything you want” and is a subjective observation of reality (Aren’t they all?). The problem with this type of thinking is that in most situations hard graft simply isn’t enough, sure there are exceptions but they are the exceptions entirely because they are, well, the exceptions. Being talented and good at something isn’t enough. One thing that always seems to be missed out is how important luck is in these scenarios.

I know a lot of people in the arts, and they are a talented bunch of people. Some of them are even able to peruse their love full time- though most probably won’t be able to retire at 40. These people work hard, they have skills, and they are skills people want to see. But no matter how hard they graft it might never be enough and many people, especially in the arts, end up doing a job they aren’t that keen on in order to allow them to follow their real passion but that might mean their passion is a second part time job. In some cases they may even have to abandon their passion entirely. Using your own personal experience of success to inform others they can do it too ignores that success isn’t just about talent. If it were I’d know a lot of very wealthy actors.

Those who insist you can make it too because they did, and you just aren’t trying hard enough, do not reflect the reality of the world we live in. They are the lucky exceptions, not the norm. Out of those on my HND course a decade ago, only about 3 are still involved in the career they intended to pursue. Now there are reasons others haven’t, such as changing direction, but when there is so much competition out there it can be difficult, near impossible, to actually stand out from the crowd no matter how hard you try. Not everyone has the same chances- maybe there is an over saturation of similar talents in your area, and moving to another city is not always that simple or even possible, especially if you have a family. If it was, more people would do it. The only reason I could move to Edinburgh is that I had connections here already and had nothing that necessitated my remaining in Leicester.

Let us look outside of the creative industries- there simply are not enough available jobs to go around meaning no matter how hard some people graft they will never make it as a huge successful CEO. Of course success is what you define it to be, and you might well consider yourself successful for having a job in the first place. But when some parts of the country have 50 people for every available job, and even the best places have 2 for every job, we can already see not everyone is going to end up either employed or on top of that employment ladder. Luck is a huge factor- being in the right place at the right time can change a life. Missing the number 32 bus might mean the difference between bumping into an old friend who happens to be looking for your particular skills at that time, and missing them and getting a roll from Greggs. That scenario has nothing to do with talent or hard work- of course once you get the break you do still need to have the ability. But getting that break is not as simple as simply being good at something. There is a lot to be said for the cliché “It’s not what you know but who”.

Lets look at someone like Derren Brown. I imagine everyone reading this knows his name. He has highly successful television shows and regular tours packing 2000 seat theatres. The man is a magical legend and has changed the face of magic, and specifically mentalism, forever. When David Blaine came along we saw so many more street magicians, but the explosion of psychological illusionists since Brown is staggering. But did you know we only have him because of a set of lucky coincidences?

Now first things first, Brown is talented as all hell. He may well have become a house hold name another way, or then again maybe not as we haven’t seen a mentalist since him with the same draw and appeal. Had someone got there first we may never have heard of him, he would in all likelihood still be a working magician as he was getting decent bookings and work before he hit big- but the arts are a fickle industry and again, being good is no guarantee of a full time career. He is without a doubt one of the best card magicians around, even though we don’t see it as much any more. But Brown almost never became what we know him as. Yes he worked hard, yes he spent hours a day practicing, yes he was getting work. But a jobbing magician, no matter how successful is never going to make it to the dizzy heights Brown has without a little extra help. And that help came along due to someone else not wanting the gig.

Back before Mind Control came along, the show that brought Brown to the public, he was a fairly strong performer at restaurants and live shows. In 1999 Channel Four wanted to produce a show about mind reading which if the original plan had carried through we’d know today as “Mind Control with Andy Nyman” not “Mind Control with Derren Brown”. Originally, the multiple threat actor, director, magician and producer, Andy Nyman was to front the show but at that time he wanted to focus on acting- we lost Andy Nymans Mind Control because at that point he wanted to go a different route. If he hadn’t then we’d be seeing a very different name on theatre marquees. So the search was on to find the new front man. It was actually Jerry Sadowitz who recommended Brown to the gig. So in order for the hard working, grafting Derren Brown to become what he is it required A) for the original presenter to drop out and B) another person to suggest at the right time, and to the right producer, that Brown was suitable. That is several lucky coincidences that needed to happen.

Had the producers been unable to meet Sadowitz we likely would not have Derren Brown. If Sadowitz had not himself been aware of Brown, then he would not have been able to recommend him. This is absolutely no comment on Browns abilities or talent, he absolutely ran with the idea and brought so much to it that we would likely not have had the same show at all. And yes, his talent meant he got suggested- but remove any of the above variables and everything changes. He may well have got a TV deal at some point, however he may not as people may have just seen him as derivative of Andy Nyman’s Mind Control. There are many magicians out there as talented as Brown who will never get the same success because they didn’t meet person A, who recommended it to Person B at the right time, because Person C dropped out.

Because of his talent I have no doubt Brown would have continued to work and been a decent jobbing magician, but he wouldn’t be the success we know and considering how difficult an artistic life is, he might well have decided to go back to Law at some point- we’ll never know, but many talented people do have to drop back despite some early successes. That has as much, if not more, to do with chance encounters and coincidence as his great talent. And he is just one example- we may not like Donald Trump but he is successful. Would he have been without his fathers wealth and investment? Would Obama have still been president if the Republican candidates were stronger? Would the people saying “I did it, you can too” be able to say that if a dozen different pieces of luck did not occur? No one succeeds entirely by themselves, we all succeed or fail based on circumstance and those we know as much as what we know – finding out about the right interview or opportunity at the right time. This is not intended to take away from anyones success or talents, because the hard graft is an essential component, but to suggest it is the only one is naïve. As much as we’d all like to be a success in our chosen field, it isn’t always going to happen unless we find the right opportunity.

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One Response to There’s more to success than just hard work

  1. Miss Twist says:

    This is something that constantly needs to be pointed out.

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