When you ask a kid what they want to do when they grow up, you’ll get a range of responses that are mostly fantastic. Not to be insulting to anyone in any industry, but there are jobs they never mention. No kid says that they want to be a real estate surveyor. Nor do they ever say that they want to work in a public records office. It’s all astronauts and football stars and singers. As we get older, reality sometimes bites.
A percentage of the kids who come out with those exciting answers will then go on to do exactly what they said. The guy who catches the winning touchdown pass in the Superbowl will have said, as a kid, that he wanted to be a football star. More than a few people will have ruffled his hair and laughed indulgently. Twenty years on, who’s laughing?
Now, none of this is to say that if you dream big and believe it enough, you’ll become what you always wanted to be. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids who want to be stars and a limited number of job opportunities. The world needs plumbers, and electricians and cooks. It wants superstars but doesn’t have that many job openings for them. So some of us have to scale down our ambitions to make sure we can earn a living.
At the same time, does this mean that you should give up on your dreams when it gets to a certain point? One failed audition for a school concert, and you throw your microphone in the trash? Surely not. You may have to recalibrate ambitions from time to time, but it is always worth following a dream. And sure, if you’re a 35-year-old man who’s never played college football, you probably won’t play in the Superbowl. But as long as there is nothing physical in the way, there’s always value in following an ambition right to the end.
Be Positive Without Being Deluded
We all know the saying “my own worst critic,” and many of us will use it for ourselves. This includes even those who have become hugely successful in their chosen field. Some people would argue that you need to be your own worst critic.
We can all think of incidents we have seen where someone with limited talent sets out to become a star. Their friends and family, aware that it’s important to support them, will react to any bad feedback with anger or derision. While it’s vital to be supportive, it’s also important to consider the example that’s being set. Breeding arrogance in a person actually makes success less likely. (See http://www.startribune.com/pushy-sports-parents-often-end-up-as-the-losers/285128231/ for confirmation!)
So if no one will tell you that your singing voice is off-key or your jokes suck, you may need to be that person. Here’s the key, though. Too much self-criticism is unhealthy. Even if you’re not going to make it as a singer, you don’t want to carry that self-image into whatever else you end up doing. You need to tread the balance between realism and pessimism.
Not Everyone Will Be Successful, But You’re Not Everyone
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”. That’s a quote attributed to Thomas Edison (although he was known for taking other people’s ideas, so…). The golfer Gary Player once responded to an opponent who said he was “lucky” in a similar way. He said, quoting a friend, “Yes, and the more I practice, the luckier I get.”
These are good rules for life, if you want your ambition to come true. A record executive is not going to come to your door and hand you a contract because you sing beautifully in your kitchen. You’ll need to put yourself to the test. You may need to fail, in some cases repeatedly. How many tears did your favorite singer cry over failed auditions, before one came off? We often don’t know, because we don’t see the path they took to get where they are.
If you want to be a writer, you need to be prepared for the fact that some great wordsmiths never get published. What we often don’t see is the rejections they get from publishers. We don’t see the half-finished manuscripts that they delete from their laptop or launch into the garbage. Is there worse stuff out there, in libraries and bookshops? Probably – but sometimes we don’t have the confidence to put our work in front of people who might be mean about it.
If you’re aware your writing is good, but worry that others will disagree, self-publishing is always an option. Printing services like www.SteubenPress.com are available and can help you put your words in the form of a book. A few copies handed to the right people, can have an impact that a short excerpt or a PDF can’t match. You may need to psyche yourself up, but it’s worth the effort.
When Is It Time To Give Up?
As there have been a few quotes from famous people already, here’s another. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No point being a fool about it.” It’s attributed to W.C. Fields, although he probably never said it. It raises an interesting question, though. Some people will say that if you can’t make something work first time, you never will. Others will say that after a few attempts, realism needs to hit home.
What’s probably more accurate is to say that if you keep trying, and keep failing, you need to evaluate how much something matters to you. Does consistent rejection turn you into someone you don’t like being? If it does, you may need to consider a different future path. We have our ambitions because we want to make money from a pursuit that we enjoy. If we stop enjoying it because it causes us pain, that’s the time to stop.
The key point, though, is that there is no finite number on how many times we need to fail before we just give up. If we quit on the first rejection, how much did we really want it to begin with? If we can still muster up some enthusiasm after fifty attempts, then it may be 51st time lucky. The truth is that there is no magic formula. Persistence is essential. So is self-belief. And yes, talent plays a part too.
If At First You Don’t Succeed … Cheat?
A thirst for success is important if you want to get ahead in a chosen field. You do need to be prepared to get up early, go to bed late and maybe go hungry once in awhile. And you also need to know how to leverage every advantage you might have. Within reason.
Let’s say you’re a great singer. You’ve gone undiscovered for some time, and an audition comes up. You know you can do it this time. So when you walk into that audition, you need to have done everything you can to portray yourself in the best light. Dress well, rest your vocal cords for 24 hours beforehand, and meditate to make sure you’re as calm as you can be.
What you don’t do is: offer a rival singer a cigarette before the audition. Or put something in their honeyed tea that makes them drowsy. Or tell them that someone was looking for them about an important phone call. If you try to gain an advantage by putting someone else at a disadvantage, word will get around. Successful divas can have a reputation for being hard to work with – but gain it before you’re successful and you could kill your career.
The same goes for any field you want to be successful in. Hard work and talent matter so much because you can’t just be a good singer for one audition. You can’t be a great writer for a thousand words. You can’t be a talented scientist for as long as it takes to pour one beaker into another. You need to replicate the results again and again. Comedians start to make money after a few tours. Actors are often still paying off student loans after their first major release.
There is an old saying – yes, another one – that goes “Nothing succeeds like success.” It’s annoying, and it’s predictable, but the one thing that will put you in people’s eye line is that first bit of recognition. When that happens, it doesn’t mean you’ve made it. It’s a foot on the ladder, and then you need to start climbing. Take that opportunity to show everyone else that you’ve got something worth sharing. Here is where the hard work really begins.
All of that may sound like it’s a lot more effort than you want to go to. If that’s the case, then you have to ask yourself if you want success enough. The one sure thing about making your dreams come true is that they don’t have their own momentum. You’ll need to create that, and before you can rest on your laurels, you’ll need some laurels to rest on.
Do you still want to chase a dream? Well, you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. But know you’ll need to work for it.