Recently, I read an article about NBC’s decision not to pick up John Mulaney’s sitcom (don’t ask me why I’m reading months-old articles on Splitsider–we all just have to live with our decisions). The article basically said that it was a dumb decision for NBC to not pick up the show because John Mulaney is going to be successful whether they have a hand in it or not. The other example the article used was Tina Fey. She wasn’t successful, Splitsider asserted, because NBC let her have a show; she was successful because she was always going to be successful, and that would have happened whether or not she had 30 Rock. If it wasn’t 30 Rock, it would’ve been any number of other shows on any number of other networks, all leading to the same result: Tiny Fey being one of the most beloved comedians in the world.
This realization hit me like a ton of self-help books: if a person works hard, practices their craft, and is talented, they’re going to be successful. In other words, one lost opportunity isn’t the end of the world. It’s so, so easy for us (or, um, me) to assume that if one opportunity doesn’t work out, then we’ve blown our chances at ever being successful. Or, when we’re facing down what feels like The One Big Chance, it’s tempting to see it as our only shot to succeed. No pressure, right?
Thinking back over the past few years of my career, I can think of so many times I’ve thought, “This is the big chance. This is the gamechanger.” I mean, I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count all the times I’ve thought that. And when those opportunities have worked out, yes, it’s been amazing. But, just as many times, the “big opportunities” haven’t worked out. I mean, that’s what being a writer is all about…constant rejection. And while it always stings to “miss out” on something, I can’t think of a single time that a better opportunity didn’t pop up to take its place.
Just remember that it isn’t luck that makes successful people successful…or, I guess it is luck, if you define luck as “being at the right place at the right time but also being extremely prepared by working hard at your craft for years and years.” Then, yeah, total luck.
Basically, as inspirational refrigerator magnets the world over tell us, the harder you work, the luckier you get. One lost opportunity isn’t the end for you. One big chance isn’t the only big chance you’ll get. After all, John Mulaney’s sitcom got picked up by Fox. If you really, truly believe that talent and hard work always win out, you’ll realize that you never just have one chance.