I recently read an article that spoke of the three elements needed for success in any field, and it struck me as a wonderful summation. You need all three of these in varying degrees if you want to get anywhere.
The three things are talent, hard work, and — here’s the one people don’t always realize — meeting the right people and impressing them.
Talent is obvious, right? But that alone will get you nowhere. People who are less talented than you have become successful, and people more talented than you are still waiting tables and wondering why no one has discovered them yet.
Talent is a mixture of what you are born with and the skills you acquire. You need both. You may have a great ear for music but it won’t get you anywhere until you practice your instrument to the point where you can produce the music you hear in your head. Having great story ideas won’t get you far if you lack the basic writing skills to express them.
Which leads us to the next element: Hard work.
Almost every single person who has made themselves successful has been obsessive about their work. It’s practically all they do. They spend every day working on their craft and, of course, the more they do, the better they get.
Here’s the key: You have to love your work for this to happen. If you love it, it doesn’t seem like work.
This one has kind of been my downfall — I love a lot of things and over the years, I tried to do them all instead of concentrating on one.
When I was in college, for instance, my band meant the world to me. I loved playing, practicing, writing songs, and performing. And we got pretty good, too. We played all the big clubs in Richmond, Virginia and had a bit of a following. But we never made it. We were talented and we worked hard, but we lacked that final element.
We didn’t meet the right people and impress them. It didn’t even occur to us that we should be working on that. (Hey, we were young.)
Part of the problem was that we were in Richmond. You can only go so far in Richmond, which lacks major record labels, agents, and the connections we needed. No one was going to “discover” us there.
You have to go to the places where people who can make a difference to you live. If you want to be a successful actor, get yourself to New York or Los Angeles. Want a career in politics? Move to Washington. Computers? Perhaps Seattle.
Things are different these days than when I was in college. With the internet, it’s a lot easier to meet the right people and impress them. But even so, it is much better to be in a major city that can give you the personal touch needed to make the final sale.
In my writing career, I’ve learned how important this third point is. I’ve attended writer’s conferences, networked with other authors and agents, spoken at conventions, and have tried my best to keep myself in the loop. And it has helped me tremendously. I’ve learned things from these people I would not have discovered on my own, and my writing has improved. And the people I have met in person are much more likely to help me than those I have only talked to online.
More importantly, these people have introduced me to others who have helped my career. I’ve built relationships that will serve me when I try to sell my next novel. I’ve met the right people, and (hopefully) have impressed them.
Oh, I may not have impressed them with my writing skills (yet!) but I hopefully have given them the image of me as a professional with whom they can work; that I am someone who is reliable, meets deadlines, and completes tasks given.
You want the people you meet to know that you have something to offer them in exchange; that you can help their career, too.
These three elements need to be present if you want success. They do not have to be equal — if you meet the right people, for instance, you don’t need as much talent, which is the only way to explain Paris Hilton or the cast of the Jersey Shore. And if you are so talented that you cannot be ignored, the right people may come looking for you.
But don’t ignore any one of these elements, because if you do, you’re never going anywhere.