Tuesday, April 30, 2013

But I don't want to do that, I want to do this

But I don't want to do that, I want to do this:
Some of the response to yesterday's post (and just about every time I talk about 'picking yourself') is predictable, sad and frustrated/frustrating. I'd have a lot easier time if I was in the business of telling people how to get picked, if I was working to uncover the proven, secret, time-saving tricks guaranteed to get you noticed...
"It's my turn."
I know you worked hard on paying your dues, on building your skills and in being next. We all know that. But that doesn't mean that the picking system is going to work when you need it to. It's not going to get you into the famous college of your dreams, or featured in a PR blitz or published by Knopf.
"The only way for me to do what I love (play the flute, trade stocks, volunteer with kids, spread the word about my cause...) is to get picked."
This is, to be really frank, nonsense. If, for example, you graduated from the Eastman School of Music, there are many ways to play the cello that don't involve auditioning for an orchestra. You can play house concerts, you can play on the street, you can build your own tribe, you can organize your own ad hoc orchestra. None of these things are official, none of these things are automatic, none of these things are guaranteed. So?
If you want to devote your work and your efforts to getting picked, that's your choice, and more power to you. But I think it's dangerous to start with the assumption that you have no choice.
I heard from a writer who invoked the Josh Bell story about the famous violinist who is treated shabbily by the mass commuter audience, because of course, to them, he's not famous at all. This is supposed to be proof that it matters if you're famous (picked) as opposed to good. In Josh's case, he's both. But if you can't be picked to be famous, at least you can become remarkable.
If you can't get invited to the main stage of TED, then do a TEDx talk, and make your talk so good it can't help but spread. And if you can't get invited to a TEDx, then start your own TED-like event. And if you can't figure out how to organize people, connect them and lead them, perhaps you could focus more energy and risk on that very skill.
If you've built an app that won't be profitable unless you're featured on the front page of iTunes, the problem isn't with the front page of iTunes, the problem is with the design of your app. Ideas built to spread are more likely to spread.
If your plan requires getting picked and you're not getting picked, you need a new plan. I'm betting it will turn out far better in the end, but yes, indeed, I understand that it's harder than being anointed. Your talent deserves the shift in strategy that will let you do your best work.
The problem isn't that it's impossible to pick yourself. The problem is that it's frightening to pick yourself. It's far easier to put your future into someone else's hands than it is to slog your way forward, owning the results as you go.
Grateful Dead vs. Bay City Rollers.