A couple of random events have converged over the last 24 hours to make me give some thought to the so called influence of ‘Luck’ on a career in the Arts.
I wrapped up the show I was doing in the West End just over a week ago. This has given me a few days to get caught up on life – though not much of a break as I closed the show Saturday and was doing a photo shoot for my next job on Monday. But at least I wasn’t at the theatre every night.
I was telling someone about my next job – a directing job in Bangkok – and they were saying ‘how lucky I am ‘ to be doing it.
Luck – How much does luck really have to do with this?
Do you think they are inviting me along because anyone could do it? Are they inviting me along to spend most of my time sight-seeing and shopping?
I think you’ll find that I’ve developed skills over my last 20 years of working as a practicing artist that mean that I bring something to the table of value on this project. I bring knowledge and experience to the project. But also the director knows me and more importantly TRUSTS me to be a valuable collaborator. I have earned his trust in the past by being reliable and delivering when asked.
Where is luck in that?
Also, while the trappings of the job might sound glamorous (even to me) the reality is we are there for one month to stage an opera with a massive team of people. This is roll up your sleeves work – not swanning about on holiday. And this work is going to be made even more challenging with different languages, different working styles coupled with a hot and sticky climate.
If I was the director, I’d want to surround myself with people I trusted as well. People that I know won’t let me down.
Which brings me to the next point – Building Trust.
Business is about trust. I don’t care whether you are selling something creative or selling widgets, people do business with people they trust. And trust is earned over time by giving your word and then seeing something through.
I am currently doing a project with the same Bangkok director here in London. There isn’t much money in it, but it’s fun work and it has value (and frankly I’m not doing anything else, so I’d sooner be working for little money than not working at all).
When we first met last Monday there were two young men – handsome graduates of a very fine acting conservatory here in the UK. They are both desperate to get more work as actors and neither are finding opportunities to be very plentiful.
So here they are with an opportunity to work with a company and a director for some money (which is a step up from all the companies paying nothing).
Within the last week first one, and then the other, has dropped out of the project. One needed to work at his waitering job and the second injured his knee. You might say bad luck – but I know lots of professionals who have worked through all kinds of injuries and illnesses. Believe me, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
But they both pulled out.
What’s the message here to the director?
Do you think he will ask them again? Are they building up the trust necessary to be asked for the ‘glamorous’ high-profile/high-stress jobs? I think the answer is no.
I’m not here to blow my own horn. But I have lasted as a professional in a cut-throat competitive industry for over 20 years and you know what my number one secret is? SHOW UP!
Being reliable is a whole lot more important than being brilliant.
Over the years I have encountered many artists who are better than me. And most of them have fallen by the wayside because they are not reliable.
Show up. Be the one they can count on. Do what you say you are going to do.
I remember renting a basement suite in Vancouver from a very successful violinist. He was at the tail end of a great career playing in high profile string quartets. He had travelled the world and played with many great conductors. I asked him his advice:
Show up on time and know your music.
That was his advice.
It applies to anything. Honour your commitments and do your homework.
Those two actions will take you far. They will mean you work – and the more you work, the better you will become.
We don’t become ‘great’ and then set about working.
We work. And we work. And it’s through working that we become good. And then better and maybe finally great.
I met Sir Ian McKellen recently. Amazing man. The most down to earth, humble, amazingly talented man you could meet. He has worked his ass off for decades. In his early days, he worked in theatres that many actors work sniff at. But he showed up and did his best. And in the process he became better.
That’s all you can do.
So ultimately luck doesn’t have much to do with it at all.
You earn luck by showing up over and over and over again. Even when it’s tough. Even when it isn’t glamorous, or convenient, or even well paid. You earn luck by doing all the sh*tty jobs that no one else wants to do. You earn luck by stepping in and filling the voids when other people drop out. You prove yourself. You build trust.
When you’ve done that for years – then you might just earn a bit of luck.
So don’t whine about how you don’t have any luck. Look deep in your soul and ask yourself whether you have EARNED luck to pay a visit to you!