Thursday, February 26, 2015

Luck and Friends

When discussing a particularly accomplished or successful person (like I did in my first blog post), I notice that some folks will bring up how lucky that person is:

“They must have friends in high places.”
“It’s just political.”
“They must have been in the right place at the right time.”

I find this very interesting.  These statements imply that there must have been some unfair advantage to their accomplishments.  I believe they’re really saying “How is it possible that they achieved greatness, when I didn’t?”

I don’t deny that that advantage exists.  Sure, many people have been gifted a leg up in the world.  Yes, there are celebrities whose fame or fortune can be attributed to the family they were born into.  And, yeah, on some level, some folks just-so-happened to “be in the right place at the right time,” whatever that actually means.

I don't deny that luck exists; it's all around us.  I believe that in our society, we are incredibly lucky in many ways.  We are lucky to carry cell phones in our pockets with microprocessors thousands of times more powerful than the computers that brought astronauts to the moon.  We are lucky to have been born into a country with vast wealth that created all this amazing technology we enjoy.  We are lucky that our society is rich enough pay a volunteer military to protect our lives and values, and because of them we live in safety and security to a much greater extent than previous generations, and than the rest of the world.  I am lucky to have had parents and family who fed, raised, and cared for me, and I’ll wager that you had the same.  

However, even though I readily acknowledge my own personal luck and our the good fortune that our society enjoys, for us to believe that someone else’s achievements can be primarily ascribed to luck or politics is toxic to our own development.  

To illustrate, here’s an example I read a few years ago in an interview between a NY Times writer and the comedian Louis C.K.:

Q. Does it matter that what you’ve achieved, with your online special and your tour can’t be replicated by other performers who don’t have the visibility or fan base that you do?
Louis: Why do you think those people don’t have the same resources that I have, the same visibility or relationship? What’s different between me and them?
Q. You have the platform. You have the level of recognition.
Louis: So why do I have the platform and the recognition?
Q. At this point you’ve put in the time.
Louis: There you go. There’s no way around that. There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

By his very questions, the interviewer reveals his own jealousies, implying that Louis must have achieved his recognition because he had some unfair opportunities or resources the rest of us didn’t have.  The writer believes that Louis had some trick or perhaps engaged in some closed-door, backroom dealings with "the powers that be" that the rest of us could never get access to.  That's simply not true.  I'm sure he had plenty of luck, but what Louis really has is a strong work ethic and perseverance.  He worked extremely hard to build his comedy career.  He took risks.  He spent years honing his skills, observing the world around him, doing stand-up in crummy clubs for very little money, which in reality is building an audience, making friends and connections other human beings, and gradually elevating his career.  I don’t see any unfair advantage in that.  

For us as aspiring artists, I believe that letting any of these "it's just politics" ideas enter our heads is petty, unhelpful, and ultimately self-destructive.

It's been my observation that people want to be in the presence of others who are talented and hard-working, but also kind, friendly, and genuinely interested in getting to know them and their art in return.  

For now, I'll leave the topic of actual artistry or talent to future posts (I'm sure I'll have lots to say about all kinds of musical topics).  But, if you have not yet enjoyed the level of success you desire, you might ask yourself questions such as:

Are you inviting your peers to get together and collaborate?

Are you actively helping the people around you achieve their artistic vision?

Are you attending people’s concerts, gigs, art exhibits, or photography shows?

Are you behaving in a friendly and kind way to all the people around you, regardless of whether or not you imagine they might “be helpful” to you in the future?

Do you let people off the hook, even after they’ve wronged you?

Are you the type of person others want to associate with?

Have you given the process of building your career enough time to flourish?

These are all things you can change.

Okay, okay, we're all human.  We all make mistakes, get jealous, or wish that things were different.  But success is not just politics, and there's nothing lucky about becoming the kind of person you want to be --- the kind of person that others want to help with their careers.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I tell my students that luck is really about being prepared when opportunities arise. If you want to be "lucky," work hard and don't quit.