The Myth of the Big BreakJanuary 25th, 2009 · 36 comments
J.D. Roth of the popular Get Rich Slowly blog recalls a conversation he had with a friend who had just started his own web site. As J.D. recalls, after the friend posted an introductory article he asked: “Can you point people to the site?”
“Not yet,” J. D. replied. “You don’t have any content.”
Instead of writing, the friend tweaked the layout and introduced advertisements. Several weeks passed.
“Nobody’s coming to my site,” the friend complained. “Not a single person has clicked on an ad.”
“That’s because there’s nothing there…you need to focus on content,” J.D. replied.
The friend posted a new article, then let the site lay fallow for another month. Finally, he wrote J.D. again, this time pleading: “Can’t you please point people to my site?”
“Maybe in a couple months,” J.D. replied. “Maybe once you have some content.”
Consider another example. I have a friend who is a successful entrepreneur in the movie industry. He’s a strong believer in the power of consistent action. When giving talks to student crowds he likes to sum up his entire approach to life as a two-step process: “(1) Get started; (2) Keep going.”
This friend told me that he’s often asked for help from both entrepreneur and movie producer wannabes. Not surprising, considering his views on the subject, his reaction is always the same: “Sure, go take two or three concrete steps toward your goal and then we’ll talk.”
Almost no one ever gets back to him…
The type of people described in the above stories are so common that I’ve given them a name: The Schemers.
The Schemers are young people who are talented and ambitious. They have some sense that they’re destined for something big and they often feel frustration that they haven’t yet earned much distinction.
What defines this group is a belief that the key to big achievement is finding the magic formula for breaking through. The blogger bothering J.D. thought the key was getting that one high-value link. The wannabes contacting my movie producer friend wanted a high-prestige job handed to them. Before I wrote a definitive article on the subject, I used to get a lot of e-mails and calls from young people who wanted to publish a book. I always told them to keep me posted. But I never heard back. I got the feeling that they didn’t like my advice: become a better writer and back-up your idea with widely recognized expertise. I think they were hoping instead for the name of the editor that would immediately buy their rough proposal.
They were all hoping for that magic formula that would make the big break happen all at once…
The Schemers rarely earn lasting distinction. Real achievement, as it turns out, almost never comes from a big break that comes out of nowhere. There is almost always a long history of consistent action that builds, over time, to the state where they finally tip into real fame in their field. People who are constantly looking for an angle to induce a premature break — attempting to sidestep the years of consistent action — never find what they seek.
Here’s my advice: If you’re young, and talented, and ambitious, and have this feeling like you’re destined for something impressive, then take note of the lessons of J.D. and my producer friend. Once you’ve chosen the general direction you want to pursue — a choice that shouldn’t be taken lightly — just start doing things.
Start. Work. Finish. Start. Work. Finish…
It’s a simple rhythm. But it works. There is no magic formula; no one big idea or powerful contact that can grant you distinction. Compulsive networking and the sending of inspired e-mails will not get you to your ambitious goal. Real achievement is not the result of single well-chosen action, it is, instead, an epiphenomena of years of hard work.
Don’t be a schemer. Be a doer. Over time, action — not scheming — is what breeds achievement momentum.
(Photo by ishane)