Sunday, February 2, 2014

You didn't build that, or did you?

It's no secret that I'm in the market for a better job and have been for some time. Anyone who knows me personally knows that it's been a very long and frustrating process, full of what seem like endless job applications, resumes sent out, and little, if any response despite the experience I bring and my education. As this has dragged on, I've thought a lot about how people "make it" and are successful, plus I see a lot of "inspirational" posts from various people I either know or follow on my various social media accounts. And this is dealing with success in some type of occupation or career, not for something like losing weight, working out, forming new habits, etc.

First off, though, what is the definition of "successful"? I think when most people say "successful" they are talking in terms of finances. In other words, a successful person is someone who has a well-paying job or is otherwise well-off financially. At the very least they are financially independent. While I don't disagree with that definition, I am reminded of the quote from LDS President David O. McKay: "No outside success can compensate for failure in the home." In other words, while being financially well-off is certainly a worthwhile goal, if by doing so we sacrifice meaningful relationships (especially our own family) and/or compromise our morals and values to attain it, can we truly be "successful"? That in itself could probably take its own blog post. Suffice it to say, I would have a hard time considering myself successful even with all the money in the world if I didn't have my family. 

Moving on, the most common themes on these "inspirational" posts I see on social media are hard work, diligence, and perseverance, related, of course, to setting goals. While I certainly don't discount the importance of those things, do they in themselves make someone successful? No, they don't. Yeah, you heard me right. I know plenty of people who, like myself, have done everything they are supposed to do yet struggle to gain any type of recognition for their talents and abilities. It has little to do with a lack of hard work, diligence, or perseverance. Now, these inspirational stories or pictures will often make it sound like the person who posted them is successful because of those very things (i.e. their own efforts only), yet when you read their stories, something else comes up: someone else gave them a chance, i.e. simply noticed them. In other words, part of their success was being in the right place at the right time. 

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. So you mean their success can be attributed to someone else? Yep, at least partially. Again, the hard work, diligence, and perseverance certainly put them in a position to be successful and to sustain their success, but by themselves did not make that person successful. You can be the best teacher in the world, but if no district ever looks past what they see on your resume or even bothers to read it or give you an interview, guess what? You're still on the outside looking in. Even for entrepreneurs, you can have the best idea ever, but unless other people buy it and tell others, you're no better off than before. You cannot attain success alone, at least in terms of a career. 

I've seen that in my own life, aside from the job search. As many know, I love to sing the National Anthem for sporting events and have been doing so for almost 20 years now. People frequently ask how I get those gigs, especially when I sing for professional sports teams like the Cleveland Indians and Lake Erie Monsters. The answer is simple: for most teams I initially sent them a CD with a recording of me singing. Over the years I've had recordings done of performances at various venues that I put those on YouTube, so now I simply send teams a resume of my performance experience and the web address for my YouTube page. Last year I created a National Anthem page to refer people to, which includes all of those things: my performance experience, audio recordings, and video recordings. 

But you know what? Sending all that out only goes as far as the people who receive it. While I have been fortunate to sing for the Indians and several other minor league teams, it's because the person in charge at each place has liked what they heard and contacted me to song. For reasons I don't know, I have yet to sing for the Cleveland Cavaliers and a host of other major league teams I send stuff to every year. For instance, I recently sent materials to another Major League Baseball team and received a reply that in order to even be considered for the anthem, I have to join one a group that is connected with group ticket sales and then go through that group's contact with the team. For someone like me not based in that area (but frequently there for family and only 5 hours away), it makes it somewhat difficult to commit to something like that. It's certainly not based at all on my talents, abilities, and experience with the anthem.

So yes, I have set myself up to be successful in that regard, but unless someone says "hey, we want you to sing for us", I'm really no further along than I was before I sent it out. I consider what I'm doing as creating opportunities for myself; putting myself in the position to receive them, but in the end, whether I perform or not isn't in my power. I do much the same with Kent State: I noticed they often didn't have a singer for the anthem, so I got in touch with the person in charge, and boom. When a new person comes in (which happens every few years), I have to start all over again. But again, it's a two-way street. It's not JUST because of me, it's because the person in charge considers me someone they like to have sing for them. 

When President Obama made his comments about "you didn't build that", I think this is the idea he was getting at, even though I wasn't all that impressed with how he worded it nor the seeming emphasis he placed on others in our various paths to success. Yes, we do need to do a lot on our own to be successful. Like I said, hard work, setting goals, persevering, all those things, are key steps in helping us be successful and even more so for sustaining success. But yes, at some point, you do need someone else, whether they be an employer, an agent, or even a customer, (or for me and singing the anthem, usually an intern!) to help you go beyond potential to reality and success. I think it's very disingenuous for people who are successful to ignore the roles that others (including, for those of us who are religious, God) have played in their success and just focus on what the individual has done. That's not to underscore what the individual has done or undermine it in any way, but to be realistic. Again, ask any "successful" person how they achieved success, and at some point along the way, there will be an event where someone else took notice and decided to take a chance on them.

Let's keep it real. Who knows, maybe you hold the key to helping others achieve success too?

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