We all are aware that producing content for TV, commercials, movies, and streaming takes tremendous effort and multiple individuals. A Hollywood blockbuster might be only memorable for the main actors involved and while they’re the face of the movie, behind them is almost an entire army of people working to entertain or inform you as much as the people who get the lion’s share of the credit. One of the more fascinating production jobs to me is the role of supporting actor.
The seemingly ubiquitous commercials for medications to treat embarrassing medical problems features an actor portraying someone with that illness. Think of the actor who calls home to her parents so proud she landed a main speaking role as ‘person with chronic bowel disorder’. She is proud because she’s a working actor, not because of what she’s selling. As laypeople, we might assume that actors work a series of sub-famous gigs to one day break into the larger roles that garner them multi-million-dollar roles. But what about those who just want to act? Check out the documentary “That Guy… Who Was In the Thing” from 2012 and you’ll hear the stories of many ‘that guy’ supporting actors who do what they do for the joy, craft, and profession of acting and not necessarily for the fame. As you watch movies or TV chances are high you’ll see someone you know who’s making a living doing what they love. This extends into other fields as well. For every headline musical act there are backup vocals and instrumentalists who don’t always get the attention they deserve. In the corporate world, the CEO might be well-known in the industry or community but the would be nothing without the workforce they lead.
Those that are the face of any collective effort are just the tip of a large iceberg of supporting individuals. While some want the limelight, not everyone wants to be the headliner act on the theater marque. What we often do want is to be part of the show itself.
Finding a job, advancing in a hierarchy, or changing careers involves being part of the larger show. To get the role in the production, be it on stage or behind the scenes requires that you are the right person at the right time in the right place. If a producer needs an electrician backstage and you’re a plumber, you probably aren’t going to be hired to hang lights. If the water shuts off to the building, you’ll suddenly find you’re a needed member of the team. Likewise, if you’re a backup baritone singer with 2 left feet, but the role requires a tenor who can tap dance, then you’re out of luck. If the role requires you to stand there and have a deep voice, then your odds are dramatically improved.
We have a word for this optimum condition of being the right person at the right time and right place: Relevance. Question #5 is “How are you relevant” and it is what ties the preceding 4 questions together. Working through questions 1-4 you now know yourself better, know where you’ve been, know where you are, and know where you want to go. Now it’s showtime and you can put all this knowledge into practice. The answer to this question is found in what you do with the knowledge you now have. A dream without action to make it reality keeps it just a dream. The actions you take are important because they’re how you build an essential element needed for success on your career journey.
That element is luck.
People often substitute luck for the idea of randomness or chance. Make no mistake, circumstance and randomness certainly matter. Luck is something that you make as well. Your response to happenstance alters the outcome. What we mean by ‘luck’ in career terms can be boiled down to a simple formula:
(Preparedness + Opportunity) x Action = Luck
This heart of this formula has been around for many centuries and is attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. I believe we need to go a short step beyond the original and always be mindful that you can easily waste luck if you’re not willing to do something when the time comes. A life of wasted ‘lucky breaks’ leads to a life of regret.
Preparedness is always being ready to take responsibility for advancing your career regardless of what happens. The days of being taken care of by your employer for your entire life are a relic of the 20th Century Industrial Age. In the modern era, each person is in charge of managing their careers and staying relevant by both developing their employability in the job market and connecting with the resources to keep them in use.
Opportunity is what happens to us and how we respond to it. I’ll confess that I used to shudder when something I saw as a problem was referred to as an opportunity. But because a person’s attitude and response can often alter the perceived outcome, I must confess that taking that view is a more helpful way of overcoming obstacles and making a positive out of what could be a negative. Having a commitment to proving your relevance requires opportunities to do so. Seeking them out frequently will improve your odds that you’ll find the ones you need.
Action is the courage to take a chance and apply what you’ve learned. Our society seems on the surface to only reward those who play it safe, but if you look at the real outcomes in the majority of the population it’s those who seem to take the greater risk who have the greatest reward. Reality is that playing it safe can be the riskiest move of all. Putting in strategic effort will result in an investment of time that has a higher pay-out than waiting for something to happen to you.
In the end, you make your luck. You might not be conscious of it, but you do. Each action and choice you make alters your course, so being intentional in those choices and actions whenever possible can help you find your relevance and stay relevant through continuous reinvention.
Staying put and playing it safe sounds like a solid plan, until it isn’t. We often just want to do our jobs and be left alone. But if you look at our friends in the acting profession, you’ll see that they are constantly looking for work. Every actor is a master of rejection and tenacity. This goes for anyone who works in the production business. Once you’ve done your part and the production wraps, you have to be ready to find your next gig. In the manufacturing world, the Just In Time methodology of sourcing parts for manufacturing has become a standard in the staffing world as well. The reality of individuals having multiple jobs and careers over a lifetime isn’t up for debate anymore, it’s a fact of life. This isn’t just bean-counters treating people as parts, it’s a reality that people need to always be ready to move on and refresh themselves by trying new things.
The stage is set. The show is about to start.
Be ready to demonstrate you are relevant by showing them what you can do.