How to Succeed Without Really Trying

I was in that musical in high school–How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying–and I had an absolute blast goofing off in the chorus. The title seemed apt for my topic today. So how can you be successful without really trying?

You can’t. That was clickbait. Unless you’re lucky of course, but how many of us can really count on that?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes successful people successful. From hanging out with fellow writers and following other writers on Twitter and explaining self-publishing to coworkers and family and such, success is something that’s kind of always in the back of my mind. It’s the goal, after all.

I’d like to think natural talent and passion is all it takes to be successful at something. Those are things I think I have. But it’s more than that. You also have to be savvy and more importantly–hardworking. The people who know how to hustle are the ones who make it. And I think that’s OK. I think that’s fair. So what if I can recite all the prepositions and write grammatically correct (thanks, Mr. G!)? That doesn’t necessarily mean people should want to read my books.

I pride myself in being well-rounded, but I think a lot of that is at the expense of being really, really good at one thing. On the bright side, my well-roundedness makes me adaptable in the corporate world. It helped me change careers when I wanted to and feel useful wherever I go.

Last night, I happened to catch an Instagram story where Rachel Bloom (star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) asked her cinematographer what it takes to be a cinematographer. He said that you need to love what you do because you’re going to be doing it for 12 hours a day. He continued by saying that you should do something that you’d do anyway for free. That made me smile. I write for a living. It’s technical writing, but that’s something. I get excited about editing. Occasionally, I get to troubleshoot something for someone, which I love. I love problem solving, and I’m darn good at it too. And sometimes I think, if I were a full-time author, working for myself, maybe I wouldn’t get to do that anymore.

Part of my musings came from watching ABC’s Boy Band on Hulu and absorbing knowledge from the wildly successful “architects,” Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, Spice Girl Emma Bunton, and Grammy winning producer Timbaland. Even the mentors, the behind-the-scenes talent, blow me away with their success. Adam Blackstone, for example, who I’m obsessed with at the moment, is the musical director for people like Justin Timberlake and Nicki Minaj. And he’s my age. What am I doing at 34? And they all seem SO NICE and down-to-earth while mentoring these young up-and-comers. Even though they’re huge BFDs. (Am I using that right? I am a suburban mom, after all.) By the way, I’ve been following Nick’s career for a long time. Believe me when I say that guy knows his stuff. And I don’t think he ever stops working.

One of the boy band hopefuls on the show said something to the affect of “we’ll sleep when we’re billionaires.” I think that’s the mindset you have to have. Some days, I have it together enough to set my alarm for 4:45, write for a half hour or so, then get my kids ready for school, and head into work and maybe get a workout in there sometime too. I don’t say this to brag–I say this to remind myself that it’s possible, especially if I convince myself I can survive on less than my cushy and typical eight hours of sleep.

I’ve also been reading Scrappy Little Nobody, actress Anna Kendrick’s memoir. She knew from the time she was a kid that she wanted to be an actor. I guess I’ve known just as long that I wanted to be a writer. The difference was, she went for it, and I convinced myself that it was more practical to become a teacher or a web developer. By the way, I almost became a web developer at one point, but I didn’t have the drive for that either. And believe me, I’m not ripping on web developers or teachers. On the contrary, I’m in awe of them too.

The thing all these people had in common was a laser focus on what they wanted to be.

Then this whole thing begs the question of how you balance it all. I wonder, while thinking about all this, where work-life balance comes into play. I wonder if it does at all. While I’m writing this, I’m simultaneously making my kids dinner (fish sticks) while they’re both talking to me at the same time, and I’m sort of listening. As you can imagine, I’m not doing any of these things at 100%. I’m still figuring this all out.

So basically, unless you’re cool with being in the chorus, do as I say, not as I do.

Go. Try. Succeed. I’ll leave you with this.