Got the Key, got the Secret?


David Bowie. An undisputed success, or so you would think...

NOTHING succeeds like success.  Or as my Dad likes to say “nothing succeeds like a toothless parrot.”  Thanks Dad.  But seriously – what does it take to be a creative success?

Unlike accountancy or engineering, succeeding in the arts isn't just a matter of passing the right exams, turning up on time and buying a decent suit.  The last Equity survey showed that over half of their members were earning less than £250 per week from performing, falling below the poverty line.  So, if you’re not succeeding in earning a living from your art, does it mean you should give up?  Before you do, bear this in mind:  David Bowie was described by a BBC talent spotter as “amateurish and out of tune.”  As one of the most influential figures in popular culture, he’s since sold over 140 million albums.  Recording company Decca rejected The Beatles saying they had “no future in show business.”  Talk about kick yourself.  And the King himself?  Critics once called Elvis “the biggest freak show in history.”  One of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century more like.

So is it down to pure talent?  Not always.  We all know an actor/singer/writer (*delete as appropriate) who should be in Hollywood/number one/top of the best seller list, but is currently stuck working nights in a bar.

How about hard work?  Even the 10, 000-hour rule (the theory that you have to practice for this long over a decade to be a success at anything) cannot guarantee critical acclaim.

Could it be luck?  Barkhad Abdi was working as a chauffeur when he auditioned for the film Captain Phillips.  With no acting experience he got the job and is now up for an Oscar.  He is the exception not the rule.

Perhaps it’s simply a combination of all the above.  So, my pearls of wisdom, in no particular order:

(i)       Play to your strengths – take what you’re good at and make yourself excellent.  If maths isn't your thing, don’t aim to be the next Rachel Riley…

(ii)     Keep on keeping on - that doesn't mean sending out endless applications and attending the same auditions without thinking about why you’re not getting the job.  What you can do to increase your chances if exactly the same opportunity comes up again in a month’s time?

(iii)     Be lucky – this is a toughie – you can’t force luck – but you can be ready when it happens.  Like catching a snowflake on your tongue - you can’t make it snow, and even if it does you can’t guarantee you will be standing in the right place at the right time - but if you don’t go outside and open your mouth it aint gonna happen…

  And one for free, love what you do, and do it because you love it.  That way, you’ll already be succeeding where many fail.  If you happen to take the world by storm with your creative talent while you’re busy doing it, well that’s the icing on the cake.

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