When it comes to competition of any kind, many of us seek to be the best. One of the best examples I can think of is sports, mainly on the collegiate or professional level. Most of us as sports fans watch for one reason and one reason only; because we want to see our team(s) eventually win their sports’ championships. That tells us that that team is considered as “the best,” if even for just that season. In the world of sports, that’s pretty much it. Once that championship happens, all we really look for is the for team to do it again and again. In other words, there’s not much “better” we expect out of those teams once they win it all. It’s okay for a team to exist in the pack with other teams and be viewed as “the best,” because often, that is the main goal.
However, when it comes to success, I feel it is a little different. I feel that if you are with a collection of people in some form and you’re the “best” or even the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.
And I’ll preface to say that no, I did not “coin” this expression, but then again, neither did the other 37 people I’ve seen the quote attached to, to of course, include some famous people. Also, just because an expression exists doesn’t mean we all have to agree with it. But here is my explanation.
When it comes to life goals and dreams, it’s much different than with sports. I honestly feel that sports is more short-term and the goal is more clear. I’m not talking about the athletes themselves, because of course, they’re always looking to improve. But as for these championships, there is a set time each year that they are scheduled. So I don’t feel it is quite the same.
Anyway, I don’t feel it is different when were are chasing our dreams. For example, I aspire to be a professional screenwriter. Sure, we can say that my “goal” is to do that, but there are so many places I could go once that happens. For me, there’s no clearly defined “end” state. Once I do become a professional screenwriter, more goals will come up, I’m certain. Personally, I’m never satisfied, so I’m always going to continue to look for more. Whether it is working with a particular actor/actress, working on a particular show or movie, working with an executive I greatly admire, and so on. Yes, the “goal” is professional writer. But things certainly do not stop there.
As far as I am concerned, I absolutely MUST associate with people in the business or with other screenwriters who have been successful as professionals. I very often look to reach out to professional actors. I don’t do this because I’m simply looking for them to get me a writing job somewhere, because I know better. No, I’m mainly just looking for insight. What impresses them when they read a script, what are some things I should NOT do when writing, etc., because after all, they will be the ones to bring my words to life. Obviously, they need to be impressed with the writing in order to successfully do so.
Now, I’m not going to play ignorant here. Because I’m not a famous person, many simply have not and will not talk to me. That’s really all there is to it. I got it. But quite a few big names have interacted with me on multiple occasions, even knowing what my goals are. In the “chain of command” so to speak, the actor or actress is several steps removed from the writer; mainly a person like me who has not yet become a professional. Once I’ve made it there, I’m much closer, but for now, not yet.
For some, it wouldn’t make sense to reach out to professional actors. Some have straight-up told me that I was crazy for doing so and that I really should not. But here’s the thing; how successful can I really expect to be if I do nothing but talk to people who aren’t professionals and in many cases, do not write at all?
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to discount people like that. Opinions do matter. But the truth is that to a person who isn’t a professional writer or in show business in some fashion, my writing will either bore you to death because writing is not something you’re at all interested in, or you will LOVE it to death because while writing may not be your thing, you’re still impressed with it. I appreciate it, but it just doesn’t help me to grow as a writer or helps me to progress toward my goal of professional screenwriter.
When it comes to executives, producers, actors and even other professional writers, having spent time in the business puts them further ahead than me. It’s that simple. I’m trying to get to where they are. So it only makes sense that I follow their examples, within reason. Not just blindly listen to what they all tell me, but to use my good judgment and pay attention to what will help me.
What this means is that there will likely be MANY times I get smacked upside the head a bit by someone telling me that my work isn’t up to par. I have an actress/writer friend who has read two of my television scripts so far and while there have been several areas she’s told me that I haven’t done as I should have, her insight as an actress has greatly helped and quite frankly, there probably aren’t many other people I could get that insight from. She has told me about what it’s like on the set as actors work and how that relates to the script, which is something I’ve always wanted to know and again, has been immensely helpful.
Even if you aren’t a writer, I feel that you absolutely MUST surround yourself with people who have progressed further than you and learn from them, because they’re where you are trying to get to. It requires some swallowing of pride, but what I’ve noticed is that once you do that and it’s clear that your mind is wide open to receive help, a lot of people won’t mind working with you. I interact with quite a few professional actors and executives on social media from time to time and I think this attitude is why they don’t mind interacting with me as well.
But I don’t feel I am doing anything special. I feel I am doing what is absolutely necessary to succeed at this.
If you drive on an empty interstate, you never really learn how to drive. Only when you are with other cars and in different scenarios do you learn the ins and outs of driving.
If you’re a weightlifter and you continue to lift far less than what you are capable of, you will never gain strength and get bigger. You wouldn’t want a personal trainer who can’t do even half of what you’re able to do, right?
If you ran a race against a child and you beat them easily, how likely is it that you would continue to work to beat them by more the next time? Now, if you raced against someone who always beat you, what is the likelihood that you’re more clear on how you need to beat them and between both scenarios, which is more likely to lead to you practicing more?
There are a million examples out there and again, pride can be rough sometimes. I think we all have it to some degree. But if you are looking to really get better in any area (which I feel we should all be doing), then you have to find those who are better, pull up a chair and take notes. Don’t avoid them. Unless you are as good as you will ever be in a certain areas, the only way you will get there is to learn from those who are further along than you.
A person who has never worked in show business cannot possibly tell me how show business works for me as a writer. Professional writers, executives and actors/actresses can. So it only makes sense that I do what I can to pay attention and to learn from them, even if they aren’t as “warm” and willing to talk back to me. I can’t let that stop me.
Once you do become the “smartest” or the “best” person in the room, then the next step is simple. Find another room. Find other folks to surround yourself with who will continue to make you GREAT.
Staying in that same room simply won’t cut it. That’s all there is to it. The fastest and surest way to mediocrity is to continue doing what everyone else is doing. Leaving that room and going into another may make you uncomfortable. Lord knows when I reach out to certain actors and executives, it happens to me all the time. There is one actress in particular who is one of my favorite people, but she has never once replied in any way to me. I can tell you that even though what I’ve written to her is harmless, writing to her can be quite uncomfortable. But I feel like I have to, even receiving no response. I’ve learned a lot from her as well. But often, growth doesn’t happen until we force ourselves to be uncomfortable and take certain leaps of faith, pride aside.
Being a room where you are not the smartest or best person shouldn’t make you feel like less of a person. It should make you feel like MORE of one. Because you are looking to become a better person.
And not everyone has the intestinal fortitude to do that. You do.