Refusing to Quit and Failing While Trying: The Best Way to Come Out on Top
This time last year I had been out of school for two years, I was living at home, and I was working the same job I had in high school. I was interviewing for jobs but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. So, last December I quit my job and decided to spend 2013 talking to interesting people about their careers. The goal was to create a website that would provide an educational, entertaining, and inspirational look at a wide variety of career possibilities. The plan was simple, get a Wordpress theme, make sample interviews with friends and family, and send those sample interviews to other potential interview subjects. It was already March by the time I got the sample site together and started sending emails. For two months I sent emails almost every day without ever receiving a reply. By the end of April I was bummed and not much fun to be around.
Putting the site together wasn’t easy. A lot of the time it felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back, I came close to quitting at least once a week. Over the past year I’ve learned so much from each person I’ve spoken to. I couldn’t possibly share everything I’ve learned in one article so I’ve narrowed it down to three specific lessons that came at a time when I needed them the most.
Take your time.
Knowing I had nothing to lose, I took a chance and emailed National Geographic photojournalist Brian Skerry. There was no harm in dreaming big. He was never going to read it anyway. To my surprise Brian replied 15 minutes later saying he’d be happy to talk. I knew about Brian through his work as a photographer, writer, and conservationist. What I didn’t know was that for 15 years Brian had sold cardboard boxes to support his family and was practicing his photography as much as he could on the side. Brian told me that "It would have been very easy along the way to just quit. There were many days when things weren’t going right, I wasn’t making much money… but I just couldn’t let go and I couldn’t quit because I loved it so much." He worked at it everyday for 15 years and I was upset because no one emailed me back within a few months? I felt like an ass. Even though we were doing two completely different things, Brian’s interview was full of inspiring lessons and helpful advice. As soon as I finished the interview I knew I had something special. If Brian’s advice could motivate me and give me the confidence to keep pursuing my goal, I knew there was a good chance it could help others as well.
Southern Right Whale, (Eubalaena australis) approaches Brian Skerry's assistant underwater off the Auckland Islands, New Zealand (sub Antarctic islands)
I typed up Brian’s interview, included some of his incredible photos and started attaching it to my emails. People seemed to like it, and they started responding to my emails. I set a new goal to complete 30 interviews over the summer and to launch the site by September. I was getting more and more interviews, but I was having trouble keeping up with my research and writing. One week I would fully immerse myself in the world of food science and animation and the next week I’d be learning everything I could about architecture and sound engineering.
Organize and prioritize.
While I was speaking with NBA.com writer, Lang Whitaker, he told me he saw himself managing projects like "The guy in the circus that spins the plates. You don’t ever have just one thing going, you have seven or eight things you’re trying to keep going at the same time…if you forget about one it’s all going to fall and crack on the floor." When you work for yourself you’re responsible for everything. I started to see my work as plates. Who am I interviewing this week? What do I need to research for next week? How should I pitch this PR team? What do I want the site to look like? I had to organize and prioritize my plates. Things were starting to go well, the site was gaining traction but I was scared I wouldn’t manage my time properly and all my plates would come crashing down.
Lang Whittaker on set with Rick Fox and Shaquille O'Neal
Don't try to control everything.
I was starting to accept that I wouldn’t have 30 interviews completed by September. I had accomplished 80 percent of the things I wanted to do but I was still hung up on the other 20 percent. Costume designer Patia Prouty told me, "The only thing you can control is how much drive you have." My ideal vision for the site was out of my control, some people were busy, some people didn’t like doing interviews, some people didn’t see the value in speaking with a startup. Once I accepted this I was able to dedicate my energy and attention to the things I could control. This allowed me to be far more productive and complete 24 interviews and launch the site in October. I figured things out while failing and trying new things, something that interactive strategistAgatha Asch thinks is the way to "come out on top."
Director and costume designer Patia Prouty on the set of her TV show "Banshee"
The site has been up for three months now and the response has been incredible. It feels great hearing feedback from people and knowing that the interviews have helped in some way. There were so many days I wanted to give up but I’m glad I never threw in the towel. There are still ups and downs, and I now have a whole new set of plates to keep spinning. Everyday presents a new set of challenges, but everyday I think about people like Brian, Lang, and Patia who have their dream jobs because they refused to quit.
Dear Nine-Year-Old Me The transition is going to be difficult for you, but whenever you feel a little lonely and left out, take comfort in the knowledge that you are honing one of your greatest superpowers.
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