People ask me all the time how I got into television.
The reason why they ask is because I got into television mid-career. I made the switch at the worst possible time, when I had left my job to have children. Not only was I leaving my current job but I was also attempting to get into a new, competitive career after having kids.
Years later when I landed a full-time anchoring job, people told me how "lucky" I was. That would usually be the time when I would sit them down and recount the full story of how I made the career switch and explain why luck had nothing to do with it. Here's what I tell them.
A television agent said to me (years before I actually left my old job) that if I had any serious thoughts about trying my hand at on-air work, I would need to hire a talent coach. So on her recommendation, I found one in New York. It was just a one-day session held at this person's office.
The coach, a thin, wiry woman with a shock of red hair, walked over and led me into a little white room where several newspapers were laid out. Over the next hour or so, she had me read the newspapers as if they were television scripts."More energy and emphasis!" she guided. After dozens of reads, I was starting to tune out.
How many different ways can I read these paragraphs, I thought. Where I thought I was conveying energy, she was telling me I sounded flat. What was I really trying to accomplish? I just wanted to report good stories.
I kept asking myself, why did I need to learn to read? She started getting on my nerves. I started not to like her hair. I wondered if her methods worked. I began to think about her fee. Everything else entered my head except that I needed to focus on being better to get a job.
Sensing my animosity, the coach suddenly sat down.
"I know this is frustrating," she said."I'm trying to help you find a job. You're getting mad at me but you're really mad at the process. It's scary out there. Everyone wants to do the same thing you're doing."
She got up and grabbed a black marker and scribbled on the whiteboard.
Opportunity + Preparation = Luck
"Betty, do you understand what this means?"
"Yes, I do," I said flatly.
"No, do you really understand what this means?"
I stared at her for a moment.
"People see other's successes and they think, oh, they're just lucky. Nobody is ever lucky, trust me. Sure, things happen to people. There's stories everywhere of people who've been toiling away and all of a sudden, they get the dream job they've always wanted; or their business idea suddenly takes off and they make millions. We look at that and think, they're lucky. No honey, they're not lucky. They were prepared.
"Opportunities are everywhere for people. But if you're not prepared, then you won't be able to capitalize on that opportunity. It's not luck, it's being prepared. It's doing the really hard work of being prepared for the one day when you get that opportunity. It may only come once so you have to be prepared.Your job is to prepare your whole life for that opportunity. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
She leaned in. "Do you understand?"
I hadn't thought I was buying a life lesson but there it was, staring me in the face.
At that point, it really did sink in.
After the day with the talent coach, I stopped deluding myself that if I didn't get a television job it was because I was unlucky. Instead, I put all my energy into being prepared. I constantly practiced my reads. I also began freelancing for a local radio station to learn how to write broadcast scripts. I practiced and continued to hone my craft until one day, an email appeared from a woman I'd met years earlier, inquiring if I was still looking for a television reporting job. I arranged an interview again, knowing that I was as prepared as I'd ever be. And of course, I got the job.
So next time you think luck is all it takes to succeed, remember the simple formula:
Opportunity + Preparation = Luck
And if you don't believe the above, you can always buy yourself a lottery ticket.