Elizabeth Gilbert spent years as a frustrated writer before the release of her breakthrough best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love, and then spent years as a frustrated second-act writer until she discovered that ridiculous success was as difficult as continual failure. What she learned is in her other best-seller, one of my favorite creative business books, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
In the new podcast "The TED Interview," Gilbert shares the recipe to her, and perhaps our, success:
I learned very early on, it became incredibly clear to me that there were three factors that I was going to need in order to be successful as an artist, and one of them was luck, and the other one was talent, and the other one was hard work. The only one of those three that I have absolute control over is how hard I work. It seemed to me that it was just only obvious that if you want to do this, then maximize how much time you put into the third of it that you have any power over.
Two out of three don't count
Let's break it down. Luck is capricious at best, which is why we see excellent, broke performers at the local coffeehouse, but hear mediocre musicians on the radio 20 times a day. Meeting the right agent, releasing that YouTube video at the right time, or simply being encouraged by the right people depends on luck. Hear a successful person never mention luck once and you've met someone who has little self awareness.
Talent is one of those odd modifiers that, I believe, still comes from work. It may be a little work, like young Stevie Wonder's playing around with a harmonica for a few minutes before mastering it, or a lot of work, like my spending quality time learning Spanish and being barely able to compose a sentence. Talent may just have to do with the amount of time it requires for your output to be satisfactory.
Build before you are ready
The only thing in your purview is hard work. Steve Pressfield calls it showing up every day so "the muse" knows you are serious. In Big Magic, Gilbert herself compares it to catching the inspiration like the wind -- if you aren't in the right spot, meaning working away, then it will fly right past you.
In The Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur, I call this your system: Your vision for what success is, your life cleaned up to make room for it, and as many details as possible in place to accept the success. In other words, when luck does knock, will your life be in the place to answer? In my own case, TED asked me to speak on the conference second stage when I had already practiced public speaking and had developed a style on much smaller stages. The system was in place.
I am happy to answer your questions but they are all seeking the same thing: some magical answer that isn't sit down. Write. Write some more. You don't need permission or to find some ephemeral thing. You need imagination and a work ethic.-- roxane gay (@rgay) July 26, 2018
And if I didn't do my hard work to nurture my talent before the lucky break? The opportunity would have passed me right by.
Gilbert says it best in the interview: "The expression that I've coined, I don't know if I coined it but I say it all the time, is 'Your labor is the contribution to the miracle.' If I'm sitting around waiting for the miracle to do all of it, I'm going to be sitting around waiting for an awfully long time."