By: Jess Canty
You've heard the saying: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. I've always believed in this phrase - believed that if you work hard enough eventually opportunities will present themselves.
Do a google image search for this phrase and you will see a myriad of different inspirational interpretations of this quote - and a lot of different people it is attributed to.
But then I had a thought this week - what if you are working hard, and you are waiting for those opportunities so you can experience that "luck" but it just doesn't feel like you're getting lucky?
#WhatIf... you aren't recognizing the opportunities when they present themselves?
But implicit in this oft-repeated phrase is the idea that you will RECOGNIZE an opportunity as an opportunity.
But what if you don't? It got me wondering - is this something you need to be worried about in your career - and the more I have thought about it, the more I think that it is.
I am going to digress with my own story - I hope it highlights how easy it is to miss the luck you've created.
So my second "real job" here in LA as many of you know was working at a company called CinemaNow, which pre-dated YouTube and Netflix, and was the first to legally put studio films online for download and streaming rental and sale. I worked there for 5 years, and at the end of my tenure there was Director of Acquisitions - which meant that I was in charge of choosing which films (outside of the studio movies that we were contractually obligated to take) went on the site.
I was one of very few women at my position. I once got into a heated debate in a room full of all men about the company needing to pivot to creating original content because there were no margins in the studio-owned stuff. This was when Netflix was still doing only DVD rentals. I hope I run into those guys on the street someday - I don't believe in "I Told You So's" but in this case I think I'd make an exception.
Shortly before I left the company, there was a huge spread in some paper that landed on my desk about how Netflix was poised to kill blockbuster, and how they had done this by focusing on customer experience - having started with over 100 in-house customer support staff for their first 100,000 customers. That everything the company changed about the way the service worked was related to customer feedback and so then the service finally "just worked." They had reduced their CS staff to just 40 or so with the million or so customers they had at the time of the article. At the end of the article, I believe was a small paragraph about how Netflix was going to start dabbling in offering an online streaming component to its DVD service.
CinemaNow, did not have that ethos. It has a part-time revolving staff of Customer Support and was already looking to out-source. Changes to the site were at the whim of the CEO or the CTO depending on the day.
Less than six months later I was frustrated with the direction CinemaNow had taken in its leadership ranks and I left.
Honestly I was a bit exhausted by working in a boys-club that was rife with mansplaining me into silence, and the scoffing at my firm belief that in order to compete with the iTunes and Amazons - and that the studios would never let anyone profit off their creations - we needed to look more like the Vista theater of online distribution than the AMC. I was over-ruled and my plans and budget for exclusive and original content were squashed.
When I left I had almost two years at the director level, in acquisitions, at a digital distribution company - something I didn't recognize that few people in town had on their resumes.
I also knew from that article that Netflix was a company that was doing it right in all the ways that CinemaNow was doing it wrong. This was 2008. I had the hard work, the preparation, the knowledge, but I did not realize that an opportunity was staring me right in the face.
Now, everything happens for a reason, and I am super happy to be running my own company and working with y'all here at Cinterra - but as Netflix grew and year after year - so many things I had fought for at CinemaNow became the keys to Netflix's success. I think I would have thrived there had I, in 2008, marched my ass over to their office and applied for a job.
I now know that I didn't recognize this as an opportunity because I was in my mid-20's and I was tired. Tired of working at a place that didn't support me, tired of knowing I was right and constantly being told I wasn't. I was going out too much, drinking too much, in a toxic relationship, and above all, I was afraid that if I went and worked at Netflix in the same job - I would just be disappointed all over again.
But I definitely missed an opportunity. Many people who are producing content there now started in what was then simply their acquisitions department.
Now, I may not have lasted at Netflix because I love seeing movies in theaters, so maybe I would have butt-heads with leaders there as much as I did at CinemaNow. Or perhaps I may have been a voice for that model within the company. One can only wonder.
What makes me annoyed with myself about this missed opportunity is that I missed it for dumb reasons.
I wasn't confident in my own voice, my own resume, and all that hard work. I wasn't looking to parlay the 5 years I had put in to a place where that may finally be appreciated. I didn't appreciate that I had been handed a very unique perspective and set of experiences that very few other people had. I didn't understand my value in the greater marketplace.
I didn't just quit my job at CinemaNow, but I quit all of the doors that could have opened because I didn't want to put my head down and work - although I ostensibly wanted to create content and produce. I lost touch with contacts who were on my side - who knew I was good at what I did, or I outright pushed them away.
So why this little story?
I would encourage each of you not to make the same mistake I did - which was to not see the crux between opportunity and preparation that is sitting in front of you.
Are you failing to recognize it?
Or worse, are you doing what I did and deliberately shooting yourself in the foot once you have created that luck because you are tired or afraid or both?
No job is perfect. No job is easy. Earning a living in Los Angeles is HARD. No matter what you do, there will be elements of it you dislike. Refreshing the breakdowns is the least favorite part of my job - but it is required. So I find ways to make it more fun for myself. I watch the shows that are casting so I am informed. Do I wish I didn't have to read the breakdowns? Sure - but that's just how it goes.
Are you making your path more difficult for yourself than it needs to be by not seeing the luck you have created, the luck that is right in front of you right now - because you are too focused on the parts of your job you dislike? I liked more of my job than I didn't - but I turned my back on digital distribution - even though I both knew it was the future and knew it was Netflix that would do it first - because I forgot that I was good at what I did and knowledgable about it.
Think about your acting career - no matter where you are in it - are there moments of opportunity meeting preparation that you have ignored or actively turned your back on? If so, why? And if so, how will you prevent yourself from ever doing it again?
Luck came again for me when my preparation met the opportunity to start managing artists. And the reason why I wasn't afraid this time, why I didn't miss it this time, was because I had missed before, I had recognized the miss and had promised myself never to miss again.
No matter where you are in your career you can create your luck again - because it really is just a matter of recognizing that you are already lucky. Start to really believe that - and nothing will stop you.