Learning From Shameless Opportunists: 7 Ways To Ensure Success
By Jill Wolins
It is fair to say that many or most people in the arts and entertainment world hate opportunists. Those people who cut you off in the middle of a conversation if someone “more important” walks over. Those people who, while they are talking to you at an event or an audition/interview will be looking over your shoulder or around the room for someone better; someone who can further their mission.
Those people who shamelessly put themselves out there introducing themselves to those in power and obnoxiously laughing at any slight bit of bad humor that comes their way. If no one is around for these narcissists to impress, don’t worry, they may as well engage you in some good old one-upping. Consistency is key, right?
Am I bitter much? Not really. I mean not today. But only because I am not affected by this behavior anymore. But while I was trying to reach some goals and make a mark in the industry, you bet I was frustrated! I was raised to show people my value through the quality of my work and my work ethic. Integrity was like a badge of honor and my training in the arts built character that would be more important than anyone’s opinion.
That integrity wasn’t going to pay my city scale rent. But since someone once told me if I made it there I could make it anywhere, I pushed forward.
Shameless self-promotion was never in my emotional DNA. After a bit of time in show business, I learned no one cared about my training, or how good I was in classes. I also learned that people got and kept jobs based on their friendships and associations.
For example, I once worked a gig when the people who were engaged in a bible club after work run by a company affiliate had much greater chances of re-signing the next contract. Happenstance? Maybe their God just happened to be looking out for them. Now I am a fan of organized religions for numerous reasons but also lived under the “impression” of Separation of Church and State. And my mother (who apparently doesn’t get people gigs in this industry) always taught me to “never discuss religion, intimate relations, or politics at work or in public.” Did Mama teach me wrong? Fortunately, in this case, my talent got me the next contract.
Yes, I said Bible Study.
That is one small example of many aspects that can factor into getting gigs. Knowing and hanging with the right people sure does help. But because forging phony friendships is also not in my emotional DNA, I did have to learn what qualities and actions I could use to be in the right circles. This is when I figured it may be better to work from the inside to out…
If you consider yourself an artist first who needs to learn to cope with the industry, there is GREAT News! An artist can learn to develop some essential skills of the shameless opportunists, but the innate sense of creativity and sensitivity cannot be learned. Skills can be acquired, but talent needs to exist, and then be developed.
So networking may be a major plus in the short term but one requires talent to make the long term.
What is the old saying? “If you don’t have the business, you don’t get the show!” Let’s discuss some sensible success tactics for those of us who have to work on the business side of the show.
1) Give yourself a checklist of who you would like to at least meet at events, auditions or interviews. Even if it is terribly awkward for you, force yourself to not leave until you have at least met one or two people you believe you would love to work with someday. No, don’t interrupt people’s dinners or conversations, but don’t leave saying, “I wish I would have talked to so-and-so.”
2) Know who is important at job interviews and auditions. Study up. You never know who you may end up with in the elevator or in line at Starbucks. Don’t regret not striking up a convo because you had no idea who the person was.
3) Be prepared and make it easy for others to remember you. Get those old-school business cards. Just the way smart online businesses make it easy for you to see info or make a purchase with the least amount of clicks possible, you want to make it easy for others to remember you. Giving a card will provide your social media screen names without making someone dig around on the spot. When people clean out their wallets, there your card will be again as a reminder. Also, have all audition material ready, and then some. Bring extra hard copy resumés, extra pictures, or extra comp cards, even if you have digital files. Again, you have to make it easy for others.
4) Don’t talk crap about people. Not easy for some of us, I get it. The industry is chock full of big personalities. Just a reminder, it is surely a small world, especially as you get older. Call your Mom or your non-industry to dish. Do not do it amongst peers. In essence, close your mouth and open your eyes and ears. Decide who to listen to for credible information on your industry.
5) Persistence is key. Read up on hugely successful individuals. They have ALL experienced a fair or sometimes great amount of failure before reaching the great heights. The idea is to learn from your mistakes or regrets, be they professional, social, business or personal. Do something every day to propel you forward toward your professional goals. Quitting or changing directions should never result from a lack of stick-to-itiveness.
7) The last and perhaps the most important: seek out people you want to emulate. Ask them questions. Use them as examples. Listen for information that may be helpful. Most people respond well to genuine compliments, and chances are these people will be honored and happy to help. These are the people you want to give your attention. And you may admire different people for different reasons. Some may have careers you desire, others may have more balanced lives you respect. Recognize the qualities you want, and create them for yourself.
Remember: If you want to play in the big leagues, act and work like you are in the big leagues. How do you want to see yourself 5, 10, 20 years from now? Work hard, work smart, and most of all, don’t have regrets.