This blog entry is dedicated to my father and mother, Timothy and Willette Friday: the greatest people on the face of the earth who have always taught me to go out and get what I want.
"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." - Milton Berle
It was the fall of 2004. I was fresh out of my undergraduate studies in Southern California. I had worked as a receptionist for my dad's advertising agency and was now embarking on a career in production in the arts. I decided to send a resume to an opera company called Opera Pacific based out of Costa Mesa, California. I had no knowledge of any position that was available, but I knew that I wanted to be on the stage management team. I knew that I had to be confident and sell myself as the person this company needed to hire. It was my first real endeavor into my chosen field. With no experience in opera stage management, I wrote a very honest email to someone at the company. In short, I told them that I wanted the experience, I was a hard worker, and a fast learner. About two weeks later, I received an email from the Production Stage Manager offering me a PA position on the opera, Turandot. I was terrified. I had no idea what Turandot was. And who the heck is Giacomo Puccini? :) I ran to the music library and checked out the Turandot score, and went to a record store (they had those back in 2004) to purchase a CD of Turandot, which I still have to this day. It also happens to be my favorite opera of all-time.
My point: I walked into the unknown and accessed that particular opportunity. Once I received the opportunity, I prepared to walk through the door that eventually paved the way for the rest of my career.
Although it can be terrifying, the key to successful achievements is to access opportunities and prepare yourself for what is to come. I've been practicing this very thing for the entirety of my career. It throws you out of your comfort zone, but the reward is getting what you want out of your field and life in general.
I'll break this down into a few tips that may help you realize how to access opportunity and get your foot in a door that may not appear open.
Here is the Done By Friday approach to access opportunities and prepare yourself along the way:
#1 - Look for places where you can find an opportunity. Sometimes you may have to look hard. As a self-employed professional, I am always looking for the next opportunity. Whether it be a big show, challenge that I haven't taken on before, or the chance to work on a really fun project, I am always looking for individuals and companies who are looking for my talents and personality. Even if there isn't an obvious opportunity (ie. job posting or lead), that NEVER means that the door is closed. I've been in situations where I reached out to someone, told them about myself and what I do and next thing I knew, it turned into a job lead. Never put your head down. Always look ahead and find out where you can create opportunity.
#2 - Never stop meeting people and introducing yourself. You never know where opportunity can come from. Yes, this will move you out of your comfort zone, but trust me - it's worth it. Many people I know hate this step, but it is necessary. If you don't make it known to the world that you exist, the world won't know that you do. And on top of that, if you don't get to know people and start building relationships, you won't have a career. Opportunity can come out of nowhere and the people you meet on a daily basis may be the next ones to give you the opportunities that will move you forward in your career. And you may be the one that they need. So, don't be shy. You have to own your career.
#3 - Be prepared for the opportunities that will come. Learn everything about an organization, roles, and who the key players are. Look for ways where you can add to or enhance the team or project. Some small opportunities may lead to bigger ones. When I was first starting out in production, I worked with a great producer in Los Angeles. Some of the best advice he ever gave me was this: 'Never say no to a job or opportunity where you don't see the end result. You don't know what will be around the corner.' So true. I'm not saying to say yes to everything (which I will go into detail in my next point); I'm pointing out the value in always being open and always being prepared to leap when you see an opportunity.
#4 - Be selective. This is a tough one, but I find that this is always the strongest result of your calling card as a professional, expert, and worthy individual. Only do things that will advance you, develop your skills, and plug you in with the right people. Not every opportunity is a lost one, however. Everything advances you to the next move, but you need to be able to be objective about the opportunities that may come along which really might not be the right fit. I've learned this lesson and I'm sure you have too. Have no fear - keep plugging along with a sharp mind.
#5 - Get mentors. Good ones. Good mentors are gold. Look for ones who keep challenging you, have been where you are, and have a wealth of knowledge. They must also encourage you on a regular basis. You are never too old for mentors. And I'll bet if you ask someone whom you might not peg as being your mentor, they will say yes. Others love to impart their knowledge and experience. Don't be afraid to ask someone to be your mentor. I would challenge you to think of a few people who you would like to ask to mentor you, and then reach out to them next week. You'll be surprised at how thrilled someone will be to mentor you!
#6 - Be yourself. I know it sounds cliche, but it's vital to paving the way in your career and to finding out who you are to this world. You have a purpose. That purpose is driven by who you are and sticking to your guns. If someone doesn't like who you are, then it isn't the right fit. Never compromise who you are for any opportunity. Your career is your own.
One of the many factors that moved me out to Las Vegas last year was the fact that I knew there would be new opportunities for me. I didn't see them, but I knew they existed. I see daily confirmation that I need to stay the course and forge ahead.
With the mentality of knowing that the right opportunities will present themselves, you can't go wrong.
I hope this helps you on your journey!
Sidebar takeaway (thanks, Dad!):
Nick Mullen played his first game as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers last week. He led the team to a 34 to 3 win over the Oakland Raiders. He was un-drafted from Southern Mississippi and was the 3rd string quarterback for the past two seasons. He got his opportunity this past week to start with the 1st and 2nd string quarterbacks injured. From the outset of joining the 49ers he worked incredibly hard and prepared every week to be ready when his opportunity came. When his opportunity came along he was obviously ready. Here is his comment on how he got to where he is now. Grab your tissues for the first minute or so of this video: