I’ve been swamped with video production work, and taking care of business before my trip to New Jersey for a high school reunion, followed by a week in NYC where my wife and I will be seeing four Broadway plays. Even though I’m accustomed to high hotel prices since we live in Hawaii, I was surprised just how much it would cost us to stay in Manhattan (over $2,000 for six nights). Plus, we were paying premium prices for the theater tickets because I figured if we were going all that way, might as well get the best seats possible instead of trying to save a few bucks and sitting further back.
In any event, I should be excited about seeing old friends from NJ and my days in New York, but the truth is I was in a funk the past couple of months. After writing what I felt was some of my best stuff ever, I was disappointed when my screenplays didn’t advance in the big contests. On top of that, I had applied to a Hawaii-based accelerator program that is supposed to help develop local TV and film projects, and thought I had a very good chance to get in. I expected to be one of the chosen few… forgetting a zen saying I keep repeating to myself: When you cease expecting, you have all things.
Easier said than done! I suspect that if you are reading this blog, you are a writer and probably competitive by nature. Why else would you care what another struggling wannabe screenwriter has to say? Rather than dwell on my personal disappointments, however, I would like to share the positives that came out of my latest setbacks. Maybe it will help you deal with future rejections and close-but-no-cigar outcomes. In the past year alone, I’ve had three scripts get a fair amount of attention from producers and managers, who shopped them around — but no deals.
Anyhow, after I got the impersonal losers email about the Hawaii accelerator snub, I sulked a bit. Then I decided to play catch up on my journals. Each day I scrawl a couple of lines in a notebook to summarize highlights or low points of the day, just to keep track of my progress (or lack of it). When something significant happens or I have some down time, I transcribe my jotted notes to my computer journal entries. A funny thing happened though when I started typing up what I’ve been doing the past two months… I saw that I had actually accomplished a lot and should have been happy instead of fretting about what might have been.
For my monthly half-hour Career Changers TV show, which airs daily on Oceanic Time Warner cable in Hawaii, I had gotten to interview two Olympic gold medal ice skating champions (Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano, who had a TV cooking show and remodeling show as well) for a paid gig to produce videos about a benefit show they’re doing to help early childhood literacy programs; a week later, I was doing a story on a company started by a talented singer that offers Storybook princesses and superheroes for customized party packages; a couple of nights after that we were shooting a pro wrestling match for a segment about a local actor who runs the wrestling league while managing a self storage facility during the day; and I produced segments about energy and agriculture-related startup companies that are using innovative approaches to help make our world a greener, better place. At the same time, I was getting calls left and right from companies asking me to produce new videos and commercials for them.
Yet all I could think about was what I didn’t achieve or get because the dream of being a successful writer seems so much more glamorous and rewarding than being a mere video producer or copywriter for local commercials. What’s ironic is that the more productive I’ve become on the local level, the more rich and famous people I’ve gotten to meet and work with… and what I find is even Olympic champions aren’t really all that different than you or I once you get to know them. They put their skates on one at a time, they’re excited to be visiting Hawaii, they talk about the hard work it took them to get where they were. And then after they win the gold medal, they have to find new challenges in life. They look for meaning in what they do instead of resting on their laurels or counting their money.
It reminds me of a trip my wife and I took to Vegas when we were still newlyweds and not experienced gamblers like we are now. She sat down at a slot machine, but had her eye on another machine she really wanted to play. While she was watching the other woman plunking silver dollars into the slot, she bided her time by playing one coin at a time in the machine she didn’t want, just waiting for that woman to finish playing and move on… then my wife looked up and saw she had hit the big jackpot! Except nothing happened. No bells or music, no flashing lights. Turned out to win the big jackpot, you had to play the maximum number of coins: three bucks. Because she was fixated on the other slot machine, she had neglected to read the fine print and missed out on the jackpot right in front of her.
The takeaway is if you’re going to play to win, go all in. But don’t overlook the prize right in front of your eyes because you’re fixated on something that may only be an illusion.