Recently I was asked to speak to a group of undergraduate students about my freelancing job as a writer and editor, answering the usual “How did you get your first project?” and “When did you know you wanted to write?” sort of questions. Those are easy to answer–my first project was for a friend, and I figured out I wanted to write as a career in 2014–but harder to do was create an actionable piece of advice. In the audience were students of diverse backgrounds and work experience. Some were in their 30’s; others were not long out of high school. Some wanted to work in creative fields and others didn’t.
What could I say that might help all of them?
I would be a fool to ignore the role that luck played in me becoming a freelancer. Back in 2014, I was part of a writing group through my local library, and one of the members was self-publishing a book and asked me to look it over with a fresh set of eyes–and bam! There was my first paid job.
Other times, friends and day-job coworkers recommended me by giving my name when someone they knew was looking for a writer or editor. I’ve edited novels, PhD dissertations, and scientific research papers, and I’ve also written website content; nearly every one of those jobs has come through referrals or entirely by chance. I’ve lucked out. A lot.
So what to tell the assembled undergrad students, then? “Hope for some good luck” is awful advice, and even “Do good work” is unhelpful; even though doing good work is necessary to get referrals, to make people want to recommend you, that advice doesn’t help you start out, because you still have to get that first job somehow. You have to convince someone to take a chance on you, and that’s not easy.
But it doesn’t all come down to luck.
Sure, I got lucky when my writing group friend asked me to look over her book, but you know what? In order to meet her, I had to join that writing group. I had to show up regularly to meetings, to get to know her. I had to critique others’ work for each meeting–and critique it well, in order for them to want to hire me outside of the group.
In the same vein, I became the content coordinator for a community magazine almost by accident. I met with the publisher to pitch an article. To the meeting I brought my resume (which listed some poetry and fiction publications) as well as a portfolio of some of my recent work, and I left with a job offer. Sure, luck played a role, but I chose to reach out to the publisher.
I chose to show up not only prepared–maybe even over-prepared. I was willing to take a chance, and that risk paid off.
You can’t wait for luck to come to you; you have to make your own.
Make Your Own Luck
And there was the advice I wanted–“make your own luck.”
It can apply to any field or any undertaking, because no matter what you want to succeed at, you can make your own luck. Want to be a published writer? Make your own luck. Want to grow your business, whatever it is? Make your own luck. Want to break out of your comfort zone and try something new? Make your own luck.
You don’t need four-leaf clovers or a magic spell: showing up is the easiest way to make your own luck. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t need to have ten years’ experience. You don’t even need to have everything figured out. But you do need to show up–and I’m not the only one saying so. Join that writing group. Take that jewelry-making class. Attend a networking lecture or dinner. Learn everything you can while you’re there. Chat with presenters and other attendees. Ask questions.
Whatever you want to do, take one step towards it by showing up–and then do it again. Show up for the next meeting or lecture or event. Do it as often as you reasonably can, because when you get involved by showing up, you’re creating a network for yourself. You’re making connections on a professional level, and you never know what those connections might lead to. It isn’t a waste of time if it doesn’t lead directly to a sale or project; you can always learn something, but that won’t happen if you don’t put yourself out there.
And yes, it’s risky. Sometimes a risk won’t pan out. Writers know this best–sometimes, when you submit a piece you’ve been working on for months, the journal you sent it to rejects it. Maybe you offer your professional services to someone at an event, and they aren’t interested in working together. Maybe you enter a dance showcase and flub the routine.
Scary? Yes. Sucky? Absolutely.
But the end of the world? No.
The second part of making your own luck is recognizing that rejections and failures happen. They’re inevitable, no matter what field or hobby you pursue. Don’t let them stop you from showing up again. Be honest with yourself–maybe you took on something too advanced for your current skill set, or maybe you were pushy with that potential client. Learn something from what happened, and try again next time.
There are lists all over the Internet of celebrities and professionals who failed before they succeeded. You’re not alone in getting rejected or making mistakes; you’re in good company. Take your failures in stride, and remember that messing up is part of learning. There are classes to take and forums to attend, groups to join and an entire Internet’s worth of articles and advice to help you out along the way.
Whatever your end goal, be willing to show up, take risks, and don’t let your failures drag you down. Make your own luck.