Every so often we hear about a prodigy in the world. Someone who despite their young age has accomplished something great. Sometimes this really is an incredible feat and other times it’s just a young person who got lucky and made it into the spotlight for doing something that countless other youth have also been doing.
Why do we emphasize the youth so much? Why does it matter if they are only 17 or 23 or 30 years old? We already know young people have a lot of energy and they are open minded about new things. They also tend to be wide eyed and optimistic about the world. Not yet jaded by the daily grind of the workforce. So it really should be no surprise that every year at least a handful of young people will pop into stardom for something. Especially considering the population as a whole on this planet.
This really bothered me personally and I’m sure I’m not alone. I grew up thinking that by the time I reached my college age I’d be a Hollywood director. I had friends that probably assumed that by that age they would be touring the world selling out stadiums on rock tours. It doesn’t matter what the dream career is.
In my mind I had set a goal for myself of age 23. That was the age that two of my heros (Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Robert Rodriguez the film director) had “made it” to the big time. I knew, I just knew in the core of my very being that I was going to make it too.I was so sure it wasn’t even a question of “if” but “when.”
But here I am now at age 35 writing this article. Obviously I didn’t make. So what went wrong? A lot of things. Too many to bore you with all the details and that’s just my own personal faults that I can now look back on and realize I wasn’t ready as an individual. Even if I had gotten a studio contract by age 23 I probably would have burnt out quickly, because among many other things I wasn’t mature enough at the time.
Personal faults aside, there are other factors at play. Was I in tune with pop culture at the time? Was I in the right place? Did I know the right people? Did I get lucky? The answer to all of those is obviously no. Making it involves more than just talent, which is hard enough to have on its own. There are so many other X factors that you can’t control. Even if you have talent and you’re a hard worker that doesn’t mean you’ll make it. You pretty much just have to get lucky. What people call a break. Getting that lucky break is like winning the lottery. There are only a smaller number that do it when you factor in the population as a whole. Believing in all your heart that you will be one them is about the same as buying a lottery ticket and believing in all your heart you are going to win it. It’s just not likely. That doesn’t mean you need to be pessamistic, just realistic. There is a difference.
For years after age 23 I beat myself up about not making it. I set new age goals and looked for new role models who had made it when they were older. It wasn’t until my thrities that it dawned on me, age doesn’t matter. That lucky break can come at age 17 or age 67. It’s ultimately out of your control so stop looking for it. Focus on your work, your passion.
We as a culture tend to celebrate these youthful people with amazement even moreso than we do older people who make it. But there really isn’t anything more special about the younger people than the older people. We also tend to forget that a lot of these younger so called “prodigies” have a lot of support from industry professionals who have many years of experience. It is a team effort with a single youthful face and name as the figurehead. But there are a lot of older hard working unknown people behind the scenes propping them up.
So what is the take away here? Don’t fret. If you don’t “make it” by a certain age, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean you aren’t talented, it just means you are like the rest of us, you lack popularity. That’s really all that “making it” is, it’s a popularity content where some people get lucky and become popular and others don’t. With greater popularity comes greater opportunity. Which can lead to more money, bigger projects and greater fame. That’s all true. But that doesn’t mean that what you do now isn’t important or valuable. If you keep doing it and focus on that, who knows, maybe your big break will still come. Just don’t focus on it. Focus on the work you do. When and if you’re ever discovered, you’ll be able to walk into that spotlight with more experience, wisdom and a bigger catelog of work than you would have had in your youth.
So what about myself? I’m a lot more realistic these days. For me “making it” today is about buying a house, eventually being my own boss and having some money for toys(cameras), vacations and security in case things get rough. Not so much the red carpet walk at the Oscars (which by the way are tonight). I haven’t given up, I’ve just decided that it’s more important for me to focus on making things than making it. :)