Seizing the Opportunity: Career Advice from the Boss

Have you ever noticed the phenomenon of the overnight sensation? Suddenly an actor has a starring role in a blockbuster film and becomes famous. A writer signs a huge contract for a debut novel, and people queue up to buy or borrow it. Or an obscure musician releases a chart-topping album and suddenly you can’t escape their songs on the radio. One thing I’ve noticed more and more is that from the perspective of the artist, these sudden successes aren’t sudden at all. Often they come after years of working and making the right connections that lead to the one big shot. The truth is: Overnight success is a myth.

Of course, we the audience don’t see those years, or even decades, of hard work. From our perspective, fame is sudden and miraculous, even inevitable. Consider the case of Bruce Springsteen, someone so famous that it seems almost impossible to believe that he toiled for years in his local music scene before gaining national recognition. He talks in his memoir, Born to Run, about how overnight success is a function of seizing the right opportunities when they arise:

“You are never completely in control of your career. Events, historical and cultural, create an opportunity; a special song falls into your lap and a window for impact, communication, success, the expansion of your musical vision, opens. It may close as quickly, never to return. You don’t completely get to decide when it’s your time. You may have worked unwaveringly, honestly, all the while–consciously or unconsciously–positioning yourself, but you never really know if your “big” moment will come. Then, for a few, it’s there.” (p. 324)

Even though most of us aren’t ever going to be rock stars or Oscar winners (Springsteen is both), this advice holds true for our careers too. Being successful is often a function of working hard and keeping your eyes open for opportunities. They may arise without warning, and they may feel scary to take. But a calculated risk could bring great career reward.