Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Opportunities are Bullshit, Part Two

By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 6, 2013

I’ve been feeling a little bad about the first Opportunities Are Bullshit post a few weeks ago. Particularly after Callie’s wonderful “Nella from France” follow-on.

Butch

As Butch once said, "Just as long as we break even ... "

My post was a bit of a rant, I confess. Ventilation of a pet peeve. I probably overstated the case. So lemme try again.

We all want our stuff to be seen. If we’re singers or actors or website designers, we want our work to find its hour in the sun. So we’re vulnerable to “opportunities.”

What is an “opportunity?” It’s what a producing entity–a website, a seminar, a movie or music producer, a publisher, a conference planner, a teacher with a class, a promoter with a webinar, a journalist with space or air to fill–offers to a creative entity, i.e. you and me.

Here’s the trade-off, as presented to us:

Give me your screenplay for free and I will put it before people who can finance its production.

Give me your pitch/concept/whatever for free and I will put it before my audience who might buy it.

Give me your presence/time/interview for free and I will put you in a place to gain exposure for yourself and your material.

What I’m trying to say is there are opportunities and there are “opportunities.”

Opportunities (without quotation marks) are for real. If we can hit a wide enough audience, find a sweet enough sweet spot, okay. If we can get to work with a friend and possibly help him or her too, then the trade-off is fair. It’s not BS.

But experience teaches: such opportunities are few and far between.

The person I was really ranting at was myself. I hate myself when I listen to that voice in my head that says, “But you need to network, you need to gain awareness. You have to make friends, you have to get out there.”

Yeah, it’s true. Of course it is. But as Frank Oz once said as he turned down one of these, “I’m not an easy lay.  At least not that easy.”

From time to time I have gone on “publicity pushes.” I’ll say yes to everybody. I’ll get “out there” big-time.

It never works.

The needle never budges.

My mistake is picking “opportunities” instead of opportunities.

When Shawn and I started Black Irish Books, we sat down and asked ourselves, “How far do we want to try to take this thing?”

In about six seconds we both said, “Not that far.”

Why did we say this? Because we could already imagine the scenarios of “opportunities.”

Ugh.

We decided that the defining criterion for everything we did would be, “Is it fun?” As soon as something stopped being fun, we would stop doing it.

That means, of course, that we’re not gonna get rich.

That’s okay with us.

From time to time, we get offers to put ads on this blog.

No f*%king way.

There are other “opportunities.” I could take The War of Art on the road. I could pimp the hell out of it, and people would show up. People would pay money.

But then I would have to kill myself.

That’s not the business I’m in, and it’s not the business Shawn’s in. God bless everyone who is in it. They’re doing good and making the world go round. But, for me, sometimes even self-generated “opportunities” are bullshit.

I’m in this business (whatever “this business” means) to work on material that I find interesting and fun (and to not work on anything else), to work with people I like and respect (and to not work with anyone else), and to do it in a way that lets me feel comfortable and true to myself.

I recognize that such strictures do not equate to big bucks. That’s okay with me. I feel about this gig the way Butch Cassidy felt about robbing trains:

“Just as long as we break even … “

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

33 Responses to “Opportunities are Bullshit, Part Two”

  1. February 6, 2013 at 8:09 am

    You nailed it, Steve.

    I wonder how many people are too indoctrinated by the winner-take-all system to hear this.

    Bravo.

  2. February 6, 2013 at 8:21 am

    This post reminds me of a former colleague – a web guru back in the early days of the internet, back when we were all “building the plane while we were flying it.” The days were long, the pressure crazy, but the exhilaration of figuring out how to do what no one had done before was the fuel that kept us going…

    And then, the managers stepped in… wanted the product faster, cheaper, better. We looked at each other and knew. The party was over. The web guru quit. Management offered him more and more money. He kept saying no. They just didn’t get it. He finally told them: “It just isn’t fun anymore.”

    He was my hero then and I vowed to find a way to ensure my financial freedom, which took way longer than I liked. Now, I too am doing what I want. My novel is almost ready for the world and I look forward to setting it sail. Will I try to sell it? Oh, yeah. I have to honor these characters that came to me from the ether and let the world meet them. Pimp them out? Not on your life.

    So many people thought I was nuts when I walked away from a high-paying career for the uncertainty of chasing a dream. Thanks Steve, for reminding me that I am not alone…I am indeed a member of a special tribe.

  3. February 6, 2013 at 8:28 am

    I hear it and I love it! Thank you!

  4. Basilis
    February 6, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Is it fun? seems to be the only question to consider!

  5. February 6, 2013 at 9:10 am

    “Is it fun?” should probably be taped to my computer monitor. Seems to me it’s a good question to ask, not only for life and career decisions (though perhaps it’s the most important question for these), but also for choosing how to proceed with a work-in-progress. Sorting out things like what to write about in the first place, or what obstacle to throw at our hero next. If it ain’t fun for the writer, it probably won’t wow the reader either.

  6. February 6, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I hope the blog never ceases to be fun. Thank you for sharing.

  7. February 6, 2013 at 10:54 am

    “I’m in this business (whatever “this business” means) to work on material that I find interesting and fun (and to not work on anything else), to work with people I like and respect (and to not work with anyone else), and to do it in a way that lets me feel comfortable and true to myself.”

    Words worth quoting and living by. Love it. Thank you, Steve!

  8. February 6, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Good for you Steve and Shawn. Stick with your passion and don’t cash in at the cost of your soul. Do what you want to do and nothing else.

  9. February 6, 2013 at 11:29 am

    “But then I would have to kill myself.”

    Oh do I relate. I pimped the hell out of a book of mine that came out a year or so ago, and although part of it was fun, a lot of it made me feel like I might as well roll over and die. You live and you learn. Thanks for this.

  10. February 6, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Steve, just brilliant. Thanks!

  11. February 6, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Steve

    It maybe mumbo jumbo but one of the Zen koans is: “Who am I?” Your post speaks to that. In my case, I know my best work is rubbed bare of what I hold dear to me the moment I start to brag about it. It may sound awfully egotistical – and certainly for a Brit it probably is – but if the work is any good, people will come to it, and share where appropriate. All I want to do is my best work. If I thought constantly that I had to please that cohort over that cohort then pretty soon the only mistress I would be please is… no one.

    I’m with you all the way.

    Best wishes
    Julian

    PS Please, please don’t take The War of Art on the Road. I would never forgive you.

  12. February 6, 2013 at 11:51 am

    It took me until 50 to really own as a painter exactly what you are layin’ down here Steve. Painting for a market is never going to lead to fulfillment unless making money is your primary source of joy. Taking a stand for my authentic creative self by deciding to only paint when and what makes ME happy – at all times – has been the most liberating choice of my career.

    Your message is hugely resonant, thanks for sharing it!

  13. February 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Steven, your blog today was terrific! Thanks for always making Wednesday a day of opportunity for all your readers.

  14. Kent Faver
    February 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I’m only 12 comments below Seth Godin!? OMG. Seriously – this is really good, and important, and spot on for me today.

  15. February 6, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    You shouldn’t feel bad about that post. I thought it was “spot on.” But then, I love a well-reasoned rant. I understood that the distinction you make here was implicit there.

    “Is it fun?” translates, at least for me, to “is it meaningful?” Many parts of the process are not “fun” – they’re intense, they’re frustrating, they’re fear (Resistance) inducing, I become obsessive, grouchy – but I wouldn’t trade what it takes to come up with a line of poetry or the right character dialogue for anything. It can’t be fun if you don’t Do The Work (plug for a great book).

    And in response to Seth Godin’s comment (hi, Seth!) – or rather his rhetorical question – anyone who doesn’t get it, anyone who substitutes a gold card for a gold heart, anyone who sees “success” as the goal rather than the (almost incidental) result. But you knew that.

    Thanks, as always.

    • February 6, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      I agree, he shouldn’t feel bad about that post! It was a wake up call to those of us who might be slumbering as we agree to “opportunities.”

  16. February 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Excellent post Steve

  17. February 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    When I read OAB Part 1 a dam broke of everything I wanted to say about the Opportunity BS Industry, but even thinking about it put me in such a rage that I passed. Now that you’ve clarified your position (although I totally got it in Part 1), and the vitriol it brought up has tempered, I would like to share my thoughts on the dreadful business end of creative entrepreneurship.

    I wish I could have all the time and money back I used to invest in the Opportunity BS Industry. More than the money I spent attending networking events, self-promotion workshops, marketing seminars, buying every book written about all of the above, I wish I had the wasted youthful (30s and 40s) energy back that was spent on all of that charlatan crap.

    I know, I know, those experiences taught me what matters most is that I learned that my creative life is my life’s work and it needs no promotion. Just as water seeks its own level, my “work” always has and always will find its audience. My best time and energy need always be reserved, preserved and conserved for the work itself.

    Back in the days when telemarketing for long distance service was at an all time high, especially MCI (whatever happened to them?), and I’d answer the phone to hear about how much money I would save with their service, I’d politely say, “I’m not motivated by money.” After a stunned silence the telemarketer would return to the script and just keep going. I’d quietly interrupt and say again, a little more firmly, “I’m not motivated by money.” And the call would end.

    I’ve made, spent, lost, and mismanaged lots of money over the years, but always while loving the work I do, and ONLY doing work I love. And it’s been a kick in the ass, too. I can’t imagine any other way to live and work. Opportunity BS Industry be damned.

  18. February 6, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    The opportunity to read Pressfield quote Goldman is one I hope never to pass up. For that I’m way ahead of breaking even. In fact I feel invited to stick around (card game during intro of Butch & Sundance.)

  19. February 6, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Today, I needed this reminder. Thank you.

  20. February 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    I’m breaking even. I embraced the opportunity and I work for only myself, no one else anymore. I’ll mark four years in April, since I took the leap/got the pushed off the cliff, in pursuing fiction writing full-time and I’m learning to fly. It’s not pretty, but it’s rewarding. I loved your first piece about this. I love this one. Thank you.

  21. February 6, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    thought-provoking piece. i agree with much of what you say here. however, i’ve not reached the point where i equate these values with ‘not making the big bucks’. it’s possible i’m naive. the Truth remains to be seen.

  22. February 6, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    As a writer, I love this post. As a radio talk show host, may I offer another perspective?

    The only thing I ever promise my guests — many, if not most, of them authors — is a good time. Lots of them want to appear on the show again and again not because it “moves the needle,” as you put it — but because sparkling conversation about something that matters is an art form, too.

    It’s flattering to have someone say, “Please, tell me more.” It’s thrilling to find guests who make me want to invite that. To engage in what Seth calls slow media (and yes, there are some commercial radio stations that do).

    It’s a good metaphor for life. Be in it for the thing itself — the writing, the conversation, whatever — and not for some other reward that may or may not happen, and was always beside the point.

  23. February 6, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you, thank you for this article. I was once asked to create a range of videos for a client’s business in exchange for coffee, because the client would then ‘promote’ me to her other clients. It was an ‘opportunity’. I said no, but felt bad after. I have taken so many ‘opportunities’ because the guilt of not taking them is almost head to head with the pain I feel while working on these ‘opportunities’.

    I have since learnt to say no, and while some guilt still lingers, the joy I get out of working on projects that I want to work on, and also on getting paid a fair fee is much greater.

    “to work with people I like and respect (and to not work with anyone else)”

    This quote is the one that gets me the most. I’m so tired of people working with others only because ‘they have to’ or because it’ll bring them more cash even though they know they don’t like the person.

    Again, thank you :)

  24. February 6, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Steven, yes, you ran me off after the first rant. I started out in this biz as a literary poet and novelist. You see rants like that almost every week in literary mags. I was shocked to see something like that from you. Not because I know you. I don’t. I found you through Seth’s blog. But it shocked me because you run a publishing company. Yes, it’s small press. But still you don’t want to run it at a loss. That’s no fun.

    As for doing interviews, blog talk radio, etc., for free, that’s part of the PR every author does. You know as well as I do YOU are the one who makes those work for you profitably by posting the links on your website so your fans and prospects can read or hear them and buy your books. We never expect the people who interview us to be the ones to sell books for us. That’s our job.

    This is a very exciting time to be a small press publisher. The book business and old model has finally crashed and burned. The mass market has dissolved into thousands of micro markets. Or you can create your own micro market for your niche. Talk about fun!! Yeah, writing books is fun. But so is carving out a successful niche for your books by making the most of the opportunities that come your way. And what about your fans? Getting to know them, networking with them is great fun, too.

    It’s wise to streamline your workload to what you enjoy and can handle in the waking hours of each day. But don’t dismiss all the opportunities that come your way because they seem too small. Many contain hidden treasure when you add your marketing experience and magic to them.

    Best wishes to you!’

  25. Joe Tribby
    February 6, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Im glad you can keep that..presence of mind.. maybe, to know the difference between opportunities and “opportunities”, and to remind/show some of us that light. This does after all help us remain true to the Muse, our angels. And, as another of my ’semi-idols’ (big wave surfer Laird Hamilton) puts it: “If you cut corners in your integrity, it doesn’t matter how many trophies you’ve got stuffed into your case.”

  26. February 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Mr. Pressfield, thanks for sharing this post with us. I sure admire your work. About three years ago, I made a request to interview you for a show I was doing called men@pause.

    I am a former Army SF officer and we traded a brief war story or two as you were in the midst of writing about the SOCOM community. I wanted you to know that I always appreciate you doing that interview with me during a busy time for you.

  27. February 7, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Oh my God, there is so much life, so much life to be lived in-between all that damn clammy schmoozing! How Schmoozing kills the very genuine meeting you may be having with a fellow human being. There is no time to really take in the majesty of their features, their animation, their simpering desires. It wipes off the flesh of sweetness.
    I am an actress/singer/writer and know well about the damn schmoozing machine, the Gila monster net-worker.
    Damn it to hell all of it. All my best work came by surprise, chance, tuning in to the muses, praying, and sharing with my fellow artists. The push and hard shoves ended in humiliating instances I prefer to forget. Thank you Steve, really. This is good. Everything is changing! This is part of the big wheel. Some of the spokes must be broken and replaced. Across the broad spectrum of life, such as commerce, value, product, exchange–everybody gets to win!

  28. February 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Warren Buffet once said that there are three rules of doing business with others (none of which should be broken)

    If you don’t like them
    If you don’t trust them
    If you don’t respect them

    then don’t do business with them

    I think the same kind of rule applies when dealing with so called “opportunity”

    If you don’t like it
    If you don’t trust it
    If you don’t respect yourself for doing it

    Then don’t do business with it … otherwise you end up selling your soul!

    Thanks Steve

    Always great to read your posts

    Gary

  29. February 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Oh my – had one of those “opportunities” present itself last week. I was moving towards “capitalizing” on said “opportunity” but I sat back long enough to actually listen to that little voice screaming “NOOOOOOO…..” It would have been BS indeed, and it gave me the opportunity to move in the direction that’s best for me. Thanks for the additional validation, Steve!

  30. February 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Yes! I couldn’t agree with you more, Steven. I always say, between 1-10 (10 being the most fun), if it’s under an 8 for me, I won’t do it. Life is just too short. The better I feel, the more fabulous opportunities find me, and the more fun I have. It’s a beautiful cycle.

  31. February 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I love this post. Brilliant. YES.
    xo,
    V

  32. February 15, 2013 at 3:39 am

    Love this post and agree with your thoughts on “opportunities.” However, would definitely disagree with your conclusion that working on things that inspire you with people you like doesn’t lead to big bucks. Actually,I think that’s the exact path to prosperity.

    -RG