don't wait to be picked title image showing benches on a boardwalk

Think about a goal in your life.

Have you achieved it yet?

If not, what’s your plan? Does it involve your efforts getting recognized by someone else or getting “discovered”?

Are you waiting to be picked?

It’s no surprise. From an early age we’re taught to seek external validation:

  • Our grades in school…
  • Sports teams…
  • Internships…
  • Jobs…
  • Promotions…

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this. Having outside standards to measure ourselves against and receiving input is critical.

But if we’re not careful, we can develop the habit of WAITING for recognition…confirmation…permission to proceed….

We become passive.

We think: if we just keep working within the system, plodding along the path, then when we’re ready–when we’re worthy–we’ll be rewarded…with our dream job, our dream spouse, or whatever it is we’re after.

But history shows that success and fulfillment rarely come to those who wait to be picked. The inspiring stories below show 3 ways you can create opportunity for yourself if you have a burning desire to succeed:

1. Find a Real Need and Deliver Undeniable Value

Seth Godin pullquote: Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved...then opportunities to contribute abound.In the late 1980’s, a young college graduate tried to get a job at ABC News. It was an entry-level job answering phones, but ultimately he wanted to become a full-fledged reporter. Unfortunately, he was turned down by ABC.

Rather than be discouraged, he found another way to get this foot in the door of on-air reporting.

At the time, he was working as a fact-checker in a small news agency called Channel One, which made educational programs for junior high and high school students in the U.S. With the help of a friend, he made a fake press pass and traveled to Myanmar on his own to meet with students fighting the Burmese government.
Because there was a demand for “on the ground” reporting, he was able to sell his homemade news segments to Channel One. After returning from Myanmar, he convinced them to send him to Vietnam with a camera for a real on-air assignment.

After a few more years of experience under his belt, in 1995, he finally got a job at ABC as a correspondent. From there his career continued to blossom.

Today, Anderson Cooper is one of the most famous news anchors in the U.S. But it all started because, even when ABC wouldn’t give him a job, he made his own way. He saw a genuine need for high-quality stories from the front lines, and he went out and did the work.

He didn’t need a title or a salary to provide value as a journalist–he had everything he needed. As marketing guru Seth Godin said, “Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.”

Anderson Cooper live new reporting in 1993

Young Anderson Cooper Reporting

2. Consistently Show Up and Fake it ‘Til You Become It

At the age of 17, a young film student got an internship at Universal through a family friend who was an editorial executive there. The only issue was that his internship was “unofficial” and didn’t give him access to the studio lot.

But since he was determined to learn first-hand from the pros, the film student snuck into the lot every day to meet new people in different departments.

No matter how many times he was thrown off the lot, his determination to learn and network paid off.

He filmed a 26-minute short called Amblin’, and ultimately through his connections, was able to get the reel in front of Universal executives. They were so impressed, they offered him a seven-year contract, and he became the youngest director ever hired by the studio.

That young film student, later got his biggest break when he filmed the movie Jaws. After that, Steven Spielberg went on to literally make movie history, directing some of the biggest cinematic blockbusters of our generation.

Steven Spielberg playing with robotic shark on jaws set circa 1974

Steven Spielberg playing with the robotic shark on the Jaws set, 1974

Cynics might argue that his family connection was responsible for his early success. But I think the biggest factor was his dogged insistence on showing up (rather, sneaking in) every day to rub shoulders with anyone he could learn from at Universal. Even before he was officially hired, he was already working in the movie business–or at least faking it, until he made it.

3. Start Before You are Ready and Make Failure Your Ally

Richard Branson and then girlfriend starting Student MagazineIn 1966, a dyslexic high school dropout started a student magazine with a friend, and begin selling advertising to local businesses. Without a real office, they operated out of a crypt in the local church.

Four years later he started selling mail order records to students who bought the magazine. After a couple years of selling records, he decided to open his own record label. Within the next 10 years, the label had added big-time acts like Culture Club, Sex Pistols, and the Rolling Stones.

You’d think that would be enough ambition for one person. But then, on a whim, this former high school dropout started an airline.

The story goes that he was trying to get to the British Virgin Islands, but his flight was canceled. Even though he couldn’t really afford it, he chartered a plane. As a joke, he wrote on a blackboard, “Virgin Airlines, $39 one way to BVI.” He went around to all the passengers from the canceled flight and filled up the chartered plane.

Not everything Sir Richard Branson has done has been a success. In fact, this article details 14 Virgin companies that have failed. But his consistent mantra of “screw it, just do it” gave him the momentum to build one of the most recognizable brands in the world with close to 100 companies under the Virgin umbrella.

Could he have done all that if he waited until he felt ready? Not a chance.

As James Clear wrote:

Branson has started so many businesses, ventures, charities, and expeditions that it’s simply not possible for him to have felt prepared, qualified, and ready to start all of them. In fact, it’s unlikely that he was qualified or prepared to start any of them.”

But it’s not blind luck and determination that has set Branson apart. It is his habit of using failure as a tool to learn and propel himself forward:

Over the years, my team and I have not let mistakes, failures or mishaps get us down. Instead, even when a venture has failed, we try to look for opportunities, to see whether we can capitalize on another gap in the market.”

“After all,” said Branson, “Business opportunities are like buses. There’s always another one coming along.”

Conclusion: You Have Permission to Pick Yourself

As these stories show, great men don’t just sit and wait for success to happen. They don’t wait for permission or validation. They don’t wait for opportunities to be handed to them.

They never wait to be picked. Because they make a habit of picking themselves.

Now, back to your goals. What are you waiting for? You have all the permission you need. How will you pick yourself?

If you have something you want to accomplish–no matter how small–make a public commitment right now about what you’re going to do. Leave a note in the comments below and start today.

Big thanks to Jeff Goins, whose article originally inspired me to write this. And to Seth Godin for giving Jeff his initial inspiration on the topic.

Credit: The Distilled Man

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