I had an interesting talk with my six year old twin daughters last night. They've really taken a liking to soccer and we signed them up for a one week camp with the local University Coach. That's not too shabby since he has some National Championships under his belt. This is their stepping stone, their path to high school glory, then a scholarship and then... Whoa, sorry, back from dreamland. The real question the family had was whether the girls should attend the half day camp, or the 9-5 intensive. The girls were insistent that they wanted to do the all day. My wife and I wear leery, but eventually the dream of tired little girls (who actually went to bed at night) won out and they got their all day wish.
Yesterday was their first day at camp and I fear it was a rather rude awakening for them. They were cold. They were tired. They hated that the boys were so much better than them. They wanted to switch to the half day camp. My heart went out to them, but I also knew that it was important for them to finish what they set out to do. So I sat them down and had a long talk, one that I feel I ended up learning just as much from it as they did, if not more.
I told them that I knew exactly how they felt. When I was young I felt the same way. I hated to find out that I was not as naturally gifted at something as I thought. It sucked to find out that something was going to be a LOT of hard work to succeed at. It was hardest of all to find out that someone else was better at something than I was. It was just so much easier to want to stay home and play video games. More importantly, that feeling never goes away. They didn't have to worry about the boys being better than them, that was expected at their age. They just had to wait until fourth grade when girls get their growth spurt and are suddenly the tallest in the class. They didn't have to worry if someone else was better, they just had to concentrate on practicing hard and making sure that they were better today than they were yesterday.
It was then that I realized I was also talking about my screenwriting career. Let's face it. To say this is a tough business would be underselling the point. I think it's even tougher for writers because everyone thinks they can be a writer. It's something we've all done. We might not have acted, but we've written lots of things. Why not a movie? Then we get that first feedback and find out we aren't nearly as good as we think we are. It sucks. It's tough. It's a terrible reality check. It just seems so much easier to play video games than put yourself out there again. It's the same with contests. We all enter with stars in our eyes. We enter "that awesome contest that that other guy won and totally signed with an agent and sold his script so all I have to do is win it and the same thing will happen to me" (whew). Do I even have to tell you that it doesn't work that way?
I talked to my daughters about my career. I asked them how long they think it's taken Dustin and to get to this point. Five years. It's taken us five years of work to get to this point. By work, I mean work. We have so much invested I can't even quantify it. We have personal time invested, human capital, financial capital, marriage capital, friendship capital and the scary capital of the real possibility of finding out for certain that we will never realize our dreams. But we are better today than we were yesterday. We are certainly better than we were five years ago when we opened our first file and wrote "Fade In". Five years from that first page to being invited to attend the Final Draft Awards next week. That's not too shabby. We're thrilled with that time frame.
I also asked my daughters if they knew how many contests Dustin and I entered before we finally won the Industry Insider Contest. Twelve. We entered twelve contests before we won. What would have happened if we quit after that first loss? Or the third? Or the tenth? Would I be sitting in some office cubicle thinking about that time I tried to be a screenwriter and failed? Would I be bitter that the town just couldn't see my talent? Who knows? Who cares? Dustin and I decided to focus on the fact that we got better each time. That eventually we broke through to the quarterfinals of a contest, then the semi's, then the finals, then we finally won. Suddenly the sting of losing, didn't sting so much anymore. Suddenly the hard work wasn't so hard anymore.
So, as I sat and talked with my daughters, and got them excited to attend full day camp, I reflected on the year ahead. I thought about the hard work ahead and the rejection yet to come (and it's coming, it's always coming in this business). I thought about the fact that I might find out that I'm not as good as I think I am. I vowed not to let the fear of rejection, or hard work, let me retreat to the safety of the couch and play video games. The is not a one and done business. You don't write a script, light up the town and sell it for millions. Or, as I would tell the millennials I used to manage, "You don't get hired as the CEO." This is a baby steps industry. Keep moving forward. Keep making sure that you're better today than you were yesterday.