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A Little Tap Can Reveal Your Big Break

Posted on April 27, 2007

By Joel Zuckerman

A writing colleague once disparaged another member of our profession as something of a hack.  I was confused, as the barb target had recently left his editor’s post at a high profile national magazine.  How could a guy in that lofty position be such a hack?  “You know, Joel,” explained my flame-throwing colleague condescendingly, “half of life is being on the right street corner at the right time.”

According to this seemingly embittered fellow, career success is predicated to a large extent on luck. But I don’t buy it, and have an illustrating anecdote to make my point.

The book I’m currently writing about famous golf architect Pete Dye could be one of the biggest golf books of 2008. Don’t think that the “golf” qualification minimizes the project; there are more than a hundred major golf tomes published annually. I got the job because I called Pete’s eldest son, Perry Dye, an acclaimed architect in his own right, to ask him for his opinion and assistance in another, totally unrelated writing matter. We got to chatting, and he asked me about my recent projects. I told him that his dad had been kind enough to contribute the foreword to my last book, which was about Charleston, South Carolina. Perry asked me to send him a copy, and called me a few weeks later to say he enjoyed the book. He then asked if I wanted to tackle the definitive book on his dad—a project that has become a New York-published, full-color, 300-page, expensive coffee-table book on Pete Dye’s greatest courses around the world. It was the offer of a lifetime (so far). And I accepted instantly.

When my aforementioned cynical colleague meanders into the local Barnes & Noble sometime in the autumn of 2008, sees this major book on display with my name on the cover, I suppose he’ll be thinking something to the effect of: “That Joel.  He must’ve been on the right street corner at the right time.” 

Well, I would say to him that I put myself on that street corner. I called Perry Dye looking for assistance in a separate matter. He noticed a spark, liked my attitude or whatever, and, based on a gut instinct, quite quickly offered me a project that any one of a thousand golf or sports writers in this country would love to have, many of them who have been writing for far longer than I.

It was the Roman philosopher Seneca who said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  When my luck appeared, I was prepared for the opportunity; I wasn’t afraid to reach for the proverbial brass ring, just by striking up conversation beyond the immediate need I had.

Life is full of negative types like my writing colleague. These naysayers are at best complacent, often dissatisfied in their own life, and are happiest if everyone in their orbit fits neatly into their view of the world. Meeting planners, because of the dynamic nature of their profession, often deal with difficult people. It might be a planning colleague who, lacking his own ambition, cautions against pitching that major new account, or that Fortune 500 corporation. It’s often the impossible-to-please client, the unreachable hotel manager, the hard-to-pin-down restaurateur.

The important thing to remember is that you can do it. It’s part luck, but luck comes from pluck. The only person who can derail your ambition is you.


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Joan Eisenstodt

It IS being on the 'right street corner at the right time' AND paying attention, continuing the metaphor, to the traffic lights. Instead of seeing 'red', see 'green.' For example - years ago, I had begun conducting hospitality industry training sessions. Tony Rutigliano, then E-i-C at Meeting News, asked me to write a column. I said I didn't know how - and he said "You train - you can write it." I did it. Another: I chaired a major cmte. for a professional assn. One of those on the cmte. was the ED of another assn. He called to ask me to conduct focus groups for his assn. - I said .. I hadn't done that. He said "You run the best cmte. meetings I've ever attended; you can and I want you." The rest is history - I began on a new branch of my career. Yes.. be prepared for the next step and watch for the green lights.

Donna Primas

I enjoyed this article as I too am a firm beleiver that we largely influence the "luck" we receive. What I have been struggling with is a way to teach others to be able to "see/read the street lights" as Joan put it. Too often I have witnessed the behavior of people who "have on blinders" or "shoot themselves in the foot" before they get started on the right path. The "traffic signals" have usually been quite clear to me, but I have been developing material to try to teach others this skill which I think is part common sense, part business sense. (I am teaching the class for the first time tomorrow night, 5/2!)

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