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There’s no such thing as a big break

opinion  Paul Jarvis · Sep 21, 2015

This post was originally published on my now-defunct personal site. It’s been republished here on Fathom as the ideas found within it have informed and inspired our approach to business, privacy and philosophy.

Someone asked me the other day how I got my big break (i.e. the opportunity to work for myself full-time).

I told them, like Santa Claus or unicorns that fart rainbows, I don’t actually think big breaks exist. Sure they sound amazing (who wouldn’t want a farting unicorn?), but they aren’t grounded in reality.

We chase opportunity though. That one thing that’ll change everything. The unexpected call that will make you a household name. That single bit of exposure that’ll draw millions to buy your product so you never have to worry about money again. The influencer who, if they just noticed us, would tell their hordes of raving fans.

What appears to be a big break for other people is really just the result of not knowing the backstory. The actor that won an award who we’d never heard of prior spent a decade learning her craft and making connections. The business person who’s company blew up over night started four companies before that and two of them failed in the first few months. There’s always a backstory and it involves hard work and taking action towards something that may not pay off.

That’s how creative life works. No secret tricks or life hacks you just don’t know yet. No hacks that save you so much time that clocks run in reverse in your presence. It sounds about as sexy as golf pants because it’s just lots of work.

And it also sounds like a horribly dystopian vision of creativity, but I assure you, it’s the opposite. The struggle is where the magic happens. Unknown outcomes drive us to push ourselves beyond our limits to make something not just good but remarkable.

Achievement is never the result of a single action, it’s the build-up of all of our actions. So taking those tiny steps is where the magic exists in reality. Toiling over the work, regardless of how it’s received, is what should light you up like a bonfire on an empty beach.

When we sit around and wait for opportunities to show up, we’re not taking action. Worse, we’re taking the power and control to make great things away from ourselves and giving it to some unknown “big break maker” (who may not even exist).

We can take control though and we know how without hacks, Pinterest quotes or expert blog post round-ups. We just need to do the work that’s in us to do. We just need to keep making what we’re making. To not wait for someone else to tell us it’s ok, or good enough, or launchable, or valid. Yes, it could fail or only be a moderate success, but that’s outside of our control any way.

Want to improve your chances of being in the right place at the right time? Keep doing amazing work, putting it out there and then refining it. Those small but compounding opportunities are much more likely to occur if you’re doing that and not waiting for the phone to ring (who uses the phone anymore any way?). And you’ll be much more ready for them if you put in the work.

We can’t skip over the difficult parts of creating without invalidating the whole process of making things. The sweat, research, trials and failures, dead ends and unknowns are exactly what makes things great.

The process can be enjoyed as much or more than the outcome because otherwise, why bother? If you’re waiting for a big break, you might as well keep waiting for farting unicorns. Instead, if you’re looking to put your best work out into the world, you don’t need a big break to do that. You can start right now by putting in some hard work and giving yourself permission to move forward.

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Paul Jarvis

Paul Jarvis, author + designer

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