I remember when I had my epiphany. I was sat slumped on my sofa watching Grey’s Anatomy. It was an episode where Dr. Hunt and the recently demoted Dr. Webber were putting together competing proposals to perform a difficult tumor surgery. While presenting their intentions, acting Chief Shepherd said he felt more comfortable with Hunt’s plan and Webber responded with this:
“He doesn’t have a plan, he has an attitude!”
And, for a brief moment, I stopped stuffing my face with chocolate. This one line stuck with me for days after, led me to rethink my approach to my career, and ultimately caused me to feel a lot better about my situation.
I’m a big fan of plans. I’m a plan man. I’ve found I need plans in my life to get a perspective, to figure out what I need to do, and ultimately reduce stress. Plans are great in that they bring systematic order to what feels like chaos.
But the problem with plans is that they work to a chain of absolutes and we exist in a world of uncertainty. That’s not to say plans are in anyway bad or worse than having an attitude, but I feel it’s important to understand when one may be more suitable than the other. While plans have the benefit of outlining specifics and pre-determining our intent, it’s worth noting how potentially destructive plans can be to our feeling of accomplishment, particularly when those uncontrollable variables work against us.
The established goals of our plans may be in jeopardy from day one, and the likelihood of achieving them can become more daunting as we progress. It’s very easy to stumble and feel a soul-destroying level of personal failure that may kill our career attempt dead, all despite the successes we may have achieved. Having done nothing wrong, we have somehow failed. This is where I believe plans can become more of a problem than a solution.
A Plan is at Mercy to the Odds. An Attitude Defies Them.
I feel strongly that careers cannot be planned in much detail beyond simply choosing what we plan to be, and let’s face it, even that plan often doesn't come to fruition for many. I believe that successful people who think they got to where they are due to a plan are often mistaken, their lives worked out inline with the plan they had. We see far more successful people who never saw their career taking the path it did and they feel serendipity played a critical and fortunate part. One thing all successful people do tend to have in common however, is having had the right attitude at the right time, even when they were told they didn't have the required talent or the experience.
Yes, not having a plan can feel daunting, I know, but we can adopt a mantra to try our best at all times. We cannot have a sure-fire plan to write a great screenplay, but we can have an attitude to work as hard as possible trying. We cannot plan to become an exceptional actor, but we can have an attitude to hone our craft at every opportunity. We cannot plan to have the perfect project in our back pocket for every industry professional we meet, but we can give off an attitude which is confident, ambitious, approachable, and suggests that perfect project is within our capability. We can’t determine the behavior of the universe, but we do have control of ourselves.
We have to accept that we are gambling, and to gamble effectively we need to play the odds over playing ourselves. We cannot approach the table with a plan to walk away with winnings… not unless our tactic involves wearing a balaclava, perhaps. But we can approach with the intent to make every dice roll or card turn count and make every decision as calculated as possible while accepting we may not walk away with a win every time.
And here’s the thing: an attitude can be dynamic. It can deviate to suit our current situation. That’s hard to do with a plan. Sometimes success comes from where we least expect it. How many of us even set off in life with a plan to be a screenwriter? We know our situation changes all the time. The problem with plans is that they feel rigid to us, causing an unfair feeling of failure should we change them. Why punish ourselves like that?
My Attitude Is All about My Values
I’ve felt the frustration of not seeing my plans work out many times. That competition I needed the exposure through, those queries that got passed by those studios I wanted to work with, that script that never connected with the audience I desired. All the hard work suddenly felt worthless and inconsequential, the success of reaching the early steps rendered irrelevant by failing later on.
It was disheartening. I felt like I was standing still while the world moved by. It caused me to question the point of trying and tainted my performance in the meantime. But ditching that planning mind-set and focusing on my attitude… wow, it was like unshackling myself from chains.
Now, every moment has potential, every day has success, and I only have myself to answer to. Do I still have a plan? Sure, I have a very basic one: I plan to become a working screenwriter. But now it doesn’t matter if I don’t make the next round, get a pass, or receive negative feedback. It doesn’t matter because I know I’m trying my best, and I’ll try my best tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that.
And if my best turns out to be lower than my previous expectations? No problem, I’ve learned something important: my expectations, my plans, were unreasonable on myself in the first place.
So what attitude should we adopt? Well, I feel that that’s perhaps very individual, so I’ve chosen focus on four key values:
Honesty not only in how I communicate with others, but in how I communicate with myself. Do I really want to spend today doing what I feel I should
do, or spend it doing what I feel I need
to do? Honesty that causes me to ask myself, “am I trying my best right now?”
Passion that drives me to embrace my craft as best I can. No more beating myself up for not reaching a page count, no more guilt for choosing day-dreaming ideas over typing words. Passion that causes me to connect with others because they can see that I care about this so much.
Charity in the form of always trying to give someone the benefit of the doubt. A mind-set that makes me consider what I can give to others over what they can give to me. An approach focused on motivating and inspiring my peers with the positivity they need.
Kindness, a virtue that makes me and the others around me feel happy and rewarded. And let’s face it, if we fail at everything we try, or luck never comes our way, wouldn’t it still be a remarkable life-time achievement to be remembered as a kind person?
I don’t think this is a high bar to set for ourselves, to begin in each day with the intent to simply live by the values that are important to us and to end it satisfied that we honored them. Sure, there are going to be times we realize we’ve under performed, where we slip-up, or other issues get in the way. But we can hit that reset button at any moment and immediately feel better about our attitude.
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As always, CJ is available for remarks and questions in the Comments section below!