Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"What It Takes"

Arianna Huffington first came to prominence as the wife of Michael Huffington, a Republican candidate for the United States Senate.  At that time, Arianna publicly espoused her husband’s conservative beliefs, among them, as reported in Wikipedia, “smaller government and a reduction in welfare.”

Huffington lost his senatorial bid to Dianne Feinstein, and he dropped out of the political arena.  He subsequently announced that he was gay. 

Shortly thereafter, a divorced Arianna Huffington resurfaced, now rebranded as a liberal.  The way I viewed it, an epiphany had taken place.  It was like she said,

“I have discovered two things recently.  My husband likes men.  And I like poor people.”

To my, arguably hypersensitive though I would call principled nostrils, Arianna’s transformation reeked of opportunism.  And I didn’t care for it.  On the two occasions where we found ourselves in the same room, I opted not to interact. 

Arianna is now rich and important, having sold her website The Huffington Post to AOL for a reported $315 million.  It is possible I may have made a mistake.

Recently, I was conversing with a person who was arguing that, though there are a multiplicity of factors involved, the fundamental key to success is “Who you know.”  I reflexively bristled internally over this observation, and a little externally as well, though I tried hard to keep things friendly.  While whole-heartily concurring with the “multiplicity of factors” preamble, I believe the fundamental key to success is “talent.”

Why do I believe that?

Because I have talent.

And this is a comforting thing for a person with talent to believe.

Additionally, my success trajectory, such as it was, had very little to do with “Who I knew.”

It is true that this factor was not entirely absent.  I knew Lorne Michaels, and he got me to California and provided me with my earliest jobs.  But this was thirty-seven years ago; Lorne was a long way from the “Mr. Show Business” he is today.  In those days, he was a struggling producer, looking to make his mark. 

In my view, we helped each other.  Lorne helped me by hiring me; I helped him by doing good work on his shows.  Whether those contributions are of equal value, I will leave for others to determine.  But it was hardly a one-way street. 

Struggling to get The Huffington Post on the map, Arianna Huffington took full advantage of “Whom she knew.”  In its infancy, as what an L.A. Times columnist called “online salon”, Arianna recruited the services of such luminaries as Walter Cronkite, Norman Mailer, Nora Ephron and former Senator Gary Hart, connections she had accumulated over the years, including, I would imagine, her conservative years. 

Since Arianna has no dominating abilities, it is hardly a stretch to assert that “Whom she knew” played a determining role in her rise to the top.

What are we to learn from these ramblings?

What we can learn is that, when discussing the attributes required to get you to where you’re aspiring to go,

It takes all kinds.

And you use what you got.

Of course, when it comes to the tools for “making it”, the list runs considerably longer than “talent” and “Who you know.” There’s “hard work.”  There’s “mastering your craft.”  There’s “mining the lessons the ‘success stories of the past’.”  There’s “patience.”  There’s “perseverance.”  There’s “confidence.”  As well as that elusive element beyond anyone’s control “Timing.” 

Let me humbly suggest, however, that, despite the variety of paths to glory, there is one common denominator all achievers must possess in uncountable amounts.  That attribute, my friends, is…

Wanting it.

More than anything,

That’s what it takes.


Karen said...

I would have agreed ten years ago. I know that's how I made it from a small town in Virginia to success in show biz. However, now that I am "a certain age" I find that the same amount of talent and the same amount of wanting it do not really help. Neither does a killer resume. I guess the good news is that who you know doesn't work either.

Mac said...

I take your point, for me it's a case of what you have to do. I've had varying degrees of moderate success to utter disaster, but I came to the conclusion a while ago that your vocation chooses you - there's nothing else I could do with any conviction. I know if I made a career change, somewhere along the way, I'd lose interest in it and have to admit it was a mistake.
When it works it's the best job in the world. When it doesn't work, I just have to keep telling myself that sometimes it does.

Max Clarke said...

What's it take for success? Frasier Crane maybe put it best:

"The Crane Family is no stranger to hard work. I'll have you know when my ancestors first came to this country, they had nothing but strong backs, a dream of freedom, and a small personal fortune."