“You Make Your Own Luck” or On Opportunity

My wife was watching Master Chef Junior Finale on Hulu recently.  While what caught my attention initially was the complexity of the dishes they were serving.  The contestants (aged 12-13) served up the following meals for the finale:

Contestant 1: Ahi tuna cooked two ways (poke and seared), fried spot prawns with wontons and a coconut curry and poached pear in lemon ginger miso sauce.

Contestant 2: Basil lemon shrimp with an heirloom tomato crostini, pan-seared veal chop with potato gnocchi and butter sauce and a deconstructed cannoli.)

what really stuck with me was what wasn’t said in the episode.

When presented with the prospect of winning a trophy and a $100,000 prize, not one contestant or parent said, “I need to win this.  $100,000 is a life changing amount of money.”

There’s a reason for that.

No matter how many times you watch something, you can’t learn a technique until you actually apply it.  Even if you sit with a timer and do everything in a step by step process, you need to do it multiple times to make it work.

So how does a 12-year old make beef sliders with black garlic aioli, beef wellington, prosciutto-wrapped chicken roulade with goat cheese, soufflés or any of the dishes above?

They do it by doing it over and over again and if your child is cooking every recipe in your lavish coffee table book of recipes, then they’ll also need to have access to fresh produce and very expensive ingredients.  In other words, if you can afford to spend an extra couple of hundred dollars a week to support Jane or Jimmy’s cooking interest, then an extra 100K might not mean all that much to you.  Coming from where I did, I had an initial knee jerk reaction to that.

Another Upstate NY story?

A little back story here, I grew up in a middle class home.  My dad taught in a public school and my mom worked at Beech-Nut.  We were never in danger of starving, but we didn’t take lavish vacations either.  When my dad had summers off he did things like install pools for other people or took on other jobs to make ends meet.

One thing that growing up in a place like Fort Plain taught you was that there were haves, have-mores and have-lesses and that while you might not have what the have-mores had, that you learned to make due with what you had access to, you were thankful for what you had and you reached a hand out to the have-nots.

It also teaches you a certain level of self sufficiency.  It wasn’t that long ago that buying music meant driving somewhere because there wasn’t an internet to buy it on.  When I tell people that buying a cd (or a cassette – some of you may have to google that term), required driving an hour each way to Albany or Schenectady – they don’t believe me – but it’s true.

I realize now that while it was inconvenient, there was something that came from that process.  There was an excitement about having to go somewhere and finding something, and while it lead to some BITTER disappointments, it also lead to some amazing finds.  Those recordings had other associations linked with it that went beyond just the music (for a related post on you may want to check out this post on my other site).

Now back to our previously scheduled program

Looking at those Master Chef kids, it can be easy to get bitter about success because it’s easy to look at other people utilizing the advantages that they’ve been given and capitalizing on them.

The deeper lesson is that for those people who don’t fall into the “have more” category, you have to make your own opportunity.

I worked at an Ames department store in high school.  I knew I didn’t want to do that the rest of my life so I applied for music school.   It took a lot of sweat, blood and tears to get in (and get through it).

It would have been easier to have just stayed at the Ames store and keep working and earning a small but consistent paycheck, but instead having no opportunity at the time, I made my own.

The first observation I’d make about opportunity is that most people have to make their own opportunities, but the second part is that the work and effort you put into your opportunities will yield other opportunities.

I got the God of War gig because I went to music school, knew one of the composers and had the skill set (and the instruments) that he needed for the score.  There were a lot of missteps along the way to that.  There was no easy linear path or a plan to get there, there was just the work and the drive to get better at what I did.  This (unknowingly) became the preparation I’d need for that and many other experiences.

Since anything involving a list, typically drives more traffic here’s a brief synopsis of this post (with related material from other posts I’ve put up).

  • When you start off in anything, you make your own opportunities.
  • Many times, these opportunities will not meet your expectations, but that shouldn’t stop you. (Funny fact, MANY of the artists I know with impressive resumes spend years filtering out the points that look good on paper (like an exclusive gallery opening), but bombed as events (i.e. no one came, or it was poorly reviewed) with the events that were deemed “successful”.)  Yoki Matsuoka may be a MacArthur winner now, but when I met her we were both working at a small robotics firm in Cambridge, Mass, and I didn’t see that job listed in any of the press materials that she’s listed in).
  • In other words, stumbling and failure is a given on the road to other opportunities.  Don’t freak out about it.  Just do the best work that you can every single time and take stock of what worked and what didn’t.
  • Review, Revise and Repeat.  The key is to keep improving on what you do until you become the go-to person in whatever you do.
  • Always be on the look out and look for the deeper lesson.  If you see someone doing something successfully, bring it back to you.  Ask, “How could I use that to (insert whatever short or long term goal you’re trying to achieve here.)?”
  • Always be ready.  You never know when the next opportunity is going to present itself to you, so you should always be at the top of your game so that when the opportunity arises you can take advantage of it.

There’s a great story behind the Emmylou Harris/Spyboy recording and tour.  She wanted to use drummer Brian Blade for the session but Brian wasn’t available, so Brian recommended his brother Brady.  They gave Brady the call and he hadn’t played in a while, so he was out of practice.  He ended up pulling it out and did some amazing playing on the cd and tour.  This is excerpted from his Wikipedia entry,

Early 1995 saw Emmylou Harris persuade Brady to return to his kit as part of her touring band Spyboy, along with Daniel Lanois and Darryl Johnson. The following year they were joined by Buddy Millerand toured throughout the mid-nineties, culminating in a live album Spyboy, released in 1998.Touring the world with Emmylou Harris led Brady to encounter and be seen by some of the key figures in the American music scene which resulted in Brady becoming one of the most in-demand session drummers around. Brady took part in extensive tours and sessions with the Steve Earle during his El Corazón period; Jewel throughout her 1998 Spirit world tour; and the Indigo Girls on their 1999 album Come on Now Social, 2002’s Become You, 2004’s All That We Let In, and 2011’s Beauty Queen Sister.”


Brady Blade is the exception to the rule.  Most other people would have gotten the call and if they weren’t ready, the call would just go to the next person on the list.  Don’t be the person who misses the call because they dropped the ball.

  • Finally, you’re never 100% ready so jump in and make the most of what you got.  The final thing about opportunities is that when they are presented, they often seem to be something that’s over your head.  Within reason, don’t be afraid to step up.  If you don’t read music and don’t play classical guitar style, and you get a call to play Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with a full orchestra tomorrow because the guitarist dropped out, that might not work out for you but if you get a call to play classical style for an art opening it might be worth your time to pull some material together.

Everyone starts from humble beginnings, and some of us return often and have to build up from square 1 or 2.  Trust me, it gets easier the more you do it.  The main thing is to keep plugging away in the meantime and doing the best you can do in the meantime.

As always, thanks for reading!


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