This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse
Show business is a tough nut to crack. At every turn the odds are against you, and while I find the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” to be overly caustic, it is certainly true that at times great contacts trump great work. So, like many talented people I know, I work on both, sometimes spending as much time networking, linking, tweeting, and posting as I do directing, writing, editing, and recording.
As a freelancer, I accept that all this effort is part of the job, and I do it vigorously, partly because the relentless pursuit and achievement of excellence is in my nature, but partly because I believe that helpfulness is a fundamental part of our human nature, and so I am sure that all that excellent work combined with all that networking and linking and tweeting and posting will bring attention my way from people who can help open the doors I need opened to do the work I am meant to do.
It’s nice to have someone hold open a door.
See, people need people for all sorts of reasons, and the truth is that doing a kindness for someone else is at times the most wonderful thing you can do for yourself. It is also just right. It is right and good and human, which is why when a writer asks me to read/edit his script, or an actress asks me to find her a good monologue, or a filmmaker asks for my help with casting or other local resources, I help if I can. I always try to comply, and I almost always do. But here’s the thing: When I cannot, I say so… perhaps regretfully, usually apologetically, but always unequivocally.
In other words, I just say, “No.”
I am sure it is not what the asker wishes to hear; it certainly is not what I wish to say. But I am equally sure that it is better said than not because while I wish – deeply, devoutly, almost desperately – to have someone lend me the kind hand I need to budge open even one of the tightly sealed and rigorously guarded doors I so often find myself running up against in my line of work, the only thing more disappointing and more disheartening to me than not getting that hand is being told I will get it only to have that turn out not to be so. It has happened, more times than I care to recall, and it makes me sad.
I suppose at this point in my life it should be expected. People extend all kinds of offers that they ultimately cannot, or do not, deliver, which is not to say that the intention to deliver isn’t genuine in the first place. In fact, I fully believe that most promises are made with every intention of keeping them. Ultimately, however, it is the fulfillment, not the offer, of a promise that truly matters. It’s like the scene in Seinfeld when Jerry discovers that the rental car he reserved is not actually there for the renting. He explains to the agent that while she may “know how to take the reservation,” she does not “know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation….the holding.”
(When he originally called to ask if he could rent a car, she should have just said, “No.”)
I am not naive, but I do ceaselessly, perhaps foolishly, take people at their word. Every offer to read, attend, introduce, critique, etc, is an offer I bank on, and when the offerer doesn’t deliver,
I am crestfallen. Luckily, I recover quickly. (My faith in humanity is apparently unshakable.) But I would opt for honesty every time. Too busy? I get it. Not up to the task? Glad you told me. Makes you uncomfortable? Understood! I’m a grown-up, and so you can just say, “No.” I’ve heard it before; I expect I will hear it again. That’s okay, because next to saying, “Yes,” it’s the kindest thing you can say.