There are two sides to any art: mastering it and communicating it.
One skill set is basically irrelevant without the other. You may be the best in the world at what you do, but if nobody knows it then what’s the point? Likewise, you may be able to sell a sack of shit, but if that shit isn’t grade A you’re not going to get very far. Being the best is not good enough– you have to be able to make us believe it too.
While I wouldn’t say that learning the art itself is the easy part, it is what most people tend to focus on. In any given art there will be far more people who are proficient at it than there are available spaces for. There is only a certain amount of slots at the feeding troth for those who wish to make their art their living, and once you get up to a certain level everybody is going to be exceptional. Skill alone is not enough.
Those that make it are not only those who are able to produce the goods, but those who are able to communicate what they do, who are able to make right connections, who are able to make people believe that they are among the best — those who are well liked and offer something to the people around them that goes beyond the art that they’ve mastered.
It’s that something else that gets you there.
You may call this superficial, and you may be right, but it’s this superficial element that is incredibly difficult to master — it’s an art in and of itself.
It’s the same game in journalism, music, academia, painting, architecture, urban design, running a start-up, sports– pretty much any sought after profession where the row of cows is far longer than the trough.
When I got my first book deal I was confident that I was able to do the art — actually writing the book. What I was less sure of was the other side of the profession: being able to sell it (i.e. being able to sell myself).
I am incredibly lucky because when I began this venture I was so incredibly bad at communicating that I had to approach it like an entirely new mission, like I was going to have to learn something incredibly complex from the ground up. By viewing this as something difficult it became something interesting, and, in a way, fun — an entirely new art to learn and master.
It was just another game to play: let’s see how far I can get.
While it’s not all about who you know, it is half the game.