Most of my work lately– both the non-fiction you see now and the fiction you’ll read in the future– is about turning an awesome idea into an awesome reality. That’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do in life. Everyone has good ideas, whether or not they realize it. Frequently, though, those ideas will never leave your head or your diary or that conversation you had with a friend at 2 a.m. I want to know how people make things happen. The answers, overwhelmingly, have nothing to do with luck.
Luck, fate and destiny are a bunch of bullshit. I realized that for the first time this morning. Maybe I knew it for a while. After all, my mom has been telling me this since I was a teenager. I never believed her, though, until I was writing something this morning and the truth hit.
I always thought of myself as Bad Luck Schleprock. I would try out for stuff at school and get rejected constantly. I would apply for jobs and only hear back from the crappiest places, whose offers I always, grudgingly, accepted. I would pitch magazines and, maybe, get a rejection letter back.
The problem wasn’t luck, though, it was me. When people said “no,” I retreated. I figured, they must be right. I’m not good enough for them. Then I took the offer that’s beneath my education level and skill set because, well, I needed something. That’s not bad luck, that’s me being an idiot with terrible self-esteem.
I thought about the one career-related moment where I felt lucky. I was a sophomore in college and the host of a morning drive time radio show on KXLU. One day, a well known DJ heard me play his favorite song by an artist we both love. He called the station, tracked me down and asked me to DJ at a new club he was opening. The party, Coven 13, turned out to be a huge hit and I ended up being his go-to resident DJ for years. There’s a bit of “right place, right time” in there, but chalking this up to luck overlooks everything that happened before that moment.
The year before this happened, I worked incredibly hard to get a spot on KXLU. In the world of 1990s college radio, it was one of the most prestigious stations in the country. It’s the only student-run station that broadcasts across Los Angeles’ massive radio market. That alone made it a big deal.
Getting that spot meant that I spent hours locked into the campus-only a.m. station listening to as many records as I could find. I memorized releases so obscure that KXLU had one of very few copies. I was hired on board and given a nightshift, which I did diligently, still learning more about the music and practicing my air breaks. I moved up to drive time quickly. Keep in mind that this is drive time in Los Angeles. I had a lot more listeners than your average 19-year-old with a college radio show.
While I was doing this, I was heading over to Vinyl Fetish, which was the super awesome goth and industrial-focused record store on Melrose, once a week to buy new music for my show. I was also hanging out at this club called Helter Skelter every Wednesday night. I always told people about my show and, whenever I met a band, I would invite them on the air. I was already making a ton of contacts in the goth and industrial scenes. In fact, Jason, the DJ who rang, and I had met before in passing and I frequently attended his gigs. With all that effort, the phone call was bound to happen, it was just a matter of when.
I mention this because KXLU and Coven 13 weren’t just the fun things that I did in college. They launched my career. Maybe they aren’t things that people remember now, but, at that time, they mattered enough so that I ended up with a ton of contacts. My first paid writing assignments came about because of the DJ gigs and there were plenty more of both of those that followed. Those were also two of the biggest learning experiences in my life. My daily work is based more on the lessons I learned at KXLU and Coven 13 than anything I picked up in journalism classes.
I never succeeded because of luck, I did so because I was a total control freak with more ambition than know-how. Because I thought of KXLU and Coven 13 as “lucky breaks,” I overlooked the intense amount of hard work and dedication I put into those jobs. So, when things started going badly, I assumed that was luck too and I decided to let life happen as it will. Then, I slid into failure and desperation without making the kind of smart and brave (some of my fellow KXLU alumni might also add anal-retentive and micro-managerial) decisions that helped me get going in the first place.
Revelation: There’s no gray cloud hanging over me, no albatross weighing me down because that shit doesn’t exist. It’s only been a few hours since I acknowledged that luck isn’t real, but I’m feeling better already.