Talent is not enough. Talent needs a TENT to thrive.
Earth, Los Angeles, September 2020
The city of Los Angeles ka LA and the state of California are facing forest fires that they have never seen before. Maybe the Angels of the city are also victims of Covid-19. In mid day, the smoke generated by forest fires is plunging the city in an orange atmosphere exceeding the mood and visuals in Blade Runner 2049.
Are we already in 2049?
People in the streets see A Clockwork Orange characters as Disney characters because 2020 is definitely the craziest year of our modern history.
With Covid-19 and social distancing, Hollywood has never been so crowded with talented actresses, actors, writers, directors staying at home. Another giant is on their knees because of this pandemic.
In 2010, one of my best friends was having his engagement party in LA. THis was my first time in the US. I remember walking on Hollywood Boulevard and seeing all these stars with their names on the sidewalk. I was impressed.
At that time, all I was able to see is that I have never been closer in my life with the stars of my favorite movies and TV Shows. I did not put things into perspective. By that I mean, all those stars were just the tip of the iceberg of all the people that came to LA to make it there.
Even before Covid-19, LA was crowded with talented people doing regular jobs, hoping to have their own star on Hollywood Boulevard one day. Now even those people, who already reached the fame heights are down to Earth.
I just cannot imagine how difficult the lives of all those people, waiting for their time to arrive, are today. Today it is not about their talent. It is more than that.
Now imagine being a Black artist in that environment, where even the non Black people are struggling to make ends meet. Or even more broadly, imagine being a Black or underrepresented individual in a company where the system is rigged against you unintentionally or intentionally. Imagine that you are talented, you are a hard working individual. Imagine that “Equality” is one of the values that is rubbed into your face each time you raise your concern. Imagine that it’s not about how talented you are, it is just that you are missing the biggest part of the puzzle.
How frustrating could that be?
To give you an idea, it is like being that White person that wants to be an actor in Hollywood. It is not about your talent, it is about all the other things, the underneath forces shaping the fil industry in Hollywood.
What are those hidden forces?
Well, they are the TENT that you need for rainy days:
Talent is necessary. Yet it is not sufficient to transform it into an impactful and successful life. And below are some reasons why.
As said earlier, to have an impact and to be successful talent is necessary. It is at the base of the pyramid for many successful people in life.
For me talent is not just a gift that we are born with. It is something that we can acquire through hard work and discipline. I agree that some people might be born or grow in an environment that can foster certain types of aptitudes. Yet each of us has something that we are good at. It is just a matter of finding that hidden gem within us and nurturing it.
All successful people developed their talent in one way or another. Not all talented people can transform their potential into a tangible, meaningful and successful life.
Often I discuss with people at work about talent. I tell them that most of the people at the top of the company are not there just because of their talent. I also highlight the fact that promoting people because they are “talented” is not just about talent inherently. It is about more. ANd the answer I get is: if you are talented enough, you will succeed. The other side of that story is; If you are not a high potential, it is because you are not talented enough at the eyes of this impartial system.
Truth being told, well at least from where I sit, I believe that it is not about how talent I can have, or how hard working I can be. It is just that I am not worthy of an input to be on that “high potential” pipeline. I am not what the system wants right now.
Talent is necessary but not sufficient.
Coming back to Holywood, a lot of actors with great talent are bartenders and doing some other frontlines jobs waiting for that big gig. And most of them will never be the next star, they will not be the leading actor on one movie or TV show. They will just stay in that pit of their untapped potential for the rest of their lives.
The reason is that they will never have the opportunity of exposure.
Exposure is that opportunity to showcase their talent because the stage is too crowded. If we don’t have the right exposure, we will never get that extra push, no matter how talent we can be.
I am an engineer, a nerd who did aeronautical studies and became an engineer. I am quite a good engineer, I am not the best one, obviously. I have not revolutionised the aviation industry, yet.
I just left my family in Dakar, Senegal. I came to France and lived in the 9 square meters room for 7 years doing my studies. I had some support from the Senegalese government. Yet it helped me cover the basics: a room and food at the table. For any extra, I had to work on my own. I did all of that while adapting to the French culture. Even if as a former French colony, we speak French, the two cultures are quite different. I did all of that far away from my family, my friends and I still made it into Airbus, the Hollywood of Toulouse, France.
It is not because we are on the same boat that we started our journey at the same location. Don’t you think that this is some kind of talent? Why do I feel like I am invisible to the system? Don’t you see my shine? Don’t I deserve a seat on stage?
Exposure is the projector that will shed a light to your talent for the world to see.
Lot of people in Hollywood don’t make it because they don’t have access to the right people, no matter how talented they are. They may not be able to afford an agent because in LA, the rent is crazy and life is expensive. They might not be born in a family where one of their parents is a well known personality in the industry. There might be gatekeepers in the movie industry that will only give premium access to people within their network.
We are as powerful as our network. If we know the right people, we can do a lot of things and a lot of doors will be opened for us.
I used to navigate the workplace world, naively believing that I can make it on my own. Maybe I thought that I could do it on my own based on my life experience. Yes I get the support from some people in Perpignan, France while doing my studies there and also in Toulouse, France. Yet most of what I have accomplished was because I worked hard for it and eventually got it.
An example of that is when I first asked for French citizenship while studying. My request was first denied because I was a foreign student. When I received that letter, I was told that I could go to court or write a letter for an ex-gratia appeal. I wanted that French passport and nothing could stop me from that holy grail. I wrote the letter and was eventually granted the French passport.
Based on that experience, I felt like all I needed in the workplace was just hard work and grit. Well I was so wrong. In most of the companies in the world, it is not about how talented you are. It is more about how powerful and interconnected your network in the company is.
Once I understood that, I got myself a mentor and I am now building my own network inside and outside the company.
Network is like the cables that will make sure your shine is transported to the right person that will propel you to the sky.
“ If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Most actors in Hollywood do not succeed because they are alone. As the competition is fierce, everybody wants the biggest part of the pie. The result of such a mindset is that it is a zero sum game mindset. The movie industry in LA does not foster collaboration and pray for people’s hunger for success to dry them out of all their shine, until no drop is left. Then they go to the next person.
Yes there are a lot of things that we can do by ourselves and get some amazing results. Yet as Humans, we are social animals. We perform at our best when we are surrounded by people that feed our shine.
Most of us are like lighted candles, at best. We burn our life matter to light the rest of the world. If we are not surrounded by the right people, it is not about talent, exposure or network. We will not just make it. This is why it is paramount to build a tribe around us. We must strive not to be surrounded by people that dim or feed from our light. We should strive to be around people that intensify or feed our shine.
I am a kind of a lone would because of what I have experienced in most of my life. Being far away from my family, I developed some coping mechanisms to only rely on myself. THen when it came to choosing what kind of life I want, I drifted a little bit from my parents.
Working in a company, in a city, in a country, where most of the people did not, intentionally or not understand my story, made me the kind of person who would do things on their own. At some point I felt disconnected and alone. I felt like nobody could understand me. Again I was totally wrong.
As I love to think that my story is unique, it is not. I share the same back story with a lot of foreign people that came to France for their studies. Even within my workplace, my struggles are shared with a lot of people.
How do I know?
Well by having the courage to share my feelings, my emotions at work, I soon found out that I was not alone. Some people started to reach out to me and shared with me that tier experience was similar.
From a personnel point of view, I am building my tribe around my friends, my family and my children.
From a professional point of view I am also building my tribe of like minded people within and outside the company.
With that ribe, I know that I am visible to their eyes, I know that I can be me, and I know that they will be by my side to support me.
Your tribe is that cookies jar where you can always go and you know that you can refuel your shine for that day.
Today society is using talent to its pure form to make people fight against each other for some fame.
Yet talent without exposure, network and a tribe is just like a candle in the wind. The TENT is shielding your talent from the wind, scarcity of resources and safe protection against the madness in this world.
How do you make sure to protect your shine?
Are you feeling like your talent is going to waste?
How strong is your life Tent?
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You can read my previous article on The 1 habit to apply if you want to get more out of your life