In the 1980s I had the good fortune to attend an event where Sherry Lansing gave the keynote address. She was the first woman to head a Hollywood Studio, 20th Century Fox, and later she became the CEO of Paramount. She said that as a Hollywood executive, “she was always in search of good talent….and furthermore… that good talent would always rise to the top and be rewarded.” Her comments stayed with me through the years.
Sherry Lansing’s perspective is strong and simple. Work hard and reap reward.
I believed her then and I believe her now, but there is a flip side to the playing field.
We are led to believe America is a land of equal opportunity. We are led to believe: no matter how humble our origins are, we can still attain the American Dream… if only we use our talent and work hard enough. But this belief doesn’t take into account the real truth that is rooted in the biblical parable of the sower.
“Some seed falls on the path (wayside) with no soil, some on rocky ground with little soil, and some on soil which contained thorns. In these cases the seed is taken away or fails to produce a crop, but when it falls on good soil it grows, yielding thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.”
In the new version of the American Dream, opportunity, freedom and success can be obtained, but only if you have the money to afford good soil. The poor, working poor, working class, or even the hamstrung middle and upper middle classes can no longer easily rise to the top and often get stuck in the thorns and flounder among the rocks.
More often than not, achieving success means connecting with the right people and creating the right network so you can get what you want out of life. And it goes without saying that some networks are more powerful than others. I define networking as the lifelong accumulation of all contacts relevant to positioning yourself favorably in the world you live in, whether your world is South Yonkers or Kennebunkport, Maine.
Many of us encounter a whole array of rocks and thorns on the journey to the top. You find yourself going into a job interview. The company knew whom they were going to hire, only you did not know. The job was already wired from inside the company. You never stood a chance. Your book just can’t get published. A similar book in terms of content and genre but of lesser literary merit does get published. The movie role is never offered—to you. The recording contract is never drafted. The promotion never happens. The application to college or graduate school is rejected. Entrance to your favorite nightclub is denied. You are denied financing for a small business, a mortgage for a home, or a high limit credit card. If you think life is unfair, doling out its rewards and punishments at random, or that everything is wired against you, then you’re right.
Having all of the talent in the world pales if you have not had the education that exposes you to the right people. Some networks are a whole lot more powerful than others. And some networks, for whatever reason, will not let you into their club.
Make money, work hard, make your own luck, be lucky? Nothing is accomplished in without utilizing whom you know as a resource. Introductions count. Recommendations and referrals are paramount. In America, every class, every profession, every industry, every aspect of American culture, and every industry from politics to entertainment, red or blue, black, brown or white, has its own network. Every network is made up of the right contacts that must be cultivated in order to get that job, get that movie role, get that promotion, to gain admission into school, entrance into your favorite club, restaurant, or organization, to build a business or to get that big break.
Anytime you hear of someone who easily made it to the top, probe further for the truth. More often than not, you will find the particular someone came with referrals and recommendations, introductions were made, and the wheels were greased.
Two Americas have emerged. There is rich America, and then there is everyone else. The widening economic disparity is often cited as the failure of the poor, working class, and middle class to be smart or industrious enough to make it to the top. But this is not true. The chief components of the financial infrastructure (jobs, tax structure, investments, opportunities, and education) have been hardwired in favor of the rich. We are all talented in some way and work hard. Some of us have more talent than others and work even harder. But these factors alone are not what takes anyone to the top.
It’s no wonder that wealth and power are dynastic and get passed on from one generation to the next. The progeny of rich America get a different start in life from everyone else. And that first step in life begins with a fine education. If you don’t get a strong education, then you will never know how to land on good soil. It’s like Sherry Lansing said in an interview … “at Harvard Business School, you’re taught to replant yourself every ten years…to let something else take root.” This holds true so long as you have the privilege of not landing on the rocks.
Patricia Vaccarino has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, content, books,essays and articles. Some of her essays and articles can be found in her press kit on PR for People. The Heart of Yonkers is a sequel to YONKERS Yonkers! A story of race and redemption. Book Three in the Yonkers series is in development. She has an audience of 40,000+ followers on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. She divides her time between homes in downtown Seattle and the north coast of Oregon.