In April, I talked about how you are the best person to advocate on your own behalf. I think it’s easy to believe that somehow, getting an agent or a manager will free you up to only worrying about the art. But as Ryan Holiday noted in this interview, maybe the selling, the social media, and the promotion is part of the effort too.
In 2019, Nims Purja, a mountaineer from Nepal, decided to attempt to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000 meter peaks in under seven months. The previous record? Seven years. But when he got to number 14, Shishapangma, the Chinese government denied him a climbing permit.
So, what did he do? He didn’t get an agent. He didn’t offload the work. He went on social media and personally asked people to petition for him. He went to meeting after meeting on his own and in person and lobbied politicians and businesspeople–anyone who could help convince the Chinese government to award his permit.
Purja is at the absolute top of his field, and he put in the work on his own. It’s like Tom Brady lobbying the United States government to put on the Super Bowl. And if Purja had to do it, so do you.
Yes, eventually it’s worth it to outsource your video editing to someone better than you, and to pay a PR agent. Of course, a team can accomplish more than an individual. But you also have to be involved in the process. You have to care about the outcome. As Walter Isaacson captured, what impressed people so much about Steve Jobs was his ability to simultaneously care about the big picture and the minute details.
Eventually, the endless streams of letters and petitions from fans and celebrities successfully convinced the Chinese government. Purja got his permit, then shattered the 8,000 meter peak record in easily one of the greatest athletic accomplishments of all time.
The lesson? Even the people at the top of their field have to do the work. More specifically, they get to the top of their field because they do the work. Because they know that they are the best people to deliver on their own vision. And once they get to the top, they don’t stop.
Peyton Manning was known for Perfect Fridays in practice, where the Colts didn’t drop a ball for seven years. After climbing El Capitan without a rope, Alex Honnold went on his hangboard that day (which in my opinion was excessive, but you get the point). And after winning an Olivier award in 2006, Derren Brown did five more full stage shows (winning another Olivier in the process), with over a dozen television appearances and his Broadway debut.
The work doesn’t stop because you get an award. The award comes precisely because of the work. So remember–you aren’t entitled to anything. You become the best of the best because you evolve, because you get critiqued, because you don’t rest on your laurels. Because you fight for it.