Never Tell Me The Odds

The other day, I listened to a woman who was a 28-year survivor of cancer tell about the day she received her diagnosis. When the doctor gave her the bad news, she started to cry, of course. Then she asked, “What are my odds of survival?”

“It’s just a number,” the doctor said.

“Then don’t tell me,” she responded.

Only years later did she learn her odds had been 15%.

If you are pursuing a career in the arts, you know there are plenty of odds standing in the way of your success, and plenty of people happy to tell you all about them. People take pleasure in quoting to us the statistics about how few books actually make it on the bestseller list, or how few songs become hits, or how few plays make to Broadway.

And even if you tell them your goals and ambitions are not so lofty, they are pleased to tell you how dismally low are the odds of anyone discovering your work at all, the implication being, why bother?

I could quote you all kinds of grim statistics about our industry. I could also remind you that the success stories you hear are rare, which is why they make the news. I could tell you that chances are you’ll never make a profit off your art or even earn enough to afford your tools and materials. I could weigh you down with dire predictions, sad stories, and promises of failure, but I won’t. There will be enough people on your journey who will do that for you.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know when I was thirteen I fell madly in love with Han Solo. His motto became my motto, “Never tell me the odds.” You may also recall he always made that statement after C3PO had told him the odds. It’s not like he didn’t know, it’s that he chose to power forward anyway.

In the end, the odds are just a number. Your success is determined only by the goals you set for yourself, not the expectations of others. So power on.

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