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We shall recognize that the people who achieve the most success are the ones being written about, not the ones doing the writing. About two years ago, I started sending query letters to the local newspaper, trying to get them …...

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Filed Under on March 31st, 2011

Family Maxims #26

By Seth Kabala

We shall recognize that the people who achieve the most success are the ones being written about, not the ones doing the writing.

About two years ago, I started sending query letters to the local newspaper, trying to get them to bite on one of my article ideas and take me from the ranks of the unpublished to the published-in-such-a-small-publication-no-one-who-matters-will-care-but-oh-well-it-makes-me-feel-good.

Five months of persistent emailing got me an assignment: a profile of my sister’s graphic design business. I followed that with a regular beat of covering the Silvis, IL city council meetings (which I’m convinced was punishment for some crime I committed in another dimension or life that no one told me about), concert reviews, feature articles–all totaling to over 50 published credits in a little over a year.

I’m proud. I am. Despite my earlier comments, the Dispatch/Argus daily isn’t some high-school rag; it runs a circulation of over 45,000, and gets way more hits than this on its website, so it was actually a great platform from which to launch my journalism career, and based on comments from the editors, I feel confident that I could become a well-known feature writer in national markets.

One problem: I’m selfish. On the cusp of authoring mail-bag loads of queries to national magazines, my many credits providing ample evidence of my qualifications, I never got more than a couple in the pipeline. I found time for vocal, instrumental, and humor-writing development (as you can see), but I never got past the stage of idea kernels, far less than needed to convince editors to give you a job.

Aside from this, though, even if I’d been fortunate enough to have big-time writing assignments land in my lap (you know, like a Playboy feature that I got to know well ;)), I realized why I wasn’t making progress: my name was in the byline, not the copy.

How stupid is that? Why pass on doing something you’re good at to pursue something that’s as uncertain as what that Twinkie will do to your digestive system?

Because I’m after greatness, and you should be, too, and I think I’ve stumbled upon a formula for determining how influential a person is. If they’ve got more bylines than attributions, they have less cultural influence than they could.

Think about it. How many famous journalists, not counting columnists or tv personalities, do you know who are superstars? That many, huh? Pretty pathetic, right? We don’t care about the byline; we care about the content. About the people responsible for the content.

That’s why I excluded opinion people from my formula. These people are famous for who they are. For what they write, not for what they write down that other people said. See the difference?

Maybe you’re fine telling the world how great other people are. If you are, chances are you are not the boss.Chances are, you’re worried about what the boss thinks, and that’s okay, but only if you use that approval to catapult yourself past the boss so he has to kiss your ass, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I realize that the opportunity costs of reaching for greatness are huge. Bottom line: just because you can do something well doesn’t mean you should.

If you’re not struggling to get up to the next hand-hold of the mountain’s face, are you really trying? Be the content, not the recorder.

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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, and musician. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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