Odds Are For Suckers

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“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”  – Michaelangelo-

A slightly-perverted universal-truth is that great successes almost always occur against a backdrop of ridiculously-bad odds.

Why?

Because, if it wasn’t so unlikely or so hard, everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t be considered such a great or unusual achievement.  Life is one big risk.  Seemingly daunting statistics and odds swarm all around us.

Consider the following:

  • Ninety-five percent of new businesses fail within 5-years.
  • Ninety-nine percent of all professional-speakers earn less than $1 million in their entire careers.
  • Eighty percent of restaurants fail within two years.
  • Ninety-nine percent of people trying out for a role in TV, theater or film will not get the job.
  • Ninety percent of law-students don’t make Law Review.

Everywhere you look, life’s deck seems stacked against success…if you choose to see if that way.  What if, though, you looked at each of those stats not from the standpoint not of failure, but of opportunity?

In every statistic above, somebody succeeded, sometimes on a massive scale.

Someone landed the million-dollar job.  Someone created the desktop-computer after IBM said there’d never be a need.  Someone got the role of a lifetime in the show of their dreams.  Someone scored a date with their dream partner. Someone locked in funding for the venture of a lifetime. Someone started a movement destined to change the lives of millions.

If the odds are 100 to one and 100,000 people try, that means 99,000 fail, but 1,000 succeed. Somebody’s got to be in that group of 1,000, don’t you think it should be you?

And, here’s something really cool, the higher the perceived odds of failure, the more people will be scared away, leaving the super-motivated and unusually-well equipped people like you with an even greater chance of success.

My book, Career Renegade, is the perfect example.

A few years ago, I committed to reallocating some of my energy from lifestyle-entrepreneurship to two emerging passions, writing and speaking.  What I didn’t reveal to anyone, though, was a more ambitious, private aspiration–to write a book.  By all rights, I had no business setting my sights so high.  I had written a handful of articles for various magazines and even self-published a book a long time ago (sold 7 copies…or 2, if you don’t count the 5 my mom bought).

But, now I was talking about a “real” book.  A book that someone else would actually pay me to write.  I had a growing platform in the lifestyle and yoga world, but I wanted to write about conscious-careers, success and entrepreneurship.  Who did I think I was, anyway?

If you google how to write and publish a non-fiction book, the first thing you’ll learn is that it’s impossible.  You need an agent and agents get hammered with thousands of query letters a month and only take a handful of new clients each year.  Then you need a publisher, who will only take you as a first-time author if you’ve got a massive public presence, celebrity status and connections up the whazzoo.

Then, even, if you get a deal, you’ll have to go with a small, bootstrapped operation, most likely based out of a shack in Appalachia, get a ridiculously-small advance, if any, that’ll mean you’ll have to keep working your day job and somehow figure out how to write an entire book under deadline in your precious little downtime for the equivalent of $1 an hour.

The wisdom on the street is—nobody gets a big deal with a great publisher and a killer advance first-time out of the gate.  Don’t even bother.  The odds are a million-to-one!  Pretty scary process.  I mean, with odds like those, why bother trying?!

Because, odds are for suckers!

More often than not, they’re there to weed out the people who don’t want it badly enough, won’t get creative enough or are trapped in the need to provide a rational basis for never trying.

Nothing grand in work or life was ever achieved by following the odds. For every rule, there is always an exception and damned if it can’t be you!

Here’s what unfolded in the months that followed my secret aspiration.  By late Spring, I had come up with a book idea.  I had many before, but, somehow, this one was different.  I quickly crafted a proposal.  Then I went through the process of querying a handful of top agents in NYC.  My dream list.  These were the people I was always told not to even bother with.  But, I figured, it can’t hurt to try.

Plus, as you might have guessed, I’ve never been one to follow the rules.

Within a week, I had requests for proposals from half a dozen top-agents.  Over the next two days came offers of representation from three and more were calling every-day to request proposals.  I followed my gut and signed with someone who I felt got me best.  It was pure intuition.  Now, it was time to see if the publishers would bite.  According to internet lore, even with an agent, someone like me should be a near impossible sell.

Again with the odds.

Two weeks later, with the proposal tweaked, my agent began talking to a handful of top NY publishing houses.  I asked how the long the process might take.  She told me it could take anywhere form a few weeks to months or even years.  Ten days later, I signed with my dream publisher and editor.  And the book that came out of it wasn’t even the book I pitched.

I then spent the next two years working my butt off to write the hell out of the book, build a new community online that would support it and conjure up all sorts of seemingly undoable tactics and strategies to pre-sell, then launch the book. And, when it finally hit the street (in the worst moment in economic history since the Great Depression and the worse 6 months in the history of publishing), everyone stepped up and supported it…to the tune of driving it to #1 in it’s category on amazon…nearly 2 months before it was even published.

Why do you care?  Because, for my entire life, people have been telling me “you can’t do that,” and for most of that time, I’ve been doing just that.  We all have this voice inside that says believe the nay-sayers, wait for permission, why try when your odds of success are so small and the opportunity for public humiliation so high?

Screw the naysayers!

Listening to this voice kills so many dreams.  It stops us from doing what is in our hearts, because someone else doesn’t think we should be able to succeed at something grand and unusual.

Thing is, every second of every day, someone who should never have beaten the odds does.

So, why can’t someone that be you?

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46 responses

46 responses to “Odds Are For Suckers”

  1. Great post Jonathan!
    I greatly was inspired by the post, especially how you went ahead and made your book work against all the odds before. Thank you for sharing this. I will share it also with my community members giving credit to you OFCOURSE!

  2. Oh, this really struck a chord. First of all, your personal story is great. Secondly, I live in a place–Las Vegas–where we think about odds all the time. (They’re not in your favor here, of course.) But I realized that in much of life, the odds are in our favor–especially when pursuing something that truly matters. In a few days, the updated edition of my book MAKING A LIVING WITHOUT A JOB arrives and has a brand new chapter called What Are the Odds?
    Lots of parallels with your nice post.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Awesome, yeah, must be interesting to live in a town that lives and breaths by playing the odds

  3. André Kuntze says:

    I can only agree. Great post!

  4. The odds do seem pretty impossible… until you walk into a bookstore. Full of… books. That got published. Then it doesn’t seem impossible to me at all. It seems inevitable.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yeah, just think it took Jack Canfield 114 tries before a publisher would take Chicken Soup

  5. Brothers in arms Jonathan! Thanks for reinforcing my own thought process. Someone always succeeds, I choose that group.

  6. Corey says:

    So timely Jonathan- thanks. I just posted on my blog asking for support as I try to take Simple Marriage and make it my full-time job. I was immediately greeted with a tweet calling my request pitiful.

    It seems that odds, and sometime even people, will go against your dreams. I guess this is when I see if this really is a dream or just a passing idea. Thanks again.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      That’s great news, Corey. I remember first reading your blog, so impressed with how you’ve grown it!

  7. Amy says:

    I needed this butt kicking today! I made the difficult decision this week to homeschool my daughter and am very excited about it. Except that everyone I talked to was negative and told me I was doomed to fail. I couldn’t believe it…and I didn’t believe it! I can do it and I will! Thanks for the post 🙂

  8. Jonathan,

    You’re the man! Courage, brains and good looks too.

    This post is wonderful encouragement for everyone of us who has aspired for a goal and had to fight back the inner critic and outer naysayers. Congratulations on putting that voice in its place, following your dream, and encouraging us to do the same.

  9. John says:

    Great post. Very inspiring.

  10. When you really believe you got something of great value–you got to go for it. You just do.

    Great story.

  11. I (mostly) agree with you, Jonathan, and always enjoy your posts. I am a new author of a “fake” book, which I self-published through iUniverse, unlike your “real” book published through a traditional publisher. In it and in my coaching practice I address people who have had successful corporate careers but who now want to figure out if they are well suited for going into their own business. My book is climbing its way from 1,066,402 on Amazon! Maybe I can be successful on my own “fake book” terms. Looking forward to your seminar in September!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Mitchell, like I mentioned to Celestine, self publishing, if you do it right and know how to build your own platform, is so enticing i’ts getting harder to justify giving up your work to mainstream publishing, even if you have an offer. BTW – no such thing as a “fake” book that comes from the heart, apologies if I implied otherwise.

  12. Jim Vickers says:

    Jonathan,
    Man, you so nail it with every post! I think you are writing every one of them just for me personally. But then I read the comments of your other readers and recognize that they ALL feel the same way I do. We all love your stuff! I anxiously watch for every post. And that book you’re talking about; I guess I already told you what it meant to me. Just keep it coming, man! Thanks!

  13. LisaNewton says:

    I don’t consider myself a sucker and never have. Oh, I’ve tried a few things, but without too much success, but with Travelin’ Local, I’m in love. I feel like I’ve found myself and my passion.

    So, what about being a sucker? Nope, not me!!

    Thanks for proving it can be done, Jonathan. 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Lisa, I’ve tried waaaay more than a few things without success, but sometimes you need to keep trying different things to stumble onto the ones that really light a fire

  14. Jonathan, I love your power and conviction!! The thing about what’s ‘realistic’ is that it has been unrealistic at some point, and if we keep following ourselves with what’s ‘realistic’, we won’t end up achieving anything. All my life I’ve set myself for goals which people told were unrealistic, whether it was in school, career, or quitting my day job to pursue my passion. Looking back, if I had ever listened to any one of them, I wouldn’t be living the life I love now.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story too; it’s a reinforcement to what I feel already. I’m actually in the process of writing my own book now and have already experienced the same preliminary barriers you mentioned – reading about how the publishers get tens and thousands of requests and the odds are near zero. Of course, these aren’t daunting in the least – all it tells me is what I should do, factoring all these, to ensure eventually hits the shelf.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      One of the cool things these days, too, is that it’s getting easier and easier and potentially more and more lucrative to self-publish your own book and still kick butt.

  15. Thanks for sharing this story. It is good to get the motivation, but more importantly it is interesting to hear specific details of how people become successful.

    Not many people share the real back story of what happened in the early days. Usually the story is like, “I worked really hard and I am really smart, so I become successful.” It always seems that there is something missing.

    It is great to hear about your previous failed attempts. That is what makes you human. Thanks!

  16. Great post Jonathan!

    “More often than not, they’re there to weed out the people who don’t want it badly enough, won’t get creative enough or are trapped in the need to provide a rational basis for never trying.”

    Hoorah! Hoorah! I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      @ Brooke – Yup, Shaw said pursuing tremendous change or achievement is wholly irrational, therefore all great accomplishments lie at the feet of irrational people. Count me irrational. LOL

  17. Loved it Jonathan! I’ve never been one to be told I can’t do something (I think that comes from growing up with two older brothers). It just makes me more determined. 🙂

    What I love about this post is that you had that attitude PLUS you went through the actual steps it took to get where you wanted to go. So many people want something that is against the odds but don’t screw up their courage to actually go after it.

    Just awesome!

  18. Ah yes, count me as one more on the irrational team. I’ve got my team jersey all ready to go and everything.

    On a mostly related note, I just stumbled on this gorgeous TED talk from Elizabeth Gilbert on where creativity, genius, and those irrational ideas come from: http://bit.ly/3puL3k

  19. Robert says:

    Inspiring, just as John mentioned, it’s really authentic to see what people failed through to reach their goal, their success story.

    I call those, “successful failures”…awesome job not giving up and thanks for sharing. I can only take what you’ve said and continue on in my lifedesignproject until I’ve successfully failed myself to true success as well. Cheers!

  20. Fiona Boyd says:

    Hi Jonathan, this was the post I really needed to read today. Virtually all my life I’ve been dissuaded from what I want to do by those around me – and the few times I’ve punched through this dissuasion, have been outrageously successful, though lingeringly sad that it always was so against the odds. I still question why people have such a need to tell the tryers that they won’t make it. My partner and I started an internet company in 2000 and were told by numerous VC’s that it was an impossible business and would not work. We had no choice, staring in the face of poverty and with two small children, but to continue and work and tweak until it turned a corner. It did. We sold in mid 2006. That should have given me much encouragement, but I’m sad to say that the dissuasion still continues and at times I get quite depressed about it. I thank you for your blog, because it’s giving me the emotional strength to keep jumping into the challenges. Thanks, that support has not been there before.

  21. My cologne gets the ladies 50% of the time, all the time… (Anchor Man)..

    A lot of good points here, with all the odds stacked against us, we need to place preventative measures in place to ensure we are not stagnant and always evolving and improving….

  22. Nicole says:

    Sometimes someone writes something that makes me want to jump up and cheer!

    Yay, I’m all chipper now.

  23. Charlotte says:

    “Listening to this voice kills so many dreams. It stops us from doing what is in our hearts, because someone else doesn’t think we should be able to succeed at something grand and unusual.”

    Amen.

    As I’ve been building up to the launch of my business, I’ve detected a pattern in the encouragement and discouragement I receive from people. The _encouragement_ tends to come from people who have a lot of self-confidence. They’re out there doing their own thing, and therefore are really enthusiastic when anyone starts down the same path. The _discouragement_ has come from people who are busy giving themselves excuses as to why they can’t go out and accomplish anything, and therefore don’t want those illusions broken. Fundamentally, when the naysayers say nay, it’s probably got nothing to do with you.

    Fantastic post, Jonathan. 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Charlotte – Interestingly enough, more and more science is startin to validate the intelligence of listening to that little voice

  24. […] This post was Twitted by tnrkitect […]

  25. Lori Enos says:

    Jonathon,
    Great post and I firmly believe that sometimes you have to keep putting yourself out there because no one is going to come looking for you if you’re hiding under your bed 🙂

  26. […] Odds Are for Suckers Whenever you try to do something exceptional, the odds are against you. If you let yourself be controlled by those odds, you’ve already decided not to succeed. Instead, ignore the odds. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea here – as long as you have a safety net when you fall, the odds of success should be the furthest thing from your mind. Instead, chase the dream. (@ awake at the wheel) […]

  27. […] Odds Are for Suckers Whenever you try to do something exceptional, the odds are against you. If you let yourself be controlled by those odds, you’ve already decided not to succeed. Instead, ignore the odds. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea here – as long as you have a safety net when you fall, the odds of success should be the furthest thing from your mind. Instead, chase the dream. (@ awake at the wheel) […]

  28. […] Odds Are for Suckers Whenever you try to do something exceptional, the odds are against you. If you let yourself be controlled by those odds, you’ve already decided not to succeed. Instead, ignore the odds. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea here – as long as you have a safety net when you fall, the odds of success should be the furthest thing from your mind. Instead, chase the dream. (@ awake at the wheel) […]

  29. It’s the same for me with blogging. I’m new to the whole scene. There are millions of blogs, probably tens or hundreds of thousands of great blogs, yet, I want to make it to the top. To the 1% top. I first thought it’s impossible. Now I just think it’s a lot of work. I no longer look at it as impossible, just not likely, because I just can’t be sure I’ll be able to do all that much work. However, the 1% seems no longer so far. Thanks for the post. It’s just a question of attitude and work, usually.

  30. Grant says:

    Thanks so much Jonathan for reminding me how lucky I am!! I have been in my own business for nearly 7 years and still going strong!

    My next leap of faith is also around writing! Wish me luck! 🙂

    Blessings,

    Grant

  31. vicky says:

    thanks for your article. i get inspiration from you. i hope you will post another good article next week 🙂

  32. […] Jonathan Fields writes, “the higher the perceived odds of failure, the more people will be scared away, leaving the super-motivated and unusually-well equipped people like you with an even greater chance of success.” […]