Tuesday, January 10, 2006

In Praise of Small Opportunities

"Small opportunities are often the beginnings of great enterprises."

On Monday night, during the teleseminar course I'm taking, Alex Mandossian used Oprah Winfrey's early career arc to illustrate how grand things can come from inauspicious beginnings. Perhaps I'm the only person on the planet who didn't know the story of Oprah's entry into the talk show world. But if you don't know it either, here, in a nutshell, is what happened:

As I understand it, when Oprah was 19, she was the first African-American hired as a news anchor for a small network. The ratings were good, and she moved up to a larger network in a larger market. There, the suits complained that her delivery was "too emotional." So to get her out of the anchor's chair, they moved her and had her host a local talk show. Oprah took what was essentially a demotion and ran with it. The numbers of talk show viewers skyrocketed.

She later went to Chicago and hosted another local talk show that soon decimated the national shows (like "Donahue" and others) in the area ratings. After 7 years of consistent, hard work, the Powers That Be decided to rename her show "The Oprah Winfrey Show." And the rest is history.

Oprah is credited with saying, "Sometimes you don't choose your career. Sometimes your career chooses you."

Alex pointed out that there are little possibilities all around us. Too often people focus on getting one big score that they are blinded to the many smaller opportunities that present themselves -- and lose out.

It was like listening to someone else read my words back to me.

My friend Terri Gordon (who is also a writer) and I have had many conversations about this very thing. Terri is a self-described "slow builder." She has steadily been building a name for herself as a writer for local publications. She's a dedicated, committed, professional, and talented writer. I keep telling her to start querying and writing for national magazines. She's had some success with the national periodicals she contacts. But her bread and butter is in her writing for the local market.

It's not that she doesn't ever want to "go national." For now, however, she has more work than she can handle right here in her own little corner of the world. And she's happy honing her craft while slowly increasing her sphere of influence.

Just yesterday, Terri and I were talking about this very topic as we discussed doing some teleseminars together. In the near future, I'm going to be interviewing her about "Writing Close to Home" and "Finding the Paycheck in Your Own Hometown." It's a topic that I enjoy speaking about at writer's conferences and live seminars. It's something I did for years. But it's something that Terri's doing right now. And she's willing to share what she knows to help others find their own opportunities.

Small opportunities. A single teleseminar. A local writing gig. A little talk show on local television. With a little vision and a solid work ethic, great enterprises will soon result.