THE WEEKEND READ

The Single Quote that Changed My Life...and is about to Change Yours.

Patrick Mackie / Decisions, decisions / CC BY-SA 2.0 - A straight path between grass and trees branches off to the right and uphill.

I spent my 20s jumping on planes to places I didn't tell my parents about until I got there. "Collect call from Taipei" remains my dad's favorite side-eye memory. I had an enormous vision for my life, astonishingly little street sense, and the limitless sense of possibility and agency that is the birthright of youngest children everywhere.

(I see you, older siblings — you know what I'm talking about! Years ago as a showrunner, I would informally poll the entire team about their birth order. Consistently, my line producers, accountants, HODs and other wildly responsible colleagues were oldest children. Our hidden team members making the set run or quietly editing, mixing, transcribing and sweetening away in post: middle kids. And the freelance, hop on a plane, who-knows-where-the-next-job-is-coming-from creatives were a smorgasbord of "babies" and "onlys." When you've had a safety net of parents, guardians and older siblings reliably snatching you out of oncoming traffic all your life, your gauge for what "risk" is does not exist.)

Multiple collect calls and exhilarating career leaps later, at 30, my list of what I'd planned to accomplish in life was fully checked off. To be clear, I had not become POTUS; I had, instead, removed that item from the list after working in politics for two years and abandoning it summarily for even wilder times trying to walk the runway. With nothing specific remaining to pursue, I faced an unusual challenge: What do I do next? I had no answers. There were several opportunities in front of me I'd recently dived into, and I loved them all. So I pursued them all, simultaneously and sleeplessly, and figured the universe would decide for me. And every time, it did.

I pursued them all, simultaneously and sleeplessly, and figured the universe would decide for me. And every time, it did.

That's when I began to grasp that whatever I focused on with action and intention would deliver a response. Never what I thought it would be, and usually bigger and better than I'd even known to imagine. (And I'm a youngest child, so the imagined version already was ludicrous.) When I first started sharing my career story as a speaker, people would say that my trajectory was unique, or I was lucky, or I probably hadn't experienced the pushback others faced. And that certainly wasn't the case. I had primarily experienced resistance and friction, particularly in entertainment. Every job, from my first fellowship until I sold my first show and beyond, was filled with people actively opposing my presence and role, along with a few amazing champions who impacted the course of my career. I leaned into the latter! Later, when people would ask, "Did you prove your detractors wrong?," I would say, "No. I never tried." Because what you focus on ignites, and focusing on people's negative reactions to you predictably delivers negative outcomes. Instead, I would speak up then focus on a vision for myself in, and after, this experience. Then I would learn what next steps were required and make the choices to get myself there.

You're wondering where the quote is. It's coming. I'm sharing all of this first because I didn't change my behavior after I read the quote. I read the quote years into my professional life, and it finally explained why my behavior had delivered so much reward. I'd never taken a job solely for the paycheck and never taken myself out of consideration for a "reach" position or experience. That's not because I didn't many times need a paycheck, and quickly! Or that I didn't have to push hard for a big opportunity when someone couldn't see the "me" in me that I saw.

Instead, for each "what's next?" moment, I opened with the biggest possible vision I had for myself and pursued that. Why? Because I understood that it was just as much work to pursue an opportunity I didn't want as it was to pursue one I deeply, definitely did. And as I say in presentations, if it's the same amount of work, then it isn't the work that's keeping you from turning your dreams into firm decisions and excellent outcomes.

I understood that it was just as much work to pursue an opportunity I didn't want as it was to pursue one I deeply, definitely did.

Then, one day, I read a quote online that made me yelp out loud at my screen. It was such a stunning, searing truth. I called my (middle!) sister to read it to her. I turned it into multiple graphic designs. I shared it with everyone who would hear me. And now, finally, let me share it with you:

We are kept from our goals not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.

— Robert Gault

Again.

We are kept from our goals not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.

— Robert Gault

Think right now on a vision for your day, your year, your life that you are not actively pursuing. That you make no time for because you have allocated all available hours and energy to that thing that is or is going to pay the bills. Your vision can pay the bills, too. Not in its "vision" form, but in its "strategic" form, in the moment after you decide it is what is going to pay your bills. Then you begin to take the steps and learn the things and meet the people and pursue the roles that will make that vision a reality.

Or you will not. You will see that clear path to a "surer" thing. A thing that, in reality, you have invested enormous time in and is not delivering for you yet. And you will pour more into that thing you don't want, that doesn't appear to want you either, not because of obstacles, but because of clarity. You will do it because you know how to do it, or who can help you do it, or some other thing that you think reduces the chance of failure or losing your place or your kids not eating.

And there it is. That thing you're really focusing on, that's really igniting: What could go wrong. What you could lose. What you don't or won't have.

So I will amend and extend the magical quote that put my wild ride into such sharp focus for me: "We are kept from our goals not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal...and by following that lesser path, we focus on scarcity rather than abundance. And that is, inevitably, what we create for ourselves."

By following that lesser path, we focus on scarcity rather than abundance. And that is, inevitably, what we create for ourselves.

Clearly, I write — and lived! — all of this from the relatively fearless perspective of a youngest child who was never held responsible for the meals, laundry, and literal lives of her siblings, never had a curfew, never had to overcome a parent's hyper-protectiveness of their first few kids. But it wasn't the circumstance of birth order that made my particular experiences possible. It was the mindset that came with it. So while none of us can change our relative roles amongst our siblings, all of us...ALL of us...can change — can set — our minds to a new perception of our own possibility and agency.

As ever, I say, begin.

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DMA is a veteran entertainment and tech executive and strategic consultant. She is the author of Write It, Pitch It, Sell Your Screenplay and The Show Starter Reality TV Made Simple System, both taught in media programs nationwide. DMA is a career-long member of the Producers Guild, TV Academy and American Mensa and is the founder of Korgi, digital "superboards" with the templates, training and tools you (and your team) need to succeed.
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