Don't Be Afraid to Knock on Closed Doors
I’ve been kicking myself for a while recently.
I set myself some goals, tried to open some new doors, saw some old ones close in the process, and then found myself in a long corridor where everything seemed locked.
It’s easy to do these days; where opportunities and successes slap us in the virtual face every time we open a laptop or pick up our mobiles just to check what the rest of the planet is up to.
Were we happier before we had instant access to constant self-promotion in the land of social media?
Has it made us complacent?
Since I was born, and that was some time ago now, I’ve always been told no one gets success easy. Yet, with the lack of a backstory behind every proclamation we read, it can often seem otherwise.
The friend who had their book published. That person you were at school with, who seems to have landed their perfect job or bought their dream house. The fifteenth person you follow successfully launching their own business, which looks like the best thing ever.
We all know there’s more to each story than the final tagline, but it’s way too easy to ignore it and assume they got there easily, while you feel that you’ve been slogging away for a result for years and have got nowhere.
The fact is there will always be more behind every tale than we see in the final reveal at the moment of success. We only see what people want us to see and therefore our streams are filled with either declarations of despair or elation.
When was the last time you saw someone post a status with “Another average day. Nothing new to report, but I’m totally ok with that. Just thought you’d like to know.”
No one does. Because that’s not what social media was designed for.
But while we are constantly tempted to measure ourselves against others, how does that make us feel about those closed doors?
If you’re trying to make your mark, you have to find a way to cope with the setbacks and keep knocking.
When was the last time you went to your front door and opened it, for no reason other than just to check there was no one outside waiting to come in?
We don’t. Not unless someone has rung the doorbell.
And it’s the same with creating opportunities. Just because a door looks closed, doesn’t mean there’s not someone willing to open it if you knock.
Or maybe no one does answer. Does that automatically mean the door is locked? Try the handle. Maybe you can let yourself in? How much do you want to get in this room?
In the days before mobiles, when we couldn’t check everything in advance and expect an instant response, if you didn’t get an answer when calling on someone, you might leave a note. If you knew them well, you might look through a window or even go through the side gate and check they weren’t out the back. If you still got no reply, then you’d probably call back another time. If it was important.
I recently attended a theatre workshop for artists and creators in a local venue. The overwhelming feeling amongst those trying to get someone to look at their work was that they felt ignored. We’d emailed, phoned, even had meetings, but then sat waiting for replies and invitations that never came.
All said they didn’t want to pester, for worry of getting a bad name. Obviously, the people they’re contacted didn’t care enough about their work to reply. They were too busy.
And the answer from those at the receiving end was that yes, they were too busy. Too busy to reply at the time of the enquiry anyhow. The next day more enquiries arrived. They never heard anything after that first contact and, to be honest, they just forgot about it after by the end of the week.
Because we didn’t remind them. We didn’t send a follow-up, try to arrange a face-to-face meeting or pick up the phone. It was not their fault they didn’t get back to us. It was ours for being too polite and not wanting to be too pushy.
Of course, there’s a time to back off. To take no for an answer or to accept someone just doesn’t see it how you do. But that’s rarely after the first enquiry. If we want to be posting that success status, we need to show a bit more tenacity.
I can spend so many hours worrying and researching who the right person is to approach, how to do it, when to do it, whether they’re they might be interested, before finally sending that perfectly-honed proposal by email and then sitting back for the next few weeks wondering why they haven’t called me.
Many of them don’t even know me. Would you pick up the phone after reading a new idea pitched by someone you’ve never even met or heard of? Probably not. You might not even read past the first line of their message. Especially if you’re super busy and get several of these messages each day.
But get a follow-up and perhaps you’d feel you should re-read the first message. Receive a phone call and, even if your gatekeeper intercepts it, you might feel more obliged to take a quick look.
I was once told that everyone who receives a new submission, whether a book, show or any other kind of proposal, is initially looking for a reason to turn it down. The less personal or insistent the approach, the easier you are making it for them to reject you without hearing your idea in full. If you want them to at least listen, you have to make it as hard as possible for them not to hear you out.
I’m not talking camping on doorsteps, waiting at stage door, or filling their inboxes or streams with message after message. That kind of behaviour is more likely to get you blocked very quickly.
But it shouldn’t stop you from trying everything you can to make it easy for them to say yes, just to give you a chance to talk about your idea.
Invent a reason why you’re going to be passing by their door in the next couple of weeks and ask if they might have time for a quick coffee to discuss a couple of ideas or to seek their advice. If they reply that they’re busy that week, don’t take it as an out and out rejection – ask when might suit them better? Perhaps you could be ‘in the area’ a second time, if that’s what it takes for you to get their ear?
The important thing when faced with closed doors seems to be getting out of your own space and into theirs.
When you’re starting out, the responsibility is yours alone.
Make some noise in the corridors. Someone might open their door to see what’s going on.
Keep chasing your dreams and knocking on doors. Perhaps someone will answer.
Only when you’ve made it, and not always even then, you can look forward to the day when they come knocking on yours.