Derek Sivers has posted this iintriguing bit of autobiography based on an interview.
Derek:OK. There is actually a good lesson inside the story.
I was 18 years old and all I wanted in my whole life was to be a professional musician. Ideally a rockstar, yeah, but if I was just making my living doing music, that was the goal. So I’m 18 years old, I’m living in Boston, I’m going to Berklee College of Music.
I’m in this band where the bass player one day in rehearsal says “hey man, my agent just offered me a gig that’s like $75 to play at a pig show in Vermont.” And he rolls his eyes and he’s like “I’m not gonna to do it, do you want the gig?” I’m like “fuck yeah, a paying gig? Oh my God, yes!”
So I did the gig to up go to Burlington, Vermont and I think it was like a $58 round-trip bus ticket, and I get to this pig show in Vermont, I strapped my acoustic guitar around and walk around a pig show playing music. And did that for like three hours, got on the bus home.
And the next day the booking agent called me up and said “hey, so you did a really good job at the pig show, we got good reports there, wondering if you can come play at an art opening in Western Massachusetts. I’ll pay you 75 bucks again.” I said “yeah, sure.” So the same thing, as did the $60 bus out to Western Massachusetts, got 75 bucks for playing at an art opening.
And the agent was there and he was impressed and so he said “hey look, I’ve got this circus and the previous musician just quit so we really need somebody new and I really like what you’re doing. So there is about three gigs a week, I can pay you 75 bucks a gig, they’re usually Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Do you want the gig?” And I said “hell yeah! I’m a professional musician now, this is amazing!”
So I said yes to everything, which is gonna come up later with the “hell yeah or no” thing, but I think it’s a really smart to switch strategies. When you’re earlier in your career I think the best strategy is you just say yes to everything, every piddly little gig, you just never know what are the lottery tickets. So this one ended up being a real lottery ticket for me, because as soon as I joined the circus, again I’m 18, I had no stage experience…
After a few gigs they said “hey, so the previous musician used to go out and opened the show with this big theme song and get everybody up and dancing, could you do that?” I said “yeah sure.” And then another gig or two later they said “hey, the previous musician used to close the show also with that theme song, could you do that?” I said “yeah sure.” And that it was “the previous musician used to go out in between every act and like get the audience to applaud and thank them and introduce the next act, do you think you could do that?” I said “yeah sure.” And I was really bad at it at first but I got good eventually, I became like the ringleader MC of this whole circus and I was 18 years old. So if you would go to the circus, it would’ve looked like my show.
I did that for 10 years, from the age of 18 to 28, I did over 1000 shows and eventually by the way, got paid more than 75 bucks, eventually I was getting like 300 bucks a show and it became my full-time living. I even bought the house with the money I made playing with the circus. And then that led to all kinds of other things. So many huge opportunities and ten years of stage experience came from that one in piddly little pig show, that I said yes to this little thing. So yeah, the only reason I stopped doing the circus is when CD Baby started taking over my life and I had to start turning down circus gigs. But yeah, that was my life for 10 years.
The foundation of this advice: “Say yes to everything” of course is valid at the early stages of your career/business — sooner or later (hopefully sooner), you need to focus your activities with some intensity in areas of your interest and expertise.
Of course, the “say yes to everything” also defies the fundamental rule of marketing success: Focus. If you say in public and in your marketing materials: “I can do everything” you will fail because you will lack recognition for your expertise.
But there is an argument, as Sivers points out here, that at the early stages of your career/business you should not be afraid to accept gigs, opportunities and challenges that may seem, on a rational level, to be foolish. Paying almost your total earnings in travel costs (let alone time) to attend a pig show for $75? In this context, because it created the opportunity seeds, it indeed proved to be a wise decision for Sivers.