In a field like athletics, the recipe to success is clear: be the best. Being the best is quantifiable. If you run faster, throw harder or jump higher, no one can dispute that you deserve your position at the top.
When it comes to other fields, often it is trickier to quantify performance.
Take wine writing, as an example. How do you assess who is best? The quality of the writing? The accuracy of the reviews? The prowess of the palate?
[On that latter point, it would be possible to test the consistency of a palate. This is done in the Australian Wine Research Institute’s Advanced Wine Assessment Course, for example. But very few wine writers are anxious to have their palates assessed in this way. There’s too much to lose for most.]
Judging wine writing is quite subjective. Judging the ability of wine communicators or personalities who do gigs is also quite subjective.
If you are embarking on a career as a wine writer/communicator, then I’d suggest that you shouldn’t just focus on being the best. Clearly, we all want to be as good as we can be. We aspire to be the best. But if you aren’t the best, don’t let that deter you, as long as you are good enough.
Because what really counts is being famous. Become well known. Build your brand. There are lots of very talented wine writers without enough work. Don’t join their ranks.
Instead, be good enough, and then focus on becoming famous. When people with budgets hire freelancers, they aren’t necessarily thinking of the quality of the work that will ensue. They want it to be good enough, certainly, whether it is writing, or a talk, or a tasting, of hosting an event. They want it to be really good, ideally, but they have limited ways of assessing this in advance. So they go by reputation and fame.
The people who hire you will often also have clients who they want to satisfy. So, if there’s a choice between a good presenter who is famous, and an excellent yet unknown presenter, they’ll go for the former.
Of course, in an ideal world, you get famous by being excellent. This is still true, to an extent, but not everyone who is excellent becomes well known. The unfortunate truth: if you become famous, you will get gigs. I’ve been at conferences where people got the gig because they were well known, and then they stood up and bored the audience stupid. And people accept this, because the speaker is famous.
With social media, there are inconsequential, non-smart people who have managed to get large followings and then jump the queue to get gigs that others deserved more. Rather than resenting this, if you are really good, then become more famous, build your brand, and get on the radar of the people who are commissioning these gigs.
So in many fields of media, the spoils aren’t shared evenly. It’s the one or two names who take in most, leaving the scraps for the rest. Within the ranks of the rest there will be some with more ability and gifting, but they didn’t become famous. Being the best is great, but being good enough and famous wins.