One of my friends is a screenwriter. He’s written several movie scripts that are in various phases of the Hollywood pipeline, and he often flies out to L.A. to meet with production companies. The Holy Grail of every screenwriter is to actually get a movie “greenlighted” – i.e., approved to be produced and distributed by a studio. While it’s possible to make a living as a screenwriter even if you never get credited as the writer of a finished Hollywood film, the best income goes to those screenwriters whose work actually gets made.

The problem with the screenwriting business is that it’s hard to get greenlighted. The business is incredibly competitive. There are thousands of aspiring screenwriters all over the country writing scripts at any given time, bombarding talent agencies and production companies with a flood of (often-mediocre) pages. It can be hard to cut through the clutter.

The process of making a movie can be frustratingly opaque, and there are many gatekeepers along the way. First you need to find an agent, then get meetings with a production company, then get a director, producers and actors attached to the project, then get financing for the film – and the whole process can break down at any point along the way. Out of all the thousands of scripts that get optioned to be made into movies in any given year, no one knows if any given movie idea is ever going to actually get made into a movie and end up on the big screen. The process is very much an example of “three steps forward, two steps back,” and the decision makers who control the process can be highly unpredictable and hard to read. As my friend says, “The more influential people are, the busier, harder-to-reach, and less-responsive they tend to be.”

For every out-of-nowhere success story – the talented screenwriter plucked from obscurity who writes an Oscar-winning script – there are many other screenwriters who toil for years without achieving the creative fulfillment and recognition that they crave.

The Hollywood screenwriting business is particularly complex, competitive and hard to break into.  But I think there are some good lessons here for any aspiring entrepreneur.

  • Give yourself permission to succeed. Unlike a Hollywood screenwriter who needs the support of a movie studio to get a movie off the ground, no one is going to “give you permission” to succeed as a small business owner. There is no authority figure or gatekeeper who’s going to give you reach down from on high, tap you on the shoulder, give you his blessing and say, “Yes, your business idea is great, you are destined to succeed, and you have my permission to quit your day job now!” Instead, you have the phenomenal chance to “approve” yourself. Give yourself permission. You don’t need to wait for anyone else’s approval.
  • Do one thing – now. Unlike a Hollywood screenwriter, whose work often depends on an uncertain sequence of events and decisions that are beyond his/her control, when you’re an entrepreneur you don’t have to wait. You can always take another step forward toward your goals – whether it’s calling a new customer, fixing a problem with your online order form, updating your website, introducing a new product (or removing an unprofitable product), or just taking an afternoon to think strategically about the big picture of where you want your business to go next.
  • It’s OK if you don’t know what you’re doing. There’s an old saying about Hollywood: “No one knows anything.” As much as movie studios have tried to make the process of making movies into more of a predictable “formula,” ultimately no one knows whether a movie is going to be a blockbuster or a box office bomb. The same is true for entrepreneurs. No one really knows if your business will be successful; the only way to know is to go through with it. One of the difficult things about being an entrepreneur is that you’re often trying to do something that hasn’t been done before – or that hasn’t been done by anyone you know. Especially if you’re the first in your family or the first among your circle of friends to start your own business, it might be hard to find peers, mentors and role models to turn to for guidance. You might often feel like “I have no idea what I am doing.” This uncertainty can be tough – but ultimately, the uncertainty is also one of the best things about being an entrepreneur. You have the freedom to adapt to changing circumstances and chart a new course as you go along.

You don’t need to wait for the gatekeepers to give you permission to follow your dreams. Instead, greenlight yourself.

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