By the end of my six years in Chicago’s sketch and improv comedy community, I had built up the connections, reputation, and drive to accomplish almost any goal that crossed my mind. Fresh off the end of my third year in Los Angeles, the process of rebuilding those resources has been slow, and I can tell you exactly how few of my recent goals I’ve achieved.
On 1/1/19, I filled both sides of a sheet of paper with stuff I wanted to do throughout the year, then deliberately avoided looking at the list until 2020. This “set it and forget it” approach had previously worked wonders for me, but out of the 64 items I jotted down this time, I only accomplished 12, with an additional 18 up for debate. The remaining 34 were either too nebulous to evaluate, or I objectively failed to fulfill them.
12 for 64 is not a success rate I’m proud to share, but it’s better than the one I ended up with for the more proactive and psychotic project I undertook in hopes of generating more professional progress for myself.
After two years of applying for countless jobs in LA and rarely getting even a confirmation that my resume had been received, I was sick of feeling like I was hallucinating my hard work to get work. Under the belief/hope that I might find more success and happiness if I committed to a year of undeniable effort, I created a spreadsheet for 2019, and I updated it every time I pursued a chance to earn money and/or further my career.
Because of this broad scope, entries range from TV and film writing opportunities to audio erotica submissions and overnight shifts at sex shops. From entertainment industry assistant jobs to legally dicey data entry gigs. From acting and voiceover auditions to research surveys and focus groups. From requesting reviews for my feature film debut as a writer/director to begging porn companies to let me play a fully clothed side character.
With the phrase “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” in mind, I set out to take every shot possible, hoping that an indiscriminate approach would enable me to score and win more often.
Now that the recipients of my 12/31/19 efforts have had more than two weeks to respond (and haven’t), here are my cumulative stats:
TOTAL NUMBER OF SUBMISSIONS/APPLICATIONS - 1,086
That’s an average of 2.98 per day.
Ironically, the shortest month of the year was my most desperate, with 162 entries in February (due in large part to my industry outreach efforts following the release of my first movie).
My busiest day was 4/10, when the movie became free on Amazon Prime and I sent out 60 of those aforementioned press requests (in addition to 2 acting role submissions).
August was my slowest month, with just 50 entries (due in large part to the cross country trip I took with my girlfriend and her dog from 7/29 — 8/15).
Here is the breakdown by category:
MISCELLANEOUS - 361 (33.241%)
WRITING - 341 (31.400%)
ACTING/VOICEOVER - 274 (25.230%)
WRITING-ADJACENT - 110 (10.129%)
Here are the overall results:
I NEVER HEARD ANYTHING EITHER WAY - 763 (70.258%)
YES - 145 (13.351%)
NO - 111 (10.221%)
I WAS GHOSTED AFTER SOME CORRESPONDENCE - 52 (4.789%)
I OPTED OUT AFTER LEARNING MORE - 15 (1.381%)
Here are some caveats and clarifications about the above:
Of the 341 writing entries, 2 were screenwriting contests, and 6 were writing fellowships/labs. While I’m not afraid to admit that I whiffed on all of those, my ego did take a hit every time someone assumed these types of things accounted for a larger percentage of my efforts/failures. Let the record show I only went 0 for 8 when having my scripts formally judged — not 0 for +300.
Now that I’ve attempted to convince you I’m not a terrible writer, let’s discuss my abysmal 2019 on two freelance joke/copywriting platforms — Pitch and Write Label. I neglected to track my individual contributions to these throughout the year, so they are not included in the totals above, but between the two, I offered up 358 ideas and was paid for 12. This is another bad success rate, but it doesn’t hurt my ego too much because I know I fired off all those ideas without a second thought, as evidenced by the fact that I forgot to include them on the spreadsheet.
Speaking of unreported efforts, I tried to take way more paid surveys than I tracked, so my “miscellaneous” total should be higher. For my main survey source, I only tallied acceptances because it would have taken more time to log rejections than it took to get them, as the multiple choice screener questions often disqualified me in seconds. For every survey I was approved to take, I was probably deemed ineligible for ten others, so I’m guessing I was denied for at least 800 more surveys than what’s listed.
With all of that in mind, it should come as no surprise to hear that the raw data does not accurately reflect the way 2019 felt to me, and that’s the main reason I wanted to write this piece. There’s no nuance or distinction between any of the entries on the spreadsheet, meaning things I didn’t care about at all were weighted the same as things I cared about too much.
So, in an effort to paint a more realistic picture of all the peaks and valleys I encountered on my journey, I devised the following scale to assess the emotional impact of each entry:
–3 = I really wanted this and thought I had a good chance, so the rejection took all the wind out of my sails for a while.
–2 = I wanted this and thought my chances were solid, so I was bummed it didn’t go my way. OR, I got this, and it made me miserable.
–1 = This stung and/or annoyed me, but it didn’t take too long to shrug off. OR, I got this, and it kinda sucked.
0 = I don’t remember this. OR, I was ambivalent about it, so the outcome had no impact on me. OR, The pros and cons cancelled each other out.
+1 = I got this and had a pleasant experience. OR, I felt like I dodged a bullet by not getting it or not going through with it.
+2 = I wanted this and was happy it went my way.
+3 = I really wanted this, so getting it felt like a huge victory that fueled me for a while.
Because I did not start handing out these emotional impact ratings until the end of the year, I had already forgotten the majority of my efforts (including most of the surveys I took, which comprise nearly two-thirds of my acceptances). Rather than speculating on how I must have felt about every entry in the moment, I based my rankings on how they make me feel now. With this zoomed out perspective, most of my pursuits seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things and were therefore given 0’s, as you’ll see in these emotional impact results:
–3 - 2 (0.184%)
–2 - 13 (1.197%)
–1 - 70 (6.446%)
0 - 935 (86.096%)
+1 - 38 (3.499%)
+2 - 23 (2.118%)
+3 - 5 (0.460%)
Lowest Possible Total Emotional Score - –3,258
Highest Possible Total Emotional Score - +3,258
My Total Emotional Score - –3
When compared to the spreadsheet tallies, this does feel like a more accurate summation of my mostly meh year with a few high highs and a few low lows.
Briefly, here are my three happiest professional moments of 2019:
1. In February, I released SCRAPS, my feature debut as a writer/director, on Amazon Prime Video. I’d been obsessing over this no-budget movie since the premise came to me in a dream in July 2015, so putting it out was the closest I’ll ever get to crossing a marathon’s finish line.
2. In November, I got my first of hopefully many jobs in a writers room. I’ve loved everything about this experience, but the best part has been feeling like I now have a toe in the door.
3. In May, my former sketch group had a Skype interview with a BuzzFeed producer who was trying to cast a branded series. We weren’t selected, but I laughed so hard I cried, and I wouldn’t change a thing about that call.
Honorable mentions for my highest highs include writing a tell-all piece about SCRAPS for the Sundance Institute, and gaining a fun new party anecdote about creating audio erotica.
To nourish my haters, here are my three most upsetting professional moments of 2019:
1. In February, a mutual friend recommended me to a prominent TV director in need of an assistant, and I made the mistake of letting my imagination run wild with thoughts of having this job. When the director ended up hiring a more qualified person who also had a friend’s endorsement, I plummeted back down to reality and felt more wounded than I could’ve imagined.
2. Also in February, multiple pals forwarded me the submission info for a sketch writing job on Conan. I worked hard on my packet and felt good by the time I sent it in, only to get instantly knocked down by the reply that they were not accepting submissions from unrepresented writers. To make matters worse, I asked some of my connections in the management/agency world if they knew anyone who would be willing to submit me as a favor, but that didn’t pan out either. This could have been because I asked for help too close to the deadline, but the state of mind I was in at the time had me convinced that I must just be a bad writer and worse person.
3. I didn’t get any of the 8 sex shop jobs I applied for in 2019. I didn’t really want them anyway, but it still hurt my confidence that I couldn’t even secure the same type of job I had previously held in Chicago for 3.5 years, especially since I had been a virgin for the first 1.5 of those. How had I become less hireable?
Honorable mentions for my lowest lows include the criminally underpaid data entry projects I did for maybe the worst communicators I’ve ever encountered, and the game show audition where I objectively played better than everyone and therefore must’ve been dismissed because of my looks and/or personality.
So, to recap, in 2019, I made 1,086 attempts to earn money and/or further my career. 86% meant nothing to me (including 61% of my “successes”), and 70% went unanswered.
The next time someone says “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” don’t misconstrue that as an invitation to take 100% of all possible shots. From my experience, this not only results in a ton of misses, it also leaves you too tired to fully celebrate when you do score and win. Taking an indiscriminate approach may or may not have helped me hit the target more times than I had in previous years; I can’t be certain. I do know for sure though that most of my supposed victories in 2019 were hard to enjoy next to the detailed catalog of my losses.
Before reading through my double-sided sheet of goals for last year, I made a new list for 2020. There ended up being a ton of overlap, thanks to all those 2019 goals I didn’t accomplish because I was too busy chasing opportunities I mostly didn’t care about. At first, the sense of stagnation made me spiral, but I now feel super optimistic that I’ll be crossing off way more than 12 items when 2021 rolls around.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I feel happier now than I did when I was performing a ton of clerical work to track all the jobs I wasn’t getting. I’ve always been at my best when I’m focused on the process rather than the product, so I don’t know why I thought it would be good for me to invest so much time and energy into fixating on a spreadsheet full of results.
In hindsight, this experiment feels like I knew that touching a stove for one second would burn my finger, but I tried to see if putting a stranglehold on a stove for 365 days would somehow leave me feeling like a million bucks.
Unsurprisingly, it did not. To be exact, it made me feel like negative three.
Daniel Shar writes comedy in Los Angeles. Hire him at www.danielshar.com.