We love to embrace the idea of the “overnight success”: a person comes out of nowhere and is embraced as a breakthrough actor, creative genius, or the person of the hour. The truth, however, is that the overnight success has usually been practicing his or her craft for years before attaining a place of honor and recognition.
A good example is actor Mahershala Ali, the winner as Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Academy Awards. Ali became an overnight success after a decade and a half of practicing his craft in film and television roles. He had a supporting role in Crossing Jordan and then a lead role in the sci-fi series The 4400. He is probably familiar to most people for his role as Remy Denton in the Netflix series House of Cards and as a military leader in two of The Hunger Games films. He was in two major films this year--Hidden Figures and Moonlight--both nominated for best picture. He won the Oscar for his role in the latter.
A similar example is J. K. Simmons, the recipient of the Best Supporting Actor Award in 2014. A character actor who has appeared in over 70 films, 67 television series, as well as performing in several theatrical productions and doing voiceovers for a half-dozen video games (and being spokesperson for a national insurance company). Simmons has become a “hot property” and is in great demand after 30 years as an actor.
|J. K. Simmons|
Seeing people like this receive recognition is encouraging. They often labor in the background, portraying forgettable characters and being part of an ensemble, until the role comes along that showcases their talent. All the while, they are practicing their craft. They pay attention to the small things and do them well. They look for nuances in a script and try to provide added value to their performances. In most cases, people like Ali and Simmons have been preparing for decades to become overnight successes.
There is a lesson here for each of us, no matter what our profession is. The challenge is take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Do those things well and look for ways to add your own unique insights and personality to the task. Whether you are an actor, a minister, a teacher, a business person, or any other profession, you embrace what comes your way, make good choices, and produce. This is what it means to practice your craft.
If you do this, you will be ready when your biggest opportunity arrives. And if that “big break” never comes, you will still be the consummate professional in your field, using your gifts to do your best work.