Ellsworth Road, just mentioning the vast peak out loud brings back adrenaline fueled thrills and nightmares from my youth. It was named after Connecticut’s own Oliver Ellsworth (one of the writers of the US Constitution.) and the state’s first US Senator. This hill, for it was just that, although in my kid eyes it was impossibly large one, and the only one around, so it might as well have been Pike’s Peak. We would ride our bikes down in the summer and sled down in the winter before the plows came. The evil part of this hill was this: though the top of the hill was the end of the road in the middle of the neighborhood, meaning there was hardly any traffic on it, at the bottom there was a cross street named Riggs. There was no stop sign as it crossed Ellsworth, so cars coming through the neighborhood just barreled on by. Riding your bike at top speed down the hill, as you approached Riggs, you had a choice: try to be sure nothing is coming and charge through or hit the brakes and be safe.
More than once I laid down rubber on my bad ass Stingray banana bike right before ending up as a hood ornament. More than once, my heart jumped into my throat. Most memorably, the time a tough older kid named Dennis made me ride down on a skateboard. Me, lying facedown on my belly, my nose inches above the pavement, and him on my back. That time I forgot about the traffic, wondering how I was going to explain to my mother how my face got ripped off on Ellsworth Road. But, I somehow survived that descent and many others.
Chief among our games on Ellsworth was to see how far you could coast without pedaling after crossing the dreaded Riggs. We’d station a kid on the corner to make sure we could race through the intersection without braking. Then the rule was no pedaling, whoever went the farthest won. As I was thinking about this week’s post, I thought about this game once again.
Momentum. It’s hard to get it going, and much harder to keep it going. Especially without pedaling. When things are going well, the wind hits your face, all you hear is the whoosh in your ears and all you feel is speed. The farther you go, you slow down almost inperceptably by degrees. Before you know it, you’re moving quite slowly and not long after you’ve stopped.
Careers are like this. Especially freelance careers in media and entertainment. When you have a success or a series of successes, it’s easy to think the rush will never stop and the pace will never lessen. But it does. It’s the nature of gravity, friction and distance. I heard the motivational speaker Brian Tracy once say: “You can only coast in one direction.” Oh, too true. I never once coasted UP Ellsworth Road.
The idea is to keep pedaling, even when times are good. Find ways to keep the momentum going, even when you think you’re going fast enough already. This is difficult when you are in the heat of one project, to be thinking of the next one, but it’s absolutely necessary! You have to keep pedaling!
In my career as an agent, I’ve had far too many clients come to me after years of constant work and say, “I used to have momentum, but now it’s slowing down.” When I ask who they’ve been in contact with lately, they reply: “I’ve been working for years, I haven’t had time to keep contacts up, so now I don’t really know anyone. I’ve been too busy.”
Do you see why you have to keep pedaling now? It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting out or have been making money as an artist for 30 years. You have to do the work of getting work constantly, everyday, and let’s be real, having a freelance job today only means you have to find one for tomorrow.
Here’s my challenge to you. Make a list of everyone you know in the business. Make a list of every producer, director, studio, gallery, ad agency that you want to get to know. Don’t stop until you have reached 50 contacts on each list. Now, find a way to retain or regain contact with those you already know, and ways to make contact with those you want to know. These lists are the bike. Now you need to pedal a little everyday.
I heard a while back that NASA is proposing to send a spaceship light years away. They are suggesting what is called a perpetual motion rocket engine to power the craft. This engine will use small thrusts of fuel, fired at timed intervals. A seconds long burst of thrust from a nuclear engine once every day. The idea is that over time, all these short bursts add up and the ship is going very far and very fast. The ship never coasts, it’s propelling itself a little each day.
That is pretty much the concept I’m proposing to you. A small burst of thrust everyday to create huge momentum to gain speed and distance for your career. Start doing this today, because I can tell you from experience that if you stop pedaling on Ellsworth, you can only coast to halfway between Newport Avenue and Four Mile Road.