Your Career Is Like Betting on Horses | Brian Medavoy

Your Career Is Like Betting on Horses

Horse race

If you stop and think about your career as a series of horse races, a few things are going to happen. You’re more likely to get where you want to go. You’re more likely to build good relationships. And you’re more likely to have fun while you do it.

The parallel here should be obvious: In horse racing, you have to bet the right horses or you’re going to wind up going home early with a big hole in your pocket.

You have to have the instincts to know who has the discipline, who has the willingness, who has the desire, who has the chutzpah, and the pedigree, and you have to be able to differentiate each of these people from one another. You learn all that over time.

Colleagues are the “horses” you’re betting on. What we in Hollywood do for a living is bet on horses and we make guesses.

What to bet on

People always ask me what I want to build. But that’s getting things backwards. I focus on whom I want to be around — whom I want to bet on — and what I build follows from that.

Focus on the journey. The destination is only a moment, but the journey is your life.

So bet on the people you want to journey with.

Finding the right people who I can trust, teach, and learn from is essential to growing my business and I’m no rush to make the wrong bets. I want to work with smart people who I can have fun with and who make work enjoyable. I want to work with people who amplify my strengths and ameliorate my weaknesses.

Those are the qualities I bet on.

I started in the business in the mailroom with some of my best friends. Well, they weren’t my best friends when I started but we got close fast. Kevin Misher, David Webber, Jason Sloane, Patrick Whitesell, and Scott Stuber are all running studios now. From the mailroom, we all took different paths but we stayed a tight-knit group, helping each other along the way. We’re still very close.

One of the most important people I bet on is Erwin More, my partner of 25 years. He’s the smartest bet I’ve made yet. I can’t do what Erwin does and he can’t do what I do; instead, we support one another to be a better, more cohesive unit. We both recognize one another’s strengths and weaknesses and there is no ego about the partnership; it’s on equal footing and we both know when it’s our time up to bat.

By surrounding yourself with a professional community, you’re betting that you’ll be able to help each other as you grow. You’re betting on a relationship in which you can return favors for each other, advise each other, and be honest with each other.

To be successful, you have to choose the right people.

How to place your bets

A goal that I live by is to help at least one person every day. In my metaphor, that’s the life of a gambling addict.

The most important thing in any relationship is to add reciprocal value; if somebody proves a worthwhile bet, be ready to return the favor. In gambling, you bet by putting your money on the line. In relationships, you bet my putting your effort into helping others.

Helping other people is the enduring theme throughout everything I talk about. Making educated decisions about who to help is the smartest, most magnanimous way to bet on your career. Success is measured by what we do for others because with every kind gesture and leg up, we should get one in return. By looking out for someone else who you trust and believe in, you’re making a proactive investment in yourself.

You’d be surprised how many great actors have spent significant time helping others with their material.

It’s easy to overlook what simple kindnesses or favors can do for someone else. Truly, you have no idea what kind of impact your generosity might have, just like you have no idea how somebody will react if you honk at them on the 10. By making somebody’s day now, you might just make your own later.

Helping others is the most effective way to place bets in this wild race of a career because karma is real.

Changing your bets

I go to lunch with people all the time. That’s just part of the business — the more people you know, the more opportunities you’ll find. Sometimes I don’t click with somebody and I’ll pay the bill and move on, crossing them off like I might any horse in the field. Other times, I really like somebody the first time I meet them and feel they’d be a good person to work with.

You’ll forgive me for mixing metaphors for a moment but times like these are like betting with a fishing line.

In business meetings with new people, you may toss out a line that’s something like an invitation. I won’t be so gung-ho as to ask for a client or anything like that, the line is something that should be relatively easy for them to help me with.

For instance, if one of my clients is really passionate about getting on tape for a certain project and I meet with the director’s agent, I might ask if I can have my client self-tape and get the director’s eyes on it. There’s no commitment here from anybody, it’s a small favor that helps me show I’m putting the work in for my client and demonstrates to me that there’s a mutual desire to work together.

If somebody can’t do that favor, you pull the line back. You check them off and head to the next meeting, ready to cast a line.

Life is too short to respond to everybody who asks you for something. You can’t bet on everybody but you can cast a line and change it before it’s too late. (Too bad you can’t do that with horse racing, right?)

Best of Luck

When you’re building a professional life, every day is a gamble. You make bets constantly, whether you realize it or not. But when you’ve accepted that paradigm, it’s easier to make smarter bets on the right people and to lead with the kindness that reaps major rewards.