Excerpted from here’s how by who’s who, a compilation of messages from successful men. The following article was written by Ronald Reagan (prior to his entrance into politics) in 1965.
Every once in a while, I’m approached by someone ambitious to make a career in television or movies. What disturbs me is how often the approach is frankly based on the idea that a word from someone in the business is all that’s needed to open the door to success. Indeed, the idea is often expressed that “pull” is the only way anyone can get a start.
Like any old grad surrounded by a captive audience of youngsters, I’m going to reminisce. During my high school and college years my summer job was life-guarding at a river beach in Illinois. And I’m afraid, like some of the young men who come to see me today, I too believed in “pull.” Over the years I had become a fixture among the families who regularly vacationed there. Some of them had made noises from time to time, like “when you are out of school, come see me.”
However, when the time came to see them—they weren’t making those noises. There was a great depression with every man, no matter how high his station, worried about keeping his own job. There was one exception. He uttered what were not only hopeful words for me but what was literally the first note of optimism I’d heard about the state of the nation. He said, “This depression isn’t going to last forever and smart businessmen are willing to take on young men who can learn their business, in order to have trained manpower on hand when things start to roll.” After a pause he asked, “What do you think you’d like to do?”
There it was—the question for which I had no answer. All I could do was say, “I don’t know.”
Fortunately he had no intention of letting it drop there. “That’s the one thing I can’t help you with,” he said. “You’ll have to come up with the answer to that one yourself. But” he continued, “I have connections in several lines. When you determine what line of work you want to get in, let me know—and if it’s in one of those areas where I can help, I’ll get you a job.”
It’s hard to remember today what an impact that promise made in those unpleasant times. Here was a quiet, confident statement refuting all the negative attitude engendered by 12 million unemployed.
For the next several days and sleepless nights I truly faced my future with the realization that no good fairy would whisper in my ear and answer the question of “what did I want to do?” Out of the things my friend had talked about came a new approach. No longer did I speculate about a paycheck and security. I really wrestled with the problem of what I would be happy doing for the next few decades.
The answer came up show business in general and radio in particular.
When I had stated my case, he not unexpectedly said, “Well, you’ve picked a line in which I have no connections.” Then he went on, “But maybe it’s just as well. If I had gotten you a job through one of my friends, he’d be doing me a favor and he could very easily figure he had no further obligation to give you a chance to get somewhere. You’ve picked a young industry and one that should have hundreds of undreamed-of directions you can follow to a great future, once you are in. That’s the important thing now—getting in, so start knocking on doors, tell anyone who’ll listen that you believe you have a future in the business, and you’ll take any kind of job, even sweeping floors, just to get in. Some place,” he went on, “you’ll meet a man who’ll be willing to gamble on you—so don’t be discouraged by a lot of turndowns. A salesman sometimes knocks on two hundred and fifty doors before he makes a sale, and that’s what you are doing—selling you.” Bless him for the best advice and the greatest answer I’ve ever heard to the common misconception that pull and influence are essential to getting a start.