This One Thing Could Destroy Your Career

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I met someone at a coffee shop a few years ago who was a perfect illustration of a paradox I've found living and working in Hollywood. The man was in his 40s and had significant success as a movie and TV commercial director. He had been on everyone's "hot list," and in one year, directed at least 15 major TV commercials in between his work as a feature film director. But when I met him, he was selling real estate.

He hadn't directed a film or a commercial in at least three years, and while he talked about a few projects "in development," it was obvious his career was on the rocks—which is fairly typical of an enormous number of people I've met in Hollywood over almost 30 years. In so many cases, they've been involved in much more significant and successful projects than I, have made far more money, been recognized in the industry, but for some reason, all that came to an abrupt end.

I started thinking about it, and started asking others who had long careers. What did they do differently? One of the key principles I've discovered could be called the law of ownership.

Ultimately, when it comes to career success or failure—the responsibility is yours. As I chatted with my friend in the coffee shop, he talked as if everyone was responsible for his failure but him. Not once did I ever hear him say, "I made a poor choice at this or that point in my career," or "I should have done this differently." As a result, he couldn't get past that bitterness long enough to see the real reasons his career had stalled.

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I used to enjoy working with a brilliant production manager. His organizational skills were excellent, and he could do more on a budget than anyone I've ever met. But a few years earlier, an unethical producer on a movie stiffed him for about $10,000. The producer was a jerk, totally reneged on his contract and cheated my friend. But my friend can't get over it. He talked about it constantly and even today, obsesses over the incident. It's gotten to the point that if you hire him as a PM on your project, you know he's going to spend all his free time telling (and retelling) the story about how he got cheated.

Guess what? Producers like me got tired of hearing about it, and we've stopped calling. Today, his promising career is stalled because he can't release it and move on with his life.

Whatever happened to you doesn't stop your power to forgive. Let it go, and move your career forward, because only you can control your choices. In some cases, it might take some counseling, but in most, it's just a matter of settling the issue and moving on. Stuff happens, and when we focus on the stuff, we begin focusing on failure and not on our destination.

Phil Cooke and co-writer Jonathan Bock are media producers and marketing professionals based in Los Angeles. They have just released their new book The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back from Worthy Publishing.

This article originally appeared at

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