Why It's Good to Work in the Shadows

When you’re first starting out in your career, there is a seemingly endless supply of guidance on how you can succeed and reach the top of your chosen profession.  Whilst success and the progression that accompanies it are undoubtedly good things, I can’t help but think that this clamour for fame and fortune is doing something of a disservice to obscurity.

Let me explain what I mean.  When you start out in your career, no one knows who you are.  Many of the guides out there treat that as a bad thing.  I don’t.  I think being in the shadows is just fine.  Indeed, it’s a great place to be, because it affords you the opportunity to do things you’ll never have the chance to do when you’re in the spotlight.

This is the time for you to try things out and experiment, safe in the knowledge that the mistakes you inevitably make won’t be made with the world watching your every move.  This is the time to tweak and iron out the kinks in your performances.  It’s the time to try new ideas and experiment with random things.  The lack of attention to what you’re doing means that failure isn’t going to heap opprobrium upon you from all corners.

Test yourself on a small scale first

If you think about it, companies do this all the time. Retailers will test out new concepts in a small number of stores where their experiments won’t attract too much attention.  Only when they’ve been shown to work on a small scale do they begin ramping it up across the board.

The arts world usually runs on a similar principle.  Theatre shows will test performances out on a small stage first, trying out shows in relatively small locations before attempting to launch them in the West End or Broadway.  This approach allows the actors and performers to build their confidence in front of tamer audiences before pitting their wits against the harsh critics of the big cities.

It’s understandable, right?  I mean who wants the whole world to be watching you whilst you learn your trade?  Think about the first time you delivered a speech in public.  Now imagine doing that speech again but in front of thousands of people.

It makes no sense at all to try and attract attention before you’re ready to be looked at!

The innovators dilemma

There is also the innovators dilemma to think about.  It’s well known that when you hit the big time, you tend to take fewer risks, as you have much more to lose by failing.  When you’re at the top, you’re under major pressure to maintain success consistently.  As a result, you often get more conservative, and as that goes on, changing becomes harder and harder.

Think about the retailer whose products are used by millions of people.  How easy is it for them to experiment when so many rely on them?  Do something wrong and you will end up annoying thousands of people.

So don’t be in too much of a hurry to chase fame and fortune.  Instead, cherish your obscurity and use it to fine tune your act.