“Never tell me the odds.”January 10th, 2007
That’s what Han Solo tells the protocol droid C3PO in The Empire Strikes Back*. I first saw that movie as a thirteen year old, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized how true Han’s words were.
Because when someone tells you the odds of successfully completing a task about which you’re about to embark—whether it’s making the jump to light speed, getting into the college you want, or even getting your book published–suddenly the task seems a great deal more daunting…even impossible.
And that can keep you from even trying in the first place.
And that’s a shame. Because if you don’t even try, you’ll never know whether or not you’re the ONE person out of one hundred who just might have made it.
That’s why, in a way, Han’s right: You don’t want to know the odds….
…or do you?
If I had known the odds of ever getting published in the first place, I don’t know if I’d have even bothered trying. Like the fact that out of the something like two hundred query letters that pass over an editor’s desk each week, only ten a year actually get made into a published book.
Or that something like only two percent of all published writers in America actually make a living wage from their writing alone. The rest all have second or even third jobs to support them.
Scary! With odds like that, you might ask yourself, why even try?
Well, because–as Han Solo knows perfectly well–there’s always that one in one hundred chance you’ll succeed. And because often—as Han also knows–just by knowing the odds, you can swing them in your favor.
It’s like my telling people if they want to be writers, they should go to medical school. Of course I’m joking—I don’t mean that LITERALLY (although I’m surprised by the number of people who seem to think I do, and accuse me of trying to discourage children from pursuing their dream. As if, people).
In no way, when I say GO TO MEDICAL SCHOOL am I saying DON’T PURSUE YOUR DREAM. What I’m actually saying is, IMPROVE THE ODDS of making your dream come true: Pursue your dream, BUT GET A GOOD BACK UP JOB. Like being a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or a teacher, or a cop, or a chef, or a postal worker, or a bartender, or a waitress—even an administrative assistant, like I was. ANYTHING so that you can keep a roof over your head until the royalty checks start rolling in.
I mean, I thank my mom EVERY DAY for forcing me to take typing in high school, so that when I graduated from college with NO USABLE SKILLS WHATSOEVER I was at least able to type 60 words a minute, and thus able to get a job as an administrative assistant so I could support myself.
That’s all I’m saying when I say go to medical school, which is simply code for: learn a back-up skill, so you’ll be the kid whose mom is like, “Yeah, Jenny is still in the city working in that bar.” Until one day, your mom will be like, “You’ll never believe it…remember that book Jenny was always working on in between shifts at the bar? Well…she sold it!”
That’s what I’m talking about, people.
And one more word about Han. Okay, he may not have wanted to know the odds—but he certainly tipped them in his favor, didn’t he, by owning the fastest ship in the galaxy AND having Chewbacca as a sidekick?
So take a tip from Han: don’t listen to the odds. Because odds are you’re going to succeed…
…but only if you’ve got a back-up plan.
*Many thanks to sharp-eyed reader Lisa for writing in to remind me that this quote was from The Empire Strikes Back and not A New Hope!