Jul 11

Taking a chance

The world is full of people waiting for their big break. Feeling those talents just aren’t being recognised, hoping someone, anyone, will believe in them and give them a chance.

If you were offered a chance, you’d jump at it, right?

Are you sure?

As part of my job, I have given many people chances to make leaps in their career. Some have jumped right in, taking everything they do up a gear. But others have totally failed to deliver, even when they have the ability. Some simply walked away. Why?

Last week, I made a decision to expand my role in a project. A decision I couldn’t be sure was right. I kept asking others, are you sure I’m doing the right thing here?


The truth is, I very rarely feel insecure about the decisions I make. It’s what I do. Most of my job as a writer, director is making decisions. Decision, move on. Decision, move on. Where it gets difficult is when a decision involves the evaluation of ones own abilities. Easy to see talent, judgement, creativity in others. With ourselves, well, things tend to get cloudy.

And I realised last week that this insecurity was familiar. I knew this exact feeling. It was somewhere around 2005 or 2006, when trying to get Fluffy Gardens off the ground. I had created characters, a place for them to live. All they needed were some stories. Well, we had to hire a team of the best writers, didn’t we? That was the plan. My plan, at least. Someone had to set the tone so I wrote a couple of samples myself, just so people would know how the show works. It would take some good writers to actually make my stinky stories good, of course. I wasn’t a writer.

But my producer, Gerard, seemed reluctant to look for writers.

Why is he stalling, I thought (no iPad, not why is he Stalin, but thanks for the suggestion). Why would he not search for that writing team we needed? It turned out that Gerard had other ideas. He figured that, given that I had written these samples and they were pretty good, I could write the show. After all, nobody knew the characters better than I did. Or the feel, the tone or humour.

I wasn’t so sure.

What if nobody liked the stories? Well, people were saying they liked them. But what if they were just telling me what I want to hear? How could I possibly be sure they were good enough? The decision to write the show myself haunted me. I kept thinking I’d be found out. Like the police would arrive and unmask me – this man is NOT a writer! We’re taking you in.

Eventually, we took the show to the Cartoon Forum and showed the entire pilot episode. An audience of broadcasters, distributors and fellow show creators, directors, producers and writers. These people had no reason to lie to me. And yet… it seemed they liked it. At the end of the presentation, I was in a haze of nerves and adrenalin. Barely knew where I was. Two guys came up to me and told me they really liked the show. I think I mumbled a thanks, though it’s possible I only did that in my own head and barely a grunt made it out my mouth. As they turned to walk off, one of them looked back and said, “oh, we’re the Peppa Pig guys.”

It was about two hours after that when that actually processed.

I had shown my crappy show to the Peppa Pig guys… and they liked it. No policemen. No Scooby-Doo unmasking. Maybe I could write this after all?

Cut to now, after writing more than 80 episodes of the show, and I call myself a writer. No question about it. No insecurity (even after a few stinky episodes).

And I love it.

But I had to be dragged into that role. Far from jumping at the opportunity, I was reluctant. Because, firstly, I didn’t believe I could do it and, secondly, I could never find the objectivity to take a real look and realise that, actually, I could do it. When it came to myself, I didn’t want to take that risk. Didn’t want to put myself out there and risk failure.

But, you know what? Gerard was right. Okay, yeah, I might have turned out to be an awful writer. But I did know those characters better than anyone. I knew the world, the tone. Logically, it simply was the right decision.

Odd how clouded we get when it comes to ourselves.

And scary to think, in a world full of people hoping for their big break, that we can be so reluctant sometimes to allow ourselves a chance at success. But here’s the thing – if someone ever offers you a chance, take it. Because they probably know you can do it better than you know yourself.

5 thoughts on “Taking a chance

  1. Andy Latham

    What’s scary is that your posts always seem to correspond with things that I’m dealing with at the time I read them! My girlfriend and I are facing a life changing decision and my worries about being found out as a fraud are sky-high at the moment! Great post though Jay, very inspiring 🙂

  2. Jay Post author

    Thanks, Andy, no need to fear the fraud squad! Well, as long as you’re not actually committing identity theft or anything. We’re not talking identity theft, right?


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