Who Let You In?

We all want to be “in” rather than “out” – in touch, in vogue, invited, included. The idea or perception that we are out of touch, out of style, left out or squeezed out makes us uneasy.

Why is that?

Is it because we live in a culture that defines our worth by “Likes” “You’re Invited” “You’re in!?”

Or is it because we feel a sense of entitlement that we deserve to be admitted because we are special, talented or connected?

With Thanksgiving coming up in two weeks, I want to initiate a conversation about Who Let You In – as a starter.

Who let you in when you least expected it that literally changed your life forever? Who gave you a break? And why?

Let me get started.

My First Break in TV

I got my first break in TV when I was 22 years old – fresh out of college and waiting to hear back from 20 TV news stations from all over America.

I sent out my resumes blindly – without knowing anyone at any of these ABC, NBC, or CBS affiliated stations in the top ten TV markets of the country. I heard back from 19 news directors and human resources chiefs. The answer was no; I was surprised.

Rejected But Surprised

The surprise wasn’t that I was rejected. The surprise was that they responded to me. We, as students, had been forewarned by our college (S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University) career advisors to expect nothing in return for our application letters because they were so few openings for college graduates with little experience. Here’s their reminder…

“Don’t expect to hear back. People are busy. They’ll write if they’re interested.”

Sounds tough? But that was reality of the real world. Reality bites sometimes. However, rather than feeling hurt or disappointed, I remember reading all 19 stock response letters over and over again as if they were some kind of trophy, delighting in the simple fact that they took the time to write me back.

“Thank you for your interest. However, we have no vacancies at this time but we will keep your resume on file. If a future opening becomes available for which you could be considered. we would contact you.”

I was secretly happy, grateful even that I was “let in” on their thinking, reasoning, and future opening. My eyes were always on what’s possible even when the immediate answer was “no.”

Rejected But Determined

You see – early rejection shaped my mindset against high expectation that I was going to get a break. But that didn’t mean I gave up. I just prepared myself mentally to be in a ready-to-go back-to-Hong Kong mode. At that point, I had already used up six months out of the one-year period that I was allowed (as a newly-graduated foreign student) to try and find a job in the U.S. Time was running out, but I was determined to wait it out.

Yes And No

Just 3 months before my visa expired, I got a seductively positive yet substantively unpromising letter from Peter Leone – then news director of KNXT (a CBS local TV station in Los Angeles) – thanking me for my job enquiry, praising me for my courage and enthusiasm for the TV news business, and showing interest in meeting with me “if I happen to be in L.A.”  You see, there were no job openings! But for some reason unbeknownst to me at the time, Mr. Leone was willing to “let me in” for a meeting, which I took as a positive sign and the only door open to me then – so I jumped on it.

I flew out to L.A. for the one-hour meeting where Mr. Leone was trying to get a sense of who I was, why I came to America from Hong Kong, what my career goals and interests were, and why I wanted to be in TV news. As it turned out, Mr. Leone was going to leave his job in Los Angeles to become the station manager of WOR-TV (an independent local TV station in New York) where he would initiate massive hiring and staffing the entire news department! He was thinking ahead, picking people whom he thought showed talent or potential for working for him one day. Suffice it to say, I made a solid impression on him and he urged me to stay in touch after that interview. But he did not promise me a job.

Yes And Thankful

Since that day, it would take many more rounds of follow-up phone calls and letters to Mr. Leone to eventually land a couple more rounds of interviews at WOR-TV (where Mr. Leone became station manager) before I was finally offered an entry level position as a production assistant at WOR-TV – just weeks before I had to leave America. That was a close call. It came just in time. That was my first break in TV.

Yes, you may say that I had persevered, I had worked hard and waited, or that I deserved it.

But the simple truth is – I got my first break.

Someone gave me a break, Someone let me in.

Whatever opportunity we receive in life, I remind myself that it always comes from someone who’s willing to give it.

Mr. Leone was willing to give me time and attention when he had no immediate job openings but would later give me a recommendation that got me a foot in the door. Once in, I realized how lucky I was to be working for him, and how generous he had been to many other college graduates and young professionals  who showed great energy, enthusiasm and talent for the TV journalism world.

Mr. Leone passed away more than ten years ago. I heard from a close colleague about his sudden death, but no one gave me the circumstances leading up to his death.

It was sudden. Life is full of sudden turning points – for better or worse. As we count down to Thanksgiving, let’s remember those who let us in. Let’s ask how we too – can let others in.

Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is mablechan@chinapersonified.com.