The big break.

My friend Melissa has always been obsessed with TV shows. The more salacious, dramatic, and ridiculous, the better.

As a kid, she loved watching all the classic soap operas. Shows like All My Children and Days of our Lives. Shows with utterly preposterous storylines — “She’s my evil twin!” “He faked his own death!” “It was her uncle the entire tiiiime!”

At age ten, she started writing her own soaps — but with a twist. All the characters in her stories were classmates from school. Oh, the drama! Her stories were a major hit on the playground. But eventually, a teacher shut down the project, telling Melissa it was “completely inappropriate.”

Melissa didn’t write a TV script again… for almost thirty years.

She moved on to other pursuits. She worked in sales. She ran a PR agency. She worked as a business consultant. She created a satisfying career and enjoyed her work very much.

And yet… her TV obsession always remained.

In her spare time, she would write quick stories, sketch out characters, or email friends with ideas — “Wouldn’t this make a great TV show?!” She started a fan-newsletter dedicated to True Blood. She fantasized about being a professional TV screenwriter. But when you’re in your mid-thirties with zero connections in Hollywood, that kind of dream is pretty unrealistic. At least, that’s what people always say, so it must be true, right? Melissa figured that TV would always be a passion, but probably not her career.

Then, something shifted.

One day, Melissa asked herself, “What if I decided to take my dream seriously?”

“What if I approach screenwriting as if it’s actually my career — as if it’s a ‘real thing’ that I’m doing — not just a fantasy or a hobby? What would that look like?”

She decided that’s exactly what she would do.

For Melissa, getting serious meant:

– Downloading screenplays from the Internet and studying their structure.

– Writing tons of screenplays of her own — some great, some not-so-great.

– Hiring a screenwriting coach to give feedback on her work.

– Entering several screenwriting competitions.

– Taking classes on improv comedy and acting.

– Reading dozens of books about screenwriting.

– Emailing friends to share her dream and ask for any help they could possibly give — an introduction to someone in the industry, an encouraging text message, anything at all.

– Scheduling time on her calendar to write, and treating this time like it’s a paid job and showing up is mandatory.

– Lining up coffee dates with people who work in Hollywood to share her story ideas and get mentorship and advice.

– Researching to find contact info for agents, managers, and decision-makers at TV networks and reaching out to introduce herself.

– Pitching her ideas to almost one hundred people, collecting tons of rejections along the way.

– Eventually, moving to Los Angeles (temporarily, at first) so she’d be ready to attend meetings, should the opportunity arise.

– Telling herself, “I am a TV screenwriter” rather than, “I wish I could be a TV screenwriter.”

Once Melissa decided to take her dream seriously — and put in a serious amount of work — a lot of things happened very quickly. A series of big breaks.

Within about a year, Melissa sold her first project to the Lifetime Network. It premiered last year and got watched by over 4 million people. Shortly after that, she sold an original TV show, loosely based on her real-life experiences working in the seedy, twisted world of pharmaceutical sales. Last week, she signed a deal to write a trilogy of movies. So many victories, so many breakthrough moments — and her TV career is only just beginning.

. . .

So many people wait around, wishing for a “big break” to come along — a blog post that goes viral, a bestselling book, a life-changing client, the perfect mentor or coach, something that will forever alter the course of their career.

In his memoir, the Tony Award winning actor Leslie Odom Jr. writes:

“The biggest break is the one you will give yourself by choosing to believe in your vision, in what you love, and in the gifts you have to offer the waiting world.”

From Melissa, I’ve learned that the big break isn’t a book deal, a lucrative gig, a rave review in the newspaper, or an invitation to give a TEDx Talk.

The big break is the moment you decide to take your dream seriously.