I have a feeling this post will annoy a lot of people.

Especially successful ones.

But hey, it needs to be said so whatcha gonna do?

In media or any other business don’t ever underestimate the importance of luck.

Likewise don’t over-estimate the role played by your own talents and hard work.

I mention this because I hadn’t realised until recently that there was a second 27 Club. And that I belonged to it.

We all know of the original 27 Club whose unfortunate rock fraternity members all infamously died young, three years shy of 30.

I only know of two members of our particular small, select, very lucky 27 Club.

I found out about it while having a long overdue coffee last week with former Green Party TD, John Gormley, during which I caught up on his latest media venture, Grenstem, and we discussed the pros and cons of setting up on your own in this daft business we call media.

In amongst all the gossip I discovered that in the 1997 general election he was elected to the Dáil after a week-long re-count with Michael McDowell which he won by a mere 27 votes.

Now, I’ve never believed in lucky numbers – but once…and only once that I know of – 27 votes similarly changed my life. Without it, who knows where I’d be now? Certainly not typing this blog…

In 1984 I was cajoled into running against a classmate for the position of Entertainments Officer in the Students Union of my old alma mater, NIHE Dublin (now DCU).

And I won…by 27 votes…27 bloody votes…at least a hundred students had no idea who either of us were so would’ve stuck a pin in it. 27 votes was nothing. And yet it really did change my life.

Without those 27 votes I wouldn’t have got a taste for the music business.

I wouldn’t have gone for the position (now incorporating Publications Manager responsibilities) when it was made fulltime two years later.

I wouldn’t have began to deal with Hot Press music magazine who did the layout and design for me on the 1987 Student Union Yearbook and Directory.

I wouldn’t have started writing for them, and then for the likes of In Dublin and the old Dublin Event Guide.

I wouldn’t have interviewed the TV producer for an article I was writing who then persuaded me to audition for the gig presenting a show on RTE television.

I wouldn’t have had an initial nine-year career on radio and TV in Montrose.

I wouldn’t have gone to London in 1998 to try my luck over there.

I wouldn’t have spent the ensuing 11 years hustling my way round the English capital, the highlight of which was originating, developing and producing a major Emmy-winning series on the history of war journalism for Discovery.

I wouldn’t have come back to Dublin in 2009 to produce – and eventually produce and direct – an end-of-year review for RTÉ ONE of the news we searched for online in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

I wouldn’t have decided to hang around since as enough work has generally kept me busy and off the street corners.

I wouldn’t be sitting here now wondering what’s next.

And all because of a lousy 27 votes.

Now of course I may well have got to do all that without that tiny handful of winning electoral Xs, but I doubt it. I may have gone a different route and ended up here – or indeed somewhere better – but whatever way you look at it, that tiny winning margin was pivotal.

And that’s without considering the multitude of other lucky breaks I’ve had along the way, most of which I’m pretty sure I’ve been unaware of.

Sure, I worked hard, studied when necessary, networked like a mad thing and generally shortened the odds in my favour as much as possible, but in the media, like most other businesses, you’re still relying on others to make decisions that will have huge impacts on your future.

What, for instance, if that first music television idea back in 1989 hadn’t had such well-heeled (ie sponsored) competition?

What if during all those years filling in for Fanning on 2fm someone there figured maybe they should offer me a proper music radio gig?

What if, more recently, despite being shortlisted, we’d won a big radio commission I’d have given my right arm for?

What if just a handful of the hundreds of amazing (whaaaat?) programme ideas from over the years currently residing in the ‘rejected’ folder on my hard drive – let’s say for argument’s sake, only those that have subsequently been made by others – had got green lit, pitched via a different production company to a different channel commissioner on a different day?

Was it a lack of talent? Not trying hard enough? Or possibly a complex mess of bad luck? I suspect the latter. Then I would, wouldn’t I?

I’m not, of course, the only one. While writing this I came across Aaron Hillegass of Big Nerd Ranch, one of those rare breeds, a successful entrepreneur who acknowledges that the role of luck in success or failure is underestimated.

Like him we’ve all had decisions go in our favour or against us all our lives because of factors we had zilch control over at the time.

Our accents; our postcodes; our parents’ attitude to education and work; the quality of our teachers and schools; the personality foibles of our workmates and bosses; our health…the list of mitigating circumstances is endless.

Now, before you cry foul and jump down my throat at my questioning of your undoubted excellence, it’s not like I’m making this shit up.

You should be aware of the self-attribution fallacy.

As George Monbiot, a far more intelligent man than I, pointed out a few years ago, “the claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible.”

He also at the time reminded us that, “if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

So, I don’t want to put you off, but if you want to be successful in the media biz, like any other, sure, do all those things like study, work, hustle, and so on, but if in the end you don’t get lucky, fuhgeddaboudit.

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15 Comments. Leave new

I reckon it was your wistful expression that swung the Ents Officer vote for you Pat

Reply

The class mate – Mark Walsh?

…and ‘cajoled’? 🙂

Reply

Nicely observed, Pat. Of course you were to modest to mention perhaps the other fundamental truth, that people liked you, regarded you and willed you well. May you stay forever young and forever grateful.

Reply

I somehow can’t imagine you allowing yourself to be cajoled into anything you didn’t already want to do 🙂

Reply

    To be honest, Pat, I hadn’t even considered running until Ciaran Ó Maoileoin approached me. Though in fairness, he didn’t have too much cajoling to do.

    Reply

Great post, Pat – I don’t know about the number 27 – but I definitely agree that a sprinkling of luck or being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference . . .

Reply

I’m pretty sure I voted for you Pat! Maybe I was even one of those 27 votes!!

Reply

[…] Pat O’Mahony. He won by 27 votes and went on to bigger and better things! You’ll find a nice piece on his blog about it here. Many thanks to the […]

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