Gatekeepers and the Fear of Failure
Image by Richard Masoner, available under CC BY 2.0.

Gatekeepers and the Fear of Failure

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals, Hacking Hollywood

My friend Jacob over at Sensophy recently published an article in which he posed the following question to a bunch of bloggers and entrepreneurs:

What one great thing would you dare to dream if you knew you couldn’t fail?

I was very touched to be included, but it was some of the other responses that really blew me away. I mean people had dreams, BIG dreams. It didn’t even occur to me to dream on this level (which is interesting)…

Here are a few of the bigger ones:

“I dream of a world devoid of shame.”-Arsène Hodali

“One thing I dream of often is ending world hunger.” –Tyler Tervooren

“I’d like to build a really fast spaceship so I can visit other worlds in just a few hours.”-Henrik Edberg

“To gather all the religions together under a big umbrella of mutual respect and understanding.”-Danny Brown

“I want to make it possible for bisexual polyamorous cyborgs to exist in this world without fear.”-Everett Bogue

(heh go Everett.)

Why do we Stop Ourselves from Dreaming?

The fear of failure tends to creep up when we feel like success is beyond our control. This is the reason I love concepts like self-employment, life-hacking and the democratizing power of the internet.

If you can cut out the gatekeepers and empower yourself, then your dream is within reach. Then all it takes is effort, determination and creativity. You don’t have to win anybody over. It’s all up to you.

Getting Around the System

One of my big goals this year is to become a television writer. I’ve teamed up with a friend from film school who has the same dream and we’ve been working together every Tuesday night.

He’s a great collaboration partner and we compliment each other well. He’s into developing big themes and season arcs and I’m more about the actual writing process- turning those ideas into engaging dialogue, the subtleties in character interaction, etc.

We spend our weekly meetings developing our series idea and strategizing about backdoor ways to get around the system. We’re making progress on both fronts, and it looks like we may actually score ourselves a pitch meeting or two (fingers crossed)!

Sometimes Gatekeepers are Unavoidable

We were working together last week and he turned to me and said:

“I’m afraid that we’ll do all this work, pitch the show and then nobody will buy it.”

This sort of took me aback.

I’m not sure why. It’s a very natural question.

I mean of course, no matter how much hacking we do, the television industry has a certain hierarchy in place. Unless we go around the entire system altogether and produce our own web series (something I’ve considered), there really is no way to avoid having to sell our idea to someone at some point.

Like so many other things in life, you can only empower yourself up to a certain point (a point that, granted, is far beyond where most people assume it to be). But beyond that, a dream may still be dependent on someone else’s approval. Gatekeepers may simply be unavoidable.

It’s not like I didn’t know this. In fact, my initial reaction to his comment was, ‘yeah, that’s a very likely outcome.‘ And it is. There’s a very good chance that nobody will buy our idea. The thing is, I’m unconcerned.

Redefining Success

Whenever you set goals, it’s important to frame them in a way that is self-empowering. See, the reason I’m not worried about failure is that I haven’t defined success as us selling the show. To me success would be taking all the steps that are in our power to take, and that’s it.

I truly believe that if you focus on doing everything you can, learn from your mistakes and then refocus your action as you go, doors will open up. But it takes persistence and a willingness to fail.

The Colonel Sanders Approach

Anyone who’s familiar with Tony Robbins or Napoleon Hill knows the Colonel Sanders story. At 65 years old, Sanders began approaching restaurant after restaurant, offering to license out his chicken recipe. They all said no. In fact, he received 1,009 nos till he got his first yes. And now look at him- immortalized in cartoon form on gross fast food restaurants everywhere.

But you get my point. You can’t expect to succeed the first time around. Most people fail again and again before they hit upon the right formula. It’s like they say, if you want to improve your success rate, try increasing your failure rate.

Our Strategy

So lets say we pitch our show and it gets rejected. If we wanted to, we could continue pitching the show to more production companies. We would learn from our mistakes and refine our pitch, make contacts and expand our network. We could also develop new series ideas and pitch those to the companies we’ve already established connections with. If none of that works, we could simply produce the show ourselves as a web series.

So if the first few pitches result in a hand shake and a boot out the door, that’s okay. It won’t be shattering.

Make Failure an Afterthought

Don’t make your success dependent on some gatekeeper’s approval. Focus on what you can do and view rejection as a natural step along the way.

If you remain persistent, that persistence will set you apart from the 99% of people who either give up after the first no, or (as is more common), allow the fear of failure to stop them from dreaming at all.


What have been your experiences with failure and gatekeepers? Can you think of a time when you tried something, failed and then pressed on anyway, only to eventually reach your goal?


  1. Jen says:

    Hey Emilie,

    This is actually my first time on your blog and I really liked this post! I’m a big fan of thinking that failures only make us stronger, and that getting really GOOD at failing will actually help you in the end. As humans, we get into this troubled mindset where we CAN’T fail and rejection is dreaded, but failure and rejection are natural things that will always occur.

    Great stuff and good luck with meeting your goals, I’m happy to have found your blog this morning :)


  2. Your right. Setting goal that are self empowering are righteous. Thats why the bigger the goal, the more excited one should be on achieving it. Great post. you did well.

    • Hey Emilie, did you ever have a time when fear held you back from doing something you wanted pursue?

      • Emilie says:

        Definitely. There were many times in the past when fear stopped me from doing all kinds of things! I mean, everything from starting an art project to writing a script to moving to a different city and even making new friends.

        I actually used to be quite insecure before I began learning about personal development and lifestyle design.

        I think that’s why I’m so passionate about this stuff now. I feel like I’ve broken down all kinds of limiting beliefs that I used to have and I want to help other people do the same.

        What about you Jonathan?

  3. Nina Yau says:

    Emille, Everett’s quote is classic. Haha!

  4. Abe says:

    I’m 100% supportive of you in this quest Emilie.

    The crappy part about the film and TV industry is that it’s still very much an old boys’ club. If you don’t know someone already in the biz, it’s very difficult to break in because there are gatekeepers guarding other gatekeepers’ mama’s cousins casting director, et al! I spent many years making short films and sketches, and then online video came along and changed EV-ER-Y-THING. Now, there are channels and avenues for every filmmaker to find their audience (just like we gravitate to Puttylike), and the industry is changing. Rapidly.

    Look at the battles happening with Netflix, the networks, studios, cable companies, and Amazon. Everyone is grasping for whatever and wherever they think the eyeball$ will be. I think this is a good thing for indies in the movie industry, the same way that the publishing and music industries have been turned upside frakkin down.

    Examples of “the little guy” with a consumer camera making an online movie with his/her big idea being picked up by a studio for funding/distribution are becoming more common. Almost everything the majors are doing can be done with a DSLR, After Effects wiz, and a passionate, talented crew. This is awesome to me.

    Add to that, execs are getting younger, more open minded, and “more like us” if that makes any sense. This is a huge wall that is being made a bit more scalable.

    I’m excited to hear about your upcoming pitch adventures with your friend and you successfully hacking Hollywood. And if you need a director *wink*, I know a brown dude in California that might be interested…

    • Emilie says:

      You’re right Abe. It was only a matter of time before film and tv followed along behind publishing and music. TV seems to be lagging a lot further behind though, probably because of the reliance on networks and such… Web series really aren’t up to par (yet).

      I have this dream of recreating a writers room. You know, sitting around a table with a bunch of writers, pumping out scripts each week, passing them over to production and then seeing them appear on TV (or online). That would be so incredible!

      Who knows Abe, maybe when I’m over on the west coast we can have a little chat about all this.. I would, of course, need someone to be in charge of the production team.. :)

      Btw let me know if you ever want to write a guest post on the new web 2.0 method of surviving as a filmmaker. I know a few people who’d be really into that!

      • Abe says:

        My comment was so long it’s practically a guest bad haha. I’d love to if people are interested. I dig your writing room idea. Group vid chat + Google Docs kinda thing could work…

        • Emilie says:

          Oh yeah, I know. It’s just that I dream of doing it in person, in an actual room with like..a white board, ya know? If I don’t make it into the ‘system’, I’ll just have to create that myself one day. :)

  5. Tai Goodwin says:

    Sometimes the result we want in the beginning is the goal. And sometimes the lessons that we learn through the people, the work, the challenges, the wins and disappointments was the goal all along. It’s easy to let the end result define you – instead of letting the experience shape you. That’s why so many people stop at the first no. Be encouraged to pursue your passion and your vision, you will so enjoy the ride more than if you had bowed to a gatekeeper.

    • Emilie says:

      Yes, exactly! You just perfectly articulated what I’ve been feeling:

      “Sometimes the lessons that we learn through the people, the work, the challenges, the wins and disappointments was the goal all along.”


      Thanks Tai! You’re awesome. :)

  6. Layla says:

    Ooh, I’d love to (help) write a Japanese drama too!! :)

    (actually it doesn’t even have to be Japanese, but I do love the crazy storylines!! much better than any stuff on tv these days…)

    and help the world go zero waste :)

    anyway, it can be fun just trying too!!

    and some online shows are really cool or funny too… (depending how it’s done.. if you get good actors etc on board…?) and if you create enough momentum, maybe tv people and advertisers and others would be interested too?

    you can try the online thing first or later, or do something parallel or different to catch attention online and elsewhere…
    a lot of people don’t watch tv anymore, and just hang online, just sayin’… (why do you think all tv houses and news shows and such are going online and on Facebook etc??) and some YouTube productions are really good quality imho… you could hook up with some acting/directing students/schools or existing teams etc. Or help raise money/visibility for a cause etc.

    as for failures and gatekeepers, hmm, guilty of some of that too.. sometimes did push on and persevere, sometimes didn’t and just scannered away to something else, this is still a big learning lesson for me too.. so thanks for the great post/s!

  7. Celia says:

    Hi Emilie,

    I recently came across this article through a friend,

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts!


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