When I was a teenager and heard, “It's all who you know,” it used to feel so defeating.
I wanted to be a famous musician, but I didn't know any famous people. I didn't grow up in Hollywood. None of my friends were successful. Success was a secret insider's group to which I'd never belong. I'm just an introvert from Nowhere, Illinois.
So when I heard, “It's all who you know," it felt like the rest of that sentence was, “and you don't know anyone. So forget it.”
One day in college we had a guest speaker who was a head-honcho at BMI.
On his way into class I overheard him say he was hungry. He had come straight to our school without lunch, so when the teacher told him it was a two-hour class, he groaned.
Because everyone was still getting seated, I quickly ran out to the hall, called the local pizza shop, and ordered a few pizzas to be sent to our classroom.
After they arrived, he laughed and said, “Good move. I owe you one,” and gave me his card after class, suggesting I keep in touch.
For the next two years, he always took my calls, gave me all kinds of advice about the music business, and when I graduated college, he got me a great job at Warner Music in New York City. (More specifically: he heard they had an opening and called them to say their search was over, that he knew the best guy for the job, could vouch for me, then gave them my number. They called me to say I was hired already and I started the next day.)
A year later, I realized “It's all who you know,” doesn't have to be depressing. I just never considered it could work in my favor.
Then once you realize that, you realize the profound conclusion: everything that seems depressing can be flipped to work in your favor.
Every deal that's bad for someone is good for someone else. So instead of moaning about one end of it, take the other end.
Think banks have an unfair advantage? Then be a bank.
Think corporate radio is keeping your music from being heard? Then make a radio station.
In 1996, distribution for musicians sucked. The only way to get your music sold was to somehow be that 1-in-1000 that signs a deal with a major distributor, who would keep 60% of the net, which was 50% of the gross, and you were left with $1.50 per CD sold, although they were notorious for never paying, and of course you never found out who bought your music, and they would kick you out if you didn't sell huge numbers in the first few months. So instead of moaning, I just became a distributor.
It's easier than ever for you to replace a broken system, and never feel helpless again.
If you're offered the shit end of the stick, never forget you can flip the stick around.
(Then clean it, so it's not shitty for anyone else again.)