How does a complete nobody get the opportunity to become Elvis Presley’s manager?
Jerry Weintraub was an ordinary man with extraordinary dreams. One of those dreams was to become Elvis’s road manager.
There were a few problems with his goal. One, Elvis already had a manager he’d be working with for years – the Colonel. Two, why would Elvis work with a random Joe Schmo of the street? Three, to be redundant on purpose — he was Elvis freaking Presley — literally the most famous person on the planet at the time.
None of this seemed to occur to Jerry.
He got a hold of the Colonel’s phone number and called him up.
“Who is this?”
“Hi, my name is Jerry Weintraub and I’d like to take Elvis Presley out on tour.”
The Colonel went onto explain that Elvis wouldn’t be going on tour any time soon or perhaps ever again. In his 60’s, he’d transitioned to making movies. He also went onto explain that even if he were to go on tour, it wouldn’t be with some random guy.
This didn’t seem to shake Jerry at all. He called the next day with the same result. He also called the day after, and the next day, and the next day.
He called the Colonel every single day for a year. On day 365, Jerry found a way to wear the Colonel down, but the challenge was far from over.
“Ok, you want to be Elvis’s manager? Meet us at the Hilton International Hotel with a million dollars cash tomorrow.”
Again, the ludicrousness of the task at hand didn’t occur to Jerry at all. He started thinking of ways to get the money. He called every bank in the city – a fool’s errand. After tapping out nearly all of his ideas and resources, he somehow found a way to get the money.
A local entrepreneur — and die-hard Elvis Presley fan — offered to give Jerry the money. Perhaps it was because an entrepreneur respected his audacity and was curious to see if he could pull it off.
Either way, the plan was almost complete.
The next day, Jerry met Elvis and the Colonel at the hotel. He handed the Colonel a briefcase with one million dollars cash. The Colonel never imagined he’d get the money. He just wanted to find a way to get this stranger to stop bothering him. But after seeing the sheer ambition and ingenuity from this fellow, he decided this was someone worth entrusting Elvis Presley’s career.
Just like that, Jerry went on tour with Elvis.
Jerry had a big problem.
Elvis was set to do his first show in Miami. As of the night before the show, the seats hadn’t sold out. In fact, a good number of seats were still available. Elvis refused to perform at a show that wasn’t sold out.
This was a critical point in both of their careers. Jerry was still looking to gain Elvis’s full trust. Elvis — accustomed to being a rock-idol — had a lost a bit of luster with age.
What rabbit was Jerry going to pull out of his hat this time?
He realized the show didn’t need to be sold out to be a success. It just needed the appearance and perception of a sold-out show. He called the local sheriff and asked to borrow some inmates. He had the men physically remove all of the unsold seats from the stadium.
The next night, Elvis had his “sold out” show. The smaller-yet-packed crowd provided an intimate experience with everyone involved. All of the fans got up close and personal with Elvis and Elvis felt the love and adoration of a tightly packed crowd zeroed in on his every move.
This show generated buzz and made for a successful tour.
There’s a theme here — perception shapes reality. You can perceive a no as a rejection or an opportunity. You can perceive a small crowd as a disappointing turnout or an intimate affair.
You can use the skills of perception to change your mind and the hearts and minds of people around you. Or you can let a limited perception keep you from getting what you want.
Prior to working with Elvis, Jerry was a low-level employee working in the mailroom at NBC. At lunch one day, he overheard two MCA — a popular talent agency – executives talking about a new open position at the T.V. division of the company.
So what did he do? He did what he always does — got a centimeter of his foot in the door and figured out what to do later.
He called MCA’s office and requested an interview, which he landed.
During the interview, the manager asked about the qualifications specific to the position — skills like typing, dictation, and shorthand.
Jerry replied that he was capable of all the above. Was he lying? Yes and no. While he didn’t have the necessary skills at the time, he figured he’d learn the ropes along the way and stay enough steps ahead to appear competent and do a good job.
Once hired, he came up with some “workarounds” to do well at the position. He got secretaries to type his letters and relayed conversations with his boss from memory for them to dictate.
He actually got caught when his boss asked him to write a letter for him on the spot and read it back to him. Not only did Jerry not get fired, he got promoted and the company gave him a secretary to do his typing.
His rationale for his actions. In his words, “I was willing to be lucky.”
Now I’m not saying to become a liar. That’s not the point. The point is this — you can’t always wait until you’re ready and qualified before you’re able to pursue what you want from this life. You have to be willing to roll the dice.
“When the man says no, pretend like you can’t hear him.” – Jerry Weintraub.
The quote above sums up the key to Jerry’s success that can also be the key to yours.
Most people live in a world of rules, structure, and limitations. When they see a job application that says “you must have five years of experience to apply,” they take that as an ironclad statement and aim for something they’re “qualified for.” If someone tells them “no” they stop pursuing their goal.
They don’t know the fine arts of negotiation, persistence, and the skill of getting into the back or side door when the front door is closed.
I’ve published posts for websites that clearly state they “aren’t accepting contributors at this time” or “take a very limited number of contributors.”
My first instinct is to find another way to connect or engage with closed off people or organizations.
I learned these skills from people like Jerry and others like him. No doesn’t always mean no. No can mean be more creative. The word no is often a filter for people who give up easily. People often use the word no as a litmus test to see if you’re worth working with — it’s an easy filter to use.
When it comes to doing things others won’t do, it’s a matter of the way you see reality. You can see rules as set in stone or negotiable. Often, they’re negotiable.
If you’re not getting what you want in life, it’s not necessarily because you lack resources. You might lack resourcefulness.
Think about it. When it comes to your dreams in life, do you default to thinking about your lack of credentials and connections? That’s a clear cut sign you’re not using your imagination enough.
Somewhere along the line, society finds a way to beat the curiosity and imagination out of us. You’re living in the matrix and you don’t even know it.
You can snap out of it and live your life on your terms. And it can lead to some amazing results.
If the only thing Jerry had accomplished was taking Elvis on tour, his life would be considered a smashing success. But his work with Elvis only scratched the surface.
He went on to work with Frank Sinatra and helped artist like John Denver turn around their career.
He broke into the film industry and went onto produce major blockbusters like Oceans 11, The Karate Kid, and Vegas Vacation.
From the days of getting a promotion at MCA to jumping through a career wormhole by working with Elvis, and wiggling his way into unrelated industries, Jerry figured out the key to a successful life.
You have to reinvent yourself over and over again.
This all goes back to ingenuity and creativity. Most of us — at a certain point — decide our life is just going to be a certain way. We’re resigned to our fate.
The world’s most successful people find a way to begin a new when they find themselves at a crossroads.
This isn’t just about money or status either. Someone driven by money would stand no chance of these types of accomplishments. Jerry pursued each new goal because he had an insane amount of curiosity and passion for them.
The process of reinventing yourself involves tapping into that curiosity you used to have and using it as fuel to experiment with new goals or even a new life.
You have to be willing to get rejected and face uncertainty. The results wouldn’t be as great without the failures anyway.
Here’s the good news – it’s never over for you. You can reinvent yourself over and over again until you die, but at some point, you have to get started.
There’s an idea called the “narrative fallacy” that says we tend to make up stories about our lives that don’t reflect the truth because we pick and choose the pieces we want. The narrative fallacy often comes with a negative connotation.
I think of it the exact opposite way.
Humans learn through stories. We see our lives as a story.
While removing the narrative from your life might seem practical and logical, it’s boring as hell and uninspired.
Be the hero of your story. Look at your life as an adventure. It’s your life after all.
Jerry made up his mind that life was meant to be lived and explored — that nothing was impossible as long as you took some time to think about the detours on life’s highway.
It’s up to you. I can’t live your life for you, nor do I have all the answers.
From my perspective, though, living your life trying to figure out a way to do whatever the hell you want seems like a lot more fun than the alternatives.