Imagine if you could write for the top sitcom in America, then write movies in Hollywood, and actually make a ton of money doing it.
That sounds like fun, right? Sounds like you would kill to have a dream job like that.
Only Matt Berry did the exact opposite of that. He wrote 12 episodes of Married with Children. Wrote for a bunch of other shows. Even wrote a movie or two. And then gave it all up.
I would never have done that unless someone was offering me something incredibly huge. LIke, maybe he was going to be an astronaut or President.
But he gave it up for a job that paid nothing and all his dreams came true after that.
I called him up to find out why. He had tweeted about my book when it came out on June 3 and I wanted to thank him. But I was also jealous. I WANTED to write for the sitcoms. I was almost angry he gave it up to write for basically nothing for a fantasy sports site.
I was miserable in Hollywood, he told me. And then finally there was a breaking point. I was sitting in a room going over a script with two actors and they were trying to explain to me how to write comedy. I couldn’t take it anymore.
Matt Berry’s book, “The Fantasy Life” comes out today. It’s excellent and I highly recommend it. Not because he sent it to me. But because I read it and it reminds me so much of how I ended up doing the things I ended up doing.
It’s about someone who chooses himself, chooses to follow his own path to success and, in doing so, creates out of nothing an entire career.
I know nothing about Fantasy Sports. I know nothing really about sports. And yet I 100% related to almost every chapter in the book, which are his stories about fantasy sports, mixed in with his own memoir and how he got to be where he is: THE fantasy sports commentator for ESPN, and the founder of one of the most popular sites about fantasy sports.
The lessons I got from his story:
A) Your dream job might not be your dream job. Everyone thinks that writing for Hollywood sounds like a fantasy. And I’m sure it was that societal dream that thew Matt Berry into the mix. He was funny, he moved to Hollywood and worked at a toy store, rose up the ranks with spec scripts, ending up at The George Carlin Show, and then Married..with Children, and then, and then and then. He paid his dues, learned his writing skills, and was making money at the entertainment capitol of the world.
But he hated it.
As he wrote in the book, “doing something you don’t care about kill you inside. And a lot of money won’t change that.”
B) What are your childhood dreams? Believe it or not, they usually don’t change when you grow older. Berry had been playing fantasy sports since he was 14 years old. He had put in his “10,000 hours” on Fantasy sports. It was his passion more than anything else, more than Hollywood. So he approached a site, RotoWorld and offered to write for them for almost nothing. As he put it, “I was starting to think outside the box, starting down a path that would eventually lead me to trade one life for another“.
C) Be persistent. He contacted RotoWorld’s general contact info offering to write and they wouldn’t respond. Finally he contacted the head writer, laid out his credentials, and did my favorite technique: he ASKED FOR ADVICE on how he could write for them. Within seconds he was writing for them.
D) Diversify. He didn’t just quit his job and write for free. He was still writing for Hollywood while using his free time…to write for free. Often people write me and say, “I have this great idea but I have a full time job. Can you help me raise money so I can do my idea?” And the answer is always going to be…no.
When I started my first business I was still working my fulltime job at HBO. I was still trying to shoot two pilots for them plus manage all the upkeep on their website. And at the same time I was running my business, making websites for every other entertainment company. I had to work 24 hours a day but every moment I was enjoying. Sort of. Sometimes I hated it. Sometimes I couldn’t handle how much time it was taking.
But you have to take control of your own destinies to find which one is right for you. Once someone gives you money, you are OWNED. Try everything first. Then buy your freedom.
E) Choose Yourself. When the fantasy sports site he first started writing for wanted to cut him off he started his own site. How many times have you wanted to be “chosen” in life: by parents, colleges, a good job, a website, a publisher, an agent, a whoever.
Matt Berry may be great at Fantasy Sports and whatever he does at ESPN but what I got most out of his book was that he did not want to be chosen by someone else. When actors wanted to tell him (the writer of the one of the highest rated comedy shows of the 90s) what comedy was, he quit. When a fantasy sports site started to treat him like crap, he built his own site. He chose himself.
F) Be honest. I see this all the time among internet writers. Nobody wants to tell the truth and just say it how it is. Financial writers write about stocks. Sports writers write about sports. Social media “experts” want to write : “10 things to be a successful tweeter”. But nobody writes about when they failed or when they were wrong. Everyone wants to hush that up so they can pretend to be perfect.
What I really want to know is: who the hell are you? Matt Berry became the first fantasy sports blogger to write about himself. As he put it, “I wrote about my life, my friends, my leagues…everything was fair game. I didn’t want to be a stereotypical fantasy nerd.”.
That’s what people want to know. They want to know how hard it is to be obsessed with fantasy sports while maintaining a job and a relationship. They want to know your personal stories of success, failure, persistence, pain, despair, and riches. 99.9% of writers don’t get this. For this reason alone: buy Matt’s book and see how he does it. He’s like the Howard Stern of Fantasy Sports. Every radio personality tried to copy Stern but none of them got the honesty part done right. Matt gets it.
And the pain is real. We all go through it. As Matt says on page 172 of the book, “I had lost the wife, the writing partner, the career. All I had left was the dog, the websites, and a half-empty living room”.
G) Diversify even more. Matt was running his own site but you can never build up the biggest audience running your own site. You have to have bigger sites syndicate your content and then you link back to your own site. Matt kept pursuing bigger and bigger opportunities while continuing to run his own site. He went through the standard routine that everyone who is choosing themselves knows all too well:
1) first he tried everyone and they all said “no”.
2) then one said “yes” and he started writing for NBA.com
3) once one says yes, everyone says yes: radio, MLB, Fox, ESPN.
4) Sell your business to make money and do what you love doing. He sold TalentedMrRoto.com to ESPN / Disney and became their senior director of Fantasy Sports.
H) Create your own career.
There WAS NO senior director of Fantasy Sports at ESPN (or any TV network) before Matt came along. He created that job, career, out of nothing. Nothing but the passion that started him at the age of 14, which led him to give up the pseudo–dream life in Hollywood, led him to give up almost everything in his life while he kept persisting, and finally ended up creating his own career and industry at the top of the mountain in sports.
The book is a blueprint for how to pursue one’s passion. I wish I had read it when I was ten. I’m glad I read it now. I relate to so much of what he did and I feel it parallels much of what I discuss in “Choose Yourself”. But Matt shows how it’s done and I’m happy to recommend the book. He had sent it to me but I had already pre-ordered it.
I read it and then I called him to maybe interview him about it. But when we got on the phone I said, “you know what. I got it. I have no questions.” So for all I know he’ll hate this review. But to me, this book is the map for how to choose yourself, find your passion, and create the world you want to live in.