Don’t Take No for an Answer: Career Advice from Norman Reedus of “The Walking Dead”

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If you want to get the job you really want, you can’t take no for an answer. Just ask Norman Reedus, who plays the popular character of Daryl Dixon in the AMC hit television series, The Walking Dead.

As Reedus shared in a recent Wall Street Journal Live interview, the role of Daryl Dixon didn’t even exist when he tried out for The Walking Dead. In fact, all the roles for the show had been taken. But he was so impressed with the show in development that he asked for the chance to audition, anyway.

“I said, ‘Let me come in and audition for anything,’” he told Paul Vigna of The Wall Street Journal. So he read the lines for a part that had been filled, already — that of angry racist Merle Dixon — hoping perhaps to be cast as an extra. His audition was so impressive that writers Frank Darabont, Charles H. Eglee, and Jack LoGiudice ended up creating a role for Reedus, that of Merle’s younger brother, Daryl. The tough, crossbow-wielding survivalist would go on to become so popular that he became a cultural phenomenon, with his own fan club, Dixon’s Vixens; merchandise; and strong media coverage.

Reedus himself has become a TV star. Because of his impressive portrayal, Daryl has been elevated from supporting role to a lead character on The Walking Dead, and Reedus has won an IGN “Best TV Hero” award. Producer Gale Anne Hurd says, “No one brings a compelling, albeit broken, character like Daryl Dixon to life like Norman Reedus.” He has a strong fan following across social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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If you’re looking for a job, or are an entrepreneur trying to land a client, you can take away three important lessons from this story:

  • Go for it even when you have no apparent hope of succeeding. Reedus could have focused his energies trying out for a different show when he heard all the roles for The Walking Dead had been taken. But he was so passionate about the show he tried out, anyway. I’ve been in his shoes, and I’ll bet you have, too. Even when you’re told, “We have nothing available here for you,” you might suggest an informational interview, just to introduce yourself. Meeting in person can plant the seeds for a position or an opportunity that your prospective employer or client hadn’t thought about until they had a face to go with your name. Witnessing a compelling skill set in person is a lot different than reading a list on paper.
  • But don’t be unrealistic. By the time he tried out for The Walking Dead, Reedus was a respected but lesser known actor best remembered for his performance in the cult favorite The Boondock Saints. He also had minor experience writing and directing. This might sound obvious, but when trying out for The Walking Dead, he stuck to his bread-and-butter skills of acting instead of trying to get on to the show by directing or writing. It’s one thing to try out for a long shot. It’s quite another to make unrealistic demands of yourself. Get your foot in the door doing something you know really well — and build from there.
  • Be bold. What I especially like about the Wall Street Journal interview is what happened after Reedus landed the role: he did not adopt a meek, “I’m just happy to be here” attitude. He took ownership of the character and fought to shape the role that he felt would work best. For instance, the creators of The Walking Dead originally suggested Daryl would be a racist like his older brother Merle, as well as a pilferer of Merle’s drug stash. But Reedus fought to make Daryl different from his brother — rough around the edges but ashamed of his family’s behavior rather than accepting of it. The elements of shame and a determination to make something better of himself have made Dixon a more rich and sympathetic character. When you get the job you want, being bold is how you make your mark.

Refusing to take no for an answer doesn’t mean you need to act like a pushy jerk. You can be persistent and polite yet assertive, too. A few years ago, a college student reached out to me about the possibility of being an intern for hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, with whom who I was working at the time. Technically, Dupri had no internship program. But the student was eager to learn and to help, and gracious. A few phone calls later, she got the job — because she created it.

Have you ever created a job or landed a business relationship after being told no? Tell me your story.

Apple Causes Panic in the First World

Apple is such a well-oiled machine that a rare misstep by one of the world’s most admired brands is front-page news. Consider Page 1 of the September 21 The Wall Street Journal: “Apple Makes a Wrong Turn as Users Blast Map Switch,” reports the WSJ breathlessly alongside an article about the U.S. presidential election and an analysis of the widely reported September 11 assault on the U.S. Libyan assembly. “Apple Makes a Wrong Turn” focuses on Apple’s decision to replace a Google Maps applications with an apparently less accurate Apple mapping software in the newest version of Apple’s OS operating software (iOS 6) for the iPhone. Yes, that’s right: a consumer uprising about mapping software on their iPhones receive the same level of attention as a discussion of a tragic assault that claimed lives and raises questions about U.S. security. Do our smartphones matter this much?

Hell, yes. Consider these stats from the TIME Wireless Issue:

  • Half of all Americans confess to sleeping next to our mobile phones.
  • About 65 percent of people around the world would prefer taking their mobile phones over their lunches to work if forced to choose.
  • Eight of out 10 people say they cannot go a single day without their mobile devices.

Meantime, one of out 10 people studied by Stanford say admit to feeling “fully addicted” to their iPhones. And evidently the overwhelming majority of iPhone users are emotionally dependent on Google Maps. When it became known that Apple iOS 6 swapped Google Maps software with Apple’s own, a firestorm of protest erupted. A new blog, The Amazing iOS 6 Maps, shares numerous inaccuracies in Apple’s mapping software, such as the disappearance of Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, and wrong names applied to streets and landmarks. CNET and The Huffington Post joined the groundswell of consumer complaints erupting across social media, including people protesting on Twitter.

To be sure, it’s important that consumers hold companies accountable for their mistakes, and it’s galling when powerful brands like Apple and Facebook foist changes upon us without first understanding what we want and need. But the Google Maps flap screams “First World Problem.” We buy our smartphones to enrich our lives, and instead our smartphones lead us around by our noses. Apple needs to fix inaccurate information in its mapping software, but meantime we might want to test another solution: ask a human being for directions.