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A Bluff and a Shave: How One Inexperienced Journalist Nailed His Dream Job

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Three cameras, two soundmen and a teleprompter operator are all staring at me. Then I hear the ESPN director in my ear start to count down, “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …”

This has been my dream for 20 years. But I have a problem: I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.

I’d never hosted a TV show before. Now, I was auditioning for SportsCenter, the most iconic sports news show in the world.

How did I end up here?

My story will show you how to take action, advance your goals with a well-placed bluff, overcome your fear of failure and realize your dream.

Only two months earlier, I was in Los Angeles with no job and no direction. I had been a print journalist earlier in my career, but I had taken a year off. I was now back and in need of work.

Out of the blue, my friend Craig Hutchison phoned to tell me ESPN was looking for an Australian anchor for its local version of its sports TV show, SportsCenter.

Hutchison asked me, “Are you interested?” I replied, “Absolutely!”

After all, this had been my dream for over 20 years.

Hutchison introduced me to an ESPN producer via email and the producer suggested, “Maybe we can meet in person in the next few months.” This was not the concrete interview I was hoping for.

Take action

I consulted my personal notes on Keith Ferrazzi’s networking book Never Eat Alone and was inspired by two quotes: “People do business with people they know and like,” and “There is genius in being bold.”

I contacted the producer and we agreed that because I had absolutely zero television hosting experience, I should do a screen test. “Maybe we’ll get you over to ESPN for a screen test in the next few months.”

We parted ways with a promise to speak again “in a few months,” and I flew back to Los Angeles. For a week, I kept thinking, “How can I make this happen now? How can I push this thing along without coming off as pushy and desperate?”

I needed to follow up with the ESPN producer quickly. Ferrazzi writes: “Good follow up alone elevates you above 95 percent of your peers.”

Then it came to me…

It pays to bluff sometimes

I told him I would be in New York City — close enough to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut — the following week “for business.” In truth, I had no valid reason to be in New York. I suggested that since I would already be in New York, maybe this would be an appropriate time for me to “pop on over” to ESPN in nearby Bristol for the screen test. The producer mulled it over before agreeing. Only then did I book my trip to New York.

Two weeks later, I marched into the ESPN studio for my audition, sat behind the SportsCenter desk, looked at the script in the teleprompter, and … nearly had a panic attack.

“What the hell am I doing here?” I thought to myself. Fear gripped me. As the ESPN director counted down in my ear, I became a nervous wreck. When his voice said, “Go!” I started to read the words on the screen.

“Welcome to SportsCenter. I’m James Swanwick.” It was so bad the ESPN producer continues to mock me about it to this day. The following morning, we viewed the train wreck that was my first screen test. He told me:

“Yeah, you look too nervous, you’re too wooden… What’s with the overemphasis on the ‘I’m James Swanwick’?! … The beard HAS to go! … You look like Don Johnson from Miami Vice!”

We agreed to try again. I had one final shot.

Overcoming fear of failure

Later that night, I returned to ESPN for my second and final chance to impress.

I just bluffed my way behind the ESPN anchor desk

This time, I nailed it! The following morning, the producer and I watched my second screen test. He told me, “Much, much better! You look much more comfortable, relaxed. OK, I’m going to put you on the air. Be ready in July.”

On Sunday night, July 25, 2010, I made my debut hosting SportsCenter. I got through my first SportsCenter show. Was it perfect? No. But the bottom line is, I did it. I faced my fear and pushed through it. After the show that night, I walked out into the ESPN parking lot, relieved, proud, ecstatic, exhausted, overwhelmed. I’d just realized a 20-year-dream.

Realize your dream

I went on to host SportsCenter for the next two years, working alongside some amazingly talented ESPN producers, directors and co-anchors. Along the way, I interviewed many professional athletes.

Left-to-right, basketball star Metta World Peace and NFL players Tim Tebow and Reggie Bush

Incredible opportunities have come my way because of my time at ESPN, including writing two books on how to become a journalist. I coach thousands of people how to overcome their own fear of failure and achieve their life goals.

Your turn: Follow the action plan

Now it’s your turn to realize your goals and dreams. The formula for success is so simple:

  • Take action. Any action is better than no action. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
  • Bluff a little (only if you have to).
  • Overcome your fear of failure — just remind yourself, “Keep moving forward.”
  • Realize your dream.

In short, I’m reaping the reward because I took action and pushed through the fear. Overcoming your fear of failure can reward you in ways you couldn’t even imagine. If you don’t go there, you’ll never know and you’ll always feel mediocre. So… don’t be afraid to go for it.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill

This post first ran on www.jamesswanwick.com.

James Swanwick is a former ESPN anchor on SportsCenter, celebrity interviewer, motivational coach and speaker. James is offering Brazen Careerist readers his free personal notes on three life-changing books, including Never Eat Alone. You can download them here.

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