How to Become an Overnight Success
"It must feel great to be an overnight success," she said.
"Yeah," he replied flatly, "a twenty year overnight success."
I heard that exchange a few years ago on a news program. The news anchor was interviewing a local actor appearing in a high profile show. He had been working in and around Kansas City for many years, but had recently garnered some nation attention.
His response to her question struck me.
Hearing him say that he was actually a twenty year overnight success gave me comfort and confirmed something I had hoped was true.
I wanted to believe that success wasn't just dumb luck, a big break or a $3000 secret some schmuck wanted to sell me.
Since I had not yet become the overnight success I longed to be, I secretly hoped that overnight successes weren't possible. Otherwise, why wasn't I a success yet?
And so, his words comforted me by confirming that success, true success, did not happen overnight, but rather, was years in the making.
This reminded me that I was on the right path and reconstituted my resolve to keep at it.
Success stories have always fascinated me. How does one become successful? How do successful people think? Is there something different about them? What motivates them?
I watched the Charlie Rose show religiously when he used to do more one-on-one interviews. He often interviewed actors, writers, artists, scientists--anyone who had achieved a high level of success in their field. Charlie is one of the great interviewers and he seems to be driven by the same questions that drive me.
But it was that local news anchor and her offhand comment that caught my attention that day--"It must feel great to be an overnight success."
When the actor responded with "a twenty year overnight success," I knew this would become a new mantra for me. It was certainly true of my own experience. My successes have never come overnight.
You probably started reading this article looking for that one secret to becoming an overnight success, but the sad truth is, there is no such thing as an overnight success...well, at least not in the conventional sense. There is a secret and I'm going to share it with you, but you may have to rethink what you believe about success.
Though some successes appear to emerge overnight, the truth is that success comes one inch at a time--one quiet moment at a time.
The twenty year overnight success is the one who practices his craft day in and day out, year after year after year.
The overnight part is the moment when the world notices that there is a master among them.
However, even now, you are thinking of counter examples to what I'm telling you. What about reality TV stars, global pop singers living out-of-control lives, politicians embroiled in scandals?
You look at these people and wonder why they should taste success instead of you. You see them as incompetent, lucky and without any special skills to have gotten where they are. You start to believe the lie that some people are just lucky, just born rich, just born with good looks, just knew the right people, got an inside tip, found the secret that no one else had.
But that's all a lie.
All successful people, even those who didn't seem to earn it, have invested enormous amounts of unseen energy into reaching their goals. Sure some of their lives are train wrecks, but if we were a fly on the wall we would have seen their daily efforts in spite of their struggles. Indeed, their stories are even greater inspirations, for they, saddled with various difficulties or weaknesses still managed to apply enough consistent effort to overcome the ordinary and reach for the stars.
Sometimes people make mistakes and their success is short lived, but their success did not happen by accident.
It is tempting to look at others and assume it was easy for them, but they are the proverbial iceberg. Sometimes their success hinges on their ability to make it look easy. That is part of the fascination. We want to see actors who make it look easy. We love watching sports figures that can spin, jump, twirl and score without breaking a sweat. We never see the daily workouts; we never see that for every hour TMZ catches them partying that they spent a thousand hours honing their craft.
Tricked by this illusion, teenagers wrap themselves in fancy clothes and expensive looking accessories thinking that if they appear to be successful that they will be. One kid wants to play in the NBA and practices five hours a day while the other invests himself in looking the part. Which one do you think will actually make it to the NBA?
Girls put on mommy's make up, but it doesn't make them women. There's a lot more to being captivating than external appearances.
And writers...writers long to be published, to be validated by critics and money. Being published is the Holy Grail for many writers. This is why there are so many websites popping up where people can post their rejection letters and complain about stupid editors and publishing companies.
Many writers have fallen prey to the idea that every effort, even first efforts, must always be rewarded. They feel they should be able to sail through a first draft and get their rewards. I can't blame them. Rejection hurts, but it hurts more when you believe the lie that being an overnight success is possible. The first Harry Potter book received 12 rejections before a Bloomsbury editor finally agreed to publish it. What if J.K. Rowling had stopped after the first rejection?
There is a young woman in my home town who, to my knowledge, has never published any of her writings. Yet she has written three full length novels. I don't know how good they are, but this young woman is clearly a writer. She writes and writes and writes.
I would not be surprised if one day our town suddenly learns about a new overnight success, a young woman lucky enough to be born with talent who ended up in the right place at the right time.
Naturally, we won't hear about the years she invested in her craft. They won't tell us about the novels in the closet, the thousands of hours devoted to learning how to write.
If you want to be an overnight success, you must begin planning years in advance and you must accept that you will not be very good when you begin. That's OK. No one is. Don't believe the hype.
Instead believe that by investing little by little that it will add up to something great.
Learning your craft, a little each day, is like investing. As you invest in yourself on a regular basis, your investment compounds.
If you saved one dollar every day for ten years you would have more than $3600. If, while you were saving it, you invested it and earned 7% on your money, you would have over $5000. That's 40% more than what you actually saved. This is how consistent investments in yourself work, too.
So even though it might be disappointing to hear that there is no such thing as an overnight success, there is still hope. You don't even have to work terribly hard, just consistently. There is power in compounding effort.
The secret to becoming an overnight success is to consistently do things that bring you closer to your goal.
Your really big break--the time when the world notices--might come in six months or it might be twenty years, but you will have certainly reaped many smaller rewards in the meantime.
Perhaps you have heard of Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. He was a teacher when he began writing. He wrote and published three novels before The Da Vinci Code, none of which sold very well, less than 10,000 copies each. His fourth book, the Da Vinci Code, has now sold over 80 million copies and launched his previous three novels onto bestseller lists.
Did his first three novels suddenly get better all by themselves? Of course not, people just noticed them.
The meteoric success of his fourth book propelled the sales of the others. It was the catalyst for his wild success.
To the world it may have seemed like The Da Vinci Code was an overnight success, but for Dan Brown it was years in the making.
Do something every day to draw closer to your goals. This you can control. You have limited control over the timing of your success. It may even surprise you when it finally happens.
I'm not suggesting that you will have the kind of wild success that Dan Brown eventually had, but what I do know is that there is only one way to reach that kind of success.
Consistent, regular steps, one at a time.
If you're having trouble getting started, then do the smallest thing you can think of. It still counts! You'd be surprised how much it counts.
For example, if you're having trouble sitting down to write every day, then work on sitting down in front of the computer at the same time every day for five minutes. You don't even have to write. Just remind yourself that you are in training, that you are learning how to do something consistently and that it is bringing you one step closer to your goal.
Eventually, you may find that you start reading writing blogs every day when you sit down. And soon, you may find you are motivated to write for those five minutes, which turns into fifteen minutes every day. Then one day, you discover that you've completed a first draft.
Eventually, your regular time becomes such an integral part of your life you can't imagine not doing it. And right about then, something will unleash itself in the fabric of the universe. You will be seen by others as the master that you are and many will hail you as an overnight success.
You may want to chide them for suggesting that your achievements were mere luck when you know how much devotion and consistency went into it. But instead, you feel sad that they cannot understand the great secret of how one becomes an overnight success.