Why Overnight Success Is Nonsense
In our On Demand world, there still isn't an app for one thing: instant success. Sometimes no matter how hard you work, it seems like there's a never-ending wait and surge pricing to get closer to your dream. That doesn't mean your time isn't coming, it just isn't coming in the immediate time frame you want it to. Adding to our eagerness to get to our career destinations faster are our social media feeds, peppered with stories about the wunderkinds of the world, who are celebrated for the ratio of their age to their accomplishments. These rare cases of talent meeting opportunity early in life can become the timetable for which we all think we should have success, sparking more anxiety than inspiration.
Lead image: BFA; Above image: Adam Katz Sinding
I have personally struggled with self-diagnosed Veruca Salt Syndrome (VSS) since childhood. For those of you who don't remember, Veruca Salt is the little girl Roald Dahl plagued with impatience in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Her Achilles' heel wasn't that she wanted everything, but that she wanted everything now.
Considering my early lack of patience for such everyday things as waiting for summer vacation to roll around, receiving the toy I'd not-so-subtly dropped every hint possible about wanting for my birthday or even having to wait until after dinner to eat my chocolate petit four for dessert, I didn't need WebMD to know that patience is a virtue that I did not possess and would most likely never come naturally to me.
So naturally, I embarked upon a career in the arts where "paying your dues" is the number one lesson. For some reason, with no proper training whatsoever, I had the guts to think I could write and publish a novel. You know how people say, "It's the journey, not the destination"? Well, when you're knee-deep in writing a novel over five-plus years (with quite long breaks) and taking any writing assignment to make ends meet in the meantime, even when the pay equals $5 per hour, you learn a lot. You learn how badly you really want something. You learn that despite all of the social media filters and likes and comments you receive when you reach your goal, how it looks to the outside world and what it really means to you are two completely different things. To others, you're a huge success and have achieved something enviable, but you know it took discipline, failure and time. Any of the grandeur seen by others is invisible due to the long journey you took to get there—and that's okay!
You see, when it comes to success, there's a secret greater than Rhonda Byrne's. While most people don't tout the unglamorous details, after having successfully finished and sold my novel to a major publisher, I want to share it: You want to be the ten-year overnight success—for many reasons.
The first is that with time and failure, you get better at what you do. Malcolm Gladwell has famously stated that 10,000 hours is "the magic number of greatness," meaning that once you've put in 10,000 hours, you become somewhat of an expert at whatever it is you're doing. You're practicing and putting the time in to make mistakes and grow from them. Not only do some people who earn success quickly burn out just as quickly because they haven't had the lessons that laboring for years would have taught them, but when it comes time for their next venture, they're clueless.
Another thing people don't tell you about success is that once you have it, you crave another challenge. I sold my first novel and it isn't even on shelves yet, but my biggest concern is what I'm going to do next. Since I had the long experience of writing and selling my first, I know what I'm in for and can choose a project that I feel like I will best be able to execute and sell. If I didn't have that knowledge, I would most likely fall into the sophomore slump and freak out if success didn't come as quickly or as easily as before—or I might even give up altogether.
There's also a sense of pride when you're a ten-year overnight success—pride in knowing that you never gave up, even when things got really hard, like when you would habitually receive overdraft notifications from your financial institution. That feeling is something that no one will ever be able to take away from you. It's like finding the golden ticket all by yourself!
So next time you're becoming a little restless about your career or if you're feeling like even though you're giving it your all, you're behind on finding success, focus on your future running the chocolate factory, not bringing home a golden goose now.