They’re the people you love to hate.
The ones who come seemingly out of nowhere, stroll onto the scene, leap-frog everyone else and vault their way to the top. Their first novel is a runaway bestseller. First movie a box-office smash. First show a critical triumph. How do they do it?
They have a secret…
They know…there is no such thing as an overnight success. There is, instead, the illusion of instant success.
It’s the preparation that nobody else sees that forms the foundation of the perception of instant success. Years of work, blood, sweat and tears. Toiling away behind closed doors, without fame or admiration. All adding up to a single moment of crowning glory that reveals to the world not the struggle, the work or the sacrifice, but simply, the mastery.
Look at Tiger Woods.
He walked onto the scene, vaulted into the public-eye and became the youngest golfer to win the Masters. The thing is, he didn’t become good overnight, mass numbers of people simply “discovered” he was good overnight. Before that, he’d been practicing for hours every day for nearly 15-years. In fact, he even appeared on The Tonight Show when he was 3 to show his prowess hitting golfballs, before slipping back into relative smalltime public awareness.
Look at Jonathan Safran Foer.
Foer’s debute novel, Everything Is Illuminated was a massive bestseller, leading to a major motion-picture. Just another overnight success? Not a chance. A deeper look reveals “Foer attended Georgetown Day School and Princeton University, where he studied philosophy and literature and was awarded the Senior Creative Writing Thesis Prize.” (Wikipedia). He’d been developing his skills for years, but until his first novel, few people knew how good a writer he’d become.
Look at Harlan Kilstein.
Harlan burst onto the marketing scene as a newbie copywriter a few years back, within months, scored a job writing a sales letter for a major player and hit a massive homerun his first-time out.
Behind the scenes, though, Harlan had been honig his skills for decades, earning a Ph.D in education with a disseration on the use of therapeutic metaphor to persuade people. He then poured himself into the writing and trainings of all the top copywriters in the country, before seemingly coming out of nowhere to hit his first job out of the ballpark.
Overnight success is really overnight exposure.
So, with rare exception, overnight success is really about extremely hard work, coupled with a defining event that allows large numbers of people to become instantly aware of the fruits of years’ or decades’ labor.
Is there the occasional person who literally waltzes onto the scene with little of no work and becomes instantly acclaimed? Hmmm… I guess, maybe. If you guys no of people like this, who truly became overnight successes without a serious history of non-public work, it’d be interesting to learn about them. Feel free to share anyone who comes to mind the in the comments.
But, to me, overnight success comes down to two things -
- Extraordinary work over an extended period of time in relative obscurity, punctuated by,
- A unique opportunity to reveal the depth of your skills/knowledge to a mass-audience in a short, discrete period of time.
So, what do you think?
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