The Myth of Overnight Success

overnight success

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is important to me that I’m realistic about self improvement and success.

I read a lot of different blogs and sites on self improvement, and I notice that it is popular (and probably more profitable) to give others a false image of instant gratification.

People don’t just want to be happy or successful, they want to be happy or successful right now.

The problem with this desire is that it ignores the work and effort it often takes to achieve something in life. It’s a process that takes time to carry itself out. There are no magic pills to take, or blueprints to follow, that will give you everything you want automatically. Overnight success is a myth.

Brainwashed on instant gratification

Our current culture has severely brainwashed us to believe that the moment we want something we deserve it. Want to listen to a song? It only takes a couple clicks on YouTube. Want to contact someone? It takes less than 20 seconds to find them on your phone or message them on Facebook. Want a juicy cheeseburger? Go through the McDonald’s drive-thru. Want a new X? You can probably find it in some store that you live less than 5 minutes away from. Today, it’s just too friggin’ easy to find instant gratification, so we have come to expect it in everything.

To drill this point a little further, I’m reminded of a video I recently saw on YouTube of comedian Louis C.K. talking about how much we think the world owes us. He describes a recent experience he had in a plane where they had high-speed internet (clearly, a huge privilege compared to what we had last decade, let alone last century). However, during the flight the internet service went down, and a person sitting next to Louis C.K. then grumbles, “Psh…this is bullshit!” quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago…

Of course, it is wonderful that our would is filled with so many privileges. At the same time, it’s very easy for any of us to become a spoiled brat. When this starts trickling over into our core values, finding happiness, fulfilling relationships, creativity, starting a business – whatever it may be – then we set ourselves up for disappointment and failure.

The costs to success

The opposite of short-term gratification is the acceptance that short-term costs are sometimes necessary for long-term benefits. Things don’t magically improve overnight, you need to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen. You need to try new things, explore, fail, learn, and persist. And most likely there will be pain throughout the process – so consider them growing pains.

Every “overnight success” was actually weeks, months, and years in the making. Some people like to cite Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as an instant success, but Nirvana had been around since 1987 – 4 years before their hit single was ever released. And before then? Each band member was practicing their instruments and learning how to perfect their craft. It sometimes feels like a band or artist just explodes overnight, but the truth is a lot of us are unaware of all the things that happened behind the scenes before things started to take off.

“It takes 20 years to become an overnight success.”

Eddie Cantor

The point of this post isn’t to discourage you from trying to pursue your goals. I only want you to know what you are in for if you plan to succeed. It’s usually not a walk-in-the-park. At the very least, achieving anything is going to cost you some time to make it happen. It’s going to take much more patience then downloading a song off the internet or sitting on the drive-thru line for Taco Bell. For awhile, your goals are going to seem abstract and far away, and only daily persistence is going to gradually make those visions more vivid and clear.

Contrary to what they tell you in The Secret or Law of Attraction, fulfilling your goals is going to take much more than imagination and desire. Although those may be good starting points, you will also need to take action, and lots of it. Although I understand why overnight success sounds very attractive, it is ultimately too idealistic.

On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t want you to think “busy work” always pays off either. What you really need to do is work, but work intelligently. Do the things that count and matter most, and you’ll start seeing pay-offs. Maybe you won’t see pay-offs right away, but you will eventually. And if you keep building off that momentum, things can begin to grow exponentially. I know, because I’ve seen my efforts begin to pay-off on this blog, and I’ve seen other successful people build themselves up with little or nothing. It’s possible – and it’s often worth it – but it doesn’t come for free. Please don’t bank on overnight success.

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