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Overnight Success Is A Myth — Here Is Why


Most people have a strong desire to be successful. Many times, however, we do not know exactly what success means or how to pursue it. This introduces much of the confusion and frustration we experience in life. This is why, as a business mentor, a major part of my job is to help people figure out who they are, what they want and how to achieve it. This assists them in shaping a clear notion of success and facilitates their pursuit thereof.

After mentoring hundreds of business executives and entrepreneurs, I have realized that one of the most common obstacles to becoming successful is the unconscious wish for overnight success and having it all. Such wishes make people impatient, shortcut-minded and capricious, all of which have devastating effects on performance and judgment. Debunking these myths is key.

About Overnight Success

In essence, overnight success does not exist. At the very least, it is statistically so rare that people would have a better chance at “succeeding” by playing the lottery. In this regard, I share the following two lessons with my mentees:

1. What most people call overnight success is actually the market suddenly realizing the value of a great product or service that had been kept in obscurity for too long while its creators refused to give up.

2. There is a difference between overnight success and early success. People tend to mistake the success of young entrepreneurs for sudden success. If you are an adult with a spouse, children, a mortgage and a heavy Excel workbook to make sense of it all, you may find counterintuitive, and maybe even unfair, that someone else can become a millionaire at age 19, 21 or 25. However, there is usually a story of hard work, creativity, genius and good opportunities behind such stories. People like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook FB -3.7%, or Justin Bieber, pop music icon, did not become successful overnight. They dedicated years to learning and perfecting their craft, during which they experienced disappointment, reinvention and, finally, success. Yes, they did not endure the decades of trial and error most of us have; yet that does not mean their success was void of effort, disappointment, struggle and the like.

In conclusion, the idea of overnight success is, by all means, a misconception. Planning one’s life around it is plain senseless.

About Having It All

Also, having it all is a very misleading ambition. In this regard, I share the following two lessons with my mentees:

1. It is economically and psychologically impossible to have it all—meaning, it is impossible to have all of the good and none of the bad. For instance, if you had literally all the wealth in the world, you would have to be at war with everyone else to protect it, which would make your success quite a short-lived and heavy burden. Similarly, if you had literally all the happiness in the world and none of the sorrow, you would be unable to relate empathetically to everyone else, which would make your company unbearable and, therefore, make you sad.

2. Based on the foregoing, those who claim to have it all are lying. They are just conceitedly hiding the fact that they do not.

Life is about making choices. When you choose one option, you are also saying no to many others. You can have what you want, but you cannot want it all and have it all. Or, as Peter Senge said, “You can have your cake and eat it too, but not at the same time.” If you really, really have it all, it means that you have had both victory and defeat; celebration and disappointment; abundance and lack; love and heartbreak, and so on—and you have learned to appreciate it all and learn from it. But that is a completely different notion from the popular “I want to have it all.”

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