The myth of the overnight success

It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.

It’s a catch-phrase of a generation.
Say that line to any kiwi in their 30s or 40s and they will immediately remember the Pantene TV commercial with Rachel Hunter…


It’s a pretty cringe-worthy advert to watch but there is actually something in that phrase.

You see, it seems to me that everyone at the moment wants IMMEDIATE results. I’ve done the work, now where is the accolade? I’ve put in the effort so where is my gold star? How come I’m not famous yet? I’ve followed the rules, taken all the steps, so how come I’m not yet successful?!


I’ve come across people who have thought up a business idea, put up a website and started being active on social media and then wondering why people aren’t flooding in to buy from them? Or they’ve sent off 10 job applications but still don’t have a job. Or mentioned in passing to their manager that they would like more responsibility but nothing has eventuated.

It’s is as though the idea is – I’ve made the decision, taken the action so come on world where is my outcome?

But where is the continual work?
Where is the day in and day out actions, successes and failures?
Where is the belief and desire to achieve no matter what else is happening and no matter whether gold stars are forthcoming or not?


Although it feels bloody hard to make the *decision* to make a change, that actually isn’t the hard part. The hard part is actually DOING it. Day in and day out doing the work.

The people I most admire are the ones who have consistently done what they care about day in and day out for YEARS. There have been ups and downs and great days and shit ones, yet they have believed in what they want and they keep knocking away at it. They get up each morning enjoying what they are doing, and doing it because they love it, not because it will bring them fame, fortune or stardom.

It seems to me we have lost the focus on doing what we want because we actually want to do it. Instead the focus has moved to the end goal, the success, the gold star, the recognition from others. But actually what we need to realise is that it is all a journey. And it isn’t always going to be an easy one.


I was at a London Philosophy Club meet-up recently where William Irvine, author of Aha!: The Moments of Insight that Shape Our World, spoke about how most of those brilliant aha! moments actually come after studying a problem for a long time. It’s the continued action, trial and error and repeated attempts that lead to that breakthrough, although we always focus on the moment just before the aha! and try to somehow repeat that. We somehow want to believe in magic and quick wins because continual hard work doesn’t seem quite so sexy.



Which is why I also love the (now rather old) manifesto from Chris Guillebeau entitled 279 days to overnight success!

Overnight successes are NEVER overnight successes. The work they put into their art, their craft, their project, their business goes on WAY before they were suddenly deemed by others to be successful. Those hours and hours of hard work they did because THEY believed in what they were doing. THEY believed in the actions they were taking. It wasn’t about the recognition of accolades from others, it was due to an internal drive and belief. 



And my take away from all this (and what I am currently learning myself), is to find the thing that you really want to do, no matter what. The internal driver that will sustain you whether the external recognition floods your way.

Whether you make your million pounds or not, what is the thing you really want to spend your days doing because you *actually* care?

If you do that, then perhaps “overnight success” will come your way.



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