Overnight success is an oxymoron

For the past decade, hundreds of millions of television viewers have been captivated by the reality shows that turn nobody’s into somebody’s. This became a big deal to me the first time I heard Carrie Underwood sing on the radio and found out she went from a pizzeria waitress to instant celebrity in less than a year by winning the fourth season of American Idol. I remember thinking, “How lucky is she?”

I began watching American Idol a few seasons later, and several other talent-based reality shows began popping up, like America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and Hell’s Kitchen. The premise of all of these shows is to find talented people in obscurity and give them the opportunity to make it big and become famous overnight.

Every time a contestant made it to the top 10 on AI, I would spend time researching their life up to being on the show, and I found a common theme. Every one of them had been putting in the time and energy to master their craft long before they ever hit the stage.

For example, Underwood, nearly a decade before her Idol triumph, had a recording label considering her for a recording contract before the label changed management. Underwood continued to sing anywhere and everywhere she could, in churches, in plays, probably in karaoke bars and anywhere else she could get her hands on a microphone. She was training to be a country music star long before Simon, Paula and Randy found her.

I have a friend who owns a sales and marketing firm in New York, and she has been working like crazy to grow her business and expand her organization, but for three years, she had nothing to show for it. For four years, she plugged away at her goals, seeing little success along the way.

However, in year five, she grew her organization six times its size from the previous year, and many in her industry and many of her friends are labeling her an “overnight success”. Only those who were not able to see the previous four years truly believe that. The rest of us know the truth: she was preparing for success long before she achieved it.

The truth is the term “overnight success” is an oxymoron. It doesn’t exist. That’s the bad news. You’re not going to get where you want to go by tomorrow.

But the good news is this: you are preparing right now for something else – an opportunity, a job, another level of success – even if you don’t know it. The best thing you can do is embrace this time and take advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow. What you learn today might just make all the difference in the world.


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