The Problem With Overnight Success Stories
You’ve seen the infomercial before. Men and women prancing around, showing off their rock-hard abs that they supposedly achieved by working out just six minutes a day! Why would you spend hours each week on a treadmill when you could look this good with a super-quick fix?, they suggest.
Deep down, of course, you know it’s all smoke and mirrors. Nobody just wakes up one day, magically looking like an Abercrombie & Fitch model after a few six-minute sessions. While there probably are a few people out there that were blessed with bionic genes, most of us would need to endure years of rigorous training at the gym and choke down more salads and protein shakes than we’d care to count to achieve that level of fitness.
Not surprisingly, the same is true for a rock-solid career. Yet, many of us still hang on to the belief that overnight success is a real possibility—if only we could find the right idea, the right contacts, the right job, the right approach. And sure, again, there are a few individuals and businesses that experience a meteoric rise to the top of their game, but that instant rags-to-riches scenario is certainly the exception, not the rule. And frankly, it may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
Still not convinced? Check out these three reasons why you should take the idea of overnight success with a grain of salt.
1. What You See is Not What You Get
We all love a good Cinderella story. Take the beloved Jennifer Lawrence, for example. Before JLaw was cast as the lead in the Hunger Games franchise, hardly anyone had ever heard of her. Then, seemingly overnight, this young starlet was a sensation! Suddenly, everyone was casting her in films, and before we knew it, she was accepting her first Oscar.
When you see stories like this, it’s natural to dream that your career can take off with just a few strokes of luck. But the reality is, most successes have been hard-earned and fought for over a much longer period—you just didn’t see what was going on behind the scenes. In this case, what many people fail to remember is that JLaw has been working hard on her acting career for nearly a decade—she’s done primetime series, made-for-TV movies, and likely, many gigs that never even made it to her IMDb profile.
A successful career will usually require a lot of grunt work before that final sprint of success gets set into motion. Most people at the top just don’t broadcast all the steps it took them to get there.
2. No Pain, No Gain
I’ve seen people try all kinds of “get-rich-or-successful-quick” gimmicks to land a job or get ahead at work—everything from pyramid schemes to week-long conferences that cost thousands of dollars but promise to transform your career. And while they think those approaches can be an easy way to the top, they rarely work—and people rarely earn respect from others by trying them out.
The truth is, great and respected careers (yes, just like great fitness routines) are more often built over the long haul. Think about it: People might be jealous when they hear about overnight success stories—but they’re more impressed when they hear about people who’ve worked hard, faced trials, and learned lessons along the way. Similarly, the people who you’ll work with once you’re at the top are more likely to respect somebody who has a proven work ethic, as opposed to someone who just caught a lucky break on the fast track to success.
3. Shock to the System
Even when overnight success does miraculously happen, it’s not always a good thing.
For a good example, look at San Francisco-based clothing company American Giant. One day, the company was a scrappy start-up making quality hoodies, trying its darndest to sell as much product as possible. Then, Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote a glowing review of the company’s products, and within about 36 hours nearly all its inventory had been sold. In a matter of hours, a business that initially thought it had overstocked for the holidays was now dealing with a PR nightmare, not enough product to keep customers happy, and a whole new set of operational issues it wouldn’t have expected for years to come.
The lesson for you? Sure, there’s a chance you could land an amazing gig at the top of your field tomorrow. But if you did, would you be able to perform that role successfully? The nice thing about a steady rise to the top is that, along the way, you gain the skills and stamina necessary to do a great job once you get there. After years of practice, you’ll be better prepared for the norms of the job—good and bad—and be able to handle them with ease.
All this is to say that sitting around hoping for your big career transformation is unlikely to do you any good in the long run. While overnight success is a seductive idea, remember that it’s really just the Six Minute Abs approach to your career. Forget the instant (perceived) gratification, and focus your time and energy on setting yourself up for long-term success: improve your on-the-job performance, think of new skills you can learn to bolster your resume, and develop stronger relationships and a bigger network.
Sure, it’ll take more than six minutes, but time is what solid careers are built on.
Photo of man at work courtesy of Shutterstock.
Quickly becoming the most nationally recognized career coach, Ryan Kahn has placed thousands of college students, recent grads, and job seekers on the path to their dream career. Kahn is founder of The Hired Group, star of MTV’s Hired, and author ofHired! The Guide for the Recent Grad. Book one-on-one coaching sessions with Ryan on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author