The Myth of Overnight Success

"It takes 20 years to become an overnight success." - Eddie Cantor

When looking upon wildly successful businesses, campaigns and individuals, some of them seem as if they just appeared over a long weekend with VC-backed valuations of billions of dollars. Elon Musk and Uber come to mind most recently.

But of course, they do not just appear out of nowhere.

Our perception is that way because of how the media covers such subjects and how social media distributes it with such haste and force. Reality is considerably different. I recently read an article discussing some of the biggest things that happen in your 20's and what a remarkable time in your life it is. One of the topics was "the sum of the little things matter much more than the big things."

The little thing is the hour you spend each day studying a new language. The big thing is fluency in that language. The only way you can get the big thing, is through the little things because the reality is you can't learn Italian in a day. You can't learn Photoshop while you are sleeping. You can't teach yourself HTML and CSS over the weekend and expect to be able to build the next Google. You must be patient, persistent and take action through the little things.

Another tangible example: Facebook.

A few years ago in an interview with co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, he was asked how he felt about Facebook's overnight success. His answer went something like: "If by 'overnight success' you mean staying up and coding all night, every night for six years straight, then it felt quite tiring and stressful."

What a perfect answer. However, come time for their IPO, we said things like, "Wow, Mark Zuckerberg made $19.25 billion overnight!" Not exactly. It actually took just over 3,000 nights for that to happen*.

I imagine there were times throughout the journeys of these mega-successes of serious doubt, uncertainty, rejection and failure. In those times of failure, you have to stick to the little things and focus on what you can affect. It is the only way you will make it to the big things. As is life, those will be the times when it will be hardest to stick to the little things. It will be very easy to give up.

But when you don't give up, all of a sudden you have achieved the big thing.

Go forth and be awesome.

*Calculated through the elapsed time of Facebook's founding on Feb. 4 2004 to Facebook's NASDAQ IPO on May 18 2012.