The Myth of Overnight Success
When it comes to “making it,” the media loves to report on overnight successes, lottery winners, and tech companies that seem to come from nowhere to capture the imagination of the market. It is exciting to contemplate being handed a fortune and fantasize about spending it. Exciting, but also quite misleading.
Those who seem to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere to achieve “overnight success” include:
- Actress Betty White, who worked for 10 years in radio after told she was too “un-photogenic” for movies. After finally landing work in TV, she worked for 20 more years until her role on The Mary Tyler Moore show led to her first Emmy.
- George R. R. Martin, who published novels for 37 years (taking a temporary break after his 4th novel was a flop) before selling the rights to his epic fantasy series to HBO, upon which the wildly popular “Game of Thrones” series is based.
- Rowland H. Macy’s first five department stores failed, according to Success.com. It wasn’t until R. H. Macy moved to New York and applied all of his lessons learned that Macy’s department store became a household name.
History’s biggest achievers haven’t counted solely on talent or serendipity to attain their goals. Stories of patience, practice and determination aren’t quite as exciting as guessing the winning answer on “So You Want to be a Millionaire”, yet all of these factors are essential in finding wealth and success. Perhaps Ray Kroc said it best, “I was an overnight success alright, but 30 years is a long, long night.”
The other key factor that never makes headlines is perseverance. A majority of millionaires took the “slow climb” approach to building wealth through earning, saving and investing. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but those who try to “get rich quick” rarely do. And as a survey of bankrupt celebrities and lottery winners would reveal, those that do succeed quickly often fail to retain the money gained. In other words, there are no shortcuts to lasting success.
What It Takes to Develop True Expertise
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” goes the old show business saying.
In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell published his controversial best-seller Outliers: The Story of Success. Basing his theories on a study by Anders Ericsson, Gladwell posits that “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” He uses The Beatles as one example. From 1960 through 1963, the unknown band played 1200 shows in Hamburg, Germany, amassing more than 10,000 hours in concert (and, as per the quote above, their second US concert took place in 1964 at Carnegie Hall).
Gladwell also cites Bill Gates, who had access to a high school computer starting at 13 years old. Again, he put in the time – about 10,000 hours of programming – before he graduated. Gates then went on to partner with Paul Allen to start a company you may have never heard of… Traf-O-Data. Yes, before there was Microsoft, there was Traf-O-Data, which attempted to track traffic data. According to a Newsweek article from April of 2011, between 1974 and 1980, Traf-O-Data totaled net losses of $3,494 before they closed up shop.
Both examples also indicate a willingness to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. As Gladwell says in the book, “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.”
Was Leonardo DaVinci a Failure?
The inspiration for this article came from “The Long Game,” a video essay by Adam Westbrook that was originally released on Delve.TV. The video still shows an image of Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting, The Last Supper, labeled with this provocative statement: “The Guy Who Painted This Was a Loser (and What That Means for the Rest of Us).”
In the video, Westbrook blasts commonly held ideas of success. With a fresh perspective on “the other side” of DaVinci’s life that we may be less familiar with, he makes the case that our quintessential renaissance man dealt with failure for a great deal of his life. Most of the projects he worked on were too ambitious, and many went unfinished. His reputation suffered so much as a result of his inability to complete projects that by the age of 30, the only job he could get was drawing portraits of dead criminals for authorities.
Despite a history of setbacks, Leonardo never gave up or stopped working on his craft. His big break did not come until 1498 when he won the commission to paint his signature piece, the Last Supper. He was 46 years old.
Westbrook describes a common thread that connects all of the lives of eventually-successful people he examined: “The Difficult Years.” Much like DaVinci, other heroes go through long periods of struggle during which they hone their chosen disciplines. The Difficult Years are defined by a quote from Mastery author Robert Greene: “A largely self-directed apprenticeship that lasts 5-10 years and receives little attention because it does not contain stories of great achievement or discovery.”
The Difficult Years could be seen as the period during which someone puts in their 10,000 hours:
- Marie Curie spent seven years in abject poverty while she studied radioactivity.
- The great saxophonist John Coltrane practiced every day for 17 years until he had his first hit in 1960.
- Stephen King wrote every day for nine years before he sold his first novel.
All the greats played The Long Game.
Are you pursuing your own “long game”? Do you have a willingness to power through your own difficult years in order to achieve your legacy? If we want lasting prosperity, we must practice the habits that produce it with persistence.
To contemplate your own long game (or your need for greater perseverance) in your own life – watch Adam Westbrook’s entertaining and thought-provoking video essays:
Playing the Long Game of Prosperity
“Do any of us have the patience?” asks Westbrook. The philosophy of the Long Game runs counter to our general culture of fast food, faster computers, and instant gratification. Yet when it comes to wealth, as in other areas of life, there is something to be said for patience and perseverance.
When we seek quick results in our finances, our actions can lead to disappointment instead of mastery and success. Chasing a high rate of return by taking on more risk in the stock market can be counter-productive or even disastrous. House “flipping” is not as reliable a strategy as buy and hold. Speculation of all types turns an investor into the proverbial “hare” that rarely beats the predictable, steady tortoise in the end.
In seeking out quick results, we do a disservice to our peace of mind as well as our dollars. We find ourselves glued to market results, crossing our fingers that lady luck will be kind. But Prosperity Economics™ isn’t about luck… it’s about taking strategic, consistent actions over a long period of time.
While the masses chase after the latest “hot stocks,” those practicing the long-game of wealth practice prosperity by investing consistently for the future. Building long-term equity in a home, a business, or a whole life insurance policy are proven reliable long-game strategies.
Built for long-term savings and liquidity, whole life helps you build the savings necessary for larger, more lucrative investments through cash value that consistently outperforms savings accounts, CDs, and other safe savings vehicles. It is also life insurance that insures that long-game financial plans are not interrupted by the unexpected but are “self-completing” savings plans.
When starting to learn a craft, it is impossible to know for sure if you will be able to invest 10,000 hours. Likewise, no one can guarantee that they will have 30 years or even 3 months to save the money they intend to guarantee that their loved ones will be taken care of properly. Whole life insurance ensures that every policyholder can play the long game of wealth whether they are beginning at age 25 or 75.
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