“It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.” – Eddie Cantor
One day, after three protracted weeks of anticipation, the silent, motionless egg broke open, and a baby chick emerged into the world. It was, from our perspective, a sudden, incredible transformation.
But to that baby chicken, there was nothing sudden or transformative about it. To her, this was just the latest result of a slow, steady, arduous process extended evenly over twenty days of effort.
On April 25, 2019, Forbes posted a feature/interview with me on their website. I thought it was pretty neat, so I shared it on my Facebook. There was an immediate and overwhelming response, with friends and colleagues commenting that they “knew I would make it,” that my work had finally paid off, and a flood of congratulations on my newfound success. While I appreciated the praise, I was astonished by the reaction. To me, the article was a seemingly sensible iteration on the work I had been doing for years, but to everyone on the outside, I had abruptly emerged from my egg as a “success story.”
We only see people and companies once they’ve already “made it.” They appear in a flash, seemingly out of nowhere, on top of the world. And to us, it seems to happen overnight, and as a result of a single idea – one grandiose action or stroke of luck.
The reality, though, could not be more different. Every business, and every person, who finds success does it by chipping away at the inside of their egg, a bit at a time, every day, usually for YEARS, with no one noticing, until they finally reach the position where you can see them.
Jim Collins, in his seminal book Good to Great, describes business success as a massive, humongous, colossal flywheel of incalculable weight, that you start pushing. And after one day, you move it a couple of inches, and then a couple more the next day, and more the next day, and then it starts picking up a tiny amount of speed from the weight and momentum of this flywheel. And you keep pushing, day after day, week after week, year after year, until the momentum has picked up and now this giant flywheel is spinning on its own, faster and faster. If someone asked you, “Which push was the one that really got it going?”, there is no way you could answer. ALL OF THEM. Bit by bit. That’s the way success is built, and there’s no skipping this reality. There’s no shortcut, no easy way around it. You must go through it – one chip of the eggshell, one push of the flywheel at a time.
And when you see someone suddenly killing it, remember that their overnight success is probably a decade in the making. It’s just now you can see it.