I’m going to be straightforward here: Success doesn’t happen overnight – for anyone. And that’s okay, because slow and steady work leads to success that is sustainable in a way that nothing “overnight” can match.
Recent history is filled with highly successful people who worked hard for years before achieving their dreams. Take James Dyson, of the vacuum cleaners and hand dryers. He changed the vacuum industry and is working to change other industries as well. But he spent 15 years going through more than 5,000 failed prototypes before creating his first successful vacuum cleaner.
Or, take Lucille Ball. The actress, producer and studio executive was one of the most successful people the entertainment industry has ever seen. She’s regarded as both a comic genius and an industry pioneer. The debut of her TV show, “I Love Lucy,” turned her into what seemed like an overnight sensation. But she was no overnight success – she was 40 years old and had been working toward that success for more than 20 years. She had been sent home from drama school in New York and turned down for show business jobs at audition after audition. Through the decades, though, she remained focused on her goals, working hard and getting better at her craft. Although success didn’t happen overnight for Ball, she never stopped working toward it.
These are just a couple of examples that show success doesn’t happen overnight. This may sound depressing, but the fact that there’s no such thing as overnight success is actually good news. It means that, even if you feel you haven’t achieved whatever you define as “success,” you most likely can and will achieve it. You just haven’t gotten there yet. Don’t rush life – live it.
Why Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Many factors go into true success: hard work, determination, focusing on your goals, assistance from and collaboration with others, learning from your mistakes. Plus, “overnight success” is often preceded by years of failures, setbacks, and straightforward hard work. And those rare occasions when someone seems to have achieved “overnight success”? It’s likely just pure, dumb luck – and pure, dumb luck isn’t the foundation of sustainable success.
So what is sustainable success? It’s success that is repeatable and that nourishes you. It is success that allows you to be true to who you are. And, if you’re talking about success as a small business owner, it is success that nourishes your company, employees, and customers over the long term. This kind of success doesn’t happen overnight.
If you’re ambitious in any way, you probably want to “feel like a success” right now. But don’t rush life. Doing so won’t give you the kind of success that lasts, that nourishes you. Only steady work, experience, a lot of learning, and patience can achieve sustainable success.
The Importance of Being Patient
Patience is both a powerful strategy for sustainable growth and a coping skill when setbacks do occur. Without it, you can’t stay on a steady course toward your goals. Patience helps you refocus when something doesn’t happen the way you hope it will. It allows you to take a step back, evaluate your situation, and keep moving forward.
Patience is the opposite of frustration, in which you give up, get angry, lash out, or otherwise take action that stops you from achieving success.
In fact, patience is liberating. It allows you to shrug off frustration and learn from it. It’s also a lot less stressful than letting frustration consume and direct you. Patience allows you to develop meaningful relationships with people, deep understanding of a topic or industry, expertise in a skill and more. Take the time to develop these rewarding long-term pursuits.
If you feel a constant “harrying sense of time urgency,” you may be suffering from what is called “hurry sickness”, a term coined by Cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman. On a micro level, this means your schedule is booked, often double-booked, every second of the day. You may constantly over-commit yourself. On a macro level, hurry sickness may mean you’re always thinking about the next thing you need to accomplish, the place you should be, the thing you should have.
In hurry sickness, you get locked into a state of overstimulation. This makes you tired, anxious, irritable, and unable to relax. Research shows that hurry sickness makes you less effective, both at work and as a human being. I’ll say it again: Don’t rush life!
This is not to suggest that you simply sit back and wait for things to work out in your life or your business. Rather, practice what Marcus would call “patience with a plan.” While success doesn’t happen overnight, it also doesn’t happen unless you set your goals and work toward them over time. Think of patience as an active state.
The Benefits of Being Patient and Working Steadily
Patience and steady work have many benefits:
- Smarter decisions. Patience allows you to remain calm, centered and focused on your long-term goals, all of which lead to smarter decision-making.
- Higher effectiveness. Steady work and patience allow you to function in a more relaxed state. You’re able to work and live more intentionally. Both make you more effective on every level: at completing tasks, at strategic planning, at your relationships.
- Increased confidence. Working steadily and patiently toward your goals forces you to concentrate as much on the journey as the destination. You notice small wins and incremental improvements. You see that you’re better at something now than you were six months ago, or that you’re more satisfied with your life now than you were last year.
Taking notice of these wins improves your confidence that you’ll achieve the next win.
- Less burnout. If you’re rushing through life, trying to achieve overnight success, you can’t enjoy the journey. And, since success doesn’t happen overnight, you’re far more likely to experience burnout when you don’t reach those ultimate goals right away.
- Greater rewards. Yes, working patiently and steadily toward success means delaying gratification. But when you don’t rush life, you appreciate the rewards that much more. And you’ll know that you’ve earned your success. As Marcus would say, “If you don’t work for it, why do you think you deserve it?”
All these benefits can be cumulative. When you stop trying to achieve overnight success and concentrate on steady progress, your successes will be easier to achieve. Because you’re making smarter decisions, functioning more effectively, feeling more confident and staving off burnout, you’re able to set and achieve new goals and work toward greater successes.
Strategies to Work Steadily
Since success doesn’t happen overnight, you’ll have to “settle” for working hard and steadily. As Marcus would say, “You don’t get anything. You have to earn it.” So how do you practice this strong, steady progress – especially in a world that keeps sending you the message that you should be achieving overnight success? There are several strategies you can use:
- Pace yourself. This applies to all aspects of your life. You don’t need to own a house and a luxury car next year, or even in five years. Start by aiming to save up the money to buy a used car, or to move into an apartment with a roommate. Then, consider your next step, and take the time you need to get there. The same goes for business: You don’t need to own a $5 million-a-year company in two years. Start by getting an entry-level job where you can learn about an industry, a market, or business in general, and work your way up to starting your own company. And, if you own a $1 million company, don’t be in a rush to turn it into a $10 million company. The companies that grew too quickly and imploded on themselves are legion. Aim for sustainable business growth, so your $10 million company doesn’t collapse into a $1 million company.
- Recognize your incremental progress. It’s not always easy to pace yourself when overnight success seems within your grasp. One way to remain on track is to recognize incremental progress. If you are saving to buy a home, celebrate milestones such as your first year of putting money aside every month, the first $1,000 in your savings account, hitting $5,000 in savings, or getting your credit in excellent shape. In your career, recognize milestones such as completing a project, having your idea picked up by the company, getting to pitch a client, receiving a compliment from senior management, and, of course, earning each promotion or lateral move.
- Recognize your personal growth. Milestones aren’t the only benefits you’ll enjoy during your steady work. When you don’t rush life, you also can recognize your own internal growth. Did you get through a client presentation without sweating after three years of presenting? Are colleagues or coworkers now asking for your opinion on key decisions? Do you complete a task that once took hours in just a half hour? Are you able to enjoy time with your parents without slipping into negative habits? Did you improve your jogging pace? Take a moment and bask in the progress you’ve made on you.
- Refocus on your long-term goals with no pressure. If you start to feel frustrated by where you are, or the urge to rush life starts to tug at you, remind yourself about your long term goals and that success won’t happen overnight.
- Take a deep breath – literally or figuratively. A literal deep breath (all the way from your belly, breathing in fully and releasing it fully) can immediately slow or stop the rush of stress hormones. You’ll be able to take a step back, employ patience, and make smarter decisions. A figurative deep breath when life feels like it’s rushing by in the wrong direction, or when you feel like you’re not going anywhere you want to go, will allow you to assess your successes and progress. It will give you a chance to tell yourself, “Don’t rush life.” And, it will allow you to begin enjoying the journey again.
- Be kind to yourself. Stop criticizing yourself for not being an overnight success. Expect to fail, to move slowly sometimes, and to need assistance. This is all part of being human.
Tips to Achieving Slow and Steady Success
While it is more rewarding, sustainable, and lasting, slow and steady success isn’t easy to achieve. Here are a few actions you can take right now to begin your journey:
- Catch yourself in the act of rushing. When you find yourself pushing through a day/quarter/semester/project, a day, or even an interaction, ask yourself whether it’s necessary or even beneficial. Most of the time, you’ll find it’s not. Slow down, even just a little.
- Practice being present. Whether you’re at dinner with a friend, on a walk with your dog, in a business meeting, helping a customer, or working on a spreadsheet, be present. Notice what you’re experiencing and what you’re doing. This may mean putting aside your phone or your rushing thoughts. It may mean not checking your email for an hour, or not playing out a million scenarios that may come after the meeting.
- Break success down into steps. Instead of dreaming of overnight success, break your success down into a plan that will unfold over time. This plan can be as detailed or as high-level as you want. Its function is to help you recognize your progress, remember that you have a lot of work to do to achieve success, and remind you that all your work will pay off.
While some people or companies may catch a lucky break, true success doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it requires patience and slow, steady, hard work. If you don’t rush life, you’ll find the rewards are sweeter, stronger, and longer-lasting.
- What is your current pace toward success?
- What tips from above can help you have a slow and steady success?
- How can you be sure you don’t rush life?
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MindTools.com. (n.d.). How to beat hurry sickness. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/how-to-beat-hurry-sickness.htm
Haas M.D., S.B. (2020, June 25). Stop rushing and pushing through your life. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prescriptions-life/202006/stop-rushing-and-pushing-through-your-life
Iliff, R. (2019, July 29). Why sustainable growth is the right formula for startup success. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/rebekah-iliff/how-to-grow-your-startup-without-risking-burnout.html