Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to become an overnight success

The first time the idea for this post came into my head I was on my hands and knees in one of my nicest dresses picking up confetti piece by piece after a student event. The second was at a nighttime student Valentines Day event when one of the students got suddenly sick and, since it was after-hours with no janitor, security let me into the janitors closet so I could mop up the mess.

These moments are part of my first job out of college and I will never forget them. Because they remind me of what every successful person I’ve ever met or read about has told me – almost everyone starts from the bottom.

A few days ago I was talking to one of my mentors who is always full of quotes and life lessons that seem to stay with me forever; he works in entertainment and has met some wildly famous people, and in passing he said: “people who enjoy overnight success enjoy it after many years.”

We live in a culture where it seems like Justin Bieber’s come out of nowhere and giant successful companies can be created by students still in college (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook).

It’s awesome to be young and successful but the truth is, it’s really rare.  And the danger is we are saturated with these young celebrities and successful entrepreneurs and are told that if you just have the right idea or get a college degree that money and success will come – and come fast.

But the truth is, it takes a long time. And that is a good truth to remember. Because otherwise life after college can feel really, really depressing.

And life during college can be wrought with stress and anxiety, with you wondering if you are doing what you need to do to set up your “future.” Wondering if it will be enough.

You are enough. And you can do big things and find great success in college and beyond. You just have to remember that overnight success takes years. And here is how you can make this year one.

1. Write your goals
To become successful in whatever it is you want to do, you first must define what that is. It can be anything! Success does not mean winning a Grammy or making millions. Only you can define it for yourself. But where most people miss out is that they never define it. You can always change your mind. But you must make an initial choice. And once you do – go full force!

2. Focus and practice every day
People who are successful and great at what they do are focused on what it is they want and they do something every day to move towards that goal. Every day. What could you do today to move closer to what you want for your life? Answer that question every day and then act. Sometimes it can feel like you are getting nowhere and destined to mop floors forever. But one day – that overnight success moment – you will realize all of that investment paid off.

3. Build relationships
Ask anyone whom you admire and think successful who has helped them get where they are today and I guarantee you they will be able to list people off the top of their head with no trouble. People helping people is what move success forward. Put yourself in situations where you can meet new people often and take time to get to know people you admire. You never know what can happen.

4. Put yourself out there and take opportunities
You have to be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and try things you’ve never tried before, and college is the perfect place to build this habit. Notice your fears and crush them. Become an officer in a club. Become the president. Start a new club. Try for big scholarships and awards. Work really really hard and take risks.

Whenever life seems hard and you feel like you just can’t catch a break, remember the steps above and keep pushing forward. And remember that almost everyone starts at the bottom. It’s not a bad place to start.

This year Malcolm Gladwell will be the speaker at Phi Theta Kappa’s National Convention and one of his many incredible books – Outliers – elucidates how “overnight success” truly is the product of a lot of behind-the-scenes work and practice that most people never realize. Check out the short video below to see how he uncovers and explains the Beatles amazing musical success. 

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