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Ten Years to be an Overnight Success

Ten Years to be an Overnight Success

A client of mine sold the first of several businesses he started and pocketed about 30 million dollars at the age of 35.  He received a fair amount of attention in his industry for his accomplishments and some media attention as well.  It was easy for people to look at him with jealousy and see a young, overnight success who had made easy money.

The fact is, he and his partners worked for 10 long years to start and build this business.  For most of that time, they worked like dogs and got very little credit or attention.  He told me once that, “There are some things that I had to do to build this business that I will never, never do again.”  These were not illegal or unethical things.  They were incredibly demanding times of all work, not sleep, and complete risk.

Performance Principle:  It takes a long time to be an overnight success.  Accept the fact that there are no shortcuts.

Researchers have identified what they call the ten-year rule when it comes to becoming a world-class performer.  As Fortune magazine said, “Even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year rule.”  (“What it takes to be great,” Fortune, October 30, 2006).

If you are toiling away at an area where you don’t have any talent, no amount of time will be enough to make you a success.  But if you have ability, then here are some principles to keep in mind for becoming a master of your own craft:

  • Master the basics. Every craft – business, medicine, art – has its technical skills and mastering those technical skills can be tiresome.  But you have to master the basics if you want to be world class.
  • Cultivate relationships. Technical ability is rarely sufficient to get you to the top.  Be intentionally about developing relationships and staying in touch with people throughout your career.  Keep your Outlook or other contact management software up-to-date.  Look for opportunities to connect and reconnect with others in and out of your field.  These relationships are just as much the currency of success as are your technical abilities.
  • Use compounding interest to your benefit. If you can improve your results by 10% per month, in 7 months you will be 100% better than you were when you started.  Don’t be afraid to make small improvements and allow those improvements to build on one another.  Before you know it you will be an expert.
  • Enjoy the work itself.  Many of us are motivated by the financial rewards, power, and respect that achievement brings.  That’s fine when kept in perspective, but to sustain a long-term commitment to our work, we have to find some rewards in the work itself.  At the end our careers and lives, the only one who is going to really care about what you accomplished at work is you.
  • Get the word out. All of us are in the marketing business.  It’s not enough to be good at something.  You have to be able to communicate the problems that you solve through your expertise, and to build a brand for yourself and your abilities that creates credibility and draws people to you.  If this smacks of self promotion, take a moment to consider how many truly talented people there are whose skills and abilities are underutilized because they could not figure out how to build a following.
  • Don’t ever quit. As Ross Perot purportedly said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success.”
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