Have you ever met a true overnight success? Someone who was an absolute nobody doing absolutely nothing one day, then the talk of the town – in a good way – the next? I haven’t. The transition from “who’s he” to “Who’s Who” can happen overnight, but in reality the process of reaching that point takes years.
Unfortunately, it seems many people don’t understand that. I had a friend who used to say, “I love work – I can spend all day watching other people do it!” That’s the perspective some folks share these days: “I want success, and everything that comes with it – but not if I have to work for it.”
We hear talk about how we’ve “evolved” as a society. We’ve definitely made strides in some areas, including race relations, gender equality, and appreciation for different cultures. But in other areas, I’m afraid we’ve “de-volved.”
Work ethic, for instance. German sociologist Max Weber coined the term “Protestant work ethic” in the early 1900s. However, for many centuries the virtues of hard work, frugality and diligence have been central to the Christian faith, as well as some other belief systems. Working well and working hard can reflect one’s desire to honor God and serve others, part of our human calling.
But one needn’t be Protestant – or even a person of faith – to find worth in hard work. Inventor Thomas Edison stated, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” And poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Without ambition one starts nothing; without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
In today’s fast-food, microwave, “gotta have it now” world, unfortunately, fewer and fewer people seem willing to expend the effort necessary to succeed. They ask for silver platters, expecting to have everything handed to them. Where’s the fun, the fulfillment in that?
Writer and speaker Bill Hendricks reminded me of this when he observed: “Success is not an Egg McMuffin, delivered to us for a $3, three-minute investment. No, success is the Sistine Chapel – it takes years, pain, frustration, thousands of brushes, colors and crumpled up sketches before you have your masterpiece.”
Years ago during my first trip to Europe I marveled at glorious, exquisitely conceived and painstakingly created cathedrals, houses of government and mansions in Hungary, Austria and Germany. These structures all were centuries old, their longevity attributable to the many years required to construct them. Because they weren’t erected hastily and haphazardly, they stand today as living memorials to the blood, sweat and tears spilled to bring them to reality.
The pace of life today, of course, is faster. We feel pulled in multiple directions. As a result, many of us seek maximum returns with minimum investments. We find “get rich quick” enticing. We want “overnight success,” whether at work or at home, in our relationships or personal pursuits. If it requires time, initiative and energy, forget it.
This is sad, because much of the joy is in the journey, not just the destination. Having a dream, formulating plans and goals for realizing it, then investing whatever it takes to achieve it – that’s where you can find the joy.
Whether it’s the virtuoso musician, accomplished innovator, gifted speaker, acclaimed surgeon, or master craftsman, none of them achieved success overnight in their fields of endeavor. It took many years of study, practice, honing of skills, trial and error, risk taking and sacrifice making.
Maybe that’s why some young celebrities find notoriety quickly eclipsing their fame. Thrust into the spotlight too early, still green as performers, they don’t appreciate what it takes not only to attain success – but also to sustain it over the long term.
My favorite book, the Bible, speaks a lot about hard work and personal enterprise. The book of Proverbs itself serves as an excellent primer on the topic.
For example, “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (Proverbs 13:4). It also warns against all talk and no action: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).
Another passage paints a vivid picture: “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:30-34).
We’re living in an age of “entitlement,” when some segments of society view the poor and disadvantaged with pity, convinced their problems can be solved with handouts. What they really need, however, is a hand up – being offered the education, training and practical skills necessary for succeeding in the workplace.
At the same time, we need to re-embrace the virtues of hard work, the belief that determination, commitment and initiative will reap rewards as we persevere toward hopes and aspirations. It may take years, but if willing to work hard, anyone is entitled to become an “overnight success.”
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.