The Truth About Overnight Success

Everyone loves instant gratification, but in reality, success rarely happens instantly. The truth about “overnight success” is that it takes up to a decade to make it happen.

The Truth About Overnight Success

Paul Buchheit, creator and lead developer of Gmail, blogged about how overnight success takes a long time. He wrote that it took 7.5 years for Gmail to evolve from a product that many people thought was a doomed dud to a product with a 40% growth rate from 2008 to 2009. In 2012, Gmail became the top email provider in the world.

“Guitar Hero,” the video game that was the first in history to reach $1 billion in North American sales, was 10 years in the making by developers Harmonix and RedOctane. Don Steinberg of Inc. magazine wrote that the decade was spent learning that ingenuity comes in two flavors: the kind where you invent mind-blowing technology and the kind where you build a legitimate business around it.

Jeff Atwood is a co-founder of Stack Overflow, a community that has 4.7 million programmers as of January of 2016. Jeff Atwood wrote:

“I have zero expectation or even desire for overnight success. What I am planning is several years of grinding through constant, steady improvement. This business plan isn’t much different from my career development plan:  success takes years. And when I say years, I really mean it! Not as some cliched regurgitation of ‘work smarter, not harder.’ I’m talking actual calendar years. You know, of the 12 months, 365 days variety. You will literally have to spend multiple years of your life grinding away at this stuff, waking up every day and doing it over and over, practicing and gathering feedback each day to continually get better. It might be unpleasant at times and even downright un-fun occasionally, but it’s necessary.”

Business Insider compiled a nice list of how long well-known tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, and Amazon took to become successful. Timeframes ranged from two to 20 years.

There are studies indicating 10 years is a meaningful unit of time. Malcolm Gladwell presented evidence in his best-selling book, Outliers, that the key to success in any field (including business, science, sports, and music) is a foundation of talent plus 10,000 hours of practice: 20 hours every week for 10 years. Mr. Gladwell called this the “10,000 hour rule.”

Why is it important to know the truth about how long success takes?

  • So that you can create a reality-informed plan rather than rely on impossibly optimistic metrics.
  • So that you don’t feel like a failure if success isn’t immediate.
  • So that you can choose a path that is sufficiently enjoyable to you that you are willing to invest up to a decade of effort.
  • So that you can assess your tolerance for uncertainty and your capacity for exhibiting patience and if you have work to do in improving these areas, you can start.

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