Lies Artists Believe: Overnight Success
Becoming an overnight success is an attractive, but deceptive idea. It is another one of the lies artists believe. Unfortunately, as Kevin Hart stated, “Hollywood has a way of making everything seem like an overnight success.” Los Angeles seems to fuel this dream more than other cities.
Yet the more you get to know successful people the more you realize it is a myth. We happen to see the awards, and the ten minutes of fame. If we take the time to examine the truth, we will see a principle that applies to both our art and our spiritual life. Becoming a spiritually mature believer and becoming a creatively accomplished artist both require discipline and faithfulness along the journey. The ones who put in the time and the work appreciate success more and find greater joy in the journey and in the resulting accomplishments.
We don’t see the time in the ‘woodshed’ where musicians practice for hours each day. No one films the steady writing habits of famous writers (talk about boring video), and no one films actresses rehearsing lines with their husbands or fine artists carefully crafting 15 layers of paint and media for their gallery masterpiece. (Actually, some visual artists do this now with time lapse photography – but most of us never see the time it took to create each work of art). The idea of the overnight success is disconnected from reality.
Why Does This Myth Remain?
We believe the lie of overnight success because hard work doesn’t make for a good story, or a good headline. Reporters and journalists tell us about the moment the artist’s were ‘discovered’, or about the art exhibition or film that made them famous. We often miss the backstory – the process to become a success is filled with monotonous, hard work. In reality it takes thousands of hours. Malcom Gladwell made the 10,000 hours principle famous in his wonderful book, The Outliers . There are no shortcuts. Even young protégés had years of practice.
Great Art, Great Speeches, and Great Careers Are Built Carefully
Growing up I was impressed by Johnny Carson, and other late-night hosts. They walked out through tall curtains and gave five-minute speeches, with effortless delivery of current jokes – every night. Their delivery was so smooth, and their wit so sharp. Eventually I learned that everyone from Carson to Jimmy Fallon had joke writers on staff, and that they practiced those introductions over and over so that they would seem to be improvised and off the cuff. Mark Twain explained the work behind his own witty writing this way:
“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. Overnight success is a fallacy. It is preceded by a great deal of preparation. Ask any successful person how they came to this point in their lives,
and they will have a story to tell.”
The Real Danger of Being an Overnight Success
The real danger for an artist, when they start thinking about becoming an overnight success, is that it minimizes the honest, hard work, craftsmanship and discipline required. While we are tempted to think of it is a glamorous notion, it is more accurate to think of it as an lazy notion. After all, if all you need for success as an artist or creative is to be discovered, then the years of discipline, learning, and practicing your craft were a foolish waste of time.
The ‘overnight success’ idea might be the worst thing an artist could embrace. You have reduced all the hard work and years spent on your craft to the equivalence of 100 pennies exchanged for a lottery ticket. You might as well spend your entire paycheck trying to win prizes at the county fair.
This leads to a heart problem of entitlement. It may be entitlement to your next gallery showing, your script, or leading role in a play or movie. Once you have downplayed the need for hard work and learning the craft, you will be tempted to feel entitled, and then bitter. After all, you will tell yourself, “The woman who became an overnight success last year didn’t work any harder than you did”, or “You are just as talented and deserve as much as she does!” Any industry that promotes the idea of overnight successes, devalues hard work, craftsmanship and discipline.
The Truth About Success
Our society is obsessed with being efficient, making goals and achieving them. Overnight success becomes the carrot we chase and the validation of our efficiency. While there is value in efficiency, there is more to the picture. We still run into the challenges of bad timing, missteps and the reality of life in a fallen world, with fallen people. You may not get the gig or the contract for dozens of reasons. It may be lack of vision, lack of clear marketing, or even due to gate keepers who don’t agree with your worldview. Maybe you don’t have the right look or the experience they were looking for. We often don’t get a chance to hear the true reasoning behind the decisions gatekeepers make.
You are not alone: The writer of Ecclesiastes saw the same thing in life over 2,000 years ago. He saw how discouraging it can be:
“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”
– Ecclesiastes 9:11 (English Standard Version)
“Again I saw that in our world the role is not to the best actress, nor the gallery showing to the best artist, nor money to the right producer, nor financial stability to the most godly and creative artist, nor favor to those with great craftsmanship, but time and chance happen to them all.”
– Ecclesiastes 9:11 (Pelsue Creative Version)
The book of Ecclesiastes comes to the conclusion that we can find joy and satisfaction in our daily work and career, as well as finding joy in our friends and family. Proverbs tells us that “All hard work brings reward.” (Proverbs 14:23). There is still value in our hard work, and a promise of blessing that comes from the work you put in. We see this here in a quote by successful entrepreneur, Richard Branson:
“Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually
make you look like an overnight success.”
– Richard Branson
Joy in the Journey
If we enjoy the process and find joy in the work then we can enjoy the journey. This is the difference between creatives who love their craft versus those who only see it as a means toward fame. In the end, it is God who can orchestrate opportunities when the timing is right. Branson doesn’t acknowledge the role God plays in life, but he does acknowledge both the role of hard work and timing. We must work hard while we also pray and ask for God to give us wisdom and direction in our career. He controls the timing.
On a side note: If you have been struggling for quite a while and feel like you are treading water, it may be a good time to get some tools to assess your creative calling. Sometimes we misunderstand our calling, or how our calling changes during the seasons of life. Getting clarity here will give you great freedom. You can learn more about this in our free masterclass on calling. This class will give you the clarity you need to stay the course, or make necessary adjustments.
Beyond Overnight Success
Once we move beyond the idea of the overnight success, we can get back to enjoying the process of honing our craft, networking with gatekeepers and seeking God’s face as we navigate our career. Then we can face the music, the empty page and the stage with great clarity about creative careers.
Be patient. Humble yourself. Learn to be honest with yourself. Set true, healthy expectations. This shouldn’t surprise us, but your spiritual life and your creative life operate in the same way. There is no overnight artistic mogul. There is no such thing as an overnight spiritual giant. Your life, especially the important things in your life, are never accomplished easily or quickly. God is working on your heart and your relationships through all the little things we take for granted.
“…so remember: great achievements take time, there is no overnight success.”
– Leo Tolstoy
Replacing Overnight Success with Daily Wisdom
Take time today and ask yourself:
Where is God in how you view your career?
Is He involved, or do you think it is all up to you?
Where is the joy and pursuit of craft and excellence?
If you feel entitled, it is time to return to humility. If you are bitter, it is time to return to the cross and confess the sins in your heart. Don’t worry. Christ is waiting and ready to forgive you, refresh you, and to renew your very soul.
God is not interested in your career at the expense of your spiritual maturity. God wants you to grow spiritually and artistically. What He most wants for you is the joy, peace and hope found in becoming like him. Once you understand this clearly, success will no longer have the hold it now may have on your heart, and the overnight success will no longer be a mirage seducing your heart. Your hopes and dreams will not depend on artistic success, but on the love God has for you as his daughter or son.
The focal point is not success according to this world – overnight, or any other kind of success. There are plenty of depressed people who found ‘success’, because the awards and recognition don’t solve the deeper issues. The focal point of our lives is to grow closer to God through the art we create, the family and friends we love, and through the worship of God with fellow believers.
God wants you to grow as an artist, and in your relationship with Christ. In your spiritual life we know it as discipleship. In your artistic life, here at AEM, we see it as creative entrepreneurship, presented in our Online Catalyst Course, which teaches you how to be wise as an entrepreneur with your artistic and creative endeavors.
We invite you to share and leave a comment below as you wrestle with the notions of success!
Check out the Online Catalyst Program HERE
Check out the FREE Calling Masterclass HERE
If you enjoyed this blog on Lies Artists Believe: Overnight Success, this is one in a series of blogs. For more blogs in this series: Lies Artists Believe, click HERE
Copyright © 2020 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.