The myth of the overnight sensation

Success is hard. It's easy to look at the media and see the companies and individuals who appear to have "popped up" overnight, gone from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye and yearn for the same thing. We crave success, but we seem to have blinkers on when it comes to the hard work that goes into achieving it.

Success is essentially the recognition of work. This can come when a boss recognises your achievements in the workplace and offers you a promotion; it can come when the product you've been working on goes viral; it can come when you win an award for your work. Success looks different to each of us, but essentially, it comes down to recognition.

The thing is, we usually only see the last step. We see the success of others when it has been recognised. Up until that point, they have just been one of us toiling away, invisible in the crowd of hard workers.

The recognition of their success is what illuminates them, shining the light on their achievements.

However, achievements rarely come easily. One of the greatest obstacles to achieving success is the desire to achieve it overnight. We want the glory without the sweat, the gold medal without the training.

However, success is really like an iceberg: what we see above the surface is only a tiny amount of it - it is supported and built up by the vast majority of the ice underneath the ocean's surface.

It can be difficult to watch others find success when we are also working hard, just without the recognition or achievements. But the fastest way to ensure that you never find success is to stop working towards your goals.

The belief that overnight sensations commonly occur isn't only demoralising to those of us plugging away and trying to make a success of things, putting in the hard yards and sacrifices. It's also an insult to those of us who are considered to be overnight sensation. The myth generally undermines all the years of study, hard work, challenges and sacrifices that success actually takes and it makes it look easy, like anyone could have done it with a dash of luck and a sprinkling of good timing.

While luck and good timing might play a part in the ultimate leap between "hard work for little gain" to "picking out my Mercedes," without all that slogging away, study/research and development, there would be no success. Reid Hoffman talks about something called "The Valley of Death" in entrepreneurship - when the going gets tough, it's far easier to walk away than to put your head down, tighten that belt another notch and keep going. However, these "overnight sensations" have all learned how to navigate that Valley of Death.

Let's look at Instagram, for example. Instagram seemingly came from nowhere, taking only eight weeks to be created and was a success from the outset, boasting one million users within two months of launch.

But did you know it was originally called Burbn? At first, it was a check-in app created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who worked on the project for more than a year, recognising the trends of people posting and identifying that photo posts were the posts that were most engaged with. They put all of this research together, adapted the app, rebranded it and launched it as Instagram in October 2010. In 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion.

It can be difficult to watch others find success when we are also working hard, just without the recognition or achievements.

But the fastest way to ensure that you never find success is to stop working towards your goals.

There is no hack to life success. You can't shortcut it. The base recipe for success is relatively straightforward: you need two cups of hard work, a cup of courage, half a cup of innovation, adaptability and willingness to take a risk, and then sprinkle in some persistence and consistency before beating in a cup of bravery. You also need to be open to the opportunity of changing things up a bit - that might alter the flavour, but it will ultimately make your cake of success significantly more enjoyable.

Success is hard, despite the appearance of easy street with apparent overnight sensations left and right. But remember for every ounce of success we see, there are 100 ounces of blood sweat and tears that went into it. I think "overnight sensations" is a misnomer. "Survivors" is significantly more apt.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au