Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is There Such a Thing as an Overnight Success?

Recently I was having a discussion with some friends about the term "overnight success."

We all agreed it was a load of crap.

I mean, who really has overnight success except people in novels or movies? Most of us labor -- unknown -- in the trenches for years and years before we receive recognition for our wonderfulness from anyone except the family dog.

In the meantime, we fight off jealousy as we see others achieve what we think is instant success, and get depressed when that project we worked so hard on fails. Big time. Down-the-toilet kind of failure.

And it's equally hard to be patient when the Internet makes it seem like everything should happen at light speed. We are constantly exposed on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn to other's achievements: "I landed that big account!" to "I got the promotion!" to "I've been named the new Queen of England!" can be hard to swallow with grace each and every time.

We wouldn't be human if we didn't admit that some days are hard. We want to give up. We want to throw in the towel and admit that we're just losers and the success we desire isn't coming our way.

But wait.

I think success is a state of mind. It isn't the big account and the tiara. It's knowing that each day you get up -- and despite the odds -- you continue to slug away. You continue to dream. And at the end of the day, maybe you aren't known to Diane Sawyer or Warren Buffet. Maybe your boss's boss doesn't even know your name.

But you haven't given up. And that, in my book, is success. Because others will give up, they will concede that they're not going to achieve what they desire. And that's where your perseverence will pay off.

Here are some things to get you through the tough times until you become that "overnight success":

* Create a better now. Get more sleep, exercise, eat healthier, spend more time with people who make you laugh and who believe in you.

* Keep your perspective. Did you ever stop to consider that what you have right now is a dream for someone else? I often think about this when my husband and I drive through really ritzy neighborhoods and dream about living in those homes. Then, I see someone drive through OUR neighborhood and realize they think we have the dream home. Think about what you've achieved already in this life, and don't take it for granted.

* Be patient. Think back to when you were in high school, and everything that has happened in your life since that time. Are you the same person as you were then? Of course not. You have changed and grown and only through time and different experiences have you evolved. You will continue to grow and change and learn, and that takes time.

I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent with wild success. -- Steve Martin, "Born Standing Up"

What do you think about overnight success?


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Will You Still Be Working at 95?

I get a lot of mail from readers of my nationally syndicated workplace column, much of it coming from people who have a workplace dilemma they'd like me to help solve (and more than a few letters from the unfortunately incarcerated who would like to be my pen pal). Today, I want to share a recent letter I received from a 95-year-old woman who told me she had been employed full-time from 1929-1971, and has been working part-time for the last 27 years.

For those of you without a calculator handy, or suffering from Monday morning brain freeze, that means this woman has been working for 79 years.

While she did not share with me the specifics of her work experience, or why she chose to work for nearly eight decades, I will tell you that she said she was interested in my book, "45 Things You do That Drive Your Boss Crazy...and How to Avoid Them," and asked me to send her a copy.

Then, she asked me this question: "Where did I fail?"

Where did she fail? I wondered how someone who was still working at 95-years-old could even think of herself as having failed. Did she have jobs she hated? She didn't offer me a clue. Did she have trouble with a boss or co-workers or perhaps never have the career of which she dreamed? I don't know. Her letter was short and provided few details.

So, I will send her my book. I can't imagine that it will tell her something she doesn't know. After all, by the time I entered the workforce she had been there for more than 50 years. What could I possibly tell her that she hasn't known or experienced firsthand? In her lifetime, she has seen men gladly working for pennies a day just to try and feed their children during the Depression. She has seen blacks forced to sit at the back of the bus, then fight -- with grit and intelligence and determination -- into the board rooms of this country. She has seen women start their own companies and go to outer space and possibly become our next president.

"Where did I fail?" I don't think I can begin to answer that question. She will, like all of us, have to answer that for herself. But I think her letter should make each of us think about what we're doing right now to ensure that if we work for one decade or eight, we will not look back and consider having failed.

For each of you, your success will be of your own measure. It will be a reflection of the road you took, the goals that you set for yourself despite the odds against you or the advice directing you another way.

So, my question is this: What have you done right? What important lessons do you have to share with others about surviving and thriving in the workplace so that none us has to ask at age 95: Where did I fail?


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