Overnight Success: The Long Game

Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister, once said “the secret of success is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” Disraeli’s quote focuses on the prep time spent in the shadows for that moment in the spotlight.  Collins Dictionary defines ‘overnight success’ as something that becomes successful very quickly.  Most of us desire to be an overnight success but sometimes it takes years to become one. 

Bernardine Evaristo in her book, Manifesto, said  “I wasn’t an overnight success, but everything changed overnight.”  She would unpack this further in the book with  “When I won the Booker Prize in 2019 for my novel Girl, Woman, Other, I became an ‘overnight success’ – after forty years working professionally in the arts. My career hadn’t been without its achievements and recognition, but I wasn’t widely known. The novel became a #1 bestseller sold in many foreign languages and received the kind of attention I had long desired for my work.”

Jose Mourinho, a football manager, at the peak of his managerial powers in 2004 said that “after 15 years, I’m an overnight success.” 

To become an overnight success requires stamina and perseverance because there would be certain periods when giving up seems a better option than going on. This requires the willingness to play the long game even if there are no guarantees of becoming an overnight success. 

The true motivation for creative work shouldn’t be the spotlight but for the production of the creative outputs. You have no control over how the world reacts to your creative outputs. You only have control over the production of your outputs. Hence you keep on creating because you don’t know which piece of work would resonate with a huge audience. Every piece of new work builds on the previous one and this helps you improve your craft and your creative voice. 

I can guarantee that if Bernardine Evaristo’s novel wasn’t a runaway hit; she would still keep writing books and doing the work. Winning the 2019 Booker prize and getting international recognition is a wonderful bonus. There is no guarantee that her next book will get similar accolades but that won’t stop her because she is playing the long game.

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