Why I’m Sick of Overnight Success Stories

Last Friday afternoon, I boarded the Southwest flight to Las Vegas in eager anticipation of the New Media Expo which started the next day. Amazingly, the tiny cramped seat and extensive 4-hour flight didn’t manage to completely squelch my excitement for the adventure ahead (though I’m still waiting for someone to invent a teleporter…just sayin’).

For those who don’t know, the New Media Expo (NMX) is a yearly convention for all things…you guessed it…new media-related. That includes blogging, podcasting, video making and the like. Since I started this blog and podcast in early 2013, I have met so many other incredible bloggers online, but never met them in-person. This was my chance to finally connect with these like-minded people. Even though I’m an introvert and the idea of networking for 3 solid days straight is not 100% appealing (that’s an understatement by the way), I put my game face on and focused on staying enthusiastic.

Although the people I met were amazing, my enthusiasm for NMX started to crumble only a few hours into the convention after listening to some of the speakers.

A couple of the speakers were what I like to classify as “overnight successes”. They are people who started their first entrepreneurial venture and quickly went gangbusters with it (typically within less than a year). In this case, they were bloggers or podcasters who started their online platforms and took them to the six-figure level in record time.

graphic_success-workNow, there’s nothing wrong with instant success. More power to them for making it happen. BUT what gets my goat is how they’re now teaching other people how to have this same success by doing the exact same thing—as if “success” in any type of business is a simple mathematical formula that you can easily learn to solve and produce tons of money.

Basically, the Overnight Success Business Owner (we’ll call him OSBO) starts his business, does X, Y and Z to grow it, and then hits the jackpot relatively quickly down the line. All of sudden, the popularity of OSBO has soared. He’s gone from being a nobody to a celebrity of sorts within his niche. And with a constantly increasing fan base, why not start to teach others the formula that he used to succeed? Seems logical (and highly profitable), right?

So OSBO writes books, creates courses and start speaking about how to solve the business success formula. And his fan base automatically LOVES it! Their adoration for him skyrockets because he has given them the secret key to unlock the cash in their own business. Who wouldn’t love that?? There’s no doubt people at the NMX convention last weekend were clinging onto every word that these OSBO were saying.

Hooray! We can all go home now and make 6-figures on the Internet in less than 12 months. Problem solved. (Which is really great, because I’ve had my eye on that new white 2014 Mercedes down at the dealership and I’m just about $75,000 short of being able to afford it.)

The general public LOVES overnight success stories. Stories that follow the pattern of “I was [fill in the pain point here] and now I’m [fill in the overnight success here]” are addicting in our culture. We love to be shown that success is possible. We love the idea that we can be living an average life one day and then in a few months, be living the life of our dreams. For example…

I was 350 pounds and now I’m 130 pounds just by eating twigs and berries every day!

I was unemployed and now I’m a New York Times best-selling author because I wrote a racy romance novel.

I was broke until I started selling Avon products out of my garage and now I’m a millionaire!

If these stories were featured on national media, what percentage of the population do you think would be eating twigs and berries, selling Avon products, and painstakingly trying to recall their mediocre sex lives over the last 10 years to write the latest and greatest romance novel?

The answer: A LOT. It’s seems like we’re all desperately searching for a success formula to solve the problem of whatever pains us.

Here’s the glitch —there is no success formula. I hate to break it to you this way, but chances are super slim that doing the same X, Y and Z as OSBO will propel your business’s profitability to record heights.

Think about it this way—imagine that your business is a crossword puzzle. Over time, you’re figuring out the clues, filling in the blanks and having several “Ah ha!” moments. It’s slow, but steady. Then you run into OSBO who claims, “I’ve solved my entire crossword and I’m happy to give you all the answers!”

Hell yes! You think. So you go for it and get the answers and this is what happens…

You learn the exact success strategy from OSBO. Woohoo!

You meticulously implement X, then Y, then lastly Z (precisely in that order without deviating from the plan) in your own business.

You wait.

You wait some more.

Nothing happens.

You check back in with OSBO and he says, “If I did it, you can do it. You just have to keep working at it!”

You keep working at it.

You see some improvements in your business (mainly due to your new-found dedication, not the success formula you were given).

You eventually chalk up your lack of remarkable results to the fact that you somehow didn’t follow the XYZ plan exactly right.

You remain a dedicated fan to OSBO because he opened you up to a whole new world of possibilities.

What you’ll eventually realize is that everyone’s crossword puzzle is completely different. There may be a few of the same clues and words that overlap, but in the end, OSBO’s answers will not solve your entire crossword.

This is why I’m sick of overnight success stories. I’m not interested in obsessing with someone who did one thing to build their business that miraculously worked out for them.


You know what stories I want to hear more of? The business owners who had to overcome adversity. The entrepreneurs who failed over and over again to get to where they are. The business owners that pulled through tough times. The ones who had gained wisdom through trial and error.

Now that’s interesting! Listening to these types of entrepreneurs is what’s ultimately going to help you solve your crossword puzzle. (Check out my article Make 2014 the Year of Failure to learn why). The overnight success stories are nice, but they’re not always the most helpful for people like you and me.

Whoever your business owner idol or favorite guru is, take their advice to be a part of your overall business strategy, not as the guaranteed path to your success. Use your critical thinking skills when trying to implement the same formula to achieve the same results. Take away the bits and pieces that work for you and leave the rest.

And last but not least, never ever compare their success to yours—maybe they were given Monday’s crossword puzzle and you were given Saturday’s. You’ll never know. Instead, create your own definition of success and don’t let the fame and glamor of OSBO distract you from following your unique path to greatness.

Photo credit: Photo by Kigali Wire https://www.flickr.com/photos/kigaliwire/ License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/
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Dale Callahan - 5 years ago


So agree with your sentiment. Your last statement is the key though. I find there are about 1000 ways to get similar results, so no need to model what someone else does – even if it did happen overnight from eating berries;)

    Laurel Staples - 5 years ago

    Thanks for the comment, Dale! It’s all about finding your own path to success and using your critical thinking skills instead of mimicking others. And yes–if you become successful overnight, fantastic! If not, that’s okay too.

[email protected] - 5 years ago

Hi Laurel, I agree. I’m bored of these stories too. I used to be sat on the edge of my sit listening to these kinds of stories actually thinking I had stumbled onto a gold mine!

Now when I look back I realize that is the response these people want and they usually want to sell you something.

If it was so easy for everyone to make millions overnight, we would all be doing it and ‘hard work’ wouldn’t exist.

good reality check


    Laurel Staples - 5 years ago

    Thanks for your thoughts Naomi! I agree. I wish there WAS a straightforward path to making millions, but alas, there is not. That’s why these stories bug me a lot of the time.

Charlie Katt - 5 years ago

Thank you! I guess I’m not the only one who thinks that these stories are actually DIScouraging because they seem to emphasize the failures that we do. Well, maybe that’s my own insecurities, but, I believe what you say is true. About taking the little things that work for you and getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t work. I think your example of the crossword puzzle was a great illustration. I’ve been trying for about a year to get my music off-the-ground and… nothing yet. But, THIS article gives me hope. knowing that it might take longer than a year or two. Knowing that helps me to not give up so easily!

    Laurel Staples - 5 years ago

    Hi Charlie! Thanks for your comment. I agree with you about the “discouraging” part…it’s not just you. 🙂 Also, it got me thinking…there is a comedian named Jeff Caldwell (I think that’s his name) who made his debut on Letterman after 17 YEARS in comedy. It takes resilience to get a business going sometimes, but when it’s what you’re meant to do, you find a way to make it work. Good luck to you!!

Shane Newell - 5 years ago


I have to say great blog. I stumbled on it a bit ago and read through some of your articles. I think this correlates well with a lot of things.

It seems most times X or Y person that made it big glosses over what really got them there. They may have been an overnight success in the field that they’re “currently” in. However, you seldom hear about the 5 years of struggling in something unrelated that created the foundation for the determination to be successful.

I wish more people talked about the struggle and the long game. As un-pretty as it is sometimes, I believe it can be an even more powerful teacher.

    Laurel Staples - 5 years ago

    Hi Shane! I agree with you–I think the problem is that “overnight successes” aren’t always talking about the struggles. But if you don’t talk about that part, you’ve already lost me. I think it’s just as helpful to know what DOESN’T as well as what does. Thanks for the comment!

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