Why is it that many people feel that success should come quickly? News articles and social media are filled with stories about a person creating one app, making one movie, or inventing one clever device… then enjoying fame, luxury, excitement, travel, and glamour for the rest of their lives. The inconvenient truth is that those people we read about are the tiny, tiny minority. Most successful people worked hard – usually for months and years – to achieve something special, there was nothing quick or easy in the process. Those news worthy few are the exceptions; that is precisely why we read about them. Like losing weight, successfully passing an important examination, or learning a new language, there are some things that are not done instantly. This myth of the overnight success is not realistic. In believing it, you set yourself up for frustration and disappointment when you don’t become one of those overnight successes.
It was early morning on November 3, 1948. After a stormy Atlantic crossing, a mousy little American housewife named Julia peeked anxiously out the porthole from her cabin aboard the SS America and searched for sight of land. At daybreak, through the lifting fog, she saw that the ship had finally arrived at its destination of Le Havre, France. What would her life in France be like? Her new husband was a minor diplomat who had been sent to work at the American embassy in Paris. The little housewife was unsophisticated, inexperienced, and without any goals for her life. She did not speak French; she had never been to Europe. This was a completely new beginning.
Later that morning, after clearing customs and loading all their luggage into their new Buick station wagon, they hit the road. They were on the way to begin their life in Paris. A few hours later, they stopped for lunch at a fine restaurant in the city of Rouen. During that meal, something occurred that changed Julia’s life forever – and we are all richer for it. She had her first experience with truly excellent French food and she was utterly stunned. Nothing in her previous life had compared to these new taste sensations. This first experience opened the door to a world she had never known existed, the world of French cooking. That evening, after arriving in Paris, she and her husband went out for more French food at another fine restaurant.
The days and weeks flew by. Julia had found a new home in Paris; she had also discovered something she felt enthusiastic about. That was her growing passion for French cuisine. In the coming weeks and months, this timid little housewife was gradually transformed. She wanted to learn everything about French cooking. In addition to cooking them, she found that she also enjoyed the shopping, reading about, comparing, and serving those exquisite dishes. The months became years. Julia became friends with others who were equally enthusiastic. She bought more cookbooks and more kitchen equipment; she experimented and refined her knowledge. She worked tirelessly to perfect her cooking and began teaching others. Julia was transformed from an unfocused, hesitant housewife who knew nothing about cooking into a dynamo of knowledge and passion. Perhaps you have heard of her. This is the story of Julia Child, who became an American legend.
Beginning in 1948, when she arrived in Paris, she devoted herself tirelessly to preparing, teaching, and writing about French cooking. But her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was not published until 1961. However, with that book, she suddenly burst upon the American scene as an exciting new cookbook writer and television personality. She was a celebrity, recognized on the street, and it quickly led to fame, wealth, multiple book deals, and starring in her own television series. In the coming years, she went on to many network television appearances, writing more best-selling cookbooks, starring in other TV series, doing a documentary which included taking television viewers into the White House kitchen in Washington, D.C. so they could see the foods being prepared for a state dinner, taking her viewers to France so they could see French foods being prepared in the traditional way. Julia became a household icon who was so recognizable that the comedy shows did parodies of her. Julia Child is now credited with changing the way an entire generation of Americans viewed cooking.
Julia Child had arrived in Paris in 1948, thirteen years before her professional debut. She had spent years in learning to speak and read French, exploring fine French restaurants, attending classes at the famous Cordon Bleu culinary school, taking private lessons from various chefs, beginning her own small cooking school and getting experience in teaching classes, experimenting with variations of classic dishes, and reading everything she could find about French cooking. Her husband said of that period if he wanted to see his wife, he had to go into the kitchen… because that’s where she always was. She spent years, also, in writing her famous first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Because she suddenly became famous with the release of her first cookbook, she was hailed as an overnight success. But was she? If you look at the story of most of the winners we admire, you are likely to find that the vast majority of them are like Julia. They usually spend years in preparation, quietly learning and developing themselves to be ready for the opportunity when it finally presents itself.
Julia Child was far from an overnight success. Before she became a household name, she spent years developing her knowledge and skills. Thus, she was well prepared when fortune presented her with an opportunity to have her own television show following the unexpected success of her first cookbook. That is the truth about most successful people.
Malcomb Gladwell’s book Outliers famously promoted the idea that becoming a true master of any craft or subject called for an investment of 10,000 hours. And, more than merely spending 10,000 hours working in their chosen area, those hours were required to be “deliberate practice”. What he meant was the person who wanted to become recognized as a master had to use those 10,000 hours making an assiduous effort to learn everything possible about their field, to dedicate themselves to continual improvement, and to diligently practice, practice, practice.
Maybe, as you read Julia’s story, you will think of your own dream. Maybe, like the young housewife Julia, you have not discovered your passion yet. Or perhaps, your passion is still a quiet secret that you have not made public. Still, you should expect a long and challenging period as you climb up the many steps to mastery. You may not want to hear this; a dream of succeeding overnight is much more attractive. But it is better to know the truth than to be ultimately disappointed by unreasonable hopes. Instead of expecting overnight success, you can start the process of acquiring mastery by working every day to accumulate those 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
“Be prepared, mes amis, for we face a period of protracted struggle.” That was the French general, Charles de Gaulle, warning his comrades at the beginning of World War 2 that it was going to be a long and bloody war. He was right; it was 1945 before France was finally liberated from Nazi occupation. No one expects to win a world war overnight. To harbor such hopes would be unrealistic.
You, too, can be a ten-year overnight success. And, if it takes you ten years to achieve your goal, enjoy the journey!