Why does it take 10 years to become an overnight success

As a child my dad regularly reminded me that “it takes 10 years to become an overnight success”. I never knew why he said that or where he got the information from. I just knew it was how long it took. I also had everything a child could want in material possessions, so I reckoned it should be true.


But recently I started doubting my dad’s words. I was sitting on my patio outside my home office and I thought about that statement.


At the time I had been in business for over 17 years of which the last 3 were spent building my new venture, Ouch!. I thought about how long it would still take me to reach that overnight success I had always dreamt about. Maybe my dad was wrong. Maybe it could happen quicker. Just maybe he was missing something. I needed to check my dad’s theory. I needed proof.
Being an avid researcher I hit Google and searched the term “it takes ten years to become an overnight success” and I found two great sources of research. One is the author Dr. Daniel Levitin who is a brilliant author, musician and neuro-scientist. He researched the topic extensively and in his book “This is Your Brain on Music” he says that any person who wants to be called an expert or master is measured by that person practicing their craft for 10 000 hours or roughly ten years.


Malcolm Gladwell, the second source, wrote a book called Outliers (Chpt 2) in which he also talks about that 10 000 hour rule for someone to reach mastery. What is made clear by both sources is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you do something for 10 000 hours you will most certainly reach mastery. The rule just says that those people, who have reached phenomenal success in history, ALL have spent more than 10 000 hours perfecting their craft. Malcolm references many of the world’s most successful people and without exception, all of their life stories paint the same picture. It takes 10000 hours or 10 years.


The statement was true after all. My dad was right and is still right. It was going to take 10 years.


But why did this bother me? Why was I getting impatient with my progress?


Many times in business I have felt like quitting and doing something with quicker rewards or something that could get me there faster. Have you ever felt this way? It was in these times that my father’s words would ring in my ears. “It takes 10 years to become an overnight success”. He also added regularly that “in business you just have to be stupid enough to do the same thing for 10 years to be successful.” It felt like I was chipping at a large granite rock and every time I hit the rock with my flimsy hammer I got this small chip of granite, nowhere near the reward for all my effort. I could never understand why it was so difficult, why it seemed to take so long to make a breakthrough.


Dr. Levitin states in his book that “it seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know, to achieve true mastery.” After reading this it dawned on me; it’s not about how quickly we can get it done, it’s about spending the time practicing. It took Bill gates 10 years to get to his first major breakthrough in building an operating system. He was practicing to build an operating system. It took the Beatles 10000 hours of playing in Hamburg strip-clubs before they became famous. They were practicing. Mozart’s earliest masterpiece was not composed until he was twenty-one, 10 years after he first started composing concertos. He was practicing.


You see we need the practice in business too. It’s about the hours you spend making mistakes and rectifying them. It’s about celebrating small successes and learning from the really big mistakes. It’s about failing and failing again. It’s about learning the systems of business so well, that we know intuitively what every squeak and squeal means and how we should react. Our actions need to become second nature. We need to be able to react quickly and nimbly to every opportunities and threat.To learn this properly takes a lot of practice and a lot of time. The evidence points to 10 years. Anything less and you won’t have the tools imprinted on our mind sufficiently to be ready for what it will take to get to the success.


Gladwell said “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good”.


And so I realised that the reason for my impatience is rooted in my focus on how long the process is taking and instead, the idea is not to focus on how long it’s taking, but to focus on how much I am practicing and learning while on the journey to success.


My hope is that we all find pleasure in the time it takes to practice, because if we do, we too will soon find that we are, an overnight success.