(This is a guest post from Alexandra Levit, whose new book, Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, is released today. She is Money Magazine’s 2010 Online Career Expert of the Year and a winner of Forbes’ 2011 Best Websites for Women. She interviewed Tom, and he invited her to submit this post.)
Forget Overnight Success and Learn to Be Persistent
Overnight success is one of the most widely held beliefs in the business world. It’s also hugely misleading, and adopting this idea that you can easily become an overnight success could actually be quite damaging for your career and life. The truth is simple. There are very few—if any—genuine cases of overnight success. The majority of successful people have dedicated themselves to a goal and persevered for a long time before reaching a high level of achievement that is finally noticed and talked about by others.
Perseverance is defined as remaining constant to a purpose, idea, or task in spite of obstacles. Some people are born with the tendency to persevere. In fact, I can already see it in my young son. He likes to push his wagon around our backyard, but he doesn’t always have enough strength and control to move it where he wants it to go. However, instead of giving up and crying, he faithfully pushes at the wagon from different angles until it’s free of the tree or fence.
Pick up any one of Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches stories, and you’ll be virtually hit over the head with the lesson that earlier generations didn’t expect instant gratification the way we do today. If they had, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to evolve as fully as a society, with the most critical cultural and technological advances marinating over decades. We’ve become a society of now, now, now, but the truth is that most things worth having take a little bit of process and a lot of time. You shouldn’t assume that if something doesn’t manifest overnight that it won’t happen at all, and, in fact, you will do wonders for your personal development if you can learn to be patient, maintain faith in your own potential, and increase your perseverance in driving important aspects of your career forward.
While it admittedly sounds a bit corny, the first step in this journey is to believe in yourself and what you want to do. If you try for a goal, but in the back of your mind you don’t actually think you can accomplish it, you will wreck havoc on and sabotage your motivation. You will probably give up more easily, which will result in even poorer self-esteem. If you’re like me and believing in yourself is sometimes challenging, you might talk to family members, friends, a psychologist, or a coach to address your doubts and insecurities head on.
Self-awareness is a critical part of developing perseverance. Admitting that you’re the type to give up on a goal before you’ve completed it is the first step in changing that pattern. Then, practice keeping promises to yourself by setting small goals and refusing to quit until you’ve achieved them.
Another component is self-control. And how do you improve that? As John Tierney reported in the New York Times in 2008, research from University of Miami psychologists Michael McCullough and David Willoughby concludes that finding your religion may be the right move, since religiosity is correlated with higher self-control. Brain scans show that when people pray, the parts of the brain responsible for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion get a major workout. If you tend toward the agnostic, you can still get the self-control benefit by meditating privately or by getting involved with an organization that shares your values.
The final component in enhancing your perseverance is to think positively. Because you’re human and not a cartoon character, it is difficult to have a positive attitude 100 percent of the time. When something unfortunate occurs, it’s natural to feel negative emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness at first. But holding on to these until they result in constant depression and anxiety will make it all that much harder to persevere at a difficult goal.