How Long Does It Take To Become Successful?

How Long To Become Successful

I know you’ve never done this, but sometimes I play the dangerous comparison game by looking at other blogs, podcasts, or businesses around me and wondering…

Why do they have more Twitter followers than me?

Why is their podcast ranked higher in iTunes?

Why do they get more comments on their blog?

Why are they seemingly more successful than me?

It’s not a worthwhile or rewarding game to play, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

My friend Jon Acuff says, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

But one thing I’ve noticed about all “successful” people I look up to is this: they’ve been at it for a long time. They are not a random flash in the pan soaking in their 10 minutes of glory. They’ve been grinding away at their craft for years and years.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become successful (or even master) any skill. That’s a long time. Just for kicks, let’s say you worked 40 hours per week at your craft for 50 weeks per year…it would still take you 5 years to get to 10,000 hours. And realistically, most of us won’t put in 40 hours per week specifically to that one single craft.

Take speaking for example. In my career, I’ve given around 1,000 presentations (we’ll say ~1 hour each) and practiced and worked at the craft for another 1,000-2,000 hours. That still puts me only 20-30% of the way towards the 10,000 hour goal.

Recently I watched a new documentary called Muse which was all about the life and career of NBA star Kobe Bryant. One theme that stood out to me was how much Kobe constantly practices, works out, and is striving to improve. The natural reaction from most of us would be…but you’re Kobe Bryant? Why do you need to spend so much time practicing? You’re already one of the best in the game?

But I have to wonder…would Kobe Bryant be the Kobe Bryant we all know if he didn’t have that same level of practice, dedication and commitment to his craft? Probably not.

In the world of podcasting, one of the names consistently at the top of the rankings is personal finance expert Dave Ramsey. How is it that Dave has such a big audience and loyal following?

Because he’s been doing a radio show 3 hours per day, 5 days per week for over 20 years. Let’s assume he takes off a few weeks per year, he still has over 15,000 hours of recording time invested. Why is he so successful? Because he’s been so consistent for so long!

Maybe you’ve heard the expression that it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. Although you thought that person or business just came out of nowhere and was handed a magical fast pass to the front of the line, you didn’t see the hours and hours they put in to get to where they are.

Here are some simple lessons I’ve noticed about success…

1. It always takes longer than you want to wait

We want success to happen now. Not later. Not someday. Not even tomorrow. Now. Right now. But have you noticed that food tastes better when cooked in a crockpot versus a microwave? Why is that? Because some flavors in food just take time to come out and can’t be coaxed out faster by zapping it.

I’m a naturally impatient person, and I hate waiting. But I also know that generally the best things in life take time to grow.

2. You’ll want to quit long before you should

In his book The Dip, Seth Godin talks about how we often quit in the midst of a dip right before it’s about to get good. We often hit “the dip” in business, relationships or life and quit right before we’re about to hit the up slope. But he says that “winners realize that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it.”

Don’t give up my friend. Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Keep digging. Keep doing the work. You’ve come so far. Don’t quit now.

3. If it were easy, everyone would do it

As a speaker, I get asked a lot from people how to get started in the business. I’m always happy to show others exactly what I’ve done to build my speaking career. Initially I was worried I was giving away my best secrets or that I was just creating more competition for myself. But I quickly noticed even if I told someone exactly what to do to become a speaker, they rarely did it. Just because it’s not complicated doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Why are so many people overweight or out of shape? Because although regular exercise and paying attention to what you eat is not complicated advice, it’s not easy to follow through on.

So it brings us all the way back to the original question…

How long does it take to become successful?

I don’t know the exact number, but I know if you’re asking the question, you’ve still got work to do. Keep hustling my friend.

Photo via: Toni Verdú Carbó

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  1. My friend and I were just talking about this topic today. So often we think, if we’re not there overnight, we’re somehow not good enough and it’s not worth even trying. But like you said, no one ever sees the hours and hours that go into making something worthwhile. Thanks again for a great post, Grant!

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