Reflections on the first year: reunderstanding success

In my first year with Changing the World 101 I was a victim of a very popular myth: with focused and intelligent work, I can be successful quickly.

The myth of overnight success is one that has deeply penetrated our society. Shows like American Idol make it seem that with a bit of talent and luck, you can go from being a no one to an A-list celebrity in the blink of an eye. Isn’t this what happened to JK Rowling, Lady Gaga and Megan Fox? On Monday, I had never heard of them, but then on Tuesday I knew exactly who they were. The conclusion therefore was: success can be achieved quickly.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I really thought that all I would have to do is call the administration of a school I wanted to speak at, tell them a bit about my program, and they would leap at the opportunity to bring me in.

If you talk to my close friends, they will tell you that I was sure that with a few quick meetings, I would fill my tour schedule (which would fit together nicely based on geography, weather, and proximity to close friends I haven’t seen for a while), and that shortly after posting my website, my phone would be ringing off the hook. I really did expect these things.

What actually happened was quite different.

When I posted my website, I got some kind words from friends, but that was about it. If you googled my name you wouldn’t find me for four full pages of search results. My first incoming call was a wrong number. During the first meeting I had with a school, the man (politely) ushered me out of his office with a “we will call you.” When I checked back in with him a few months later he never returned my call. Or email.

With time I began to set up seminars. Not as many as I had expected, but still, I was making progress. I got a bit of media attention, and published my first article too. Things were happening, but things were happening more slowly than I expected. In the beginning I was working 11 hour days 6 or 7 days a week. In fact, this still happens – I’ve worked for 10.5 hours today and still have one task to complete before I call it a day.

I have learned that despite the way success is portrayed in pop culture, it simply does not come easily or quickly. Success is something that has to be worked at. Success requires making mistakes and learning from them. It requires leaving your comfort zone only to be rejected again and again before you finally get it right. It requires motivation and vision that flickers from existing in the moment and loving what you do, to being able to see that down the road, if you keep working hard, you really will achieve breathtaking results.

Over the past year I have abandoned the popular myth that success can come quickly and easily, and accepted the truth that with intelligent and focused work, success will come, but it takes time.

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