Patient People Are Outliers and Their Advantage is Insane

4 min read

“I guess it took ten years for me to be an overnight success.”  -Big Sean

One of my favorite rappers is a guy named Big Sean. In 2011, he released his debut album, which climbed as high as #3 on the Billboard 200 list. Many people were quick to claim he was an “overnight success.”

But anyone who did a little research quickly found out that he had been making music eight years prior and had been working on his debut album for over three years before releasing it. That’s hardly an overnight process.

The Myth of the “Overnight Success”

In nearly all industries – music, movies, sports, finance – we’re quick to label a new star on the scene as an “overnight success” because it makes their story more exciting.

It’s more glamorous to think Big Sean walked into a recording studio and made a hit album in under a month than to picture him grinding in silence for nearly a decade before being recognized. 

It’s more exciting to imagine someone catching their “big break” in Hollywood during a single audition than to realize they had been chasing that “big break” for 10 years.

It’s more exhilarating to picture an entrepreneur creating a startup company that sells for billions in under a year than to admit that it takes years of failed ideas and failed companies to reach that point.

Our culture loves the idea of the overnight success because it gives us all hope that we too could one day become wildly successful and wealthy in a short period of time. But when we pull back the curtain on these overnight success stories, we see years of blood, sweat and tears that went into the making of them.

Whether you want to become a famous actor or just retire early, your odds of achieving these goals overnight are slim. But there is one skill you can cultivate to exponentially increase your chances of reaching your goals: patience.

Anyone Can Sprint, But Few Can Pace

In a world where technology has made instant gratification faster than ever, patience is a virtue that is quickly vanishing. Overnight shipping, high-speed internet, lightning-fast WiFi connections, microwave dinners, and fast food restaurants all subtly influence our expectations on how long we should wait to receive something.

We want our food, our products, and our entertainment at our fingertips in minutes. We hate waiting. Unfortunately this means we are becoming more and more impatient with our personal goals as well. We all want wealth, freedom and success now.

This is causing more people to turn into sprinters instead of marathon runners, which is actually a horrible formula for success.

Millions of people each year set out on January 1st, motivated and excited to work hard towards their goals. They sign up for gym memberships, create blogs, start small businesses, and a plethora of other noble endeavors.

I’d say about 40% quit by March 1st.

Another 50 – 55% fall off the train as the year progresses.

By time December 31st rolls around, less than 5% of people stuck with their goal consistently and made meaningful progress. 

But fear not, another January 1st presents itself and the same process of chasing a new, even more ambitious goal ensues.

This brutal process of chasing a goal, lacking patience to stick with it, and quitting to chase a new goal, is the reason most people never build real wealth, do great work, or attain success.

Lack of ambition doesn’t kill goals. Lack of patience does. Anyone can sprint, but few can pace.

How to Become a Marathon Runner

If you have been a sprinter all your life, it can be tough to transition into a marathon runner: someone who has enough patience to pursue something consistently for a long stretch of time. But it’s possible. You simply have to follow a couple rules.

Rule #1: Race against the yesterday-version of yourself.

To have any real chance of making a successful blog, building a business, acquiring wealth, or getting in better shape, you have to avoid competing with other people. The moment you start comparing your blog traffic, monthly income, net worth, or fitness level with people around you, you begin to feel inadequate and become discouraged.

Rule #1 is to race against the yesterday-version of yourself and nobody else. Try to improve upon where you were yesterday. Then do it again the next day. And the next. As long as you can continue to be a little better than you were yesterday, you’ll experience growth over time. Don’t look left or right, comparing yourself to where others are at. Just look dead ahead.

Rule #2: Seek intrinsic satisfaction, not external recognition.

If you are starting a blog to gain recognition, building a business to flaunt your wealth, or getting in shape to show off on Instagram, you’re immediately at a disadvantage because your motives are in the wrong place. You are relying on results to bring you joy instead of the process. News flash: results can take years to reveal themselves. If you’re waiting to receive external recognition, you might be waiting longer than you think.

Instead, seek intrinsic satisfaction. Strive to find joy in the process of becoming better. Become hooked on getting just a little better at writing, a little better at acquiring clients, a little better at hitting new personal records in the gym. Once you learn to love the process, you start caring less about the results or recognition that may or may not come.

Patient People Have an Insane Advantage

Very few people have the patience to pursue something consistently for more than a year. For those who do, they have an insane advantage. Over time, compound interest begins to reveal itself. Wealth builds more wealth. Skills build demand for your work. Muscles build more muscle.

Anything worth having takes time, which is why you need patience. To build patience, compete only with yourself and learn to love the process of improvement more than receiving recognition.

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15 Replies to “Patient People Are Outliers and Their Advantage is Insane”

  1. Intrinsic satisfaction is so much better. I just read this recently and it really fired me up.

    Inspiration from outside one’s self is like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano: It changes the face of the world.”
    ― Alan Bradley, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

    Anyway, overnight success rarely is overnight. I quit my job 2 years after I started blogging about early retirement. Did that mean it just took just 2 years to achieve my goal? No, I worked, saved, and invested for 16 years before I pulled the rip cord. It takes years of hard work to become an overnight success. Patience and perseverance.

    1. I love that quote – I’ll have to take a closer look at that book. I think your scenario is exactly what people mistakenly call an “overnight success”. They see the 2 years of blogging and think that tells the whole story. They completely ignore the 16 years of saving and investing that truly enabled you to quit your job. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Great motivation for my Monday. Your only competing with yourself to get consistent bite-sized improvements over a long period of time.

  3. This hit so hard!! This just happens to be wonderful advice for a lot of new bloggers out there. Burn out is so prevalent to me now that I realize it wasn’t the traffic that mattered but my mental state in it.

    1. Patience is particularly difficult to cultivate in the blogging world because most blogs receive VERY little traffic in the first 3-6 months, which makes most new bloggers quit entirely. The trick is to play the long game, ignore the daily traffic fluctuations, and consistently write about stuff you find interesting. Over time, the readers will come. I like that – “it wasn’t the traffic that mattered but my mental state in it” – I think that captures this idea nicely 🙂

    1. I like that simple approach and I agree with you – the more we view progress as “never-ending” the more we focus on growth over time instead of hitting arbitrary goals. The people who are patient and willing to work consistently each day towards a specific objective win over the long-haul. Just so happens that very people do so.

  4. Great post Zach, you’re spot on that patience and delayed gratification are huge keys to separating yourself from the pack. The overnight success might be a more buzzy headline, but the grit and consistency over a long period of time is a much better story.

  5. Zach, this was an AMAZING post!

    I loved it so so much! It definitely takes patience as well as perseverance to get what you want. I also think it’s driven by passion too (like you said, be motivated intrinsically). If you have a true passion for what you’re trying to achieve, you will have the patience and perseverance!

    What Big Sean said is very similar to Eddie Cantor’s quote “it takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”

    I personally tend to ignore the fad of setting goals on Jan 1st. It’s important to work on your goals despite what day it is. I really believe setting a benchmark date of Jan 1st, and hoping to accomplish something by Dec 31st, will set a lot of people off because like you said, people end up failing. Studies show that most people end up giving up within 2 months from Jan.

    Overall, this was beautifully written. Your posts are truly amazing and inspiring! With such quality content, I can tell you’re already killing it with your blog 😉

    1. Thanks so much, I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

      I love that Eddie Cantor quote as well because it’s so true. Overnight success is a myth that too many of us believe is real. It’s simply not. We have a tendency to glorify the results and not the process, without realizing that the process is 99% of the journey.

  6. So I guess the old saying “patience is a virtue” really has some merit! You should also read the book grit by Angela Duckworth… it discusses a lot of these concepts!

  7. Great post, being a boring guy actually has a pay out! Wish I had known that in high school, I’d have felt so much better about myself. As a runner I really need to find someone to race against other than yesterday me because I’m getting slower as I get older and younger me is way faster than real me. Maybe I should be racing against tomorrow me, that might work.

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