Take the Slow Boat to Success

Our society values instant success almost to the exclusion of everything else. Most of the stories of success that we hear and that so many people aspire to involve people being “discovered” or otherwise becoming super-rich (and maybe famous) overnight.

But, these things almost never happen, and so millions of people who never achieve instant and phenomenal success spend years or decades being frustrated. How can we, individually and collectively, get past this obsession with instant success?

I have some personal experience in this area. Every time I publish a book (I’ve been involved with somewhere around a dozen so far), I think that this is going to be the one that’s insanely successful and that will mean I never have to work again. (I’ll leave the discussion of whether I’d even enjoy not having to work again for another newsletter.) Every time I publish a new book, I’m disappointed by the reality of book publishing. The vast majority of books take years to break even, if they ever do.

When I published my first novel earlier this year, I had no expectation that it would make any money, and my expectations have been met. But, I had no idea how difficult it would be to sell the first 20 copies. Hint: it’s not impossible, but it’s much more difficult than I expected it to be.

To stay motivated, I came up with a new twist on an old idea:

  • set big goals.
  • enjoy the process.
  • think in terms of tiny steps,
  • over a giant length of time.

It’s the addition of the giant length of time that I believe is now helping me to gain some perspective (and success).

For example: my current goal (as described in my last newsletter) is to sell one copy of my novel per week towards the goal of selling 80 million books over the next 1.5 million years.

Since setting this goal, I’ve have two weeks in a row of selling 2 books per week! Prior to setting the goal, I had 3 weeks of not selling a single copy. Those three weeks were essentially wasted time where I was complaining about how hard it was to sell books and wishing that I would somehow achieve instant success.

If you’re learning a new skill, or looking for a new job, or trying to lose weight, or training for a marathon, or writing a book, the most certain way to realize your goal is to break it down into small pieces and continually move in the right direction. Almost every other course of action (short of just giving up) is certain to end in frustration. During the time that you’re working on taking these small steps, don’t think about your big goal. Even if your timeframe is just years or decades, rather than eons, you’ll stand a much better chance of success if you decide right now that you expect to be working the steps towards your goal for the foreseeable future.

You may even be surprised to find that you achieve your goal much sooner!