The Insipid Myth of “Overnight Success”

Simon Lyons
The Startup
Published in
4 min readNov 18, 2019


Here’s a toxic sentiment you’ve probably heard before:

This inventor of [popular product] went from wannabe to millionaire “overnight!”

The idea is the hard part. The rest just falls into place. Right?

The press loves an overnight success story, you hear them all the time. Why? Because it excites, it inspires hope in people. It sells papers, gets clicks.

But that’s all it is, a story. “Overnight success” is a phantom. The only people that on the surface might achieve “overnight success” are lottery winners. But that’s not success, that’s complete luck isn’t it?

“What about the people that get featured in some unexpected press and go from next to no sales of their product one day to tens of thousands the next?” You ask.

I’d counter with this…

How long do you think it took to conceive, develop and refine that product in the first place? How many hurdles, stumbles, back-steps and melt-downs did they go through to get to the the day before that “big break”?

Behind every “big break” is a lot of blood sweat and tears.

“Overnight success” usually comes about after someone has spent years grinding away on their business. They’ve spent long days, nights, weekends and holidays building it up bit by bit. Small successes and small failures, medium successes and medium failures. They’ve had and lost many opportunities, with other “big breaks” turning out to be anything but. Yet they keep going.

Photo by Marius Ciocirlan on Unsplash

Then one day another opportunity comes a long, just the right one, and this one works out for the best… Things start improving exponentially. Step changes can happen in their business. Before you know it, they’re a success!

One can’t happen without the other. Behind every “big break” is a lot of blood sweat and tears.

Why should you care about all this?

Because “overnight successes”, although motivational in the short term, can be demotivating in the long term. People start down a path, unaware how hard that path might be. They then become disheartened and depressed when things don’t work out right away “like it did for that other person”.

They ask themselves why they weren’t instantly successful like the people in the press. Are they a failure? Are they not good enough? Why are things taking so much longer?

You hear lots about IPOs, acquisitions, awards and net worth. You hear less about the late nights, meltdowns, mistakes and self-doubt. Which is funny when you think about it, because there’s definitely more of the latter than the former…

I get it, people like to read about success and aspire to achieve their own. Having such a one-sided display of what it takes for these people to get where they are though is misleading.

You can see a similar thing happening on social networks like Instagram too. Influencers often feel pressure to filter their lives to show only the highlights. So they don’t include the long queues for photos at tourist hot spots, or the late nights spent photo editing whilst on the third long haul flight of the week.

The phrase “overnight success” might not be a commonly used term anymore, but the sentiment is pervasive and still remains. You’ll be reading an interview with someone successful, and the article will gloss over the early stuff to get to the big juicy story of success at the end.

It’s not that the hard work before the “big break” isn’t mentioned. It’s that there’s not enough light shone on what comes before the “overnight successes” we all hear about so much, and that needs to change.

Don’t get me wrong, some outlets are doing it right. Take NPR’s How I Built This, for example, this podcast series spends a lot of time focussing on the struggles people experienced early on. More like this, please!

All this, so I could set you a challenge…

If you’re considered successful in your field I have a challenge for you. Talk about all the stuff you went through before your big break at length when interviewed or asked to speak. Don’t skip over it or make light of it to get to the shiny finish. People want to hear it, believe me!

I haven’t achieved the level of success I’m after yet, but when I do, I’m going to try my utmost to do the same. You can hold me to that.

About The Author

Simon runs Version 22, an award losing & winning design studio that solves people’s problems with inventions. It’s hard work but 5 years on we’re still going. No huge “overnight success” just yet…

There’s currently a new project in the works, a personal organiser called Geco Hub. To find out more and stay in the loop, click here.



Simon Lyons
The Startup

Loves solving your problems with inventions. Also curates 2 noteworthy product ideas weekly in “The 22 Review” newsletter. Get it here