Have you seen the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom? I recently watched it (a little late, I know), and I was struck by several insights applicable to success in any industry. (Pro tip: You can “rent” it from Amazon for just 99 cents!)
The movie won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and it explores the world of backup singers, the entertainers who sing and dance just out of the spotlight. They are arguably some of the most talented singers in the world, yet they haven’t broken out to become household names like Sting, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder, also interviewed in the film.
Some of them may still break out, and some never will. The movie spends a lot of time pondering the question of what makes some people superstars and not others. Clearly, it’s not just talent.
On that topic, Sting shared an observation near the end of the film that has really stuck with me:
“There’s this idea that you go on American Idol and become a star, but that means you’ve bypassed the spiritual work that you have to do to get here. If you bypass that, then your success will be wafer thin.”
In his opinion, sometimes it’s not solely your innate talent, but also the internal, personal development work (what he calls the “spiritual work”) that makes you not just successful but able to handle that success. I don’t think we talk enough about this — working on yourself and not just working on your work.
It’s Not About “Waiting Your Turn”
It’s a common refrain from younger professionals, “I’m good at my job, so why can’t I get promoted?”
You may want to be promoted after a few months of work. Are you capable of doing some or most of the work that bigger job will require? Maybe you are. But I believe that time has value in and of itself.
As you wait and learn and gather new skills and understandings and confidence and resilience, big changes happen that you might not even realize. And many of those changes aren’t directly related to your job IQ. You’re acquiring maturity and self-knowledge, gravitas and a comfort level that will give you more career success in the long run. You are building a solid foundation that will support you for the rest of your career.
Why The Time Investment Will Pay Off in Greater Career Success
There’s no question we live in an instant gratification society, and that certainly comes into play with the desire for an immediate promotion. But when I look at the people I most admire, I see they’ve amassed deep knowledge that only grows thanks to time and experience.
As a speaker, I’m often asked if I get nervous on stage. The truth is, I’m really not, and here’s why: I have studied my craft for almost two decades. I know my content deeply. I have been challenged on virtually all of my ideas and opinions. I have experienced a multitude of challenges, mistakes, criticisms, snafus and successes. And I can’t really point to one single moment or experience when I thought, “I’m not nervous!” It took a long time and evolved along with my business. For me, there has been no such thing as overnight success.
There’s a story I love in the book Art and Fear about quality vs. quantity. One group is given clay and told to make the best pot possible, while the second group is told to make as many pots as they can. In the end, the group that made the most pots ended up with the best ones as well.
I believe that a quantity of time working can matter just as much as the quality of your work.
The Lure of the Instant Spotlight
So why do we all want to rocket straight to the top?
For the first 10 years of my career, no one was paying attention to my progression. They might have asked how it was going, and I’d give a pat answer, but I didn’t have the pressure of others checking my pace on LinkedIn and measuring my progress building clients and audiences. I’m sort of grateful I started my business before social media really took off.
These days, it’s harder to toil away and bide your time, because it seems like everyone’s watching.
Sure, there are those who become highly accomplished CEOs at age 28, and that’s great, but the vast majority of us don’t. And I believe, in retrospect, that those who spent the time developing themselves will agree that it was worth it.
The Supremes – and their back-up singers – know that “You Can’t Hurry Love.” I don’t think you can hurry career success either.
How has time helped you reach career success? I’d love to hear your experiences below in the comments.
Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.