Seth Godin wrote a post called Gradually then suddenly a few months back. It’s stuck with me, as Seth Godin posts tend to do.
This is how companies die, how brands wither and, more cheerfully in the other direction, how careers are made.
Gradually, because every day opportunities are missed, little bits of value are lost, customers become unentranced. We don’t notice so much, because hey, there’s a profit. Profit covers many sins. Of course, one day, once the foundation is rotted and the support is gone, so is the profit. Suddenly, apparently quite suddenly, it all falls apart.
It didn’t happen suddenly, you just noticed it suddenly.
This is what sticking around in a dead-end assistant position looks like. You want more responsibility but the company won’t give it to you, so resentment builds. The company feels the resentment and is reassured of their decision not to nudge you along or push you forward.
You stick around. Not because the paycheck is particularly good, but it’s not particularly bad. You’re comfortable.
Until the one day you’re not. And then you look back at the last 3 or 5 or 10 years of your life and you wonder where it all suddenly went.
Of course, as Seth points out, the inverse is true, too:
The flipside works the same way. Trust is earned, value is delivered, concepts are learned. Day by day we improve and build an asset, but none of it seems to be paying off. Until one day, quite suddenly, we become the ten-year overnight success.
My favorite part:
This is the way it works, but we too often make the mistake of focusing on the ‘suddenly’ part. The media writes about suddenly, we notice suddenly, we talk about suddenly.
That doesn’t mean that gradually isn’t important. In fact, it’s the only part you can actually do something about.
Don’t focus on the outcome. Don’t focus on being tomorrow’s Max Landis or Shailene Woodley or Jennifer Lee.
On a smaller scale…
- Don’t daydream of your career 10 years from now. Crush today’s work.
- Don’t fantasize about your “summer body.” Pick up the weight in front of you.
- Don’t imagine finishing the screenplay. Write the next page, sentence, word.
Focus on the everyday work and — quite suddenly — the outcome will appear.