Overnight Success Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

A few months ago, Amanda Lockwood appeared on The Ellen Show and instantly earned a lot of attention.

Who is Amanda? Nobody special — that is, until recently. On the show, Ellen asked her viewers to follow her guest on Twitter. And many did just that.

Ellen Show Photo
Ellen welcomes Amanda Lockwood to the show (Courtesy of KCTV).

Amanda went from having 60 followers to 12,000 in a few days to well over 20,000 in a matter of months, a respectable amount of fans for any blogger, musician, or public speaker. And she did it without having to do much work at all.

She just showed up.

Before the ease of online connection and social media platforms, this never would’ve happened. It couldn’t have.

Before the Internet

Before the Information Age, Amanda would’ve appeared on TV, had a quick thrill, and quickly faded away. Neither you nor I would’ve had the thought to track her down and pay attention to her… even if she did make an appearance on daytime television.

But now in a short amount of time, this young woman has reached a state of mini-celebrity that she can leverage for whatever she wants. All because of she had a platform, a place to point people: her Twitter page.

In what other period of history has this been possible? For someone to virtually pack a stadium without ever having to knock on a single door or do one bit of promotion?

The power of social media

This is the power of social media; it’s a testament to the potency of the Internet and our virtually-connected world. And it’s as dangerous as it is exciting.

Amanda’s now famous. She’s a celebrity in some sense of the world. Does this mean she will be successful? That she’ll get rich off of someone else’s influence? Does it mean Ellen’s fans care about what she has to say?

Not necessarily.

What it does mean is Amanda has a chance. And that’s the whole point. In this age of opportunity, we are all out of excuses to not make our mark — even without Ellen’s help.

We’ve all been given a microphone. The real question is: Will we use it? (Click here to tweet that.)


Here’s what I take away from this story:

  1. If you have influence (and we all do), you have a responsibility to wield it well — to be generous and share it with someone who needs it.
  2. If someone’s given you a shot, you still have to earn it. You have to keep an audience’s attention and not take their trust for granted.

This is true for book endorsements and guest blog posts, as well as dating relationships and job interviews.

We all have gifts and chances, and we must treat them with the care they deserve.

When our time here on earth is done, what we’ll have to show for it is how we used what was given us. How we took care of our gifts and chances — and how good we were at giving them away.

(Side note: A friend of mine who’s a songwriter just opened for the Beach Boys. These opportunities are everywhere.)

The real rub

In all of this, I’m left wondering: At a time when people can become famous overnight (if you know the right people), does this mean fame is now less valuable?

Does it undermine the real work of earning an audience?

No offense to Amanda, because she didn’t do anything wrong, but I’m kinda glad I’ve spent the last six years hustling to get to where she got overnight. I hope that means I don’t take it for granted.

In fact, I hope we all appreciate our respective struggles. Call me crazy, but I think they’re part of the reward.

What about you? What do you make of all this? Share in the comments.

76 thoughts on “Overnight Success Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

  1. Good one, Jeff.  The struggle is definitely part of the reward.  As much as I can’t stand struggle when I’m caught in the midst of it, those are times I have been taught the biggest most life-changing lessons in my life.    You come away with a much more grateful attitude. 

    1. Thanks Eileen! Climbing the mountain floods me with gratitude at the view, while if I drive up on the Blue Ridge Parkway it’s still awesome, but it isn’t the same.

  2. At the moment I’d take the overnight success 🙂

    HOWEVER, I bet if you ask me in ten years was it worth doing the hard graft, I’d reply YESSSSSSSS

    It usually makes you stronger and a great deal more humble

    Mathew (Turndog Millionaire)

    1. I think we all would Matthew! It would make our lives so much easier. But then I begin to think about lottery winners and the like. How they typically wind up broke and even more miserable than before. Then overnight success doesn’t seem so enviable. 

      1. Yep, it’s easier, but is it better? I’d say not. It might be less scary and cause less stress, but it won’t fix things in the long term.

        Life’s a fight so it’s good to battle your way through

    2. Yes, being humble is a key word. Sometimes we have to take a breath and step back from ourselves in order to see more clearly. WeE have to be able to recognize and define where we’ve been and where we’re going. And we have to do this with passion and purpose. I think young children should be taught that they have a purpose for being here and they need to find what that purpose is as they grow and experience life in order to find success and live with inner peace and joy.

  3. Overnight success is just as challenging as a million Dollar lottery prize.  If you never mentally prepared for such a thing it will be no more than a flash in a pan.  In order for this to be sustainable you must have more deliverables in your funnel – and it had better be outrageously good.  If it happens to you, make it work quickly.  Much like the lottery win it will not be back anytime soon.    

  4. Reminds me of how the view from the top of a mountain is so much more invigorating if you’ve climbed up rather than taken the cable-car, mountain railway or whatever. What we learn on the journey is important too.
    Also, I take the point that we are to make good use of the opportunity we have to reach so many over the internet.
    I’m due to write an article in our local paper later this year, and am planning writing on using the net to spread good news, using my blog as an example.

  5. I wouldn’t want overnight success because for me it is a matter of liking my work. Sounds ridiculous I know. I am working toward excellence. What is the point of becoming an overnight success if your work is mediocre or sucks. The satisfaction for me is that I would get to a place of producing remarkable work which would speak for itself. If a person put in the work for ten or twenty years and then becomes an overnight success that is a different story. At least the person wouldn’t have cheated their audience because they actually worked to achieve a goal. I am big believer in hard work. Nothing was freely handed or given to me in life except salvation. Everything else I had to work hard and prove myself. Right now, my goal is to work at being the best person and writer I can be. Great post.

  6. I think it’s better to grow into it like you did. 
    We can gradually adjust and handle success better if we expand a little at a time.  “Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.”  Proverbs 13:11  The same is true of fame. I believe this is a Biblical principle for growth that fits people and the way we are made. “He who is faithful in little will be given much.”

    We see this principle also in the physical realm. Houses and  skyscrapers are  not built overnight. Growing little by little allows us to build a foundation that will be stable. The struggle makes us stronger and able to handle the success which comes our way. This is the reason why you often see people who succeed rapidly, fail in other areas of their life. The struggle to get there builds the character to handle it wisely.

    The story of Joseph in the Bible is a good example of this. He would not have had the character needed to lead the people through tough times of famine had he not spent years in prison and learning to be faithful where he was. Moses is another example. His years in the desert refined him and built in him the character to lead his people out of bondage and through that very desert. We can learn a lot from our Biblical history what it takes to be great. Many people now days do not even know these inspiring stories but I draw strength from them.

  7. Love this example, Jeff.

    The problem with overnight success (like the story above) is that it is usually a “flash in the pan.”

    I was recently at BlogWorld and met several individuals that went from zero to tens of thousands of readers overnight. They were lucky (in the truest sense of the word.) Or they road the coattails of a current event or news story.

    However, most of these individuals will *not* be writing in a year’s time. 

    When you rise to stardom in a flash… it usually burns out quickly.

  8. Reflecting on your piece, I googled Amanda.  I had not
    heard of her but she managed to get you to become a part of her
    celebrity.  I got it, she tweets so is she a tweet?  I advanced
    googled her without “twitter” and her references fizzle out after
    twelve citations.  I surmise she wants to
    be a model not a tweeter.  Will her
    appearance catapult her into the world of modeling?  Perhaps momentarily but unless she has the
    real stuff, she will not stay.


    So I googled Jeff Goins without “blogger”.  The first citation was the Huffington Post
    and “A Lesson On Legacy  From Joe
    Paterno”.  He has a history of existing
    in the world at large in addition to his persona as a blogger.  When I click on “10”, I am still getting
    fresh citations from different sources, no frizzle here.  I get it, he wanted to be writer. He is a
    writer.  Will being a writer catapult him
    into being a blogger?  It appears
    so.  Will blogging be the dark side of
    fame and kill off the writer.


    Or will he write that secret passion of most writers “the
    novel that becomes the movie”?  Will
    Amanda be the tweeter who becomes the model who becomes the actress?  Their paths have now crossed.  Will she be the lead or an extra missing the
    train of success?  Will the Huffington
    Post win and the political commentator survive? 
    I love a good mystery with a romantic twist. But there is no mystery
    here.  Jeff will sleep well tonight.

  9.  If you have influence, you have a responsibility to wield it well — to be generous and share it with someone who needs it.

    Classic! Classy! Needs a twitter button next to it.

  10. Really thought provoking post, Jeff.

    Yes, the information age, or better still the internet has given all of us an opportunity to make it. However, for me it is not just the financial reward, the fame or the crowd following. It’s just the journey. The joy knowing that you are doing what touches your heart and there are people all over the world who can identify with you. The big numbers on twitter does not really count. What counts is who you are and what you are doing with that.

    It’s a pleasure to be here.

  11. There’s so much to be learned from the struggle! I’d much rather have that experience and wisdom under my belt than obsess over the question of how to sustain sudden fame. There is something beautiful about having earned success the more difficult way, and it’s a much more inspiring story for others. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, honestly. 

    1.  Great thoughts, Dara.  Our struggle definitely makes for a more inspiring story for others.  And it does leave a lasting legacy!

  12. I like the question about whether fame has less value than it did before. In a world where it can be a career for people to go on a variety of reality shows, gathering fame, notoriety, and money along the way, I think “fame” has morphed into something different than it was 50 years ago.

  13. If Amanda were a writer, she’d now have no time to write.
    If Ellen were a publisher, she’d have protected Amanda’s privacy.

  14. Question for me is: How did Amanda get on Ellen’s show in the first place? Wasn’t there some self promotion involved?

    1. I thought about that. Actually, I think it was random. Ellen chooses a follower from Twitter and gives them a free ticket. I’m not exactly sure, though. Just my impression.

  15. Of course, there is a flip side to this…..

    Your chances of getting “famous” when you don’t want to be also happen quite frequently these days when you are treated with the “cons” of being a celebrity (paparazzi, news crews) without the payoff for your trouble.

  16. I think the struggle brings a blend of authenticity that you can’t experience if you are an overnight success. You don’t appreciate it as much, and your story isn’t as compelling. People really relate to honest stories of struggle because we’ve all been there at one time or another. Great post.

  17. Good thoughts on this. I think there is something to be said of earning an audience. I am in the process of earning my way as well and I want the influence but I want to get it because people recognize my accomplishments. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @….. just kidding!

  18. I think that sometimes we look at fame as an end in and of itself. But the real question we have to ask ourselves is why do we want this fame, this influence, this notoriety, this platform. If you keep that in mind, then in my humble opinion it doesn’t really matter how you get there. If you do good for people with your influence, how you got it can be irrelevant.
    The relevance comes because the process of acquiring fame develops you as a person. You’ve got to go through the struggles and the successes, the peaks and the valleys. It gives you perspective.

  19. Good post. The nature of our interconnectedness allows for these instant fame springboards but it is also WAY more fragile than the pre-internet past. The audience is a fickle. I think success earned through toil IS sweeter than success (seemingly) obtained without a price.

    It’s more satisfying if you get there. You don’t know if you’ll get there when you are in the middle of the struggle. Maybe the struggle gives it more meaning. I’d say if this kind of opportunity does strike someone they should accept it with a grateful mind and move forward continuing with the work like nothing has changed. 

  20. Isn’t this typical in today’s industry? Getting on Ellen for some funny thing is the new PR. Think Kardashians. What have they ever actually done that’s so great? Fame can strike in an instance these days. The real question is, will you be ready to capitalize on it and ride the wave, or just let it slip by?

  21. It always comes back to your goals. What are your intentions, do you recognize what you are called to do and are you following it… or going off on your own? This is hard and I struggle with it everyday.
    Social media is a world that can cloud up perfect vision in a matter of moments.
    Do I want to be known, count thousands of followers, make gobs of money, feel important, special, loved? Am I searching for that here? 
    Not to pull a Jesus juke, but what has He intended for me to do?
    We are all working that out and each day brings new opportunities, many that will be glorifying to God and some, glorifying to me. 
    I find more and more, that I am taken away from the writing that I am supposed to be doing , and instead reading others great posts and ideas. This is my problem. No one is forcing me… but I desire to be better, but the struggle is in the balance. 

    I may be better off right where I am. If I can encourage a few maybe that is enough. 
    The struggle of the everyday writing, doing what I believe I am called to do… that is the reward. Will it be enough?
    I hope so. I really hope I can be content with praise from God and not man. 
    Can you imagine?

  22. I agree with Jeff’s thesis: that the journey makes the destination all the more special.  At the same time, however, I wonder if we’ve missed the point of the Ellen/Amanda example.  Perhaps we should first step back and ask ourselves, is instant fame even worth having?
    All too often, instant fame is Hot Pocket Fame (pull out of obscurity, microwave on high for two minutes, and consume).  It is a short-lived phenomenon fueled by the masses.  For one brief, shining moment, Amanda is a household name.  All too soon, however, the crowds will rush on, leaving her in the dust as they stampede toward the next up-and-coming “Amanda.”  Amanda could possibly temporarily extend the stay of her followers by giving them what they want — but then she becomes nothing more than a slave to an audience of itching ears.

    Personally, I would much prefer to work hard for years in relative obscurity, building my following one faithful person at a time, until such time as I had assembled a band of individuals whose hearts beat in sync with mine.  These are followers who will ford the fastest rivers; climb the highest, most dangerous mountains; trudge through the hottest deserts; and dive to the deepest depths with me (figuratively speaking)…because they believe in what I’m doing.

    The sad reality of Hot Pocket Fame is this: Amanda can’t say the same of her followers.  Because they don’t really care about her.  But perhaps more important, she can’t care about them.  And that is the saddest reality of all.

    Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…either write things worth the reading, or do things worth the writing.”  And only movements fueled by common conviction, not the hysteria of the masses, can do either.

  23. I like what Mao Tse Tung said “Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.”  I believe there’s little miracles and bigger miracles that come from life’s struggles. These gifts of strength, wisdom and the grace to better understand ourselves and others are just part of the reward earned through the overcoming process…then the giving becomes an overflow of our heart…:)

  24. Over the years I have seen a lot of people rise and shine, and then vanish from sight like an extinguished rocket in a fireworks display never to be seen again yet others plod along just doing their job or serving their calling. In the end I suspect the latter will leave the world changed for the better far more than the overnight successes whose characters were never ready for the applause.

  25. Maybe she is really not an overnight success. Maybe there are small parts to her story not revealed. Maybe there is more to Amanda than we know…

  26. There are valid discussion points for the various ways to the top (Moses vs. Hitler for example). It’s not so much about how you obtain your influence, or earn your audience, but how you use it once you’ve got it. Many good things have been done by those surprised by good fortune, and a number of bad things done by those who fought their way to an audience. It’s all about what’s in the heart.

  27. I have been thinking along this line also. Why am I valuable?
    We are  bio and adoptive parents. Our 2 chosen teens have a 12 year old brother who we recently found out about via CPS phone call and he is now our foster son.
    It is really hard for him (rejection, abandonment) and our kids (who now have spoken to their unknown before mother who abandoned them when they were toddlers).
    A whole dysfunctional family has come into our lives… and they all live within minutes of us!

    The same day we heard about our new son (who wants us to adopt him too) I lost a very lucrative but hard job. Now I am a mom. Intentional WORK! Why is this so undervalued? Why are people so dumbfounded when I share? Why do so many people who adopt and speak about it seem so glorious and saintly? Why is doing the hard thing in the hard way so isolating?

    I have become a writer. No one cares to read but it allows me to express. I am training for a marathon, allows me to decompress. I sing out loud a lot. i thropugh my hands up in the air and tip my head back, but more often down, I bow.

    Success in my eyes comes daily as I pick up my cross and follow like my leader LORD.

    His life was magnified on a cross (not a platform),  That he would be magnified to my little audience is OK! After all it is Him who is the star.

    Jeff, the community you have and encourager you are is off the SEO grid.

    YOU shine something bigger than you.

  28. As a neophite blogger and author just embracing this whole social world (if there’s anything newer than “neophite,” insert term here), I think this young lady has a bigger job of it than I do. Seems like it’ll take quite a splash to convert fans on loan by virtue of Ellen’s influence into genuine followers. Fans-of-the-moment or coincidental fans like this have all the potential of being the fickle crowd, particularly if she was caught unprepared to smack em with some of that wow factor Michael Hyatt talks about. And if she blows it, the negative image left hanging in people’s minds could do damage. “Oh yeah…I followed her for a while. Nothing there. Don’t bother.”

  29. Unless Amanda started tweeting the day before she appeared on Ellen, the real truth is there are no overnight successes.   Whenever I have dug deeper into stories of overnight success, I always find there was a lot of work that went into getting to the place to be ready and available when that call comes, which catapults you to the next level.  Which for me, means write for the love of writing and doing the work, and when the time is right, success will happen the way it is supposed to.   For some, that time comes quicker than others. 

  30. Can any of us think of an overnight wonder who parlayed that
    fame into long-term success? Few people pop onto the radar in a positive light
    these days. If they do, they either fade into obscurity or the media scrambles
    to uncover dirt on them. If, in a case like Ellen and Amanda, someone hits our
    screens in a positive manner, she probably won’t have the content to last, and
    if she does, other people will look for reasons to tear her down. Usually,
    however, the overnight sensations are here because of something negative they’ve
    done, and we’re happy to forget them as quickly as we can.

    It’s not enough these days to get a break. If you’re not
    going to claw your way to the top on your own, if you’re going to take a short
    cut and ride someone’s coattails, you better have the heart and determination
    to stay there, and your closet better not have any skeletons, because people
    will be looking for them. People may like to sit in the audience and pretend
    they like success stories, but they tune in to reality TV because they like the
    dramatic train wrecks that are those peoples’ lives. They are secretly waiting
    and wanting those people to fail, and they want to watch it happen.

    If you don’t earn
    your fame through time and hard work, people won’t accept you owning it. And
    fifteen minutes will be all they’ll tolerate you having. Better to just put in
    the time and own what you earn. At least that way when you celebrate your
    successes, they’re really your own, and if you have to deal with a setback, it’s
    on your own terms.

  31. Great points. I feel similarly about winning the lottery: as nice as it would be to become a sudden millionaire, I think it would be more satisfying on every level to work hard to earn that money. Because that way you can feel confident that you deserve it.

  32. The thing we must guard ourselves against is letting stories like Amanda’s discourage us. We must persevere. We continue to write and ship because that’s who we are.

    1. I agree with you Larry. Sometimes we look at the ‘overnight’ stories and wonder why we are still in the trenches. Yet we work so hard.

      But when we understand perseverance and the uniqueness of everyone’s journey, we’ll keep at it until our breakthrough comes.

  33. Jeff, I think struggle builds character. And that’s what keeps us on top.

    I know that I tend to appreciate what I worked for  – than something that just dropped into my hands without askance.. I think it’s human nature, that we are wired for work..to appreciate the fruit of labor.

    Nothing wrong with getting a break, absolutely nothing. (You still have to earn it anyway, otherwise it’s just temporary).

     But like you, i think i appreciate a hard road, long years of sweat, trust and faith. I do not enjoy every bit of the process of course but I see the value in the end.

  34. First I’d heard of Amanda but good for her. Hopefully it helps her on her road to success. 

    Now, would it be nice if something like that happened to me? I’d like to think so but then again it wouldn’t be the same. The hard work brings the integrity and strength. Similar to how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. If we don’t have that struggle, we will be weaker than we were meant to be.

  35. Great post, Jeff. I agree that we are responsible for using what’s been given to us wisely and for the betterment of others. When I keep my sights on that goal, I do well. When I start thinking it’s all about me, I go down the drain, emotionally and spiritually, sometimes physically. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it today.

  36. Jeff,

    I’m sure most of us like overnight success without doing much but for someone else like you who has to struggle and sweat it for six long grinding years to arrive at the same point, the success tastes ten times sweeter and it builds strength of character.


  37. I’m with you, Jeff! There is nothing that can cause a person to mature like struggle. The struggle is where we exercise those muscles that we didn’t even know we had. Afterward, you reap the reward of knowing that nobody just handed it over to you, you earned it! That’s something that no one can take from you. 

    It’s sad that in this world today we reward people for just showing up! That’s big but it’s only the first step towards true accomplishment.

  38. it’s funny, I just posted about Overcoming Overnight Success Envy the other day =) I definitely think there is something to be said for the journey of “getting there”… I think that there are also often a lot of situations where it looks like overnight success to the average Joe but really has had much behind-the-scenes work for a long time. no matter what, for me it always seems to come back to knowing WHY you do what you do and sticking to it…

  39. Overnight success doesn’t really happen overnight. Before that special day,  there has to be tremendous preparation that has to be done. Like everything else in life, there has to be sowing before reaping. It’s a universal truth.    

  40. Reward is sweeter with a struggle, just as a vacation is more appreciated after having worked hard for months. A vacation from a vacation, may be enviable, but not as enjoyable.

  41. Jeff, I really like the writing. ‘Audience’ is a trap. Content is the first and last judge of art and life. If carving into stone or typing into an iPad does not improve content, how can the amount of time it takes to aquire ‘audience’ affect or effect anything.

  42. So many are eagerly awaiting notoriety. When it comes, so does responsibility.  Like anything else we have been given, it is on trust.  The question at hand then is, “Will I be a good steward?”

  43. “If someone’s given you a shot, you still have to earn it.”

    Some of the people who get fame for free really frustrate me because they haven’t earned it and don’t really appreciate it. Sort of like taking freedom for granted or not appreciating the sacrifice of those gone before.

    I think you’ve done a great job putting in the hard work & sweat to build a lasting tribe and solid platform. I’m stoked for your book.

  44. Wow, very good post. I’ve been writing for years, but have just recently started trying to get my name out there and gain exsposure. It’s seems almost impossible at the moment, but I know that I need to press on and never give up. Very encouraging post. Thank you, Jeff.

  45. Good message Jeff I’m beginning to think struggles are more valuable than I first gave them credit for. I used to believe they were merely annoying.

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