Overnight Success

His real name is Jimmy Donaldson. He’s a 23 year YouTube megastar that goes by Mr. Beast. He’s had over 15 billion views on YouTube. Across all his channels, he has 200 million subscribers. In 2021, he added over 30 million subscribers to his main channel. It’s estimated Jimmy made $54 million from YouTube last year alone.

Here’s a quick example of Mr. Beast’s popularity. The South Korean show, Squid Game, broke every viewership record imaginable on Netflix. In the first month after release, the show had 111 million viewers. That had never been done before on the platform.

Jimmy and his team did a real-life remake of the show.They passed 111 million views in five days.

It’d be easy to call Mr. Beast an “overnight success”. It’d be even easier to pass him off as lucky. But is that true?

In a recent interview, Jimmy describes his success. He started making videos when he was 11 years old. He defined himself as “obsessed in every way with YouTube”. When asked about his progress as a creator he said, “It was about as slow as it gets”. From the age of 11 to 18 he put in thousands of hours and “made basically no money”. He says by the time he graduated from high school, he was making a couple of hundred bucks a month. Seven years and thousands of hours of his life with very little to show for it. He finally got together with other YouTubers to swap ideas. They shared what was working and what wasn’t. They studied other videos for hours on end. Jimmy said he would get up at 7:00 in the morning and study YouTube until 10:30 at night.

After nearly a decade of obsession, he finally broke through. His growth since then has been mind-boggling. But without unwavering patience and effort, it may have never been. His progress was slow until it wasn’t.

That’s like most things in life.

Outsized success usually requires simple effort for an uncommon amount of time. That’s hard to believe as an outsider when all you see is the result.

Consider the now well-known lily pad riddle:

Lily is a lily pad in a small pond. She doubles in size every day. On the 50th day she covers the entire pond. On what day was Lily covering only half of the pond?

For most people, the first reaction is day 25. That’s halfway to 50. Makes sense. But the answer is day 49. Just before covering the entire pond, Lily was only halfway. You may not even feel close just before the breakthrough.

You can be making progress and not even know it because it’s rarely linear. Leaps followed by sputters then more leaps are more likely than a straight line upwards. That’s hard to grasp because your brain seeks patterns and stories that make sense. A line that goes up gradually feels better than a line with no discernible pattern in the short term followed by massive growth in the long term.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear puts it another way. He brings up the idea of an ice cube sitting on a table in a cold room. Let’s say the room is 26 degrees. Slowly it heats up … 27 degrees …28 degrees … 29, 30, 31. The ice cube sits frozen. Then 32 degrees—the ice cube starts melting. Just one more degree was all it took. Progress was happening all along even if you couldn’t see it.

He goes on to write:

“In the early and middle stages of any quest, there is often a valley of disappointment. You expect to make progress in a linear fashion and it’s frustrating how ineffective changes can seem during the first days, weeks, and even months.”
I’d take that further. You can be building a career for years with little to show for it. You can be putting away money consistently for a decade and still be disappointed with your progress. That’s how compounding works. The magic usually happens on the backend.

Take a look at a compounding calculator:

All of the progress happens in the last 1/3 after feeling like it’s a massive struggle for the first 2/3. That makes sticking to it so hard but so worth it. The most sizable payoffs come at the cost of time.

Overnight Success Implies a result based on luck. Maybe you feel better thinking there is nothing you could’ve done to achieve a similar outcome. You want things to make sense. Someone else getting lucky is a far easier explanation than admitting you missed out due to lack of effort or patience.

What’s defined as genius is often just a willingness to outlast the other guy. Success is sometimes as simple as being patient when others are antsy. This is true when it comes to getting healthy or building wealth and everything in between.

It’s easy to get frustrated feeling like you’re not making progress. Remember, sometimes all it takes is more time. Progress is slow until it’s not. There’s no such thing as an “overnight success”.

Here’s to making money matter!