We all do it. We all have someone we set our sights on as the goal we strive for. We have one person we aspire to be like, whether it’s achieving their level of success, their number of publications, their level of speaking engagements, or even beating their Klout score.

Our whole reason for personal branding is to improve some aspect of our lives — our job, our business, and our career — and make it something we enjoy or can be successful at.

And to do it, we find a role model. Someone we can look up to and model our own lives and career trajectories after.

The problem I’ve found in my own role models is that they have become successful, seemingly overnight, while I’m still slogging it out, barely scratching the surface that they have broken through. But I have paid enough attention to what my role models have done, and I’ve managed to find my own successes by following their paths. Here are three steps to finding that overnight success:

1) Overnight success actually takes years

About 13 years ago, I had my sights set on humor writer W. Bruce Cameron, creator of the famous “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” column that became a book, then a TV series. We belong to the same humor writers group, and I was always insanely jealous about his success. We joined the group at the same time, but he was syndicated, was getting books, and was getting national media attention, while I was still appearing in a handful of weekly newspapers in Indiana.

What I did not realize at the time was that Bruce had been writing his humor and honing his skills for 15 years before we ever met. His overnight success had taken approximately 780 weeks of writing new material, promoting himself, and growing his network. By the time he joined this group, he had already spent years working hard for the accolades he was getting, seemingly overnight.

Don’t be surprised or jealous of the quick success of your “not so well known” role model. They have probably been at it for quite some time — that’s why you chose them as a role model in the first place. Find out what they’ve been doing for the last few years to get to that point.

2) “Overnight” sometimes refers to the workload

This column is due every Sunday night at 3 am Eastern Time, and there have been a few times I have come up on that deadline — even now, I have one hour to go. Most of my days end at 2 am, and depending on my next day, start again at 7 am.

Of course, I have the added duties of a business owner, so I don’t just clock out at 5 and start up at 8 the next day. But I try to save the late night activities for personal branding efforts and writing, and limit my regular work hours for client work and meetings.

Depending on your own workload and work-life balance, you may have to forego sleep for a while if you want to make a big impact on your personal brand. Getting eight hours of sleep is great, but the people who achieve overnight success often work overnight.

3) Don’t quit

This is the most important piece of advice. The reason most people fail at their personal branding efforts is that they quit after a few failures. Life is filled with failures. Your career will be filled with failures (if it isn’t, you aren’t trying hard enough). Even the most successful writers have piles of rejection letters, each one an individualized, personalized failure. I heard an interview with one successful writer who has 480 rejection letters — he has almost a full ream of paper’s worth of rejection letters.

The true professional won’t take these failures personally. If anything, they use them as fuel to keep going. But the unsuccessful amateur will take them personally, get discouraged, and quit in a huff.

That’s not to say the professional is cold and calculating, and doesn’t get pissed. They do. But they use their pissed-off energy to fight harder, stay up longer, and get better. They turn their failure — and their burning desire to see the person who rejected them ground to dust under their heel, MWAHAHAHA! — into the momentum to drive them on to the next success. They don’t blame their failure on the rejecter, and then quit. They move past it, and do better next time.

Remember, overnight success takes hours and hours of work, every day, for years. If you can be patient and be persistent and not quit when anyone else would, you’ll get to where you wanted to be.

And then you’ll find out that you’re not satisfied with where you wanted to be, and decide you want the next step instead, so you start the process all over again. But that’s a column for another time.


Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. His new book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, which he wrote with Jason Falls, will be released in October 2011.