The 10-Year Plan For Overnight Success.


“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” — Morgan Missen

10 years ago this summer, I started my first internship in journalism. I was 16. That summer, I got an article published in the A section of The Boston Globe, and I thought: This journalism thing is going to be easy. I thought I was going to be a very big deal.

Five years ago this summer, I went to China to cover the Beijing Olympics for the Rocky Mountain News. I was in China, reporting on the biggest sporting event in the world. I was doing good reporting, and my bosses were happy with me. I was convinced: I was going to be a very big deal.

And now it’s five years later, and… well, the words “big deal” probably don’t apply just yet. I’m really happy with where I am in journalism. Thrilled, actually.

But this isn’t what I thought it would be. I had visions of reporting, of telling big feature stories that won big awards, of traveling to tell stories that could change lives. I had huge ambition, and no reason to doubt that everything I wanted would come soon.

I never thought about the work. There was no concept that it was going to take work and time and screw-ups to get somewhere good. Everything came easy: the reporting, the writing, the opportunities. Stuff just seemed to work out.

But I ended up in a pretty great place anyway. I’ve learned about the work. I’ve had leaps forward, and I’ve taken steps back. I have screwed up a lot, and I’m better for it.

Somewhere down the road, I might even get good at whatever it is that I do. I’m 26 now, and I think I’m getting closer. Not close — but definitely closer.

Every once in a while, someone tells me how far along I am. They say I’m doing well — really well for someone this young. They talk about how quickly success has come for me.

And not too far off — maybe a few years down the road, even — there’ll be more of them. They’ll talk about how fast it’s all happened for me. The words “overnight success” might even be used.

And only I will know: I’ll have been an overnight success more than a decade in the making.

Get The Work Out.

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“You can’t choose what stays and what fades away.” — Florence Welch

I wrote a thing for BuzzFeed this week about Gmail. I thought it would be a pretty good post — no “What’s The Cheapest, Classiest Way To Get Drunk,” but a good post.

And then it ended up being the biggest post I’ve ever written.

I had no idea. I don’t think anybody had any inkling that it would turn out that way.

We don’t really know what’s going to stick and what won’t. You just put the work out into the world, make it easy to share, and see what happens next.

The Fire.


“There’s a fire burning deep inside / And it’s as mad as it’s mean / It’s hungry as it’s lean / And it’s as fleeting as a dream.” — John Fullbright

Two separate things that happened this week:

The first: A colleague at BuzzFeed died. His name was Michael Hastings, and I never met him. But when you read about him — and you really should — the thing that comes across is a certain fire for his reporting. People at my office described him as passionate, as forceful, as energetic. What a wonderful thing to bring to your work.

The second: I saw a guy play in concert on Thursday. His name is John Fullbright, and he’s a hugely talented songwriter from Oklahoma. Watching him live, he sang with that same passion. He threw himself at the microphone. He sang loud, and played hard. He’s a guy who actually appears to work on stage — he sweats and screams and aches through his music. What a wonderful thing.

It’s an amazing thing to see people doing work they really care about and believe in. The passion comes through. The fire comes through.

I feel lucky to have witnessed glimpses of it this week. That’s what we’re all shooting for, isn’t it?

After The Frustration.

“Innovation happens at the crossroads of frustration with the present and blind optimism about the future.” — Aaron Levie

A lot of really great stuff can come from being mad at where you are. You’re pissed about your job or your friends or your place in the world, and you do something bold. That’s where a project like came from.

But frustration is just a little bit of fuel. It might jump start you, but it won’t keep you going.

What keeps you going are boring things: Routine, effort, persistence, teamwork. The frustration convinces you to start the work, but the structure lets you do the work every day.

It’s boring stuff, yes, but it’s also what actually makes great work happen.

That image at top comes via.

Stop Talking About The Future. Start Working Today.

“You have to learn to be bad at something before you can learn to be good at something.” — John Oliver

If I hear one more talk about the future of my industry, I’m gonna be sick.

The future. Goodness, what the hell do we know about the future?

We have no clue what happens next. None. We are consistently, ridiculously wrong when it comes to predicting the future. We are just bad at it.

Here’s what I’m interested in:

What are we doing now?

What tools are we working with now?

What are we trying to accomplish now?

We shouldn’t stop trying to make our world better, but we have to start now. We know what people are doing now, and how people are reacting now. That’s where we should start.

But we get lost in talking about what’s next.

We are constantly trying to sift through all that’s happening now to predict what’s coming next. That’s where we get lost — trying to follow the thread a little too far into the future. We want to write the story as it’s happening. We all want to feel like we’re a step ahead.

But forget about the future for a second. We chase it too often. We follow it to dead ends.

All we can do is put our work in right now and see where it takes us.

The work leads us to the story, not the other way around. Go do the work. Go ask your colleagues what they’re working on, and try to learn from it.

Just remember: Some predict the future; others make it.

Nancy and Julie.

When I look back on the women who’ve had the most impact on my life, I don’t look to teachers. I don’t look to historical figures.

I look to my mother and her friends. I look most of all to Julie, and I look to Nancy.

About five years ago, Julie died. Cancer.

Last week, Nancy died. Cancer.

And I am at a loss for words — again.

But if there’s something I should say about these two women — these two amazing women, these two women I am so blessed to have had in my life — I say these two things:

Julie and Nancy laughed as hard as any people I’ve ever met.

Julie and Nancy always made you understand that they loved you, and that they put you first.

Laughter and love. Those are two of the most wonderful things in the world, and I know it because of them.

I miss you, Julie, and I’ll miss you, Nancy. Thanks for teaching me so much about this world. I won’t forget it.

Go For It.

“He does shit.” — Bruce Arena, on Clint Dempsey

There’s a guy on the U.S. National Team named Clint Dempsey. As of Sunday, he’s the second-leading scorer in the history of American men’s soccer.

What makes Dempsey so special? It’s a combination of things. He’s got incredible ball skills. He plays with the sort of passion that only great athletes seem to know how to tap into.

And then there’s this third thing, that Grant Wahl of SI quoted so accurately this week: “He does shit.”

Lots of players are technically skilled, but Dempsey has a rare knack for making things happen. He tries shots that no one else will try, and that’s where some of his most impressive goals come from. Call it verve, call it chutzpah, call it brass balls — whatever it is, Dempsey has it. Where other players shy away, Dempsey goes for goal.

Dempsey’s only scored 35 goals in his National Team career (1), so it’s not like he’s a superhuman goal scorer. But his combination of skill, passion and courage make him an exceptional soccer player.

We should all have that passion, that drive to take big chances.

This week, take a shot you wouldn’t take. Be bold.

  1. In 96 games.

Say It Now.

“Cause this is what you’ve waited for.” — Glen Hansard

When I was a kid, I was really shy about approaching people. An interview with a source, or just saying hello — I was always slow to make a move.

And at some point, I just got tired of dawdling. Waiting was exhausting.

I learned:

If there’s a goal that matters to you, starting talking about it now.

If there’s someone who matters to you, go tell them now.

If there’s work that matters to you, start doing something about it now.

Waiting doesn’t do anything for you. Get going, and start now.