Media’s Fascination With Overnight Success Sends Wrong Message

Sam Obitz / February 16th, 2012 / No Comments »

There was a time in our country’s history when hard work and perseverance were valued above all else. These values inspired (and it can be argued helped to create) many of our greatest citizens. In 2005 a competition was conducted by the Discovery Channel and AOL to determine the “Greatest Americans” in history for a four part television series hosted by Matt Lauer. Here is the list of the top 25 according to that competition:

1. Ronald Reagan 10. Franklin D. Roosevelt 18. Bill Gates
2. Abraham Lincoln 11. Billy Graham 19. Eleanor Roosevelt
3. Martin Luther King, Jr. 12. Thomas Jefferson 20. Lance Armstrong
4. George Washington 13. Walt Disney 21. Muhammad Ali
5. Benjamin Franklin 14. Babe Ruth 22. Rosa Parks
6. George W. Bush 15. Albert Einstein 23. The Wright Brothers
7. Bill Clinton 16. Thomas Alva Edison 24. Henry Ford
8. Elvis Presley 17. Bob Hope 25. Neil Armstrong
9. Oprah Winfrey

Granted this list is skewed toward the present day and far from definitive, but now that you have read the list, pick out all the overnight sensations on it. Now look at the list and take out all the people that never had to overcome any obstacles or suffered any setbacks. How many names remained on your list? I was able to whittle the original list of 25 names down to just 25 names.

Many of us today would prefer to rely on ponzi schemes, get rich quick propositions or a lottery ticket rather than hard work and determination. We often reward flash in the pans over tried and true. Look at the Oscars, if you are lucky enough to be the flavor of the month and are up for your first award, you are much more likely to win than the people that have been around for a while and are nominated against you. Most people in the major categories that win out of nowhere never win another, while the people that win multiple Oscars generally failed to win on their first nomination.

The latest overnight sensation the media is fixating on is point guard Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks. Like many people, I am both intrigued and impressed by his recent accomplishments, but calling him an overnight sensation is a disservice to him and to us. The truth is it took Jeremy Lin about seven years of hard work to become an overnight sensation. He didn’t just drop out of the sky and start playing for the NY Knicks.

In 2005-2006 Lin led his Palo Alto High School team to a record of 32-1 and upset nationally ranked Mater Dei, 51–47, to win the California Interscholastic Division II state title. He was first team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year. Despite his accomplishments he was not offered a single division I scholarship. One of the ugly truths in sports is that many coaches and general managers still focus on ethnicity and pure athleticism over production, while failing to measure a player’s heart and mindset.

Lin went on to play at Harvard University where he earned All-Ivy League honors his last three years and was one of 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy award (awarded to the top point guard in college basketball) which went to Greivis Vasquez of the University of Maryland. Again despite his accomplishments, he went undrafted by the NBA. After playing on the Dallas Mavericks summer league team he was offered a spot by them as well as three other teams, eventually signing with his favorite team from his childhood the Golden State Warriors.

After seeing some playing time with the Warriors and being sent down to the D-league and performing well there, the Warriors decided to let Lin go on the first day of training camp this season. The Houston Rockets quickly signed him but were already stocked at his position and had to let him go the day before the season started, and a few days later the New York Knicks signed him. Finally all Jeremy’s hard work is paying off as all his preparation finally met up with an opportunity and he’s in the midst of riding that wave right now.

Far from and overnight sensation, this is a classic story of how the power of belief coupled with perseverance can lead to great accomplishments. A few good/great games do not make a career, so Jeremy still has a ways to go and will likely face a few more hurdles, but with the strong foundation he has built for himself, I would certainly be more than comfortable betting on his future.

As Calvin Coolidge famously said “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc


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