Twas the Overnight Success: The One Thing You Can Do This Holiday Break to Make Next Year Your Best

I recently wrote about the myth of an overnight success. For those of us with an entrepreneurial spirit, there is immense, self-induced pressure to reach the pinnacle in an expediated manner. While this pressure can be a great motivator, the correlating frustration is not. It is disruptive, distracting, and an overall energy drain. Therefore, to kick off the holiday season, let’s discuss a newer Christmas tradition that became entrenched in a not-quite-overnight way.

I’m sure you are familiar with Elf on a Shelf, but do you know how it came to be? In 2003, Carol Aebersold and her two grown daughters wrote a poem about Fisbee, a “scout elf” who observes children’s behavior during the holiday season. Each night, the elf reports the kids’ actions to Santa Claus and returns before the children wake up to observe from a different place in the house.

What started as a fun writing project was soon turned into a book; however, no one was interested in publishing it… so they did it themselves. To finance the endeavor, one daughter left her stable job, sold her house to move in with Aebersold, and used the money to invest in the enterprise. The other daughter took out a line of credit. And Aebersold emptied her retirement account to start their publishing house, Creatively Classic Activities and Books. They then published 5,000 copies of their book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.

For the next few years, they sold their Elf on the Shelf kits, which included the book and doll, at local trade shows, markets, and bookstores. Then, in a tremendous stroke of luck, actress Jennifer Garner was photographed carrying an Elf on the Shelf box. Shortly thereafter, the Today show ran a segment on it. From there, they were flooded with orders, and it hasn’t slowed down since. Today, the Elf on the Shelf is a global phenomenon, selling over 11 million elves.

We’re honored to be a Christmas tradition that is now … part of Americana. You get your Christmas tree, you see Santa at the mall, and The Elf on the Shelf comes. And I don’t think there’s any greater compliment in life than achieving a status like that.— Chanda Bell, co-founder of Elf on the Shelf

As Aebersold and her daughters illustrate, people are rarely overnight successes…and by rarely I mean almost never. Their success simply appears to be overnight because we didn’t see the years of rejection, sacrifice, and continuous learning that went into their achievement. We didn’t see the sleepless nights where they were overcome with hopelessness. We didn’t see the competitors who surpassed them seemingly overnight. Even more, we didn’t see the countless former competitors who accepted defeat.

What most people call overnight success is actually the market suddenly realizing the value of a great product or service that had been kept in obscurity for too long while its creators refused to give up.—Luis E. Romero

So what’s the lesson? Its not the power of luck. Sure, you can attribute Elf on the Shelf’s success to the fortunate happenstance from the exposure garnered by Jennifer Garner, but that box did not magically appear in her hand. Aebersold and her daughters put years of work into their product before it ended up on a store shelf for Garner to find. No, the lesson this holiday season is to take it easy on yourself.

Success takes time, effort, persistence, vision, and a dash of well-timed opportunities. There will be high points along the way and even more lows. Therefore, to relieve some pressure from all our aspirational goals, we need to change our mindset about success.

If we can replace the insurmountable pressure we put on ourselves with realistic (yet ambitious) exceptions, maybe we can maintain a healthier outlook on the obstacles we will face, the rejections we will encounter, and the length of time it will take to accomplish the feat. The other option is to consistently beat ourselves up, but I’m not sure this will result in a positive report from your Elf on a Shelf.