You’ve probably heard some variation of the quote, “it takes all your life to become an overnight success.” This idea has always floored me. There’s something innate in human nature that makes people want to discredit the hard work of others, and chalk their success up to “luck” or“fate.” I’ve experienced this in my own life and also seen it happen with others.
It’s very frustrating to encounter this. When you’ve applied your time, talents and energy to a goal – and finally achieved it – you’re ecstatic! You probably can’t wait for other people to delight in your accomplishments with you. But then something funny happens. Certain folks will try to minimize what you’ve done. “Oh, sure you wrote a book – but it’s just an e-book. And how many copies have you sold anyway?” Or, “Yeah, you closed a round of funding. But the investment company is run by your family friend, so lucky you! You had a shortcut.”
This can happen just as much in business as it does in your personal life. I’ll share an example. I saw this type of reaction with the birth of my daughter (now 20 months old). I’ve always hoped to have a natural delivery, without drugs or a c-section. So while pregnant, I researched, read everything I could get my hands on and attended Bradley Method courses to prepare for this outcome. It was important to me and, in my opinion, to the health of my little one. Once I did indeed give birth to my baby girl naturally, I was thrilled. She was healthy and perfect, and I was really thankful. I was also very proud of the fact that I had achieved something I felt contributed to her having the best possible start in life.
My loved ones shared in my excitement around the wonderful nature of my daughter’s arrival. But immediately, outsiders weighed in. “Your labor was short, so that must’ve been easy.” “You’re so lucky it happened to turn out that way!” I was frustrated. I wasn’t looking for a trophy, but there was basically no mention of the role I had played in this outcome. What about my dedication to nutrition throughout my pregnancy? What about the hours I spent in Bradley Method courses? What about the care I took to perform certain exercises daily to prepare my body for the type of birth I envisioned? (As a side note, I understand natural births are not always an option for some women and I’m very empathetic to this. I’m merely sharing my story because it’s relevant to the point I’m making here).
As you can see, I discovered that many people won’t want to pat you on the back when you’ve worked hard – and consequently experience your desired objective. And I’ve discovered the primary reason: They want an excuse for why they haven’t been able to enjoy the same success. You’ll likely notice that other successful people aren’t the ones who cut you down or try to attribute what you’ve done to luck (unless they’re categorically mean people). Instead, it’s the ones who are dissatisfied with their own lives and think your success illuminates their failures.
So why does this matter, especially in PR? Because the more success you experience, the more you will have your hard work discredited and find yourself as the subject of intense scrutiny. In order to make it out sane (and keep your business from feeling the potential ill effects), here’s some advice.
1. Place your emphasis on internal satisfaction. This is huge. Most entrepreneurs (and let’s be honest, most human beings) crave the validation of others. We want people to “ooh” and “ahh” over us, and make us feel like we are in fact serving a purpose in life. It’s totally normal to want this, but your first goal should be to figure out what gives you personal satisfaction. When it came to the birth of my daughter, I know deep down that I did everything I could to make her debut into the world a healthy one. This thrills me to my core. No one can ever detract from that. Similarly, you know the late nights you’ve spent and sacrifices you’ve made in order to experience the “overnight success” status that you’re now reaping. Acknowledge that maybe no one else will ever laud you for this, while realizing that you’ve achieved your own goals. Maybe you’ve created a better life for your family and that gives you peace of mind. Or maybe you’ve proven something to yourself, which makes you feel energized. Own these feelings and learn to seek satisfaction from your own internal litmus test of success.
2. Find multiple sources of positive vibes. Work can’t be everything. If it is, your entire world will crumble when someone publicly questions the quality of your product or when an investor backs out. You also need sources of light to keep your spirit shining when things go south or when others get jealous and unfairly criticize you. Rely on family, friends, church, yoga, boxing, meditation or whatever keeps you grounded. Remember that “people throw rocks at things that shine” (yes, I really did just quote Taylor Swift) and the more success you attain, the more you’ll be judged and even attacked. Bolster your soul and be sure you’re nourishing yourself through multiple mediums so that when (not if) the haters come a-knockin’, you’re less likely to feel the impact.
3. Preempt – or at least counteract – negative public opinions by being vocal about your achievements. And lastly, here’s a true PR tip on the matter. Sometimes, when someone is envious or feeling threatened by you and your success, they’ll take their vitriol online. Unless it’s blatantly libelous, you probably can’t get printed criticisms removed. The best remedy, then, is to work hard to attract as much upbeat attention as you can. Don’t wait for someone to tear you down; find those who will write or say uplifting things about you and your company – and encourage them to do so now. Use glowing customer testimonials on your website and ask peers to share the good press you get. And when someone does directly post something subpar, confront them tactfully and gracefully. You might just be able to kill them with kindness and if not, at least you have the power to retain a classy public image yourself.
The business world (and world in general) can be a jungle! But do yourself a favor and stay in tune with your own internal compass. Start looking at criticism as a measure of your own success because, hey, no one would care enough to judge you if you weren’t doing something right! Keep yourself grounded and positive, and you’ll be just fine.