One year ago today I went under a surgeon’s knife.
I’d managed to dislocate my knee, badly, the previous month (10/10/10 is a day that will live in infamy in my world), and a week after my birthday last year, thanks to the miracle that is modern sports medicine, my doctor sliced me open and re-anchored my kneecap to my thigh bone with a brand new (to me) donor ligament.
That was a Friday. In my naivety, I thought I’d spend the weekend to recuperate at my parents’ house, and be back to business as usual in my own home by Monday.
It didn’t quite happen that way.
It took eight days after the surgery before I was finally home, hobbling around with crutches and the brace that only came off when I lay down. In a lot of pain.
A lot. Of. Pain.
Did I mention the pain?
Six days post-surgery, my surgeon had started me on straight leg raises, to try and regain the muscles that had atrophied in the previous six weeks. I couldn’t lift my leg at all without assistance, and it was excruciating to try.
For the next several months, progress was slow and painful, and I even started to wonder whether I should have had the surgery at all. A kneecap with an annoying tendency to dislocate almost seemed preferable.
In the brace for six weeks. No yoga for four months. And months beyond that in which I couldn’t walk very far or fast.
But I persevered
Every time I compared where I was now to where I’d been last November, I could see my knee was clearly improving. Just very. Very. Slowly.
Five, six, eight months after the surgery, my knee was still puffy and sore, and not nearly as bendy as it used to be.
“Is it ever going to get better?” I would wonder. The healing process was just so frustratingly slow! After a friend of mine who’d had a similar major knee surgery told me it had taken a solid year for the swelling to go down, I was both relieved (maybe I wasn’t such a “failure” at this healing business after all), and disheartened (you mean it will take a year?).
And yet, when I stopped to think about what my poor knee had had done to it, really, a year didn’t seem so crazy.
The body takes time to heal.
It operates on its own, very wise schedule, and the impatience of the mind will speed it up not one whit.
In other words, it’s a lot like that business you’re trying to grow, or that body of work you’re eager to build, or that creative project you’re anxious to get rolling.
Transformation — whether it’s healing something that’s been damaged or creating something out of thin air — is rarely an overnight process.
We tend to think transformation happens overnight, because when we witness the success of others, all we usually see is the moment when they finally gain traction. At that point, things can move very quickly indeed. But we’re not usually privy to the years that went before the “overnight success.” Years in which they plugged away, persevered, stuck with it.
For the longest time after my surgery, my knee felt as if it wasn’t making any progress at all. Then just in the past several weeks, it began to improve in a noticeable way. Although it felt like a sudden breakthrough, in fact it was only possible thanks to those previous long months of hard, painful work.
Five + years to overnight success
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed artist Erin Smith for ArtEmpowers.Me, my joint venture project with Cory Huff to help artists deprogram the starving artist mindset and learn to thrive. Five years ago Erin was working as a waitress. Today she has a thriving business selling her art, with full-time employees, and a list of over 1,000 stores that carry her work.
She’ll tell you her success came pretty much overnight, and it’s true that once she gained traction, things took off fast.
But that doesn’t take into account the long years (and thousands of dollars) she put into showing her work and exhibiting at trade shows, sometimes not even covering her booth expenses, before the “overnight success.”
Overnight success usually requires some time
Those A-list bloggers with 5-figure mailing lists, who seemed to spring out of nowhere, like Athena, fully-formed from the head of Zeus? Or musicians who burst on the scene with instant platinum albums? Or unknown novelists who make the New York Times bestseller list?
No matter what it looks like from the outside, I can pretty much guarantee those folks have been logging their time, studying their craft, showing up, forging ahead even when the going gets rough. (Think about it: you don’t become musical master or complete a novel without logging some time!)
As Seth Godin pointed out in this blog post from waaaaay back in 2008, it’s the ones who persevere who make it.
And as I’m very fond of saying, it’s baby steps that will get you there. Lots and lots of baby steps.
If you want to get somewhere, start walking. And most important, don’t stop.
What big goal are you headed toward? Take a moment to notice how far you’ve come, and celebrate by crowing about it in the comments below! Me, I’m working on an e-book that, with lots and lots of baby steps, I aim to have done by mid-December. Stay tuned!
PS – Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!