If you’re in the business game thinking you can pull off a little “fake the funk” or skip the hard grind to grab success, think again. Oscar winner, Spike Lee, dropped some truth bombs at the 2023 LinkedIn Talent Connect Summit in New York, setting the record straight for anyone harboring illusions about taking shortcuts to the top.
“One of the worst lies that’s been told to young people is that there’s a thing called ‘overnight success.’ That’s done a lot of damage to people,” he said.
“It’s not like you’re just out there, and the hand of God is going to come down from the heavens and say, ‘You are the next one.’ That is BS.”
For example, although palpable buzz for ChatGPT has only just reached the public domain, artificial intelligence has been 50 years in the making.
Becoming an “overnight success” is a myth because it is nearly always preceded by years—if not decades—of work behind the scenes, Lee said.
The 66-year-old’s own experience with fame and fortune is a prime example.
Spike Lee’s slow-burning success
Spike’s entry into the entertainment industry was far from smooth sailing.
For starters, both the University of Southern California and the American Film Institute rejected his film school applications before he finally got accepted by New York University.
Once there, Lee experienced further rejection: He was nearly kicked out of NYU’s film school because of poor evaluations for his short film “The Answer” which was made in response to the racism of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 “The Birth of a Nation.”
But he kept at it. In the 31 years since graduating, Lee has gone on to direct and produced more than 35 films, with his blockbuster BlacKkKlansman receiving an impressive 6 Academy Award nominations.
On top of that, he’s also a businessman—his company 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks signed a a multi-year creative partnership with Netflix in 2021—and a tenured professor at NYU.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. There are going to be times where you want to cry and you want to quit,” Lee concluded. “You can’t quit. You’ve got to keep going.”
Other “overnight success” myth-busters
One of pop music’s brightest new stars, Olivia Rodrigo, similarly rejected the theory that she became successful overnight.
Despite being suddenly thrust into stardom in 2021 with the success of her single “Driver’s License”, she recently told The Guardian that she had “been working on songs for years and preparing for that moment for a long time”.
Even in the business world, Shark Tank star Mark Cuban became a billionaire overnight when he sold his business Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion dollars in 1999. But before that, there was a time when Cuban was sleeping on the floor of a three-bedroom Dallas apartment with six guys and couldn’t make the $200 minimum to open a bank account.
Cuban persevered and played the long game to get to where he is today.
“I was just like, ‘I just have to keep on grinding,’” he said during an Oxford Union Q&A session in 2017.
“And that’s always worked out for me. Even when things were the toughest, my attitude has just been enjoy your life, smile, fight your way through it, and remember what you’re good at.”
Meanwhile, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky was renting out an air mattress on his floor to help meet the rent when he came up with the popular rental platform in 2008 and was earning $40,000 a year as an industrial designer in Los Angeles before Airbnb took off.
Now, Chesky is worth a cool $9.6 billion—but it took around a decade of scaling to the “top of the mountain”, including pulling in 18-hour work shifts often alone before the masses were using his app.
This story originally Appeared on Fortune