At last night's Oscars, women weren't there just to show off gorgeous gowns and compete in a few select categories. No, last night the women of Hollywood turned out to slay. Fifteen women took home statuettes during the ceremony, the most in Oscar history.

And Sheryl Sandberg was watching. The Facebook exec and Lean In author took to Facebook this morning to congratulate the winners. In her post she also offered an essential lesson in what it takes for anyone, of whatever gender, to rise to the very top of his or her chosen profession.

Yet more evidence there's no such thing as an overnight success

At first glance, the Oscar ceremony seems like the ultimate showcase of the idea of the lucky break, with talented actors being recognized and showered in adoration for their previously hidden gifts. It's often a night of "breakout successes," with an unspoken message that success is mostly a matter of finding the right opportunity to get noticed.

Not so, Sandberg insists. Instead, the success you see at the Oscars isn't the result of inborn talent meeting a moment of serendipity (though talent and luck are, of course, hugely helpful in life). Instead, Sandberg points out, Oscar night wins are usually the result of years if not decades of quiet hard work.

"Ruth Carter worked on more than 40 films before winning Best Costume Design for Black Panther. Hannah Beachler did production design on multiple films -- and ‪Beyonce‬'s visual album Lemonade -- before winning for Black Panther as well. Regina King and Olivia Coleman have each racked up dozens of film and TV credits, and ‪Lady Gaga‬ has been performing music since before she graduated high school," she points out. "Now they're all Academy Award winners."

Take your knocks and get back up again.

The fact that there is no such thing as an overnight success might be a simple lesson, but in a culture that tends to celebrate achievement while ignoring the hard work that it takes to reach the top, it bears repeating. If you think success is a matter of lucky breaks and pure talent, you're going to have warped expectations of the road to achievement and get discouraged by the setbacks, delays, and plain hard work that are a completely normal part of the process.

Sandberg is far from the only super successful achiever to recognize the danger of letting up-and-comers think success came easy to today's superstars. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of blockbuster Broadway hit Hamilton, is another example of someone at the height of his career who feels it necessary to pull the curtain back and show fans what it really took to become a five-time Tony winner. Years before Hamilton became a cultural juggernaut, Miranda tweeted this:

Sandberg would agree with him. "The extraordinary women who won Oscars tonight -- remind us that success doesn't come overnight," she believes. 

So don't give up just because the work is almost impossibly hard and the road is way longer than you imagined at first. That's doesn't make you a failure. In fact, it puts you in some seriously star-studded company.

Published on: Feb 25, 2019
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