There Is No Overnight Success

There Is No Overnight Success

Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker’s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and how you can use its waters to reflect on and improve your life.

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Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker's weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and how you can use its waters to reflect on and improve your life.

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This week’s selection comes from the slaveborn philosopher Epictetus. It’s featured in The Discourses:

No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.

-Epictetus, Book I, ch. 15.

What It Means

This quote is fairly straightforward, yet carries a lot of weight. The basic message is that great things — projects, inventions, works of art, personal goals — take time and effort to produce. Patience is a virtue, and to do great things you must couple it with unrelenting persistence.

Still, there’s something more to Epictetus’s comparison to figs and other fruits. Not only does it take time to grow a fig, but there are several stages and transitions for the fig to reach its complete, edible stage.

What to Take From It

Success is not something that happens in an instant, no matter the nature. You may hear tales of overnight successes from time to time, but you’re not getting the whole story. What you’re really seeing is somebody seizing an opportunity thanks to the years of hard work and preparation they have put in. You may be seeing their “fig” for the first time, but they spent a lot of time and energy growing it.

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Don’t get discouraged when your work doesn’t pay off immediately. That’s not the way the world operates. After all, even a success as small as a fig, a fruit you can devour in a matter of seconds, requires time, growth and milestones that must be met along the way. Set milestones for your own goals and stay the course — blossom, bear fruit, then let it ripen. Focus on turning your work into a plump, juicy fig that dangles temptingly from the tree of life. Eventually, the hand of opportunity will come to pluck it, and you’ll be ready.

You can read The Discourses in its entirety for free here.


  • i know someone who is an actor who has done a few movies who once told me “apparently im an overnight success.. that only took me 15 years to get here “

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