It Always Takes Longer Than You Expect (Even When You Take This Into Account)
When I finished my first book, I hired a publicist.
I was 25.
It cost $20,000 and was, to that point, the most money I had ever spent in my life.
As part of the scope of work, they had me put together a list of my top twenty or so media targets—–what I thought I had a reasonable shot of getting and what would be good platforms with the book.
Pretty much none of those opportunities happened. It wasn’t the publicist’s fault–they did a good job. It was that I had been preposterously unrealistic. You have these high hopes, you think this is my shot and of course, it turns out that the world has other plans.
You’re going to get everything you want when you want it?
If you really want something, you better be ready to hurry up and wait.
That was especially true for me then, since I was a kid, already getting to publish my first book far earlier than most people get to dream of.
All of this came back to me as I was flying home from New York from the launch of The Daily Dad. I had just done The Daily Show, CBS This Morning, and a daytime talk show in the span of a week. Which meant that 11 years and 14 books later, I was finally making a serious dent in the list that I had made back then. It had sometimes seemed like slow going, but then in the span of just a few days I had crossed off the best and hardest-to-get outlets.
There is this law called Hofstadter’s Law which says it always takes longer than you think it’s going to take. Even when you think it’s going to take a long time. Even when you take Hofstadter’s Law into account.
I started blogging in 2005. My first book came out in 2012. The Obstacle is the Way came out in 2014…and took six years for it to hit any bestseller list. I didn’t hit the New York Times Bestseller list until 2019, on my 13th book.
If you had told me that’s how long it would have taken, I might have been able to endure it. But Tom Petty was wrong. Waiting is not the hardest part. It’s the not knowing when the waiting is going to end.
But that’s life. That’s how success works.
It takes longer than you want. It takes longer than you expect. It takes longer than you’re willing to wait.
In any case, it takes however long it takes.
Talk to parents who had trouble conceiving. Talk to people waiting for their immigration papers to come through. Talk to scientists taking a drug through clinical trials and regulatory approvals.
This isn’t to say there isn’t good news along the way, that there aren’t trending signs and little hits that keep you going. There will be. I’m not sure I would have kept going if there hadn’t been.
But it’s going to take a while to get what you want.
It just will.
I thought opening my bookstore would take a few months…COVID delayed it a full year.
On February 25th, 138AD, the emperor Hadrian adopted a 51-year-old man named Antoninus Pius on the condition that he in turn adopt Marcus Aurelius. Given life-expectancy statistics of the time, Hadrian figured Marcus would be at the helm in three or four years, max. All was well, except Antoninus lived and ruled…for twenty three years.
In 1971, at the age of 26, Ed Catmull defined his dream: to make the first computer-animated feature film. He accomplished it when Toy Story was released…twenty-four years later.
The writer Steven Pressfield published his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, in 1996…after twenty-seven years of trying to get a novel published.
I thought it was a matter of hiring the right publicist and having a good product. How entitled and naive. If that was all it took…there aren’t enough media slots in the world to satisfy all the people who satisfy that criteria.
No, I had to go out and earn my spot many times over. I had to prove that I had great stuff. I had to demonstrate that I had an audience. I had to prove that I wasn’t going away. I had to prove I was good on camera. I probably even had to reassure some skeptics or critics who I pissed off with my first book.
That took time, a lot of time. A decade!
We conceived and raised a six year old in less time than it took me to earn my spot.
Intersecting with Hofstadter’s Law. is Murphy’s Law. Things go wrong. There are delays. There are mistakes. Communication breaks down. The market shifts. Lucy yanks the football away right as you’re about to make contact. The outfielder robs you of a home run. They sell out right before your turn in line.
Are there exceptions to these rules? Are there people who get it all faster, quicker? Are there times when all the greenlights line up?
But you are probably not that person. You are probably not on that path, and that will not be your fate.
Which means you’re going to have to buckle up.
You’re going to have to learn patience, humility, perseverance.
You’re going to have to find other ways to measure your progress and your success.
You’re going to have to put that energy into getting better, into understanding the game better.
You’re going to have to wait, and then wait some more…and then wait more after that.