Why 30 may be the most important number of your career

your career

By Mark Schaefer

I come from a world that celebrates impatience.

Most of my career was spent in a large public company where there was only one standard of progress — beat the expectations of Wall Street, every quarter, every year, without excuse, without end.

Life was run in the short-term. It was not unusual to compromise long-term benefits for short-term realities. I can name at least three projects I was involved in that were impatiently de-commissioned before their time — and ended up being enormous successes for other companies. I’m not necessarily being critical of these moves. Executives were simply responding to the conditions of their day, and in fact, the expectations that still persist at every public company that has to answer to shareholders.

And that is why this number — 30 — is so hard to deal with.

The magic of 30

In the process of writing my book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, I interviewed nearly 100 people who are known in their fields. Naturally, I wanted to discover how long it took them before they started seeing some results of their hard work (which, without exception, involved creating content of some kind).

I kept waiting for the overnight success. I wanted to hear how people did this in a quarter, or six months, or a year at the most.

But I never heard those words.

Instead, what I determined was that it took, on average, between two and three years for a personal brand to really ignite. Two and half years. Wow. That’s 30 months of patience.

Coming from a corporate mindset, I did NOT want to hear that. I wanted to know how to be successful NOW. But the conclusion is inescapable. To build a successful personal brand today — to become known and realize the mighty benefits that come with it — you must steel yourself and prepare for the long-term.

The resilience imperative

The fact that there really is no such thing as an overnight success, no quick-start formula, no exception to the rule that I could find, made me realize that in this noisy digital world, vicious consistency is more important than having a big idea. Constancy wins over personality. Endurance may even trump talent.

Becoming known today means running a marathon and the winners will be the gritty few who keep going, not those who can merely run sprints fueled by “passion.”

Some of the advice that came through in the book included:

“Nothing replaces perseverance. Lots of people have talent, and few convert that talent into something meaningful. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a project die before its time.” – Dr. Jamie Goode, wine blogger

“I believed in what I was doing but it took three years for things to fall into place.”– Isadora Becker, chef and YouTube food vlogger

“Resilience is an imperative. I believe in resilience so much and if I had to pick just one character trait for success it would be that.” – Zander Zon, YouTube bassist

“Never lose sight of why you started your own movement and keep going even when you’re unsure of your impact.” – Jennifer James, founder of Social Good Moms

So, we need a “30 Month Mindset.” Can you handle that? Are you in?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Tsaiproject

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  • I am so happy you posted this today, Mark. I fought the temptation to consider myself a failure when I closed my consultancy to take salaried position as Director of Digital Marketing.
    Far from being a wasted 5 years (60 months),the intensive training and experience I received gave me a hands-on marketing education.
    We live in a world of “instant” and if you work in the digital sphere, that is magnified by the instantaneous access we have to information.
    Digital is numbers, marketing is people.
    Building relationships and experience takes time. Resilience and perseverance are key to any venture whether it running a company or a marketing strategy.

  • Thank you for this, Mark. My blog is now 15 months old and I’m losing steam. I’m 112 posts in, and I passed 10,000 total page views on Sunday.

    But it’s hard to keep up the momentum when life (and my day job) gets in the way. Even when the results have been tangible – with an exponential increase in my social media footprint, the ability to contribute to established sites like Thought Catalog, and increased prominence in my field (simply because it’s a differentiator – so many of my peers haven’t also been blogging independently). For me, the goal was always 250 good posts in 36 months. Despite this recent slump, I could still get there.

    Time to re-dedicate time and focus to the next 15 months and see where I am at 30.

  • Mark, I am really enjoying your new book “Known”. I have started and stopped a number of times, lost focus, failed to be consistent. Your book and posts have reignited my desire to make a difference.

    Thanks for the push.

  • Gillian Morris-Talbot

    I love the way you think about things, Mark, and I am so glad you are generous enough to share your insights. This post is in the context of your book and personal branding, but how do you think 30 months impacts business, particularly young (startup) business? Ray (Hiltz – hi Ray) mentions digital and instantaneous, and my personal observation is that young companies give a new “strategy” (coms angle) a max of 30 days before they say it isn’t going to work and move on to something else. With their anxious habit of second-guessing themselves all the time, it means they’re all over the map in the space of 30 months you mention.

  • shijan

    One extra and possibly crucial ingredient is getting coaching, mentorship, or having a network of allies/peers one can to get constructive feedback from. Otherwise we have a harder time learning from our mistakes and re-investing that learning into growth.

  • Claytonjay101

    It’s almost like starting a business, it takes a long time to become profitable especially when manufacturing in the US.

  • Yup!

  • Well said, thank you.

  • I often mentor young folks who are ready to set the world on fire in 30 days or less. I ask them if they are prepared to be broke for at least two years. In my view this is what it takes to patiently boot-strap a business (unless you hit the VC jackpot of course). I have worked with many, many start-ups. I have never seen one hit a big pay day in less than two years.

  • You made my day sir. The book is certainly having a deep impact on people in ways I did not expect. Thanks for letting me know.

  • One of the things you might consider is evaluating the qualitative measures of progress that may indicate that success is coming. It is really hard to figure out — do I keep going, do I pivot, do I quit? In the next-to-last chapter of KNOWN I propose a little measurement scheme to help you figure this out. Over and over in my interviews I heard that the biggest problem is that people quit too soon. I believe that. Passion is common, endurance is rare. It’s the people who stick it out who make it. I think that chapter in the book would really help you Peter. Hang in there friend!

  • You are the MAN Ray Hiltz! Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom today sir!

  • An interesting take that stress makes you “grow new muscles” — I think I am the opposite. I am MUCH more creative when I’m relaxed. He makes excellent points about re-writing and persistence. Perseverence is a key point in my book KNOWN

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