Secret of success

2014-03-26 10:00

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So while you’re scouring social media for the latest on Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial, I’m trawling the internet looking for Lupita Nyong’o.

If I’m feeling a little blue, I wonder what Lupita’s wearing today.

That often cheers me up. She’s everywhere: on magazine covers and Tumblr sites dedicated to her fashion moments. You can go on to Pinterest and scroll down picture after picture of Lupita, and there are already pieces of art made by fans dedicated to her look.

One morning just before heading off to work, I gorged myself on a story titled “Every single flawless look Lupita Nyong’o wore this awards season” – 39 gorgeous images of Lupita just rocking it.

Lupita Nyong’o. Picture: Reuters

What’s not to admire? She’s an African in Hollywood, weaveless, flat-chested, darker than Halle Berry and still winning. She’s everything you would not expect to see being celebrated on US television.

Yet there’s another more important reason I love her. She’s hit the big time in her 30s, an idea that seems the antithesis of success these days, especially in her line of work.

In the internet age, achievement seems to matter only if it’s viral – if it’s instant. The dotcom billionaires blow us away because they made tons of money in their early 20s, some before they even grew facial hair.

Kids see Justin Bieber and think a clip of them singing on YouTube will also make them famous.

World recognition can be as quick as a month-long stint on a reality show. And we’re coming to value opinions of people subject to how many Twitter followers and Facebook friends they have, whether we know their work or not.

And each year we compile lists that celebrate “30 under 30” and prove that achievement is more celebrated for the superyoung. I think it’s filtering down. You see it in employees who come in as interns and 12 months later, wonder when they are going to become the boss.

Last month, I sat with a lawyer who spoke of the troubling trend of young judges in South African courts. Though smart and capable, she believed they were often too quickly flattered by the offer of being appointed judges and took up positions for which they did not have enough experience.

These judges, she said, found it difficult to command the respect of older, more experienced judges in court.

Lupita is not a judge, but I still like what her achievement points to: that to realise a cherished dream, sometimes (in fact, most times) you have to put in years of graft. It might sound sexier to say you were “discovered” at a supermarket before you made it, but it’s not real.

It’s more true to life – and common – that to make it in anything, you would have spent some years working at it.

Lupita completed a master’s degree in acting from Yale and did some work as a production assistant on film sets – like many of us who also have to take minor roles in our work lives just to get to where we need to be.

It’s something I think young people need to know so that they don’t grow up with unrealistic expectations.

The Collins English Dictionary’s definition of achievement is: “noun something that has been accomplished, especially by hard work, ability, or heroism.”

Before the payoff, first there’s hard work. I like the sound of that.

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