New Ed Hart Blog

“Gradually and Suddenly”

“Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There is a moment in the classic book ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway, when someone asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt, and all he can say in response is, “Gradually and suddenly.  Little by little I was going broke and then, suddenly, I was bankrupt.”

Was your success in forming your business or career gradual, or sudden?  Was there a moment when you woke up and thought to yourself, “Wow, I am suddenly successful”, or was it a process that evolved over time?   If you are anything like most companies and individuals I know, it was gradual.  

There are at least three ways to suddenly be wealthy:  find a briefcase full of cash, inherit a fortune, or win the lottery.  

With a few exceptions (I suppose if you win the lottery, you wake up suddenly rich, or if you get hit by a bus, you are suddenly hurt, or worse), just about everything in our lives is gradual.

While many of us dream about coming into wealth quickly and easily, it has been proven that most who become “overnight millionaires”, eventually face bigger and deeper trials and challenges than they ever faced before their new found wealth.   And, just about every time, their “wealth” is lost nearly as quickly as it was found, while their relationships have crumbled over the disagreements over the use of the money.

Anything of real value and worth takes time, and is developed gradually.  Think of the one accomplishment in your life of which you are the most proud.   Not your child, grandchild, or another person, but one success you had that is at the top of your list – the lead item on your bio, or the one thing you want mentioned in your obituary.  

Was it a “snap-of-the-fingers” instant moment that simply came out of the blue?   I doubt it.

For me, the first thing I thought of was being voted the Most Inspirational Player (by my teammates) on my varsity baseball team when I was 18 years old.   Sure, it was a quick vote, and the moment the award was announced was brief, but the process it took to develop into the person that won the award began with the way my parents raised me.   This is not about me, and about my accomplishment, but it is meant to illustrate that our best moments usually are the result of hours, weeks, even years, of preparation and hard work.

The reason we refer to some people as an “overnight success” is because, while we were busy sleeping overnight, they were up, working hard, and improving in their chosen area.

In my work as the Director of the Family Business Council at Cal State Fullerton, I work with dozens of companies on a regular basis that have developed their success over time.   Many are 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or even 5th generation owners of their companies, started by ancestors, some of whom they have never even met.   Their success has been gradual.

By nature, many of us are not very patient people, and in this era of instant gratification, we tend to want results quickly.    We instant message, drink instant coffee, drive through restaurants so we can eat on the go, and do just about everything we do during the course of a day in the spirit of efficiency, productivity, and in trying to maximize our time.

If we realize that the things in life that really matter, our families, our health, our relationships, our belief systems, and our professional success, evolved gradually, and not suddenly, then we will start to look at the way we operate on a day-to-day basis, and will realize that we should be more patient, more benevolent, and more trusting, as we develop gradual successes in every aspect of our lives.

I encourage you to take an inventory of how things are going in your life in the areas I mentioned above (family, health, relationships, belief system, profession), and pat yourself on the back for the successes you are enjoying, or have had, and focus more on doing the things that have worked, gradually, over time for you.   Sudden movements, actions, or changes, are sometimes necessary to course correct, but often times they only have a temporary effect, and do not really get us any closer to where we need to be.   I submit to you that it is through gradual, step-by-step actions that we will be able to make the improvements and changes that we really need to make in our lives and in our careers and companies.

Find a mentor, an expert, or a role model in the areas in which you want to make improvements.   Ask them about the process they followed to get to where they are today.   Learn about their habits, the key decisions they made along the way, the detours and road blocks that they have experienced, and about what they did to get back on track.   As you surround yourself with people who have experienced, or are experiencing, what you are, you will find strength and more confidence in your abilities to gradually succeed than you ever realized you had.

We should all have several mentors in our lives, depending on the areas in which we are striving to improve or grow.   For example, I have a mentor in my physical fitness life who works with me at the gym, with nutritional insights, etc.  I also have a mentor in my spiritual life, who offers insights into, and inspires me, in that area.   I have a close friend who is a great leader, and he is my mentor when it comes to my professional life, and my role as a leader.

It is also important to find out who your mentor’s mentor was, and who she has also mentored.   Knowing her “pedigree” is a great way to gain a better understanding of what is important to her, what her strengths are, and what she learned from others.  

Other than my dad, my first mentors were my golf coach, who was mentored by the great Ben Hogan, and my high school baseball coach who played minor league baseball in the 1940’s, and was mentored by hall-of-famer Ted Williams.  While I was never a world class athlete in either sport, my pedigree goes back to Ben Hogan and Ted Williams, so I learned great lessons from people who were taught by legends.   My high school coach also mentored several players who went on to play Major League baseball, and my golf instructor taught two young men who went on to play on the PGA tour.  

I know that my mentors knew what they were doing, and it gave me confidence in their abilities.   I have since taught a few people how to play golf, and was the General Manager of a minor league baseball team for 3 seasons, so my pedigree has given my protégés confidence that I knew what I was doing.  

There are hundreds of organizations in your industry, profession, belief system, or personal life that exist because others just like you have had the same issues or concerns, and they have pulled together to make changes and improvements in one way or another.   At the Cal State Fullerton Family Business Council, we are a group of dozens of family businesses who come together on a monthly basis to discuss topics and issues that pertain to owning and operating a family business.   We support and advise one another, and have seen tremendous, “gradual” success in working with each other.   The mission of the Family Business Council is to be the premier educational resource to family-owned businesses in Southern California, supporting family businesses, providing information and interaction uniquely tailored to the needs and concerns of family-owned enterprises.  We help family businesses grow and prosper while keeping harmony in the family.

The Family Business Council is an educational forum organized under the direction of the Cal State Fullerton Mihaylo College of Business and Economics.   The Council gives its members an opportunity to learn from experts in an academic setting.  The Council offers 9 unique workshops each school year, on topics of special interest to family-owned businesses.  We also offer small, “Affinity” groups, made up of 6 – 10 members in similar roles within their organizations (CEOs, Women leaders, Next Generation leaders, etc).   Members also have access to several Cal State Fullerton events throughout the year.   Each semester, we teach a course called Management 335 Family Business Dynamics, available to CSUF enrolled students, and through extended education to anyone outside of the university, as well.  

For more information about the CSUF Family Business Council, or the Family Business Dynamics course, visit us at, call us at 657-278-4182, or email me directly at

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