Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
The Secret to Overnight Success

The Secret to Overnight Success

If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time. – Steve Jobs

This well-known quote is basically saying success takes time. What may appear to be an overnight success is almost always many years in the making. In fact, when we do have an overnight success, it is so rare that the exception actually proves the rule.

That talented pianist that is so pleasant to hear, the baseball player who can turn a slick double play, the brilliant physician, scientist or nurse—all these people spent years studying, practicing, straining to reach the goal of being a master or an expert.

Another famous person, Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, said that in order to become world class in any field, a person needs 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. This reminds me of the old joke: a pedestrian on 57th Street in NYC notes a musician getting out of a cab and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without missing a beat, the musician replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Some people have made much of rapid development of the messenger ribonucleuc acid, or mRNA, vaccines. What many people don’t know (I didn’t until the pandemic started and I did some reading) is that the idea of utilizing mRNA in a productive manner has been around since the 1990s. Dr. Katalin Karikó, a Hungarian-born scientist, is generally regarded as the first to attempt to capture the power of mRNA to fight disease. She worked on it for decades. (Like a lot of great discoveries—there are others who undoubtably also worked on it—but, we know for certain she was a key person in its development.) Most “experts” thought it would never work. Too far “out there.”

I can only hope one of our brilliant physicians or scientists doesn’t read this—but, in my simple “lay-person” way, let me tell you what I know on the subject. (This won’t take long.) The body uses millions of tiny proteins to keep itself alive and functioning. It uses mRNA to tell cells which proteins to make. Some call it the body’s software, blueprint or operating instructions to the cells. However, moving this from an interesting scientific concept to something we could use in real world, a game-changer, what we call transformative research, was harder than expected. For one thing, I am told, RNA is susceptible to our own immune system.  Let’s stop here with the science and just say, in 1990, researchers at the University of Wisconsin managed to make it work in mice. Dr. Karikó and others would eventually take it to what we have today.

One company, Moderna, invested more than $2.5 billion in developing its platform, which includes the lipid nanoparticles to protect the mRNA. BTW, the U.S. is paying Moderna only $15 for a single vaccine dose, $30 for a full regimen. Yes, we like to criticize Big Pharm, but, hey, when we need them, we need them. And, aren’t we glad we have them? This vaccine has saved tens of thousands of lives.  A good return on the investment in the eyes of most people.

Bringing this article to a close—there is rarely a substitute for hard work, study and practice. It is one of those hard “facts of life.” But, the sooner we come to know it, actually, the better. We can quit grumbling and get on with whatever it is that we are trying to master. Remember what that musician told the pedestrian in NYC, “Practice, practice, practice.” 

Have a great day.