In the current 24/7 news environment, there’s such an abundance of information –and most of it not worthy of being called “information”—that inevitably we tend to pay attention to events and people upon which the media decides to shine its light.

 In the last few days, the light has been shining on William Levy and his performance on Dancing with the Stars, where he and his partner, Cheryl Burke, took third place.  

Whenever someone like Levy becomes the target of this kind of buzz, I always wonder where this person came from. See, for many who have never watched one of the very successful soap operas where William participated, he may just be an overnight success. 

But for those hardcore fans who have been following his career, this is the recognition he’s been working towards since he first arrived in the U.S. from Cuba at age 14. As with many people who we only notice when they break through the information overload we are bombarded with, this talented man –model, actor, and now the new standard for male dancers—William started his career early by taking on smaller roles and accepting opportunities as they presented themselves. 

Over many years, continued personal and professional development and perseverance paid off. As they normally do.

The same can be said of many other very successful people who we suddenly notice and unjustly label as overnight successes. 

Like Penélope Cruz, who was signed by an agent at age 15 (after being turned down several times because of her young age) and who began her acting career at 16 on Spanish television. She was a trained classical dancer and discovered her love of film when she saw a movie by famed filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. 

At 18, she debuted as the lead in the movie Jamón, Jamón (where she co-starred with her now husband, Javier Bardem) to critical acclaim. By the time she crossed the Atlantic in 2001, the beautiful Spaniard was an award-winning actress with almost two dozens films under her belt. But to most of the public in the U.S. she was a new arrival, a new pretty face who couldn’t even speak English well, so few understood what all the fuss was about.   

It is true that there are plenty of examples of people who have reached public recognition with no effort and less talent. By knowing how to manipulate the idiosyncratic social media machine, posting a funny YouTube video or being the first to Tweet some breaking news. 

But what I’d like for us to remember is that many of those who we might be quick to dismiss as being an overnight success have struggled for years to make their mark. They have put in the work, time and effort behind the scenes. 

They have taken on small, undesirable gigs, and challenging ones. They have gone above and beyond their peers because they were hungry. 

Just as William Levy did when he came from Cuba with little more than the clothes on his back.

Mariela Dabbah is a published author and founder of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

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