There’s a common misunderstanding associated with success. Whether looking at someone at the top of their career or a great year in the markets, if you look only at the end result, success looks far easier and less painful to achieve than it is.

No such thing as overnight success

You may not know the name Jimmy Walker, but he happens to be one of the most successful professional golfers right now. With three wins on tour this season, he is currently the leading money winner. As with so many successful athletes, he makes success look easy.

And as with so many, his success has been a long time in the making. After a fairly successful college golf “career” at Baylor, he joined the Nationwide mini-tour in 2003, won some tournaments, made it to the PGA Tour, fell back to the mini-tour, made it back to the PGA, lost his playing privileges again, earned them back again in 2008, and played well enough to stay on the Tour since then. Finally, this season, after playing in more than 180 pro tournaments, he earned his first victory. And then a second, and a third.

It took time, persistence, a willingness to keep pushing—to not give up—every time a step forward was followed by a painful half step back.

Comedian Louis C.K. has followed a similar path. And he did an especially good job of destroying the myth of overnight success in an interview with the New York Times.

It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by ‘new at it,’ I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

The long, perilous path toward stock market success

Stock market success stories appear as annual performance numbers. Double-digit gains look so clean, so compelling. And they are so deceiving.

Last year was a great case in point. It was a hugely successful year, with the S&P 500 up 30%. But that stellar final result masks some painful falls along the way, including a 266 point drop on April 15th, with the Boston Marathon bombs accelerating a decline that started earlier in the day on concern over China’s weakening economic recovery.

That’s a different perspective than most usually consider. Most just see the gain of 30% for the year. It’s the equivalent of seeing the trophy presentation, with no sense of the hours in the weight room or all the doubt-inducing defeats along the way.

Life is not for the faint of heart

Success, whether in our careers or our investing, involves some painful setbacks from time to time. There is rarely, if ever, a straight path to the top.

How has your pain tolerance helped you succeed in your investing, career, or other sphere of life?