| Don’t Quit... at least not yet
|What is the secret ingredient that leads to success?
When I was 13, I had dreams of being a rock and roll star. For
my birthday, I asked my parents for a guitar, and lessons to
play it. My parents hired an old lady instructor, and I was
uninspired by the folk tunes she was teaching me. She was
clueless about Led Zepplin, Aerosmith, Kiss... even Black
Sabbath! Six months later, having developed no appreciable
skills at picking a riff or a lick, I gave it up.
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after
others have let go.” William Feather
I developed a love for classical music while I was in college.
When I graduated, I started taking piano lessons. I didn’t own
a piano, and couldn’t afford to buy one, (back before cheap
electronic keyboards), so I found a variety places around town
where I could practice: churches, schools, and friend’s houses.
Six months later, my work schedule started making regular
practice difficult, and I quit... but with the intention of getting
back to it... I never did.
I think back to those days and wonder, if I had given it just
a little more time, could I have developed enough skill to
sustain my interest... maybe.
Maybe? Only maybe? Yes, because something else was missing.
“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not
We are often told that we should not give up, that we should
develop perseverance, that all the most successful people in
the world have persistence. And, I’m not here to disagree with
that. Napoleon Hill, in his book, Think and Grow Rich, tells the
story of a miner who found a vein of gold. He extracted all of
the gold until the vein was exhausted. Hoping to find another,
he continued digging, but after awhile there was nothing. So he
gave up, and thinking the mine was just an empty hole in the
ground he sold it for next to nothing. The man who bought the
mine, only had to dig three feet to uncover a huge vein of gold
that earned him millions of dollars. The moral - don’t quit. But,
that still doesn’t reveal the driving force behind persistence.
“Fall seven times and stand up eight.” Japanese proverb
People who do not demonstrate perseverance are often called
lazy. But laziness is not the real problem. More often it is
doubt or fear. Doubt makes you hesitate, and fear of failure
can keep you from trying at all. You may recall the story of
The Little Engine That Could, who at first wasn’t sure he could
pull the heavy freight cars over the hill. It was through his
persistence in repeatedly saying, “I think I can. I think I can.”
that he continued until he succeeded.
“If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it
through.” Chinese proverb
When doubt causes you to procrastinate, it deteriorates your
sense of self-worth, which can spiral into depression. That is
why it is so important to push ahead. The more you try, the
more likely you are to fail, and the more you fail, the more you
learn... or realize that you need to learn. Failure isn’t a bad
thing, it’s an opportunity to discover what went wrong. It
might simply mean you need to acquire more information or
training. No one becomes an expert overnight. Michael Jordan
didn’t get picked for his high school basketball team. He didn’t
give up, he started taking 2000 practice shots a day which
made him one of the sport’s greatest stars.
“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the
true failure.” George Edward Woodberry
Perseverance is about sticking to your goal. It doesn’t mean
you should stay in an abusive relationship or dangerous
situation. It's about adaptability. Adversity is unavoidable, but
it doesn’t mean you can’t keep your goal. It just means you
have to change how you reach it. Alter your plans, choose
another method, or find a different path. Persistence means
keep moving toward your goal.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t
walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving
forward.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Whenever people extol those who have succeeded with
perseverance, they always cite innovators as examples: Henry
Ford, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and Milton Hershey. Innovators
seem to have perseverance built into their DNA. They do not
give up because they don’t believe they will fail. Someone
once asked Thomas Edison why he continued working on his
lightbulb after failing 1000 times. He replied, “I have not failed
1000 times, I have merely found 1000 ways that do not work.”
There’s something more than perseverance that moves the
innovator to succeed. But what is it?
“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but
because of its persistence.” Jim Watkins
I endured an amazing amount of hardship when I first started
writing, but I persisted. My father was against it. My English
teacher accused me of plagiarism. I received hundreds of
rejection letters from publishers to whom I’d sent articles,
short stories, and book manuscripts. I sent my resume to
hundreds of advertising agencies, but none showed any interest.
Nevertheless, I stuck to it, often writing 10 or more hours daily.
Eventually the tide turned. I wrote an article for a neighborhood
newspaper (they had to publish it because I was the
neighborhood association president), which was read by a
neighbor who worked for a top business newspaper. He
recommended me to his editor, who hired me to write
articles. I wrote advertising copy pro bono for a few
non-profit organizations, which led to my getting paid work
from for-profit companies. I endured over ten years before
seeing any success. Why? It was a passion. That’s the secret
ingredient that keeps innovators going. They love what they
do. That’s what motivates persistent people after repeated
rejection or failure. If you’re passionate, persistence comes
“Passion plus persistence equals progress and prosperity.”
© Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.