Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Article 4 of 6: The Role of Perseverance

...Bo Short

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I should do and, with the help of God, I will do!­­ ­— Everett Hale

The dictionary defines perseverance as “the persistent adherence to a single course of action in the face of any and all obstacles.” I suppose that’s the technically correct way to explain what perseverance is — the persistent adherence to a single course of action.

But here is how I would say it. Keep going. Don’t stop. Keep working. Keep dreaming. Don’t quit. Work some more. Don’t ever, ever give up. You should expect failure after failure before you succeed, but if you never give up, then you will ultimately prevail. You will succeed.

One reason I am so passionate about perseverance is because I believe it to be the Number One Killer of dreams in the world today.

Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing will take the place of persistence. Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not, unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not, the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, perseverance and dedication are omnipotent.”

The people who persevere know one thing, they know they want to win… they know they want to succeed… they know they want to make it. They don’t just want to survive; they don’t just want to be comfortable and get by. They want significance in their lives. They want to do something great, something new for their company, something meaningful for their family, something truly worthwhile with what little time we all share.

Thomas Fuller said, “An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men.”

The football coach, Mike Ditka, who led the Chicago Bears to their only Super Bowl victory says, “You are never a loser until you quit trying.”

Rick Mears, the five-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 says, “To finish first you must first finish.” It’s perseverance.

I oftentimes hear young people say that they were taught, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” That’s a nice thought. But I don’t buy it. Here’s what the great American industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, thought about winning. He said, “The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell.”

Of course, how you play the game is critical. How you play the game says everything about your character. You must play the game with integrity. You must be honest and play by the rules. If you cheat to win it is called cheating not winning.

But the reality is that it does matter whether you win or lose. It makes a difference. Life is too short. It goes by too quickly. It’s not just about doing something; it’s about doing it well. It’s not just about playing the game of life. It’s about living your life to win. It makes a difference.

You are probably familiar with the phrase, “It’s a grind.” You may have even used that phrase in your life to describe a tough day at the office or a punishing practice in sports or a difficult day with your kids. It’s a grind.

Well, for some people, life can be a grind. But we get to decide whether the challenges that all of us invariably face every day will grind us down or actually polish us up. The people with perseverance actually get polished by their experiences… they get seasoned… they move on and move up. They’re the ones who are making a positive difference in the world.

There Will Always Be “Circumstances”

Everyone, every organization, is confronted with adversity. Everyone faces problems, sometimes significant problems. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes big ones. It’s relatively easy to predict that on any given day we will confront difficulties. What is less easy to predict, however, is what we do when these problems arise? How do we react? Some people stop. They give up. Some people overcome repeated disappointments and setbacks.

The important thing is not the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The key is how we view these circumstances and respond by action.

Napoleon said, “The greatest attribute of a soldier is not loyalty, it’s not courage, it’s endurance.” It’s being willing to stand up one more time, to go forward one more time, to extend yourself one more time. So many people fail, they fail five times and they stop, when the sixth time they could have made it. Ross Perot, the multimillionaire businessman, says, “Most people give up when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from the winning touchdown.”

The great inventor, Thomas Edison, who developed the first light bulb, said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

What you are doing may seem insignificant but it’s not. Perseverance is born through seemingly insignificant moments. How you respond to those moments is what makes difference. Marriages fail if you’re not willing to persevere. Businesses fail if you don’t persevere. Nations fail if their leaders do not persevere.

When you are faced with troubles, fight through them. Vow to stand tough and get through them. And when you win, you will not only have triumphed for yourself, but you will also have won the respect of your friends. And you will deserve that respect.

Perseverance is nurtured in quiet moments. The reason is simple; you are lonely when you have to nurture it. Often when it’s time to persevere it’s because other people have quit. You’re alone. When it’s time to move on it’s because other people have already left and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. This is when you feel as though you are in the grasp of insignificance. Once you learn to adapt to that, you realize it’s not insignificant even though it feels like it at the time. Get through it, fight through it.

As I was building my companies, perseverance was the quality that got me over the hump. Perseverance was the toughest thing for me. There were many nights, many times when I was driving alone at night, when I felt like giving up. My wife and I used to talk about it. We knew that a lack of perseverance would have killed our best efforts. So we just kept going. We simply did not ever give up. And, today, our results have far surpassed our own dreams.

Thomas Edison, the great inventor, was once asked by a reporter, “What have you got to say about the fact that you have failed thousands of times in your attempts to create the light bulb?” Edison replied. “I beg your pardon. I have never failed even once. I’ve had thousands of learning experiments that didn’t work. I had to run through enough learning experiences to find a way that it did work.”

Just think how much further ahead we would be if we could learn to approach our so-called failures as mere learning experiences. In fact, before you succeed, you should expect failure. This is particularly true in science and in research. That’s why scientists and inventors like Madame Curie and Thomas Edison are such great models of perseverance. You must have great perseverance to be a great scientist and we can learn a lot from their examples because the same principle of refusing to give up in the face of obstacles applies to our lives.

Whether its building a business… running for elected office… working for a good cause at a nonprofit organization, pursuing a career in art or music… and certainly when it comes to raising a family and teaching your children what they need to know to be successful, the same principle of perseverance applies.

Be worthy of your heritage by never giving up. Be responsible for your failures. When I talk to great people about their successes some say, “You just see me in the spotlight, you’ve never seen me in my moments of failure. This is all you see but I failed many times to get here.” So be responsible for your failures as well as your successes. When other people have quit and you’re alone, use those quiet moments to keep yourself going. Remember, “…Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance.”

The writer Samuel Johnson wrote, “Great works are not performed with strength, but by perseverance.”

No matter what happens, don’t give up. Set your course and stay with it. Keep going and sooner or later you will reach your goals. You can do it. Perseverance will enable you to win.

Coming Next: The Role of Repsonsibilty in Pursuit of Success.