As I hit my 34th anniversary of being in business, and this morning, inspired by the news stories of John McCain’s life, I was reminded of the tremendous importance of persistence in life and business.
John McCain persisted through 6 years as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton, and emerged a better man, someone with more conviction, courage, and character. He went on to serve as a congressman and senator for a total of 36 years.
You may or may not have agreed with John McCain’s politics, but it was hard to argue with his unflagging commitment to serve his country. In these days of lowbrow politics, McCain rose above the fray and stood for what he really believed in, with both fierce determination and a wicked sense of humor – until his dying day.
Nothing I say can truly honor this man, a real American hero, but I can honor the spirit of persistence that he embodied that has been such an important principle in my life.
Early in my career I read one of the great American quotes and it really stuck with me:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge
This has certainly been born out in my experience of working with so many clients over the years. It was the ones who stuck with their vision, especially through tough times (and we all have tough times), that emerged with the greatest success.
Persistence really starts with a vision. Not a vision to be successful or to make a lot of money. Those are only the side benefits of a vision. A vision is always about something noble or daring or exciting, something that makes a difference or is unique and special. A vision lifts you up and inspires you to keep on keeping on.
Persistence drives creativity. It’s not the other way around. As you keep driving forward with a plan, you’ll hit obstacles, indifference, and innumerable frustrations. And the only way through is a more creative approach or solution. Without persistence, you give up before you’ve discovered a more innovative, successful path.
Persistence tells you what you’re made of. It’s the easiest thing in the world to quit when the going gets hard. When a plan is not successful, when you don’t get the response you want, when nobody seems to be interested, persistence is what reminds you, “I have real value here to offer. I simply need to find a better way to communicate about it.”
Persistence isn’t big leaps and breakthroughs, but small steps that seem to be going nowhere. And it’s that willingness to take that next step and the next until, at the end of the day, week, month or year, you know you’ve done your very best. When that happens, results inevitably arrive.
Persistence doesn’t guarantee success in everything you do, as failure in some pursuits is inevitable. But a persistence attitude says, “I learned something valuable from that failure and I don’t need to do that again. Time to try a different approach.”
Persistence is going five, ten or more years in your career with modest success and then trying one more thing. My biggest string of successes came after being in business for 15 years. Some of the most famous people in the world worked much longer before they experienced real success.
Persistence is a sure sign you love your work. I know that when I’m really working hard on something difficult, it’s also when I’m the most alive, engaged and happy. And the harder something is, the more satisfaction and joy I ultimately derive from the work. If you’re not loving the hard stuff, you may be in the wrong business.
Finally, persistence is impossible without courage. One of John McCain’s quotes expresses this best:
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.”
P.S. Today I found a number of quotes from John McCain. I think you might find them inspiring.
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