Persistence: Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up

Parents have told me how their kids were involved in some sport and were competing, but then, at one point, the child decided to stop competing. There are many reasons for this: losing interest in the sport, a bully picking on fellow team members, becoming a teenager, changing friends, moving to another school, city, or country. However, these parents recalled that their kid was having fun when suddenly, boom, they decided to stop competing. The same happened to me as a kid. I lost and I wanted out. In some ways the pressure of competing and the possibility of losing was just too much. You feel you’ve disappointed your parents and your team members; this is too much of a burden to carry when you’re small.

To overcome this and to accept losses as a part of the sport, you have to keep moving forward and to learn from the losses.

Perhaps as adults we feel the same about competing. Maybe it conjures up old memories of doing so when we were kids. We didn’t have the wisdom or hindsight then to realize that losing toughens both the spirit and the soul. It’s pretty hard to know that kind of stuff when you’re a kid, even if parents do console us on the notion of losing. We carry that with us as adults, which explains why some adults hate competing. We carry the memories of sport, and most crucially of losing, which explains why some people don’t fight for advancement: They don’t like competing in a work setting.

By sticking to competing, albeit losing often at the outset only to be replaced eventually by winning, you strengthen the connection between effort and reward. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explains the difficulties of immigrants who came to settle in New York in the early 1900s. Some of these became entrepreneurs while working back-breaking 18-hour days. Some had success, and their success inspired the song line “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” They embodied the American dream.

As a teenager, my parents would tell me: “There’s no substitute for hard work.” Clearly their lectures didn’t work on me. They were obviously misled and had no idea of what success was all about. I was going to show them a thing or two about success because I knew everything!

Does this sound familiar? Despite thinking “that’s a bunch of baloney” every time they reminded me of how hard work correlated with success, 35 years later, I can attest that hard work is, in fact, the common denominator between those who succeed and those who don’t. In fact, the ones who succeed are so busy working at what they believe in, they don’t have time to second-guess themselves. When you’re in that zone or trance:

– You’re not worried about what people think.

– There’s no impostor syndrome, that thought pattern where you are convinced that you’re a fraud and you don’t deserve what you’ve achieved.

– You’re not thinking you’re going to fail.

Read more in my new book, Demigods, Aliens, & Ordinary People.

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