It used to be that fortune favored the bold. It still might but it doesn’t take as much boldness now as it did when the Latin proverb was conceived. We have far more resources available to us these days and failure is unlikely to induce life or death existentialism as it might have done back in 161 B.C. Progress has given us much better emergency landing systems.
Nowadays it’s about persistence. Those who stay in the game tend to be the more fortunate. With the exception of the outliers who strike gold early. Which is not the majority of us because we aren’t that lucky, connected, informed or smart. We have to take the slow train instead, which is boring and breaks down regularly.
The fast train is far more appealing. It’s new and shiny and full of promise without all the mundane requirements that dictate the experience of the slow train. Like sweat and pain. The problem is it hits the wall far more often than the slow train and doesn’t necessarily get you there any faster, particularly when you have to keep changing trains.
The word ‘slow’ is perhaps a misnomer because in hindsight we often learn that if we’d just held on a little longer we’d be further ahead. It would have been faster to stay in the game than to keep changing it. But where’s the fun in that?
Precisely. Therein lies the problem. Persistence isn’t particularly entertaining; it’s more likely to be mind numbing. Who wants to suffer through sluggish and steady when you can buy bitcoin and become instantly successful? Why put the work into nurturing a healthier relationship when you can leap into a different one with your real soul mate who doesn’t talk back to you. Yet. The allure is real but the reality can be bleak: some win but many lose or end up in a perpetual state of chasing squirrels.
It’s a trap. An understandable one because we’re inclined to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Persistence is agonizing and takes too long whereas shiny new objects are appealing and well…shiny. They catch our attention the way that fast food does: they seem quick and easy and they’re right there. But later on, like that fast food, you’re reminded that you didn’t make a high quality decision. You own a portfolio of worthless assets that you never understood and your new soul mate moved on to their new soul mate. You chased a unicorn and all you got was the horn.
What’s the genius of persistence?
It’s not genius; it’s 99% perspiration according to Thomas Edison whose many inventions shaped the world we live in today. But even as brilliant as Edison was, we need to reexamine his idea in the context of the world we live in today. Work smarter not harder is a fairly sensible maxim to live by in 2018. If you’re exerting that much perspiration in this day and age you might be unaware that someone developed an app for that.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
~ Thomas Edison
The genius lies in being able to use perseverance as a tool or strategy to get what you want. To master the patience, poise and wisdom to recognize and capitalize on the opportunities when they present themselves. Which they always do to those aware enough to see them. An awareness that only builds from staying in the game, learning from the experience and continuously adapting to improve.
The modern version of perseverance doesn’t need to involve an Edison-concentration of perspiration because innovation has made it possible to cut a lot of unnecessary corners. It’s a more mindful approach today but it does still require that you endure way past the point of comfort and pleasure. The patience, poise and wisdom only come from years in the saddle riding over rough and unfamiliar ground.
“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
~ Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
I recently heard a real estate entrepreneur talk about raising $25M over night for one of her deals. She spoke about it matter of factly and gave the impression of genuine composure rather than seeking adulation. But behind this composure though was a persistent person who’d spent years creating a following by connecting, teaching and proving her competence so that when she needed money she simply reached out to her tribe. Her fortune was a result of her persistence.
Persistence is an active process
You can’t drop into the matrix and acquire persistence. It’s something you have to be actively engaged with. You’re the one who’s bringing the discipline, the moxie and the willingness to resist the many and often-rational urges to give up. But like any active process, energy begets energy and things eventually start to happen.
I once lost a ski half way down the mountain, which if you’re a keen skier you understand can be a frustrating situation. I was faced with having to buy two skis to replace the one I lost which was going to cost $750. I know, first world problems but bear with me.
Spending $750 to end up where I was before I lost the ski was not a palatable solution. I wasn’t adding to my quiver of ski options, I was just spending money to get back to the status quo. So I went looking for alternatives. But it was peak season and I was looking for a deal that didn’t exist. I waited and searched and skied on old skis that have seen better days. I kept looking, thinking…suffering. 3 weeks later I was able to buy 2 pairs of skis for $750 and got to boost my quiver with no extra cost than if I’d just bought one pair.
No big deal but it was a powerful lesson about persistence. I just stayed in the game until I got what I wanted. I could have paid the $750 but I would have missed out on the superior opportunity to own two pairs of skis for the price of one. Of course it doesn’t always work out this way and I got lucky but as I experienced, luck can be found if you go looking for it. It’s more abundant than we imagine or our impatience allows us to believe, but you have to be in the game to find it.
Persist but don’t obdurate
Any well-honed skill or attitude can become a liability if it’s overused. Persistence in a failed course of action past the point of overwhelming evidence to the contrary might be a case of heroic stupidity. Sometimes we are just wrong in our assessments or predictions and continuing to throw good money after bad is likely to be futile. There is a time to quit and do something else. We don’t want to get blinded by our stubbornness or myopic navel gazing and put ourselves into a situation where our pride holds us hostage.
“If there is anything more dangerous to the life of the mind than having no independent commitment to ideas, it is having an excess of commitment to some special and constricting idea.”
~ Richard Hofstadter
Knowing when to concede is a strength. But it’s not a strength you develop by using it too swiftly or lackadaisically. Conceding before persisting is likely to be due to a lack of commitment rather than astute wisdom. Astute wisdom is something that’s accumulated experientially. You have to have tried – really, really tried and failed – to truly know when it’s time to let go. Anything short of this implies you probably short-changed the persistence side of the equation.
Persistence takes both skill and attitude. There are certain things we need to learn how to do to make persistence useful. For instance, we need to be able to survey a situation, gather facts, understand the risk/opportunity equation and the odds of success, otherwise persistence might just be pig-headedness. Which is not altogether dysfunctional if you’re heading in the right direction but it becomes a liability if you aren’t. Using attitude to try to bulldoze a result is a marginal strategy that works some of the time but it’s also a massive energy suck. Think of the boss who yells louder at his staff to accomplish a task that’s doomed to fail. It just alienates people. It doesn’t make the impossible possible.
Timing is important but not as important as success
No doubt you’ve heard that timing is everything. Perhaps soon after you learned that your timing was awful. You should have sold that stock or bought it when you didn’t. If you’d hit the ball a fraction of a second later it wouldn’t have ricocheted off your racket and hit you in the face. There are constant reminders that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time followed by sanctimonious suggestions that we should have somehow known better.
This realization alone can be enough of a disincentive to stay in the game or even try to begin with. The sad realization that you just don’t have the Midas touch so why risk failure?
It’s another trap! And this one can have significant consequences on the choices you make (or don’t) and thus directly shape your life. We’ve been over-conditioned to believe in the critical importance of timing to the point that it either induces fear or drives people into frenetic action-only mode where they argue they have to make everything happen now. Think?! I don’t have time to think! I have work to do!
Why? What’s the rush?
Which matters more: when you succeed or that you succeed? There are those who will have us believe that the two are inseparable. Obviously timing is important and there are times when it matters significantly but it’s also frequently overstated and overhyped to try to manipulate people to do things they don’t need to do. Like buy a product they really don’t need.
Opportunities are not as scarce as the hustlers will try to have us believe. And to believe that they are might work against your willingness to persist. Rather than stay in the game, people give up quickly because they’ve come to believe the ‘moment’ of success has passed by. I’m a real estate investor so I’m exposed to this dysfunctional thinking all the time. Investors will buy bad deals because they don’t want to miss the market or they will avoid getting involved because they believe they’ve already missed it. The ones who stay in the game, through the good times and the bad are usually the most successful. Not because they had good timing but because they persisted and made decisions based on rational thinking rather than adrenalin.
Don’t give up until it’s the right time to do so. Be discerning about what or who you choose to listen to in this matter. Be wary of people who urge you to quit and also of those who tell you to never quit. Examine their motives and ask to see their crystal ball before you take their word for it. Or better still do your own due diligence and find out for yourself. If you need help staying in the game, contact me.
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