On his audio tape, Small Comforts, Tom Bodett tells a story about a little boy, dressed in a raincoat, armed with a lunch box and a box of crayons – waiting for the school bus on the first day of school. Tom described the look of fear on his face and how he was visibly biting his lip. But in his eyes, he could see the boy was resolute – he was going through with it. The moral of Tom’s story was, “If you want to get anywhere in life, you’ve got to be willing to get on the bus.” It takes courage and persistence to overcome anxieties and step onto that bus.
Never underestimate the power of any person who possesses a persistent disposition. For example, ask any parent the meaning of the phrase, “My son (or daughter) wore me down.” Here’s a story about my daughter, Courtney, that demonstrates this idea. When she was four years old, her mother (Deb) was reading her a book. The main character in the story was a zebra. At the conclusion of the book Courtney pointed to the cover and exclaimed, “Giraffe.” Deb said, “No – that’s a zebra.” Courtney replied forcefully, “Giraffe!” This exchange went back and forth for what seemed like an eternity. At one point, Deb tried to reason with her, “Look honey, see it has black and white stripes and it does not have a long neck. It’s a zebra.” One last time Courtney insisted, “Giraffe!” At this point Deb threw up her hands and said, “Fine – you win – it’s a giraffe.” The little girl on her lap looked up at her with a broad grin on her face and said, “See Mommy, I told you it’s a giraffe.”
Press On. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals 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.
– Calvin Coolidge
At a Toastmasters district conference in 2002, I had the good fortune of meeting Darren LaCroix, the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking. In a workshop he presented at the conference he shared his “success story.” Shortly after graduation from Bryant College, Darren decided that he wanted to be a stand-up comedian. He told his family and they replied, “There’s one problem – you’re not funny.” But Darren felt they were comparing him to comedians like Jerry Seinfeld – a man at the top of his game. Undaunted by skeptics – Darren committed himself to becoming funny. He accepted every chance he got to perform – in local comedy clubs, open microphone nights, and two hour trips to Maine where he would perform for a mere 5 minutes. He practiced his craft relentlessly. He audio or video taped every performance – including his debut in 1992 – which he played for us. In his debut he was so nervous that his hands were visibly shaking as he perused the notes he kept on a barstool beside him. He got one laugh – when he messed up a line in the act.
For the next 10 years he persisted – and put himself in a position to eventually succeed. He not only realized his dream of becoming a professional comedian, he also became a fabulous public speaker. At the workshop, he told us about something that irritated him following his Championship Speech – the comments by people that he had a natural gift – and that he was lucky to have it. He told us, “Yea, I was real lucky, if you discount the hard work in the 10 years preceding the contest.” Darren knew he had triumphed with persistence and determination alone.
Plaque hanging in my friend’s office: “Your intelligence will get you hired, but your character will allow you to keep your job.”
I read a study that two-thirds of the people who were fired from their jobs were fired because they couldn’t get along with people, not because of technical difficulties. Put another way, they had attitude problems.
We have a poster that reads, “Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?” It has a picture of five side-by-side matches – with the first one ablaze – and the second on the verge of igniting. There is little doubt that all five matches will be engulfed in flames in a short time. When you come home from work or school and another family member is in a bad mood … how long does it take before you catch their attitude?
Most people avoid individuals with a naturally negative attitude and gravitate toward individuals possessing a positive attitude. I have learned that a persistent positive attitude (PPA) can allow anyone to overcome their shortcomings. You will be amazed what people will overlook if they know you always have a smile on your face and good intentions in your being. With a PPA, you don’t have to be the best looking, bravest, or brightest – all you need is an attitude worth catching.