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.”
Another favorite story of mine on perseverance involves a High School basketball coach who was trying to motivate his team through a tough stretch of the season. He said to his team:
Did Michael Jordan ever quit?” The team responded, “No!” He yelled, “What about the Wright Brothers? Did they ever give up?” “No!” hollered back the team. Did Muhammad Ali ever quit? Again the team yelled, “No!” Then he asked, “Did Elmer McAllister ever quit?” There was a long silence. Finally one player asked, “Who’s Elmer McAllister? We never heard of him.” The coach barked back, “Of course you never heard of him – he quit!
There are countless stories about perseverance and people who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to eventually triumph. I’d like to point out Thomas Edison – the inventor of the light bulb. Throughout his experimentations, he tried thousands of different combinations of materials before he found one that worked. During this exhaustive process he said, “If I keep trying, eventually I will run out of things that won’t work, and then find the one that will.” This comment is very revealing about the persistent demeanor that Edison used to his fullest advantage. In essence, he was saying I won’t quit – I’ll keep looking for different materials and combinations – until I get it right. But he was intelligent enough to know that each time he had to change something in the process. He fully understood the definition of insanity: Doing something the same way again and again, yet expecting different results. Edison’s persistence speaks for itself in another comment he made, “I’ll never give up, for I may have a streak of luck before I die.”
All this begs the question, how do you persist when things aren’t going well? Maybe it helps to have appropriate expectations about what might take place, and mix those expectations with a positive attitude. In his book, Sunday Morning Quarterback, Phil Simms described what his coach Bill Parcells used to say to him before a game: “Hey, remember, it isn’t going to go perfect. Don’t worry about it. This game is not about being perfect. Something’s going to go wrong. Just keep going.” I like to substitute the word life for game in this philosophy? Life is not about being perfect. Things are going to go wrong – just keep going. Phil told a story in his book to support his coach’s point.
We were about to open the 1984 season against Philadelphia. Bill’s pregame speech was over, and as I was walking out of the locker room I saw him standing at the door. He was about ten feet away, looking at me, and in a very upbeat voice he said, “All right, Simms. If you don’t throw at least two interceptions today, that means you’re not trying enough. I need plays. Make some daring plays. Go for the big plays. Don’t be afraid.”
My first thought was, That’s a weird thing to tell a quarterback right before a game. However, the impact of what he said to me was amazing. It did exactly what he wanted. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it freed my mind. I just let it rip. We threw for more than 400 yards in our 28-27 win over the Eagles.
Phil’s story brings home the point of the last couple of essays. It takes a positive attitude to accept the notion that things won’t always go perfectly. His coach clearly communicated to him what he wanted him to do in the game. And finally, he had the persistence to see it through in the actual game. Phil was willing to get on the bus, and he just kept going. Are you willing to get on the buses of your life … and just keep going?
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