The quote on the sticker read, “Nothing Comes Easy.” I smiled to myself and thought, “How appropriate,” since I was struggling with writer’s block. Instead of writing, I was wasting time surfing the internet. I had landed on an Etsy shop that sells motivation decals for laptops (proof that you can literally find anything on the web). Since writing and blogging can be a lonely proposition, I decided to purchase the sticker as a way to remind myself that persistence is the key to success. So with a couple of clicks and entering my credit card number, my order was placed. Now I only needed to wait for my package to arrive. That was five weeks ago: still no package. After several attempts to contact the store owner, who never responded, I lodged a complaint with Etsy. Days later, still no word, still no package. They weren’t kidding… Nothing, indeed, does come easy.
Maybe the mere fact that “nothing comes easy” is why I admire persistent people. These are the folks who, come hell or high water, stick it out, make their dreams happen and live to tell the story. After all, the best books and movies are those about people who overcome insurmountable odds, succeeding in the face of looming fear and live happily ever after. Why, then, is it that sometimes I find it difficult to stay the course when things get tough?
When I examine the question deep enough, I find the underlining answer is clearly fear: The fear that I am not sufficient, smart enough, capable enough. I’m afraid that I simply cannot handle it. Fear causes me to run away rather than finish. When I’m afraid I quit. So, what is the secret sauce? What is the antidote to not just starting but finishing? I believe it is the virtue of tenacity.
Tenacity is a compilation of courage, confidence, clarity and drive. The courage to move forward in the face of fear, the confidence that I can handle it no matter what, the clarity of the value of my mission, and the drive to overcome any obstacle. Unfortunately, tenacity, like all virtues, isn’t something you are born with, but it is something you can develop. Tenacity is a muscle, and like all muscles, it’s strengthened with exercise. Here are four exercises I use to push myself when the going gets tough and I want to quit.
Four exercises for developing tenacity:
I accept that It will be difficult. In his classic book, “The Road Less Traveled,” M. Scott Peck starts with the line, “Life is difficult.” Such an accurate statement. Life ‘s hard because life serves up problems. One after another, obstacles, setbacks, and complications come at us like an assembly line set on overdrive. Life is going to get in the way. The question is, “What are we going to do about it?” As my mentor once told me, “The only way to fail is to quit.” I know it’s easy to get discouraged at the onslaught of problems. The bigger the problem the greater the fear of not being able to solve the issue. But a problem is not a failure. In fact, I try to think of it this way: if the opposite of failure is a success, then by practicing tenacity I am by default a success. For example, it took me 12 years to complete my undergraduate degree. I had a ton of setbacks along the way but finally finished. Then it took another four years to finish my Master’s in Psychology and after that, I worked three jobs to get my clinical hours for licensing. Little by little, year after year, I eventually built a successful private practice. It wasn’t easy, but I knew that if I showed up and did the work the result would be achieving my goal to become a psychotherapist.
I don’t go it alone. In the summer of 1992, I was watching the Olympics semi-final 400-meter sprint. Derek Redmond was running that day, and I remember the race vividly because of what happened. Half way into the 400-meters Derek suddenly fell to the ground in agony; he had torn his hamstring. He clutched his leg and got to his feet while a winner was declared. But the race wasn’t over for Derek. He got up and hobbled down the track, still attempting to run, determined to finish the race. Suddenly, a man came running up behind Derek and began to help him to the finish line. It was Derek’s father. His Dad, seeing Derek fall, rushed down from the stands, and together they finished that race. Everyone was on their feet cheering. I don’t remember who won that day, but I remember Derek and his father. For me, my tenacity is increased when I allow others to come alongside and help. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for others people’s encouragement and support.
My “why” has to be big enough to keep me going in the face of adversity. Why are you doing what you’re doing? I ask myself this a lot when it comes to writing. Why am I spending time writing a blog that may or may not be read by anyone? What is my “why” for writing? For me, it’s the same reason I became a therapist. My why is simply because I want to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to be the guy who comes down from the stands and runs alongside the underdog. For others, the why might be to support their family or have more time to do the things they love to do. Whatever the “why” is, make it big enough to make you keep going when things get tight and compelling enough that you fall in love with it. Angela Duckworth author of “Grit: Passion, Perseverance and the Science of Success “ puts it this way: “There are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out hard problems, it all takes time―longer than most people imagine….you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people….Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.”
I have to keep swinging even when I don’t’ see results. Pretend for a moment that there is a boulder and sitting next to it is a sledgehammer. If you hit the massive rock with the sledgehammer some dust will fly, but it won’t break apart. Hitting the boulder again will yield the same result: dust flies, maybe a few chips of rock break but the stone will remain intact. It can seem like a futile job. But on the inside of that boulder, with each hit of the sledgehammer, micro-fractions are made. Little cracks are developing on the inside of the boulder that expands with each impact of the hammer. Then, without warning, one more swing of the hammer and the boulder explodes apart. Tenacity it the ability to keep swinging the hammer when it looks like nothing is happening and keeping the faith that eventually your impact will change the outcome.
What are you facing right now that you want to give up on and quit? Is there fear behind the impulse to drop out? What would your issue look like if you were to face it tenaciously?
Tenacity is the one virtue that serves you like no other. When we practice these exercises for tenacity we increase our ability to overcome the fear, break through any obstacles and drive towards success. Sure, it’s true, nothing worthwhile comes easy. But when it does come it’s a result our tenacity…and who needs a sticker to tell us that?