In light of the recent New York City Marathon where American distant runner Shalane Flanagan finished first place, I am reminded of the power of persistence. Flanagan was the first American woman to break the finish line tape in forty years. When asked to describe the emotion she was feeling, the thirty-six-year-old victor stated, "This is the moment I've dreamed of since I was a little girl."
This story is so beautiful on multiple levels. Simply looking at the race itself, marathons are grueling. Very few people on earth can just show up to a marathon and run 26.2 miles halfway decent. It takes training. It takes endurance. And it takes the ability to battle through pain. But if one wants to finish first, that is a whole different measurement of commitment and is frankly the definition of persistence.
Persistence: The firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
As the great Benjamin Franklin once said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
In Flanagan’s press conference following her historic accomplishment, she stated that it took her seven years of preparing for the single race. To be clear, that does not mean she just started running seven years ago—she has been running her entire life, and has been very successful. But to be the best of the very best—to win the New York City Marathon—it took persistent drive toward a specific goal like only few can comprehend. Even trying to vicariously put myself in her position, I cannot begin to imagine the sacrifice and dedication required to undertake such a milestone.
Naturally we cannot all win a marathon, let alone run a marathon, but I would like to believe we can all receive value from Ms. Flanagan’s story and the age-old analogy that life is a marathon, not a sprint. What it really boils down to is this: don’t quit.
Often times it is easy to attribute failure as the opposite of success, but that is misguided thinking. Quitting is the opposite of success, not failure. When we fail, we have an opportunity to learn. And when we learn, we grow and have the opportunity to move forward better and stronger than we did before. The trick is simply not to give up. Be persistent. Be patient. It worked for the tortoise who beat the hare.
Thomas Edison, who diligently sought out to better the filament of the incandescent light bulb, was challenged by critics when he did not have results of improvement to show. He responded, “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”
Colin Powell put it this way, “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.”
Ray Kroc, the American businessman who built the McDonald’s franchise to what it is today, boldly stated, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men 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.”
Everybody who is where they are today started where they were with whatever they had. In other words, it is not what we have, but what we do with what we have that makes a difference. See, persistent people begin their success when other people quit. With persistence, we build endurance. And with endurance, we build determination. And the more determination, the more diligently one works and the harder it is to quit. We need to focus on action, not just the interest in action. Our actions speak louder than words.
Think of a postage stamp, its usefulness consists in its ability to stick to something and get it to its final destination. The stamp does not fall off. The stamp does not jump to a different item during shipping. The stamp sticks—and stays committed to its original task.
We need to stick with what we start. If a plan does not work, change the plan but never the goal. We need to be steadfast, consistent and encouraged in what we are doing. We need to be unmovable and build endurance and capacity. And if we remain persistent, we will keep moving forward and embrace success in the marathon we all call Life.