Coming back to fundamentals

What are the common denominators of those who don’t quit? Fred Smith discusses his thinking about perseverance.

By Fred Smith

These are troubled times. Troubles bring us back to fundamentals. Coaches suffering a loss take the team back to basics. When financial failures come, we go back to the fundamentals.

Perseverance is one of the basics. When everything is smooth we don't analyze our good fortunes, but when things turn rough we are eager to know why. Trouble opens our mind.

Thinking about the basics is like a pit stop where we go for fuel and rubber. Some of us have been on a fast, hard, troubled track and are low on fuel and a little thin on rubber. Let's retread our tires and fill up our tanks and be off again, keeping on keeping on to the checkered flag.

J. C. Penney believed, "self-denial is the basic requirement for accomplishment in any field of endeavor. Success comes only to those who will follow the hard road rather than the paths of ease and pleasure, and who are willing to sacrifice everything except honor to the goal of achievement." He understood that over night success only works in the movies.

The poet/composer Rod McKuen says, "Talent is never enough in any field. It must be coupled with perseverance and recognition. "

Calvin Coolidge said something good about perseverance: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence; talent will not, for nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not, for unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not, for the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

It is one of the verities that "effort varies more than talent." People who lose their tenacity generally lose their position in life. However, the road is open to those who persevere. As we're told in Job 14:19, "the waters wear away the stone." As a boy, Isadore of Seville found his lessons hard to learn. He ran away from school where he was doing poorly and sat down to rest beside a little spring that trickled over a rock. He was amazed to see how those little drops had worn away a large stone. He decided, then and there, that he had given up on his studies too soon. Diligent application overcame his dullness and he became one of the finest scholars of his day. His biographer said, "those drops of water gave to Spain a brilliant historian." Persistence is essential to success and we don't know how much we have until we're called upon to test our strength.

I find the biographies of those who persevere particularly exciting. Columbus is known for his "sail on, sail on;" George Washington for his stand at Valley Forge; Lincoln for overcoming numerous defeats; Churchill for holding the course through many failures to be the motivator of Britain's survival; and Edison for his numerous failures before he worked out the incandescent light. Edison is well known for his quip that he hadn't failed, for he now knew 10,000 things that didn't work. I don't know of an interesting biography that doesn't detail the failures of the individual as well as his successes. Success stories are always built on the "things that didn't work." But each time, the "rest of the story" as Paul Harvey says, is written in the ink of perseverance and fighting through to success.

My friend Steve Brown often closes our telephone conversations with a theological admonition, "hang tough, babe, hang tough." Today it's necessary.