“Genius is divine perseverance. Genius I cannot claim nor even extra brightness, but
perseverance all can have.”
“People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant
success is achieved.”
Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher and mentor
“If you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you
could not hold on a minute longer, never give up, for that is just the place and time that
the tide will turn.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
When Jay Winik wrote his book, “April 1865: The Month That Saved America,” his focus was on the final days of the Civil War. But during his research, he also learned a lot about how leaders face adversity and ultimately triumph over it. As he put it, “What I discovered is this most common trait among great leaders: They can repeatedly suffer failure and be undaunted by it. They adhere to their vision, and they just keep plugging away. Plugging away seems like the simplest explanation you can have, but historically, it’s very clear. People who go on to do great things in history often do them against great odds. They do it because they refuse to be defeated by the whirl and sway of events. You see it in Lincoln; you see it in Grant: you see it in Robert E. Lee.”
To wrap up his book, Winik cast his eye forward, looking at people who would shape America’s destiny over the fifty years after the Civil War. He was “shocked” by what he found: In 1865, most of these movers and shakers were failures. Mark Twain was considering moving to Hawaii and vaguely hoping that, at some point in the future, he might be able to write a book. Thomas Edison had been fired from his fifth job and was working as a telegraph operator. Henry Ford’s father dismissed his son’s aspirations by telling him, “You are a tinker and you will never amount to anything.” Yet, each of these dreamers and doers, despite repeated failures, found the internal drive to forge on.
Take any other period in history, and it’s more than likely that you’ll find exactly what Winik did: Most of the people who end up being successes leave behind them a long trail of what the rest of the world sees as failures. And yet these achievers and overcomers view failure differently: They see it as feedback, information they can use to improve their performance as they move forward.
What’s our takeaway from all this? Keep going! Just when you think things can’t get better, keep going — and by sheer effort and perseverance, you can make them better. Wonderful news for us as we write on!