It’s not force nor knowledge that makes a person successful; it is his ability to keep on. As British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill once said: “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
Churchill further explained it in these words: “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”
Perhaps you have heard some stories about the famous Polish pianist and composer Ignace Paderewski. “He was a favorite of concert audiences around the world,” someone wrote. “His musical fame opened access to diplomacy and the media.”
Now, here’s a story related by Darrel L. Anderson: A mother, wishing to encourage her son’s progress at the piano, bought tickets for a Paderewski performance. They had seats near the front of the concert hall.
It so happened that the mother found a friend and they started having a conversation. She forgot about her son, who slipped away. When eight o’clock came around, the spotlight was focused on the stage, and only then the audience noticed the boy at the piano bench innocently picking out, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Just as when the mother was going up the stage, Paderewski appeared and quickly moved to the keyboard. “Don’t quit. Keep playing,” he whispered to the little boy.
Leaning over, the master reached down with his left hand and started filling in a bass part. Soon, his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obbligato.
Together, the master and the young novice held the crowd spellbound.
Reading the story reminded me of Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke, a Danish author who wrote works in Danish and English. However, she is best known under her pen name Isak Dinesen.
“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself,” wrote the famous author of “Out of Africa” and “The Immortal Story.”
Paderewski himself believed in that, too. At one time, he was asked by a fellow pianist if he could be ready to play a recital on short notice, he replied, “I am always ready. I have practiced eight hours daily for 40 years.”
“I wish I had been born with such determination,” the other pianist said. To which Paderewski replied, “We are all born with it. I just used mine.”
This brings us to another story that was featured in 1000 Stories You Can Use. A long, long time ago, a boy was born to wealthy parents in New York City. However, the boy had poor eyesight and his health was so weak that he could not even attend school like other children. He also couldn’t join them in school games. He wanted to play football, but that was out of the question.
One day, he had to really beg to be allowed to join in some of the rough games of other boys. Again, he was told that his health was a big hindrance. It was then that he told them bravely: “I am going to be strong, no matter what the doctor says. I will exercise this weak body until I become an athlete.”
So, he did exercise. First slowly but continued doing so. Despite early discouragement, he persevered and increased his effort. When he was a young man, he went out West and lived the rough and rugged life of a rancher, spending several hours a day in the saddle.
He was so respected and loved by other cowboys that they joined his cavalry regiment in the Spanish-American war; it became famous as the “Rough Riders.”
If you are still wondering who the sickly boy who became a sturdy cowboy was, he was no other than Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States.
“Remember the two benefits of failure,” American speaker and author Roger Von Oech reminded. “First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn’t work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.”
Let’s take a closer look at those who never say never after a series of failures. Take the case of Harry S Truman. Before he became the president of the United States, he encountered several setbacks. He and his father both suffered bankruptcy. West Point rejected his application. In fact, he experienced so many failures as a young man that he once wrote to his sweetheart, Bess, “I can’t possibly lose forever.”
Truman was his party’s fourth choice for senator. He was the underdog in every election he fought. He was so poor that even after he was elected senator, he was forced to use a public health dentist and to sleep occasionally in his car while on the campaign trail.
Before they become well-known authors, they have to beg publishers to print their books. Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book, And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers. William Kennedy had written several manuscripts, all of them turned down by numerous publishers, before his “sudden success” with his novel Ironweed, which was rejected by 13 publishers before it was finally accepted for publication.
Alex Haley got a rejection letter once a week for four years as a budding writer. Later in his career, he was ready to give up on the book Roots and himself. After nine years on the project, he felt inadequate to the task and was ready to throw himself off a freighter in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
As Alex was standing at the back of the freighter, looking at the wake and preparing to throw himself into the ocean, he heard the voices of all his ancestors saying, “You go do what you got to do because they are all up there watching. Don’t give up. You can do it. We’re counting on you!” In the subsequent weeks, the final draft of Roots poured out of him – and the rest was history.
Newt Gingrich said it right: “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”