I’m not the greatest fan of the global sports company, Nike. There have been big questions asked about their manufacturing ethics, for example.
What I do celebrate is Nike’s brilliant advertising slogan, ‘Just Do It’, which has been at the forefront of the company’s powerful messaging since 1988. ‘Just Do It’ describes someone taking the initiative to improve their own fitness, at whatever level they start. It means taking personal responsibility. Most of all it means being persistent.
Being persistent is the power of repeating and repeating activities, in the knowledge that they will eventually bear fruit. As a golfer, I know that my swing will not one day magically improve all by itself. I have to put in the time, again and again, to practice. Eventually I will achieve another small step forward in improving my game. To succeed, every human activity requires persistence – the capacity to return many times to the same set of actions, however unpromising they may seem initially. Or as Winston Churchill remarked, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Churchill was being witty of course, but there is great truth in what he said. A lot of the time we do experience things as ‘failures’. We set out to run a half marathon, but don’t make it to the finish line. We attempt to create a ground-breaking company, but don’t raise enough investment, and so on. It’s important to see that these are actually not failures, but simply steps on the way. We must learn to embrace Churchill’s reference to ‘enthusiasm’, and persistently re-engage with the issues facing us. With enthusiasm.
You might be asking, ‘But can’t I just get lucky?’ My answer is that you might have a very long wait! Luck, to me, is what happens when persistence and well-prepared knowledge meet. Yes, to an extent you must be in the right place and time, but without that prior persistence and knowledge, you will not be ready to seize the opportunity. And for sure you won’t just ‘get lucky’. If you want to win the lottery, you have to at least buy a ticket! Your stake in being successful is to prepare again and again for that success, by being persistent in all your key practices.
There is no ‘Plan B’! Once you are set on a course of action, stick with it, unless circumstances change so dramatically that you have to flex to meet those changes. I’m thinking, for example, of sportspeople who have suffered life-changing injuries which meant they could no longer continue their chosen activity. It is remarkable how many of those people have repurposed their knowledge and persistence to other sports or activities. It’s a skill which can be used in any area. Once you’ve learned how to be persistent, apply the lessons to everything you do, and watch as the results start to multiply!
Being persistent is like growing plants in your garden. You have to put a lot of work into preparing the ground, sowing the seeds, tending to the green shoots, feeding and watering them, and so on. You have to repeat and repeat and repeat before you harvest the results of all your efforts. Apply the same principles to sport, being a parent, learning a language… or running a business. Success comes eventually to those who are persistent.
I’m currently working on a new business offering which I believe will be successful, in time. Its success will be because I have put the work into it, over many years. Of course when I started out twenty or more years ago, I couldn’t have guessed that I was leading up to this next step, but back then I laid down the behaviors which benefit me now. Most of all I learned the practice of persistence, and the vital importance of, ‘Keeping on keeping on.’ I deposited a whole heap of persistence in the bank, and now I am reaping the rewards.
And you know what? If it doesn’t quite work out with this new business opportunity, I’ll chalk it up to experience and dig into my reserves of persistence, and start all over again.
Napoleon Hill wrote the granddaddy of all business self-help books back in 1937, Think and Grow Rich. He based his work on interviews with many prominent American industrialists, and concluded that the one and only quality which he found in all of them was the ability to be persistent. In fact he concluded that, “The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.”
So failure is not something to be afraid of in itself, but clearly, to succeed requires persistence, especially in bouncing back from failures. There is no Plan B, no menu of other options, but simply to keep on keeping on. Persistence works in business, or ballet dancing, playing the saxophone, or improving that golf swing. If you get knocked down by circumstances, get up again.
Or as Nike urge you, ‘Just Do It.’ Again and again.
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