The movie Unbroken is currently in theaters. It chronicles the true story of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic track star, who survived a plane crash in World War II, only to fight for his life against nature and then as a prisoner of war. Zamperini grew up as a rebellious kid flirting with becoming a full scale delinquent. Fortunately, his brother got involved in his life and started training him to be a track star. Louis excelled at the sport, and eventually represented America at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. During his training, he learned to become resilient and disciplined. His brother’s words of advice, “If you can take it, you can make it,” pushed him to overcome any adversity.

Zamperini became a pilot in World War II. The lessons in perseverance that he learned through his track training and turning his life around served him well after his plane was shot down. Louis was stranded at sea for more than a month, only to be found by the Japanese and detained in a prison camp. In this camp, he was forced to endure constant physical abuse at the hands of a sadistic prison-camp guard. Despite the abuse, Zamperini survived the camp and returned to the US after the war.

This is another article in the success series I began writing a couple months ago. You may recall that the first secret of success we covered was the power of the mind. We discussed that our mind is more powerful than we generally think it is. We considered that attitude is a choice and that we can control our attitude by feeding our mind with positive things. We can make the decision to not let our daily mood be controlled by our circumstances.

Perseverance is the second secret to success. Without perseverance, we will not do enough of the things we need to do to be successful. On the other hand, if we learn perseverance, we will have mastered the ability to work hard and long. This will enable us to experience the success that we desire.

One of my favorite definitions of perseverance goes as follows: “Those who persevere are the ones left standing when everyone else quits.” This definition reminds me of the annual NCAA basketball tournament. Each year, in early March, almost 140 teams start the tournament in a one-loss elimination tournament. Three weeks later, one team survives by winning six consecutive games to become the champion. While talent and a good record during the season contribute to who becomes the champion, it is nearly impossible each year to figure out what team is most likely to win the tournament. After watching most of the tournament every year for over thirty years, it is clear to me that being the final winner is more about persevering than due to talent, coaching, or any other factor.

What is perseverance? Here are several key elements that make up perseverance.

  1. Perseverance is perspiration. Perseverance starts with hard work, but it requires more than that. Specifically, perspiration paints a picture of work that is not always being done under the best circumstances. It suggests that perseverance requires us to carry on even when conditions are not ideal. Your ability to succeed in any endeavor will be magnified by your ability to keep working hard when it is hot, or you are tired, or when it seems like you will never accomplish what you want.
  2. Perseverance is sustained effort toward a goal. We are all familiar with the story of the tortoise and the hare. The rabbit mocks the tortoise as he runs off from the start only to tire quickly. The hare then rests before speeding off again, then resting again and running again. Meanwhile, the tortoise maintains a slow and consistent pace and continues to move forward without a rest. Finally, while the hare is dozing just short of the finish line, the tortoise passes him and wins the race.
    1. Your success will correlate more with consistent and repetitive effort toward your goals than by repeated starts and stops. Your ability to apply consistent and sustained effort toward your goals on a daily basis will lead to the greatest success. Perseverance means working on a daily basis towards your goals whether or not you feel like doing it.
  3. Perseverance means that it is always too soon to quit. Quitting is the opposite of perseverance. For those who know how to persevere, quitting is not an option. Successful people know that quitting is indeed only for losers. Only those who continue to battle in the face of adversity will enjoy success. When obstacles come up, the successful person carries on because they know that “Obstacles come to instruct, not destruct.”
  4. Perseverance means that failure is a choice. It means that we have decided to quit. We have given up. Or, it means that we have made a decision to change direction. If the decision to quit is the result of a well thought out analytical process which determined that a new direction is needed, then quitting in this circumstance is not failure. But if we repeatedly give up and quit when the going gets tough, it means that we are developing the habit of failure.
    1. Making mistakes and failing are not the same thing. If we have worked hard on a goal and gotten to the point where we realize that we are going in the wrong direction, making a decision to change direction for good reasons is not wrong and it is not failure. The key is learning from mistakes and also making sure that we do not establish a pattern of going from one endeavor to another, never seeing any of them through.
  5. Perseverance is the key to quality and excellence. The more we persist, the better we get at any endeavor we are committed to. This applies in all aspects of life. As the father of four children, I committed long before my first son was born to be the best father I could possibly be. Over nearly thirty-two years of raising children, I have worked consistently on being a better and better parent. I will continue to do so for as long as I live as I persist in my role as a father and grandfather.
  6. Finally, perseverance is a decision. This explains why it is so difficult to do on a long term basis. Since it is a decision, it is a choice. And, since perseverance by definition includes a commitment to do something for a long period of time, it means that perseverance requires us to choose to persevere over and over again. As obstacles occur, or we get tired, or bored, or distracted, we have to make the decision to recommit to the goal and persevere. This need to repeatedly decide to stay on track is what makes perseverance so difficult. There are so many chances in the journey to choose to quit that choosing to stay the course represents a huge commitment.

Like Louis Zamperini, we each need to learn the true value of perseverance.