The wisdom of tenacity


You’re probably tempted to quit right now.

I don’t even know what it is you’re trying to do, whether it’s build an audience for your blog, become noticed as a musician, or trying to find a special someone. No matter where you are in the process, if you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, it might seem like it’s time to throw in the towel. Maybe your blog’s message just isn’t that good. Maybe your music isn’t what people are clamoring to hear. Maybe you’re just destined to be single.

Or maybe you’re giving up too soon.

Hanging in there

I firmly believe that there is a wisdom to just hanging in there, to continuing on. Because it’s so easy to quit, this is what most people will do, so by powering through, you’re already distinguishing yourself from others.

There are some things that I’m good at, and a great many things that I’m terrible with, but one “superpower” that I possess is tenacity. I find something, and stick with it, in the belief that eventually the work will bear fruit.

Tenacity is a skill that requires faith, and it’s not often you hear those two going together.

In the popular consciousness, we tend to hear about so many people who “made it” in their younger years. I think this has a lot to do with come outdated cultural narratives that are slow to alter. After all, it’s pretty ridiculous when people feel like it’s “too late” for them at age 30 when they are likely to live another 50 years.

But for every “Facebook millionaire”, college band who made it big, and friend who found her life partner in high school, there are plenty of examples of people who hit their stride after a very long run-up. Viz:

Grandma Moses

What do you do if you’re a 76 year old woman who has used embroidery as her primary artistic expression for years, but now is sidelined by arthritis?

Maybe you could take up painting. Anna “Grandma” Moses took that advice, and the rest is history.

Everyone’s favorite grandma.


One could argue that she became well-known for her paintings in a relatively short period of time, undercutting my argument of tenacity. But she came to painting after decades of other artistic pursuits, and only one slight change to her method of expression. She put in the time.

READ MORE:  Send out more demos, or how to make things happen


And who can think of elderly folk artists without it immediately bringing to mind heavy metal? Certainly not me.

What do you do if you’re a metal band who has been at it for over 20 years, putting out albums, touring, and gaining almost no exposure or success almost everywhere (except maybe Germany, where you have a modest fan base)?

You keep going. 25 years. 30 years.

And if you’re Anvil, someone makes a documentary about your band that propels you onto the main stage (albeit of metal, but still). Now you’re touring the world to sold-out crowds, making TV appearances, and finally being known.

"Anvil backstage at the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards" by Tomdog
“Anvil backstage at the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards” by Tomdog

I love the example of Anvil because in some ways they became so well respected because of their persistence in the face of so little return for so long.

Colonel Sanders…actually never mind

Many people have heard the legend of Colonel Sanders being rejected from 1,009 restaurants before hitting upon a franchising deal that made history. Tony Robbins has even used the story in his motivational talks. (“How many people in the room would have quit after the 1,000th rejection?” is the quote I recall.)

Unfortunately, I can find absolutely no verification to the story. It may be one of those self-mythologizing stories put forth by a certain class of people (P.T. Barnum and the Bragg’s family come to mind) who don’t let the truth get in the way of a good marketing message.

And frankly, for a few reasons, I sort of think that the world might be a better place if he had given up after the 1,000th rejection, but that’s neither here nor there.

Find your own example

Louis C.K., Toni Morrison, Mark Twain. It’s not hard to find examples where it took a long time for people to ever reach any type of acclaim.

Perhaps we can add you to the list.

My tenacity

I once read about a local comedian who said she was trying become well-known “as slowly as possible”. While that self-deprecation seems totally in character for her, not only did it resonate with me, but it also seemed adequately shrewd.

I’ve been working at building this site (and its audience of people like you) for over two years now. As I’ve written about before, I post every Monday and Thursday. I do this for lots of reasons: it keeps me focused and productive, it’s deeply satisfying, and it shows you that this is a place you can count on.

I know I’m not where I want to be yet. While my site now comes up before a certain equally-titled biography, you don’t exactly see my name against people like Michael Hyatt or Chris Guillebeau or (dare I say) Tony Robbins. Or any number of equally-inspiring people who have helped countless others.

READ MORE:  When is it time to let your dream die?

But at the same time, I am still building my site, my brand, my projects. I will be doing more coaching, more speaking engagements, and among else, will eventually give a TED talk of my own (like my friend Emilie just did). I will bring my message of using intentionality in the face of adversity to create a radically authentic life to a larger audience. We can make our system work better for us, without “smashing it”. We can do this together.

And so I continue.

But enough about me: What’s your tenacity? What are you working toward?

Comments are closed.