Provision #672: Persistence Matters

Laser Provision

The military has a term for what happens when priorities and planning go awry: OBE • Overtaken By Events. John Lennon put it this way: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We all know that feeling and experience. It is universal because no one controls life. But we can control our response to life. Do we quit or do we persist? Do we give up or do we hang on? Although it doesn’t help to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results, it also doesn’t help to stop looking for alternative approaches and goals. With lots of engaging quotes from notable leaders, this Provision shows you how.

LifeTrek Provision


We’re in the middle of a series on leadership and it’s time for the perennial rant about the importance of persistence. As we have explored in recent weeks: Priorities Matter and Planning Matters. But without persistence they are both for naught. That’s because events have a way of overtaking even the best of leaders. But great leaders hang in there and find a way through.

You’ve probably seen this before, but here’s the incredible 44-year journey of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America:

  • 1816 Worked to support his family after they were forced out of their home.
  • 1818 His mother died.
  • 1831 Failed in business.
  • 1832 Defeated for State legislature.
  • 1832 Lost his job and couldn’t get into law school.
  • 1833 Declared bankruptcy, and spent the next 17 years of his life paying off the money he borrowed from friends to start his business.
  • 1834 Defeated for State legislature again.
  • 1835 Was engaged to be married, but his sweetheart died and his heart was broken.
  • 1836 Had a nervous breakdown and spent the next six months in bed.
  • 1838 Defeated in bid to become the speaker of the State legislature.
  • 1840 Defeated in becoming elector.
  • 1840 Defeated for Congress
  • 1846 Defeated for Congress again.
  • 1848 Defeated for Congress yet again.
  • 1849 Rejected for the job of Land Officer in his home State of Illinois.
  • 1854 Defeated for US Senate.
  • 1856 Defeated for Vice-President • got less than 100 votes.
  • 1858 Defeated for US Senate for the third time.
  • 1860 Elected President of the United States.

Now that’s persistence. And it’s called for in every imaginable circumstance and situation. To quote Michael Jordan, one of the most successful basketball players of all time: “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot• and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Or, again, in the word of another US President, Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan •press on• has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Are you beginning to get the message? Persistence is not only required to be successful as a leader, it is what we expect of leaders. Take the tragic oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. Who would have been satisfied had BP, the company responsible for the oil spill, abandoned their efforts after the first cap failed work? Or after the “top kill” effort failed to work? Or after the diamond saw failed to make its cut? No one! We are all encouraged and hopeful now that the second cap is in place and beginning to divert some of the oil.

Leadership means responsibility and, sooner or later, responsibility means persistence. That’s not to say, of course, that we just keep doing the same thing over and over again until it works. As Einstein once remarked, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But Einstein also gave the following explanation for his many discoveries: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Persistence, in other words, means that we take a “win-learn” approach to life rather than a “win-lose” approach. Those with a “win-lose” attitude are quick to give up. “We’ve never done it that way before,” represents the end of the conversation. It is offered as a reason to not try something rather than as an invitation to try something.

Leaders see things differently. Robert Kennedy, US Attorney General when his brother, John F. Kennedy, was President, memorably put it this way: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Perhaps he learned that as a child: “I was the seventh of nine children. When you come from that far down you have to struggle to survive.”

Coaches sometimes give the impression that with just a little coaching people can take the effort out of life. Au contraire! “Life is difficult,” to quote the opening line from M. Scott Peck’s famous book, The Road Less Traveled. There’s no way to take the effort out of life. No approach can get rid of the fact that life takes work. But we can make work fun. And once we do that, I would remind you, work stops being work. It just becomes the stuff we love to do.

When things don’t go our way, the key is to adjust and adapt. Sometimes, we can try a different approach and we can be successful with our stated goal (like BP with the oil spill as they continue to drill two relief wells). Other times we have to change our goal. Even so, however, life still takes work to make it through to a new goal. It’s not possible to get away from that.

Different approaches and goals are the stuff of coaching. Coaching is the possibility profession because of how we navigate with curiosity through what works now and what could work better in the future. In that sense, coaches are persistence partners. We refuse to take “No!” as a final answer, because we know there are no final answers life this side of the grave. There is tomorrow. There will always be new approaches and goals to explore.

So make that be your mantra for life. As Thomas Edison once noted, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” If we stop trying to figure out a better way, or if we stop aspiring to a better tomorrow, then our leadership will limp along ineffectively with moans and groans from both ourselves and others. If we hang in there, however, with a possibility mindset, there’s no telling the energy and effectiveness we can generate.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of mindset do you take in life and work? Would you describe yourself as more or less resilient? What brings out your resilience? What enables you to hang in there until you discover new possibilities and new ways forward? Who can be your persistence partner in whatever challenges you are facing?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


I have been reading Bob’s Sunday newsletter for over a year and have always found it inspirational. No, as I turn 60, you are inspiring me to get a coach so that I can start living the life that I want. Thanks for the inspiration!


I love the Provisions and had time this week to really sit back and read without feeling rushed. Thanks so much for the care that you put into these weekly messages. Beautiful.


Thank you so much for your weekly newsletter!!


I appreciated your Tweet endorsing the Friedman editorial, Malia for President. Our oil addiction can be categorized as pure greed. How many wars must be fought and how many American kids must die so that we and the other developed nations can have access to cheap oil? If we continue on our current path, we will pollute all of our oceans, destroy our wetlands, and ruin our atmosphere. The tree huggers have been right all along!! In fact, continuing our dependence on oil could eventually end in a nuclear conflagration. The Chinese need oil to fuel their economy, which helps to feed their overpopulated country. If oil becomes scarce, they will not hesitate to do everything in their power to get that oil.

I work with college students who have done studies on existing alternative forms of energy. Why are they not in massive use today? Because, companies have deemed that to invest in them would take too long to fully recoup their investments.

What will it take for the world to smarten up and realize that we are not only polluting our earth, but we allow only a small geographical area of the earth to control the economy and politics of the rest of the world? 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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