Most of my life, I've been told that if I just work hard and give it my all, I'll come out on top. I'd gather that you've heard that too--it is, after all, the cornerstone of the American Dream, this idea that if you just don't quit, eventually you'll reach where you wanted to go.
I don't believe winners quit, and the best entrepreneurs are those who don't just throw in the towel when the first hint of struggle starts to block their way. But as I work every day, there's a voice in my head that, on what seems like a truly primal level, questions the keep-trying-always-win concept.
If all it takes is perseverance, why is it taking so long?
If all it takes is perseverance, why are others who haven't worked like this getting ahead?
If all it takes is perseverance, where the heck is the finish line?
If all it takes is perseverance, am I doing something wrong?
If all it takes is perseverance, am I a failure who's just not capable?
That last one gives me the biggest ouch.
But the other day, I happened upon this article by Bene Cipolla. Like me, she questions if we've got it all wrong about perseverance and failure. What struck me most is her observation that, in most cases, we focus on cases where perseverance actually pays off. We hone in on the Jeff Bezoses and Elon Musks, the Oprahs and Sandbergs, desperate for their tricks so we can copy what they do, and have success too.
But the reality is, those cases are the exception to the rule. Far more common is for people to give it everything they've got and not make it, or to end up succeeding in a way they didn't even intend. You can do absolutely everything right, but sometimes, like Barry the Bee in Bee Movie, you just keep slamming against the window, stubbornly thinking that "this time, this time, THIS time" you'll get out and be free.
Sometimes, perseverance gets you nowhere.
And guess how much of that is your fault, what you have to be ashamed of.
Not. One. Bit.
Even when you're giving 110, 150 or even 200 percent, you probably still won't be aware of--let alone be in control of--all the stars that need to align for you to have the perfect life.
That's not to say it doesn't hurt. It does. But it hurts because we're focusing on the wrong thing. We're focused on the product, the singular target we've given ourselves that we "must" get to. We feel like if we don't get to it, we are "less than."
But what happens if, like Cipolla entertains, you start believing that, not only is failure normal and constant in life, but it's also incredibly interesting? What if you accept that failure--which is really just not getting the result you wanted--can be a rich experience, intriguing, a place to hang out in rather than rush through? What if you take to heart that failure can force you to think more deeply and creatively about the mystery on your hands (whatever that mystery might happen to be)?
Cipolla says thinking about failure this way feels like relief. I'm inclined to agree. Because then, all of a sudden, I don't have the pressure of "must" anymore. All I have is the freedom "to be." To ask questions. To try another angle. To switch my perspective and turn the ugliest, most ridiculous things into masterpieces of absolute beauty.
And if I can turn it to beauty, I can relax. If I can turn it to beauty, then I have moved, just in a different way, and life has a purpose of a surprisingly unexpected but exciting flavor.
So stop beating yourself up for not being able to break the window. Sometimes we're not meant to break it. Sometimes we're meant to experience the headache, so we can marvel at the impact and wonder if there's a door, and to start looking around for it.