Excerpt from Chapter 13: Making a Difference

Patience and Persistence — August 2007

It's tempting to give up if you make an effort and fail to achieve some particular goal, but the real winners are those with the patience and persistence to continue making an effort—despite the setbacks.

The most recent (and one of the most striking) examples of someone who persisted in trying to achieve her goal is a woman named Barbara Morgan. Today (August 8, 2007) she was part of the crew launched into space aboard the shuttle Endeavour. While being an astronaut and going into space is, in and of itself, a great accomplishment requiring a great deal of patience and persistence, her journey demonstrates an even greater degree of determination than most.

You see, she was the backup to Christa McAuliffe (the first teacher in space) back in 1986. The Challenger space shuttle, with Christa McAuliffe aboard, exploded soon after liftoff. By any standard it was a terrible tragedy, made all the more poignant by the fact that school children all over the world were watching—because it had a 'teacher' on board. (Neither Christa nor Barbara were astronauts; they were regular classroom teachers who went through sufficient training to be allowed to fly in space.)

After the Challenger disaster, Barbara went back to the classroom, but she never gave up her dream of going into space. So in 1998 she returned to NASA, completing regular astronaut training and becoming a full-time astronaut. She was scheduled to go into space in 2004, but was subjected to another delay due to the fact that all shuttle flights were grounded after the loss of Columbia in 2003. Now, at age 55, she has achieved her goal of going into space, the culmination of an effort that spans 21 years! It's easy to get discouraged when we don't reach our goals—particularly if we've made a gallant effort over a period of time. But Barbara Morgan's 21-year dream of going into space became a reality only because of her patience and persistence in making it happen.

Her story serves as an example and an inspiration to all of us not to give up if our initial efforts don't succeed. And it doesn't have to be some grand goal like flying in space. For instance, almost everyone at some point in their lives attempts to succeed at basic lifestyle changes like losing weight or stopping smoking or maintaining an exercise program. It's a mistake to assume that failing at the first (or second or third) attempt means it's hopeless. Most of the people who eventually succeed are those who were willing to keep trying.

The proverb "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is one we've all heard, but, like another proverb, "It's easier said than done." When we've tried something that failed to turn out the way we hoped or expected, there's a tendency to give up and comfort ourselves with the idea that at least we tried. But almost every person who has succeeded in any significant way is a person who has also failed numerous times prior to their success.

A prime example of this is Abraham Lincoln, whose failures prior to becoming President of the U.S. are legendary. Here's a list of some of his many failures:
        —He failed as a business man—as a storekeeper.
        —He failed as a farmer—he despised this work.
        —He failed in his first attempt to obtain political office.
        —He failed when he sought the office of speaker while in the legislature.
        —He failed in his first attempt to go to Congress.
        —He failed when he sought an appointment to the United States Land Office.
        —He failed when he ran for the United States Senate.
        —He failed when he sought the nomination for the Vice-Presidency in 1856.

Then in 1860, he sought to become President of the U.S.—and he succeeded!

Throughout history, those who achieved the most success were usually those who repeatedly tried and failed—before finally succeeding in some spectacular way. So I hope you'll take another look at some effort you abandoned after it didn't initially work out the way you hoped and consider making another (better, smarter, more concentrated) effort to reach your goal. As reflected in yet another common proverb, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

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