“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”
– Barack Obama
If I were to believe the popular media, I could understand why people see success as something one is “born to achieve”, something magical and automatic. It’s like if all you needed to do to conquer a mountain, was to step aboard a gondola for a ride to the summit, taking you there directly, comfortably, with no hint of blood, sweat or tears. Step right up, buy your winning lotto ticket, and dare to dream!
But who built that gondola in the first place?
Read the accounts of anyone who sets off to conquer a real mountain, like Mount Everest. To reach the top, you must make your way to a Base Camp, the first of several stops on your trip. At Base, you take the time to adjust to the altitude and the conditions. Then you set off to the next camp, from where you perform day hikes to train and to get familiar with the terrain, always coming back to the camp at night. Sometimes a team member has to return to a lower camp, whether for altitude sickness, frostbite, weather or one of many other medical or logistical issues. It is only when conditions are right, and that you have successfully reached the highest camp, that you can then aim for the summit.
You create results in your Big Project in a similar way. You build to a certain level of results, where you level off to give yourself the opportunity to regain your strength and your reserves, and reinforce your systems, standards and boundaries. It is only then where you make a push for the next level of performance. Sometimes circumstances force you to revert to a lower camp, because you run out of energy or resources or the conditions are not sufficient to progress forward. Sometimes on your trek to the next level you realize you face a big chasm or a dead-end, and you have to abandon the path and return to the previous camp. And sometimes the summit can seem so close, but you still need to abandon progress, come back to base, and postpone your dreams for another year or another decade. Such is life.
Beware of Cinderella stories, of success won quickly without any setbacks. Because an effortless win, without pain, or tears, or moments that provoke weak knees or tight stomachs, is a win that cannot last. There is no glory in failure, but there is no shame in it either, because failure does not exist unless we give it permission to paralyze or demoralize us.
The real lessons of life are understood when you develop the clarity, commitment, confidence and courage to overcome setbacks and transform your passion into something that makes a permanent and positive difference around you.
Persevere. The adventure is lived not at the destination, but in the journey.