Persistence: Failing your way to success

 

We need to become babies

Everyone wants to be successful in some sense. Unless you are sick and perverted, you do not like failure. However, in order to grow and learn, we must not only be tolerant of failure, but we must welcome it.

And when you do fail, you must learn to pick yourself up as fast as possible and carry on. The world only cares about what you have accomplished, not how hard you tried or how mopey you are. Every successful person in this world has one thing in common: none of them gave up.

Imagine if you gave up the first time you tried to walk as a baby. Where would you be today? Even though you fell again and again, and even though it hurts when everything else in the world is about cushions, food, comfort, and care, you chose to stand up and walk again.

And you fell again.

And today, you have the ability to walk great distances without even thinking about it. What happened to that persistence you had when you were a child? Did we all regress as we grew older?

Everything hard and worth pursuing in life requires persistence.

The genius of being stupid

There is a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. I completely disagree with this “definition”.

Instead of insanity, I call it practice. Do basketball players shoot at the hoop again and again, while expecting better results every single time? Practice is the only path to increase your skills.

The reason why people are called insane when they do the same things over and over is because they don’t understand the idea of failure. They don’t understand that what they are trying to do does not or will not work out. However, not counting the social inabilities and lack of empathy, I think not understanding failure is a type of genius.

Again, little kids have that genius. An infant child can build a toy brick house for a longtime, and when it accidently breaks down, you don’t see any frustration on her face. She just curiously picks up the toy bricks and starts again.

Psychological studies showed that if you were to cheat and beat a kid over and over again in a game, and then ask, “I wonder who’s going to win next time?” A large majority of children will raise up their arms enthusiastically and say “ME!!!”

It is just that “stupid” attitude that helped us grow up. It is also one of the key factors that can help us accomplish our dreams.

A lesson from Chinese History

Since I’m Chinese, I thought I’d include an example from Chinese history so that you can tell your friends and seem knowledgeable in other cultures.

Towards the end of the Qin Dynasty (when the Great Wall was built), there were two major armies that were fighting to take over the power from the emperor, one led by Liu Bang, and the other Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu grew up in a rich noble family and was trained intensively in the high arts of leadership and military strategy. He had a large following and the entire China thought he was the most appropriate force to take over the reign.

Liu Bang on the other hand, grew up being a nobody and sometimes was seen as a little peasant gangster. Because of his background, a lot of peasants liked his vision and he was able to recruit some skillful generals. However, it was very grassroots and unimpressive compared to Xiang Yu’s legion.

Unsurprisingly, whenever there is a showdown, Xiang Yu would obliterate Liu Bang’s force, forcing him to escape into the mountains and recoup his army with new peasants in that area.

It was pretty sad.

But Liu Bang never gave up.

He fought again and again. And finally, he defeated the overconfident Xiang Yu…once.

Xiang Yu at that point had the option to learn from his opponent’s persistence. He was given the opportunity to escape and quietly regroup his troops again back home. With his reputation and abilities, it was actually very likely.

But he did not do it. Xiang Yu felt so ashamed by his lost he laughed and said “Heaven wants me dead, why should I go back?” And then he killed himself.

After Xiang Yu’s suicide, Liu Bang became the prestigious founder of the Han Dynasty, a Dynasty which lasted almost 400 years (Up to 220AD). Even to this day, many Chinese people call themselves “Hans” because of what was established during that era.

Imagine if Liu Bang decided to give up in one of his defeats. History would be entirely rewritten. Truth be told, the winners in history are not those who won the most, but are those who won at the end. And that requires staying in the game all the way until you win.

Applying to Entrepreneurship

No dream is easily obtainable. If it was easy, it would not be called a dream. It would just be a plan.

Creating a successful and impactful startup is a dream, and failures are a dime a dozen. However, persistence is one of the strongest weapons in an entrepreneur’s arsenal.

One important thing entrepreneurs should know is that word of mouth is not instant. Every entrepreneur thinks that they have that viral product that can reach millions overnight. I can tell you that if you are betting for those odds you rather write a business plan to raise $1M to invest in lottery tickets.

What’s the last product you have used that when you used it, you became SO excited that you had to tell all your friends in the next minute? And how many of those friends told all their friends?

When a consumer uses a great product, they will tell a couple of their close friends that day. After that, they get distracted by other things in life. Maybe a month later, when something relevant pops up, they would tell a friend about how great your product is again.

The truth is that, most things take time to spread virally If you launch your product and it hasn’t been viral a month later, that should not hurt your team morale. You should continue to push it until the people you reach 3 months ago start to mention your product to their friends.

Even Gary Vanerchuck did WineLibrary.tv for 2 whole years before he became more reputable. What if he gave up six months down the road, thinking that it wasn’t as “viral” as he thought it would be. Jun Loayza blogged hard for an entire year with very few people reading it before he established his internet brand. Twitter had a massively slow start too.

If you look at sites that have 30,000 plus traffic on Compete.com, none of them started last week. Almost all of them had over a year of trucking and trying. So what makes you the one that succeeds in 2 months? Again, you have to stay persistent to your goals and push towards success.

For an Gamification example: How many of you beat an entire video/computer game through the first time you played it? Probably none of you. Now imagine if you quit the game the first time, or even the 5th time you died. Would you ever beat the game? You would probably just be on level 2.

I’m sure whoever beats these games took the first 10, or 100 deaths as an normal process and continued on it until s/he got better and better. You need to treat failures in your real life the same way.

I love that attitude when Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, says that “9 out of 10 businesses fail. That means I just need to create 10 companies to have a successful business!

Again, I want to remind everyone that, if there’s one thing in common between all the successful people in this world, it’s that they did not give up.

Don’t give up.

17 thoughts on “Persistence: Failing your way to success”

  1. I think this is a terrible over-simplification of the issue. Some people should give up and while persistence may not be the definition of insanity, it can have an aspect of stupidity to it, particularly when additional attempts add nothing to the ideas– meaning they are just the same, with no learning, no adjustments and nothing new. Only those with substantial content knowledge can problem solve the result of a failure and creatively adapt their strategy in light of the findings. Those who do not have this content-based knowledge to problem solve, probably should ot persist.

    Just a thought.. and thanks for getting thoughts going.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts M Young. Our brains are learning no matter what. However, whether we are learning the right things (for instance, pessimism or optimism) becomes the determining factor.

  2. Sorry sir, all triers are liers…
    YOU are the best at what you do!!!
    you have mastered this thing…that you have going on…

    Congrats!!!

  3. Pingback: FD Power Coaching: helping you master the Game of Life | Yu-kai Chou
  4. Hey Saranyan!

    Thanks for the thoughtful response! You are awesome 🙂

    I think the will to learn translates to persistence is great insight. Once you think you on top of the world, you can’t deal with failure anymore.

    haha, I think we need to learn how to fail and feel happy that it was a great experience. That’s why you need to have fun with everything you do!

  5. Hey Yu-kai, amazing post!! 🙂
    The biggest difference between children and adults in my opinion is the amount of garbage they carry in their heads. A child does not know what he does not know and tries to learn things fresh everytime. An adult on the other hand, thinks he knows what he really does not know. The tendency to persist comes when there is no fear of failure. The will to learn translates into persistence. I had written a while back about knowledge and learning (http://saranyan.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/knowledge-or-baggage/). This seems to be one of the biggest problems.

    The problem is that every problem we face is new everytime and any knowledge we derive out of a previous experience cannot adequately determine our success or failure in the new effort. However, most of us think that we “know” it is going to happen this way because we saw it last time. And if that “knowing” reveals an experience that we don’t want (like failure, sorrow, etc), we automatically lose motivation subconsciously and it outwardly reflects as lack of persistence.

    We need to be willing to learn everytime and be objective. I think that is persistence. 🙂

    Best!
    Saran

  6. Hey Christie!

    I totally agree that there are a lot of lessons to learn from children.
    Haha, the Han Dynasty battles are one of the most epic stories in Chinese history!

    Let me know if I can help you with anything!

  7. Great post!
    I love how you used children as the example of what we should aim for on this topic. Adults have so much to learn from children, it amazes me sometimes.
    Also, thank you for including the bit about Chinese history. It is fascinating to see how life-lessons are taught in different cultures… it really brings home the point of how important perspective can be. Plus it’s always nice to learn more about history.

  8. Haha, Sarah, you are far too kind and too flattering 🙂
    You are right in saying that failure is a process, not a result. However, the danger is that when people think it is the result, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Thank you for the great thanks and you are very welcome 🙂

    Feel free to contact me for any kind of help I can give!

  9. Hello Olina,

    Your Chinese text cannot be displayed through the wordpress system for some reason.

    I personally think that Xiangyu’s pride is a personality flaw. His goal is to take over and become emperor, but because he can’t face his friends and family (who were reported to still be willing to help him), he ends his game.

    Xiangyu only had 1 life, while Liu Bang has many lives and even a Continue.

  10. I loved reading this post. Thank you a million times. There is a whole shifting of consciousness that needs to happen for people to ‘really’ get it. We need to look at failure as almost a requirement towards the road to success. I couldnt have written a better post at this subject. Thank you once again 🙂

  11. Great article, I like the spirit of NEVER GIVE UP! Yes, we shouldn’t! NEVER!

    Remember there is a poem written by Qingzhao Li talked about that history from different aspect:

    —???????????????????????.

    Yes, Xiangyu killed himself because of he feel guilty to face to his family and friend. I guess different people have different point of view, like what’s the most important thing to their life, also, what’s the meaning of their life.

    For Xiangyu, appearly Guts are more important than life or winning. For you, being successful and be able to laugh towards the end is the key.

    Although we can’t push everyone to be an entrepreneur. In terms of winning or losing, I do agree that persistent IS the key. Maybe I am born to be an entrepreneur too…

  12. Great article, and I completely agree, but there is one thing about all this great advice which is beginning to scare me. When you write about this and when other entrepreneurs use the internet to spread their recipe for success to this worldwide audience of people, it seems that a new plateau will be reached.
    The number of people who are actively learning the correct mindset to succeed in life is huge, and if so many do it, you would have to be better than them to increase your likelihood of success.
    It looks like after a while each person is going to be stuck in a race from day one to learn more and quicker than everyone else.

    Sorry about going a bit off topic.

    1. Hello Ruviljeon,

      Great insight. It is the same concept as saying if one person stands up in stadium, he could see the game. However, if everyone stands up, they all can’t see again.

      However, you do not have to truly worry. Knowledge is everywhere on the internet, but motivation comes within. I can tell people to become motivated 100 times, and they will not do anything, even after agreeing with me. That’s why if you are truly one of those people who have your hand where your thoughts are (OK, exclude the sexual thoughts), you would be able to have a much stronger edge than others!

      Good luck in life, and feel free to contact me for ANYTHING! (Besides pouring that second cup of coffee for you 🙂 )

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