Two Quick Stories About Persistence

I had dinner last night at Dos Caminos restaurant in New York City. My gracious hosts from Smith Barney told two quick anecdotes over dinner that reminded me about the importance of persistence.

The first is about a man who wanted to start a non-profit to help young people. 20 years ago he wrote a letter to each of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies, explaining his idea and why he wanted their financial support to get started. He followed up diligently, but only one of the CEOs ever responded. 1 out of 500. The foundation-man convinced the CEO to write a big check, and all these years later the CEO remains on the board of directors of what is now an important non-profit. All it takes is one "yes".

The second is about a student who really wanted to go his dream college (Williams). He applied but was rejected. After receiving his rejection letter, he wrote a polite letter back to Williams saying he rejected their rejection. The college called him and asked what he meant. He said, "I reject your rejection. I’m going to your school. I don’t care what it takes. I’ll take a year off. I’ll take classes. I’ll do community service. I’ll meet with anybody. I’m coming to Williams." Sure enough, he went to Williams, and went on to become a notable entrepreneur and author.

Smart or not-so-smart, privileged or from the ghetto, charismatic or dull, male or female, black or white…people who are successful seem to come from all walks of life and have their own mix of natural strengths and inclinations. Persistence, though, seems common to all.

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