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.

9 comments on “Two Quick Stories About Persistence
  • Just wanted to say thanks for sharing these stories. I am having one of those days where I feel a little like kicking the wall instead of pushing through it – and this was a very encouraging reminder. Thanks!

  • A buddy of mine got into my alma mater Yale by writing and impassioned letter after being rejected. They called him up and said they’d reconsidered and asked if he still wanted to go. Obviously, he did.

  • If there is one quality that I believe separates those who achieve from those who don’t – it’s persistance.

    Not intelligence.
    Not talent.
    Not even financial know-how.

    It certainly works this way in the book world. Every author who makes it through the arduous process of publishing a book through New York has the same story of multiple rejections. Maybe the critics love them now, but once everyone who was given the chance picked apart their work and then discarded it.

    But as you say, all it takes is one “yes,” and published authors are the ones who simply kept going until they got that “yes.” I have been on this road with my fiction writing for more than six years now, and your post has inspired me to keep at it. Thanks!

    And…great catching up the other day, by the way!


    Alexandra Levit
    Author, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College
    Blogger, Water Cooler Wisdom

  • The persistence school of thought is indeed worth its while, so long as you have the energy and resources to keep at it. While in the trenches, we might as well land alternative destinations that could be a low hanging fruit and if we are lucky, might suit us much better than the originally intended one.

  • I have to agree with Cal (knowing where to persist, and where not to) and Krishna. Persistence is good if you have the ability to judge when to persist and when not to.

    Sometimes pursuit of something to the exclusion of all else can blind you to possibilities. The best things are serendipitous.

    I think the views of Seth Godin (did he not write When To Quit or some such book recently?) and Gigerenzer (Gut Feelings) should be interesting to hear on this issue.

  • This was inspiring. Another example that effort is much more powerful than anything else.

    And I hope you tried the guacamole.

  • Thanks, Ben, I really needed this post. Been having one of those self doubt-filled weeks.

    But no more. You just emboldened me to make a contact that I otherwise wouldn’t have made.

    And there’s still an hour left in today’s workday. So, I think I shall go boldly forth and make some more contacts.

    Thanks again!

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