by Rod D. Martin
July 29, 2015
Does this seem obvious? Perhaps; but it obviously isn’t. The quality of unceasing determined force-of-nature-like unstopability is not merely rare: it shocks people when they see it.
You don’t have to be a cinematic action hero to reap the benefits of relentless effort. Let’s just take one example: language learning.
If you’re like most Americans, you took two years of some foreign language – probably French or Spanish – in high school. You probably did it again in college. And if you’re like most people, you’re lucky if you can remember “taco,” “burrito” and “baño.”
You probably think you’re bad at learning languages. You probably think some people are gifted at leaning languages, and you’re “just not one of them.” And that may even be true.
But it’s also completely irrelevant.
Learning a language is about relentlessness. Your teachers probably never told you this, but it takes a bit over 600 hours of study to reach fluency in French or Spanish (or some other Romance language). If you’ve never learned a second language before, you won’t start feeling really good about speaking it until somewhere around hour 350 to 400.
The college you attended probably taught you for an hour a day, three days a week. That’s about 50 hours per semester, or 200 after two years. Say you did what we’re all told and spent as much time studying outside the classroom as you spent in it (yeah, right): you’d still only be at about 400 hours, the very beginning of something approaching a working knowledge of the language.
And then you’d end your two years of required language learning, and go take completely unrelated subjects in English with other English speakers, forgetting everything you barely, briefly knew.
If someone had told you that you needed a little over 600 hours, you might have done it. Instead, you gave up. You spend the rest of your life joking about how you can barely read a phrasebook when you take a trip to Paris, and ignoring how much money you (or your parents) wasted on the whole thing. And you’re not alone: only 4% of students achieve any measure of fluency in school.
Pathetic. Normal. And completely curable.
Learning a language isn’t hard. It’s just long. It takes seriousness of purpose and a commitment to get to the end of the journey.
Why is that so hard?
First, because most people embark upon the journey without purpose: they are required to take the classes, they don’t want to take the classes. They’re just marking time…exactly like most people in most jobs.
Second, because they don’t believe success is possible. They start with the presupposition that they are going to fail. And one thing is certain: if you believe you will fail, 99% of the time, you will.
But third, because like anything with a steep learning curve, they have to work for a long time without seeing any obvious payoff. Most people can’t, or at least won’t, do that. So they quit, frequently within sight of the goal.
Columbus spent eight long lonely years pitching various incredulous European potentates on a voyage west. He was eventually funded by a queen who had already rejected him before. Thomas Edison made over 6,000 unsuccessful attempts to create the light bulb. Over 120 publishers rejected Chicken Soup for the Soul before it became an international bestseller, indeed, one of the bestselling book series of all time. Fred Smith is said to have proposed the idea which became FedEx in a college paper: his professor gave him a C because it was “infeasible.”
Henry Ford failed in multiple early ventures, leaving him flat broke five separate times before he launched the Ford Motor Company.
Harrison Ford was even told by movie execs that he “didn’t have what it takes” to be a leading man.
Can you imagine the temptation Chicken Soup authors Canfield and Hansen must have felt to give up and quit? Can you imagine their poor wives, somewhere around rejection number 17, or maybe 39, gently suggesting that maybe they should do something else with their lives?
What if they had stopped? What if they had stopped at rejection number 119?
No, none of these men stopped. They couldn’t be stopped. Not by rejection, not by poverty, not by failure, not by anything.
They were relentless. They learned from failure, were undaunted by rejection, were unwavering in their belief, and acted accordingly.
There are many keys to success. But the biggest secret of success, by a thousand miles at least, is relentlessness. You must, in Winston Churchill’s words, “never, never, never quit.”
Manage that, and you are well on your way.