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Some time ago I bought a book called Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings and one of the stories there (“The Tunnel”) best illustrates the success lesson we’re about to learn here:
Once upon a time, a samurai’s son named Zenkai became the retainer of an official. Unfortunately, he fell in love with that official’s wife and, when he was discovered, Zenkai killed the official in self-defence. He then ran away with the woman and they both became thieves to survive. After a while, however, Zenkai grew disgusted by the woman’s greed and so he left her and he became a beggar at Buzen province.
To atone for his past misdeeds, he wanted to do something good before he died. When he found out about a dangerous road in a valley where many travelers died, he decided to carve a tunnel through the stone mountain. Begging for food during the day, he did his work every night.
30 YEARS of non-stop digging later, he finally succeeded. The tunnel was at least 2,280 feet long, 20 feet high, and 30 feet wide and is still in use today.
(The tunnel is called “Ao no Domon” by the way, and it’s in Japan’s Oita prefecture. There’s more to the story, but that illustrates the lesson that we need to learn here.)
Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel.
— Napoleon Hill
The Steel Quality of Success: Persistence
There’s a saying, “you can build a mountain by collecting specks of dust.” If you use an axe to chop the side of a large tree a few times a day, then no matter how big that tree is, it will eventually fall. If you strike a rock with a hammer and chip away at it every day, then no matter how big that rock is, it will eventually crack and fall apart. If you keep chiseling away at a mountain, then like Zenkai AND Dashrath Manjhi in Bihar, India, you will eventually cut a path through it.
(You can read Manjhi’s story here: “The Man Who Single-handedly Carved A Road Through a Mountain to Help His Village” It took him about 22 years to complete it).
If you want to succeed, then aside from wisdom and integrity you’ll ALSO need indomitable persistence. Calvin Coolidge said it best:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
There are lots of smart and talented people out there who had lots of potential but never amounted to much. They might have tried to do something amazing once or twice, but gave up or lost interest in it after a while. On the other hand, there are many others who may not have been as smart or as talented who became successful at something anyway simply because they KEPT GOING despite all the problems and setbacks they faced.
Life has several examples of ordinary people who did well simply they kept trying, like Abraham Lincoln’s multiple political failures before becoming president, Robert Peary’s seven failed attempts at reaching the North Pole before succeeding at attempt number eight, and J. K. Rowling’s multiple rejections from agents for her “Harry Potter” book before it was finally published by Bloomsbury to become the international sensation it is today.
A failure is not always a mistake. It may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.
— B. F. Skinner
Success isn’t achieved by chance. It’s earned through consistent effort.
Muscles aren’t gained in just one visit to the gym. They’re earned after weeks or months of proper training.
Million-dollar businesses and investment portfolios aren’t built in a day. They’re earned from years of creative effort and improvement (even cash gifts and inheritances need to have been EARNED first by the giver).
Promotions and career advancements aren’t achieved in a week. They’re earned after months and years of great work (promotions can be obtained by nepotism and corruption, but a job title can never replace true leadership and wisdom).
I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult. I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking.
— Og Mandino
Hard Work Alone is NOT the Way
You have to avoid thinking that hard work alone is enough. There are too many people out there working hard at the wrong things. You must persist in a GOAL and NOT a METHOD. If what you’re doing isn’t working, then do something else that WILL. If you found something that does move you forward towards your goals, then persist in THAT until you succeed.
For example, if your goal is to become financially successful, you don’t do it by working harder at a dead end job, stealing more wallets, or begging people for more alms. You do it by creating value. Do your job well, run your business well, and manage your investments and your money wisely.
Hard work is not enough. You need to be wise about the work that you do as well. When you figure out what works, keep working at it until you succeed.
So now think back upon your life and the things you want to achieve. What do you want? Set your biggest goals in life, find out what you need to do, and work at it until you finally succeed.
Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure.
— Benjamin Disraeli