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The Power of Persistence: How to Get What You Want

I want to inspire you with a story about Elon Musk’s first date with his first wife, Justine. In an interview with Marie-Claire, Justine said:

"He invited me out for ice cream. I said yes, but then blew him off with a note on my dorm room door. Several hours later, my head bent over my Spanish text in an overheated room in the student center, I heard a polite cough behind me. Elon was smiling awkwardly, two chocolate-chip ice cream cones dripping down his hands. He's not a man who takes no for an answer."

And that, my friends, is how Elon got the girl: through a powerful combination of persistence and knowing what he wanted. Would you have had the guts to show up with the ice cream cones? Or would you have gone home to lick your wounds, trying to convince yourself that she “wasn’t that great, anyways?"

The thing is, life is far more negotiable and malleable than we give it credit for. We often stop short by taking things at face value, at how they currently are, instead of as what they could be.

For example, after college, I thought about joining the Peace Corps. Two mentors told me that it wouldn’t be a good idea because my skills would be obsolete when I got back, and I would be a less appealing job applicant. I took their advice at face value, and didn’t join the Peace Corps, opting instead for a shorter-term project in Thailand.

Looking back, of course I could have made it work. There would have been many ways I could have kept my skills relevant and also leveraged my unique volunteer experience as a way to differentiate myself in the job market. I simply didn’t push beyond that initial “NO” to create what I really wanted.

Where, in your life, have you stopped pursuing what you want after one or two NO's?

Here are three tools to help you stay persistent:

1. Toughen up your ego

One of the reasons you might not have brought those ice cream cones to Justine is that you would have been afraid of what would have happened if she turned you down. You might look like a desperate loser, rejected in the middle of the student center. Yikes!

Here’s the thing: If you have a weak sense of self, then you take events like this as a reflection of your worth. Justine turning you down would mean you were less desirable. And everyone would now know it! So of course you wouldn’t put this issue to the test by showing up when she had stood you up.

If you have a strong sense of self, however, a fear of NO wouldn't stop you from taking the risk. Rejection would not be a reflection on your greatness. It would just mean that you and Justine aren’t a match. That’s all. You are still a great person, and there is an amazing person out there for you. And now you get to enjoy eating two ice cream cones, instead of just one. Bonus.

How do you strengthen your ego? Start by getting deeply in touch with the core of what makes you great. What are your super-hero qualities? I have my clients start by making a list of their top 10 qualities. Each evening, I have them celebrate one or more instances where they exhibited those qualities. It is a simple exercise, but creates a powerful core of self-confidence.

2. Be clear on what you want

Have you ever noticed how, once you really decide you want something 100%, you will go to great lengths to get it? For example, when I first tried meditating 20 years ago, I found it terribly challenging and stopped after a few sits. I had only started because it seemed like something that I should do, not something that I truly wanted to do, and I quickly lost resolve.

5 years later, I began to see how my anxious mind was truly going to drive me crazy if I didn’t do something to calm it. Suddenly, I began to care deeply about meditation, and that gave me the persistence to get through those initial hurdles on the mat.

How do you get clear on what you truly want? Start by making a list of everything that you think you want. Then rearrange it in order from what you want most to what you want least. This part alone helps you examine your priorities. You may not get it right the first time, but it will give you a place to start. Then, make sure that you are going all-out for the top priorities.

3. Enjoy the ride

Let’s face it, life is a bumpy ride. Most of us try to brace ourselves for it and insulate ourselves from it. But that won’t make the bumps go away… it just lessens our ability to experience the ride.

When I was a kid, my uncle took me tubing on his boat: he attached an inflatable tube to the back of his boat, and took me zooming around the lake. The tube bounced up and down like a bucking bronco. I was so afraid of falling off that I braced my legs against the sides of the tube… and ended up rubbing the skin off of them! Not a fun experience. When my uncle saw my knees, he laughed. Didn’t I know that the whole point of the tube ride was to enjoy it bumps and all?

I know the same is true about life. We can celebrate it, risks and all, or we can be afraid of it and brace ourselves. It’s your choice.

Persistently yours,

Photo courtesy of Renate Meijer

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