Don’t just survive, thrive!
By KAREN NEOH
In the past year we looked at perseverance from several angles – learning from those who have endured hardship, crises and injustices – to those who have set their minds on their personal goals and worked towards them with unwavering fervour.
We also learnt about the parallels between high-performing athletes and “corporate athletes”. We talked to people leading large organisations – many of whom have cited perseverance as a critical component for their own journeys, and also to youth who have decided that if no one is going to make improvements in their communities, they would step up and make a difference themselves.
Is persevering merely “not giving up”? Is it the euphemism for being stubborn and worse, inflexible? The short answer would be “it all depends!” but where is the fun in that?
The more melodious answer lies neatly cocooned in the lyrics of the George Strait song The Road Less Traveled.
The Road Less Traveled
There’s a road a winding road that never ends
Full of curves lessons learned at every bend
Goin’s rough unlike the straight and narrow
It’s for those who go against the grain
Have no fear dare to dream of a change
live to march to the beat of a different drummer
And it all might come together
And it all might unraveled
On the road less traveled
For the road less traveled ain’t for the faint of heart
For those who choose to play it safe and never stray too far
Me I want to live my life and one day leave my mark
And it all might come together
And it all come unraveled
On the road less traveled
I’ve chosen a pathway I may not endure
One thing’s for certain nothing’s for sure
And it all might come together
And it all might come unraveled
On the road less traveled
Turn that frown upside down
I have had my share of disappointments, delusions and deviations. In the interest of sharing some nuggets of wisdom I have gained along the way so that you might take the road less painful, here I bare my soul to you (a smiley smiling wryly at you would be appropriate here – but I doubt it would make the subeditor’s cut!).
1. Describe your own path and be able to connect the dots
I still remember the day we learnt Brownian motion in Physics. Defined as “a random movement of microscopic particles suspended in liquids or gases resulting from the impact of molecules of the surrounding medium” (Merriam Webster), I absolutely loved it!
Seeing the particles bounce around due to unknown forces and then, understanding why that was so!
To a casual observer, a person’s choices in life – places to live, jobs, friends – may seem a little random and directionless. But it should never be the case for the person him- or herself.
We may not always be 110% clear of what our life goals are, or how we are going to get there, but warning bells should ring if we start to stray too far and we should try to once again describe our own path.
With that in place, the energy and ability to seize opportunities and connect the dots to get there even when roadblocks appear, will keep us on track.
A little caveat. Roadblocks and barriers in whatever shape or form, deserve some analysis as they could be a message for changing times and/or things we may just not have considered in the past.
Short of saying that the universe might be speaking to you, I believe being too rigid and doing whatever is necessary to doggedly never stray from one’s path, could be the stuff of horror novels. Or the evening news.
In a way, it truly doesn’t matter if everyone around you cannot differentiate you from a particle in Brownian motion!
However, it does matter that at least a subsection of the people around you can indeed, distinguish your actions and choices from that of random movement.
2. Reading the people around you and being sincere
As much as I try to master the ability to read everyone I meet, I know I don’t always get it right.
From my experience, being sincere and maintaining my own integrity are essential ingredients for staying credible and a worthy partner, client, advocate (regardless of what drives the other person).
Being sincere and consistent in what I am passionate about has worn down even the most vehement detractors.
When placed into a leadership role coveted by others several years ago, and in a newly created function that in itself had its opponents, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the most vocal (disgruntled) colleague eventually became aligned and a great supporter of the efforts.
Perhaps due to the consistency of my message of what needed to be done and how we ultimately had shared goals at the individual and organisational levels, he came round and started advocating the activities himself.
Or perhaps it was my irresistible charm? Just go ahead and laugh out loud – I did!
3. Learn and share
Aside from just wearing people down with charm and wit (I jest!) another way to convince others of your sincerity and commitment to your shared goals, is first, having the willingness to continuously learn and prepare for the tasks at hand, and second, to also share knowledge and information.
Too often, we have seen movies of kung fu masters who hang on to a secret move or stance – and o dear before you know it, the whole kung fu mastery has diluted to nothing. With everybody achieving nothing in the end.
Things change. Our customers, the environment we operate in, our own processes and people. To think that we needn’t change, even if we enjoyed being the best of the best for a period of time – is a little naïve.
Perseverance here doesn’t mean hanging on to the same way we have done things – refusing to give up the prevailing methods.
Quite the contrary, perseverance here requires the ability to anticipate and articulate the changes that are necessary, and as that swooshy shoe asks of us – Just Do It.
Is it time for another song?
4. Making difficult decisions
What if the roadblock just seems insurmountable? What if there is willingness but just not enough time?
What if all stones have been unturned and no solution presents itself?
Cue that heartwarming song, written by Charles Chaplin and sung by many (my favourite version sung by Barbra Streisand), here’s the bit that “hits you in the feels”:
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
So I do smile during the toughest of times (some may say a little maniacally depending on how tough things get,) however I would advocate more than just smiling through it.
If nothing more can be done, there might come a time when we need to make difficult decisions. Are you doing all that is necessary for the greatest good? If that is your stated intention, what must you stop doing in order to persevere?
Thanks to my niece Jasmine, I recently spent a day at Legoland, and watched that lovely animated story of the history of Lego (several times in fact!).
Generation after generation had to make decisions that were difficult – like laying off workers when it became absolutely necessary during the Great Depression, and dropping the original production line of handcrafted wooden toys – each one a tiny piece of art – to the bricks that evolved to what we know today.
They kept going, not only NOT giving up, but evolving both bricks and the company itself – innovating both in production as well as in marketing, eventually rehiring the people they had previously let go, and putting a smile back on everyone’s faces.
Then just growing leaps and bounds to continue serving kids (and their aunts!) worldwide.
5. Know when to walk away
Having done steps one–three and some practice with step four, there may come a time when walking away is the only option to stay true to yourself. This, again, is not giving up – rather it is taking drastic action to persevere on the path we define for ourselves.
Not having the right fit for a job for example, might require you to shift laterally to another position in the organisation.
Not having the right business model to achieve both your social and profit goals in a social enterprise might mean tweaking or even a complete overhaul if necessary.
Definitely one of those things that is easier said than done, but an important option to consider when every step you take starts to take you further away from what you want to achieve. How tempting to insert the lyrics of that famous Police song right here!
I am still learning and making adjustments where necessary. My Pa was a man with perseverance. Caring and providing for his family being his compass, he made decisions which were clear for him, to stay the course.
When we were still quite young, his doctor informed him he had to quit smoking – something he had done since he was quite young (unfortunately!).
Understanding that he could be heading down a path that would prevent him from caring and providing for us, my Pa went ahead and quit smoking cold turkey.
It wasn’t easy and we saw what he went through to do it. But to Pa, it was the thing to do – and boy did he have to keep smiling to get through it all. Thank you Pa.
Finally, I wanted to share another of my favourite songs. Especially during this special time of the year – time with family and visiting friends throughout our beloved country Malaysia, I wish us all a world of harmony, peace and hope.
A few verses of From A Distance sung by Bette Midler:
From a distance the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.
From a distance, there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,
it’s the voice of every man.
From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns,
no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.
From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They’re the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.
From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.
Watch the music video here:
Karen is encouraged by people who not only have the will to persevere but also the courage. Especially when the odds are stacked up against you and defending the honour of your work and what you believe in may come at great personal cost. She wishes everyone will find their purpose in life and strive to remain true to it. For more Consulting Corner articles, click here.
Lay Hsuan was part of the content curation team for Leaderonomics.com, playing the role of a content gatekeeper as well as ensuring the integrity of stories that came in. She was an occasional writer for the team and was previously the caretaker for Leaderonomics social media channels. She is still happiest when you leave comments on the website, or subscribe to Leader’s Digest, or share Leaderonomics content on social media.