Persistence and Patience
by Steven M. Ledbetter
4 minute read
courtesy of the New York TimesThis week, the world lost 22 amazing men in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. I didn’t know anyone on that helicopter, but I know people who knew too many. This article is dedicated to the memory of what those men accomplished and how you can apply it to accomplishing what you want to in your life.
There are 2,278,616 people in the United States Armed Forces. There are 13,000 special operators. So we are looking at the top 6/10 of 1% of an above average group of awesome men and women. They live their jobs, have been in the military an average of 10 years, and accumulated tens of thousands of hours in training and combat. These are the pros, people. But they are just people. They are not superhuman. If you select for the top 0.6% in any profession and give them 100,000 hours of practice, the results are going to be pretty freaking amazing. But as Anthony Robbins says, “success leaves clues.” Here are the clues I picked up on from two separate conversations about those elite men.
I have a friend who works with what some pretty badass dudes. One day over lunch, he was giving advice to a young man hoping to join those ranks. This man was in better shape than you or me, had a little bit of military experience, and had come to lunch in order to learn as much as he could about the physical demands of being a badass dude who kills terrorists for a living. But my friend gave him some pretty weird advice.
“What’s the hardest book you’ve ever read?” he asked. “Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper,” replied the young man. “Go get The Pathfinder today. And it has to be today. Get The Pathfinder and start reading it as soon as you get to your hotel room. Do not put the book down until you finish reading it. Every time you want to stop reading it; don’t. Every time your mind wanders; don’t let it. Every time you start to doze off; wake up and keep reading. Every time you feel the overwhelming desire to just do anything else but read that book; keep reading with 100% of your concentration and do not stop until you finish it. If you can do that, you will make it through BUD/S.”
Persistence is just doing stuff that needs to get done until it’s finished. With rare exception, we all know what to do to reach our goals. You know you need to move more, lift heavy things, eat better food (and less of it), and sit up straight. So just keep doing it. To quote Calvin Coolidge, “nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” Keep your eyes fixed on the goal and see this thing through.
I have another friend who was a badass dude as well. Three years ago, when I told him I wanted to be a Marine officer, he told me a little about his experience as both an enlisted sniper and an eventual officer in a pretty badass sub-section of the Rangers. He told me a bunch of stories that had a familiar pattern to them. I will recount that pattern below, redacted because the actual facts don’t matter. (I’ll leave one number in though, because it blew my mind).
“We were in X doing a thing. They dropped us in X and we had to crawl X miles through X to make to X by X. But they missed X by X miles so it ended up needing to go X miles to get to X before X wasn’t there anymore. So we did. When we got to X we set up and watched X for the next X days. We couldn’t move because we were 700ft from X and people would see us. So we waited X days for the order to shoot X, but they decided not to shoot X. So X days later we crawled X miles to the border with X and got a ride out. But it was OK. War is a lot more about who you don’t shoot than who you shoot.”
Patience is not doing stuff you don’t need to do because doing so will mess up getting the stuff done that matters. If you are doing everything that needs to be done to reach your goal, then by definition there is nothing left for you to do. When my clients start losing fat or getting stronger, the first thing they start looking for ways to mess it up. They all want to diet harder, lift more, and start doing two-a-days. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You’re doing everything right and as Edmund Burke says, “our patience will achieve more than our force.” Stay the course. You’ll get there.