“We are not born with abilities. This comes from practice, persistence and perseverance.”
– Debasish Mridha, American physician and author
Walking Into a Minefield
The first time I heard about Bob Wieland was about 18 years ago. His story is remarkable and inspiring, which is why I’ve used some of his videos as training resources ever since.
Bob was a great baseball player. But, while he was negotiating a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, he decided to join the U.S. Army as a combat medic.
Alive on Arrival
In 1969, during the war in Vietnam, Bob’s squad walked into a minefield. One of the soldiers stepped on a booby-trapped mortar that set off an explosion. Bob, who was 23 years old, rushed in to provide First Aid, and to try to save one of his buddies.
Unfortunately, Bob then also stepped on a buried 82mm mortar, designed to destroy tanks. It set off a massive explosion. Floating in and out of consciousness, Bob was aware that he was severely wounded. But he was determined not to arrive back in the States DOA (dead on arrival). He wanted to return home, as he called it, AOA (alive on arrival)!
“I Think I Lost My Legs”
While in hospital, Bob, under the influence of massive doses of pain medication and other sedatives, wrote a letter to his parents. It read:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m in the hospital. Everything is going to be OK. The people here are taking good care of me.
P.S. I think I lost my legs.
This letter was a clue to what would come next. Later, when Bob became an inspirational speaker, he liked to say that his legs went in one direction and his life another.
When he had recovered from his injuries, he enrolled at university and majored in education. He became a strength coach for an American football team, but he wasn’t satisfied with living an ordinary life.
1986 NYC Marathon
In 1986, Bob decided to participate in the New York Marathon – without legs and without a wheelchair. He propelled his body forward on his hands, wearing special padded gloves. It took him four days to reach the end of the 26-mile (42-kilometer) route.
He went on to participate in many other marathons, and in the gruelling Ironman race in Kona, Hawaii – all without a wheelchair. Bob also “ran” across America on his hands to raise money for Vietnam War veterans. It took him three years, eight months and six days from coast to coast.
Perseverance and Persistence
To do what Bob did obviously required extreme perseverance. I’m not sure that everybody around him was always enthusiastic about his plans, but in the end, his persistence paid off. Bob went on to become a celebrated international motivational speaker and success coach.
During last Friday’s #MTtalk Twitter chat we talked about perseverance and persistence. Here are the questions we asked, and some of the responses:
Q1. How do you differentiate between perseverance and persistence?
@SayItForwardNow I think of “perseverance” as an attitude and “persistence” as a series of actions to achieve a goal.
@goiuby Perseverance is continuing forward despite a hardship. Persistence is continuing forward despite an annoyance. Depending on the situation these two words can very easily be confused, and even intermingled.
Q2. Think of a time when you found it extremely difficult to persevere. What made it so difficult?
@PearlMorbs Mental or emotional exhaustion has been the biggest blocker that I’ve encountered. It sneaks up on you, too; physically you may be ready to push forward, but discover later that mentally you are not.
@Mphete_Kwetli What makes it so difficult to persevere is the lack of options and choices in the situation.
Q3. Why was it important to you to persevere?
A common theme that emerged was that people wanted to prove to themselves that they were able to persevere and reach their goals. Other reasons included:
@NWarind To be a living role model for my kids.
@DrRossEspinoza For me, it has been a way to be honest with myself on what matters and demonstrate to myself I’m worthy.
Q4. In times when you felt like giving up, what helped you to persevere?
Common themes here were having goals, knowing your “why,” and the importance of support from other people. Other interesting reasons were:
@yehiadief Experience from an earlier time would make me wait, and try and try and keep on going.
@Jikster2009 Talking about it to friends/colleagues/partner to help see the wood from the trees and for a bit of grounding. Trying to remain focused on what’s important. Sleep also helps.
(Thanks for the reminder about needing to sleep, James! It’s something that we easily and often neglect.)
Q5. What events have shaped your ability to persevere?
Sometimes during a chat, you realize that what you’ve been through is small, compared to what others have endured.
@MicheleDD_MT Being bullied at work, surviving multiple restructures and layoffs, managing through a debilitating illness… all of these events have strengthened my resolve to persevere. Teaches you to be resourceful and find solutions.
@JusChas My childhood. I am the kid of a functioning alcoholic. I needed to become an adult at age 10, and was surrounded by much pain and struggle. It was those situations that made me want more. Plus watching television shows where kids always grew up and went to college.
Q6. What does it feel like – physically, emotionally, and mentally – to be persistent?
While being persistent energizes some of us, others find it draining.
@BernieMixon Fatigue, mental and physical, leads to sleepless nights. Lack of sleep can lead to a lack of perspective, which leads to poor decision-making.
@Midgie_MT Persistence feels, to me, like swimming upstream against the current. My head driving me forward when my body has its brakes on.
Q7. Is there a time, an occasion, when it is wise not to persist?
@JKatzaman If you know you’re wrong but persist because you won’t admit it, you give yourself and others a bad day.
@sejal_dattani A good example would be a relationship you’ve been in (or are in) that hasn’t gotten better over time. You know the person is not the right one, you have your daily arguments and disagree.
Q8. How has persistence paid off for you?
Terry summarized in one sentence how many of us feel:
@BrainBlenderTec It has made me who I am, and that leads to quiet moments of gratitude.
Q9. How can you help someone else to become more persistent?
@BRAVOMedia1 Give encouragement, kindness, gratitude, and forgiveness. There is nobility in compassion, beauty in empathy, and grace in forgiveness.
@goiuby Mentorship, coaching, friendship, leadership, there are so many “-ships” that can come into play here! Ultimately, be there for them when they need you.
Q10. Based on what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self about perseverance and persistence?
@Yolande_MT Don’t give up because it’s difficult. It’s even more difficult to have to repeat the process. Learn from Nike: just do it.
@MicheleDD_MT Determine your “why.” Being clear on your purpose creates a strong motivational force that will sustain your drive and energy to reach your goal.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Although perseverance is a great characteristic, you can become exhausted if you don’t know how to balance your life and when to say “enough is enough.” Next time on #MTtalk, we’re going to talk about managing exhausted team members. In our Twitter poll this week, we’d like to know what you think is the most likely cause of constant exhaustion. Please vote in our Twitter poll, here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to perseverance and persistence. (Please note, some of the resources listed below are only available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club.)