This Impactful Idea comes from Ryan Holiday's excellent book, "The Obstacle is the Way".
“He says the best way out is always through. And I agree to that, or in so far As I can see no way out but through.”
— Robert Frost
Holiday starts out his chapter on practicing persistence with an anecdote. He describes how in the summer of 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant faced a big problem. The Confederate Army was clinging stubbornly to its foothold in Vicksburg and hence their stranglehold on the strategically vital Mississippi River. After exhausting every option he could think of, Grant decided on a bold move that ran in direct opposition to nearly all conventional military wisdom. At considerable risk, he ran his boats down the Mississippi, directly under the gun batteries of Vicksburg.
The gamble paid off. Nearly all of the boats made it through unharmed, paving the way for Grant’s famous siege of Vicksburg and the city’s eventual fall to the Union, an event which dramatically altered the course of the civil war. As Holiday states,
“...the message to his men and his enemies was clear: He would never give up. The defenses would eventually crack. Grant was unstoppable. His victory wouldn’t be pretty, but it was inexorable.”
We tend think breakthroughs come from profound and sudden flashes of insight. But in reality, they’re usually the result of a willingness to slog through a litany of ideas and iterations that come up short. The problems we usually face do not stem from a lack of knowledge, skill, or good ideas. Rather, it is usually our quickness to give up that dogs us.
Instead of sticking with it, we get discouraged and get distracted. We forget that “it’s supposed to be hard.” So we wait for an epiphany, or for our schedules to free up, or for someone else to unlock the riddle. We put off working on that blog post. We procrastinate on important projects. We kick the can on a new idea that could transform our business. We stop short, not realizing that success might be right around the next bend. But we’ll only know if we keep pushing.
So the next time you catch yourself praying for inspiration to strike, try instead “settling in for the long haul.” Commit to methodically looking for weak points. Chip away at the problem relentlessly. Remember that “working at it works.” And always remember that in the words of Holiday:
“Genius often really is just persistence in disguise.”