A common success myth is that winners never quit and quitters never win. It is a favorite with athletic coaches. Is there scientific evidence to support it?
In his insightful book Barking Up the Wrong Tree Eric Barker examines the research on this. He starts Chapter 3 with the story of an impoverished Mexican boy who was inspired to persist. He tried multiple times to cross the US border to find work that would pay better in the US. Despite failed attempts and being caught by border patrol and returned to Mexico he finally made it. He could not speak English but he found work and worked 7 days a week 12 hours a day. He lived at first in his car. He also took classes at a community college at night. With good grades he managed to transfer to the University of California at Barkley. Graduating he was accepted at Harvard Medical School. He married and became a US citizen.
Today, Dr. Q, as he is known. Is one of the top brain surgeons in the US. He performs hundreds of surgeries a year at John Hopkins, one of the top hospitals in the country. There is no doubt that Dr. Q is very intelligent. But it took amazing grit and persistence for this poor immigrant boy from Mexico to become one of the most outstanding brain surgeons in the US.
Dr. Q’s story is very inspiring, but does it typify most people’s experience. Barker’s examination of research on this subject revealed that while persistence is certainly an important element of success it is not a guarantee of success. He cites the work of Howard Gardner who found that ambitious people are usually very persistent but they still do not always succeed. The most successful of them learn from their failures and change their approach.
Angela Duckworth made similar findings in her work that led to her book Grit. She found that people who persevere when things get tough do succeed more often. She counts this perseverance as a critical element of grit – the tendency to work very hard and see things through.
It appears that the research tells us what common sense would tell us (as it so often does): that persistence often leads to success but not always. If we persist in doing the wrong thing or in the wrong way we just persist in failing. Persistence is important to success but so is having a realistic view of what will work and being willing to stop now and then, reassess what we are doing and learn from our mistakes.
Learn how you can achieve more and realize your goals in my book, The Success Essentials.Wishing you well,
Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.