Why Persistence is Key to Success

I learned a lot about persistence as an athlete. While playing football at John Marshall High School, The University of Minnesota and the Green Bay Packers, I noticed a couple of things. It wasn’t the athlete who ran the fastest, threw the farthest, or hit the hardest who were my competitors at the elite level. Rather, it was the guy who kept showing up day after day after day to hone his skills, get stronger and mentally learn the game. Those are the people that thrived, enjoyed success, and reached their goals.

Oddly enough, pro football and youth development are not a whole lot different.

As part of my role as president of Bolder Options, an innovative activity-based youth mentoring program, I go out into the community to speak to young people who need inspiration and encouragement to get on the right track. As I was preparing to talk to young offenders who were in the Ramsey County Juvenile Corrections facility a few weeks ago, I came across one of my favorite quotes by Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

It would be easy for these young men to get stuck in a negative cycle. They could throw in the towel and let life happen to them. But my calling in life and the mission of our organization is to this prevent downward spiral and help youth realize their potential. We teach kids to set goals so they can make measurable progress toward healthy lifestyles.

A unique part of Bolder Options is when we pair mentors and mentees together they spend a full year preparing to run multiple 5K races together. Some of the kids we serve are natural athletes and can run three miles without much training. The kids that make us feel like what we’re doing matters are the ones who take an hour to cross the finish line. They struggle. They walk. They stop. They say they can’t. All along the way their mentors are saying “You can do it!” or “Let’s just run to the light pole and then we’ll take a break.” These kids are learning a valuable lesson in persistence.

Everybody has something that does not come easy to them. I spent the last twenty-one years transitioning from being a professional athlete to the President of a growing nonprofit. There are funding challenges, growing pains and moments of extreme frustration.  At times it feels like it would be easier to quit. However, in leadership quitting is not an option; you must press on. I think of those kids struggling and our organizational goals and the choice is clear.

So, for all of you who have the goal of making a difference in the community, I say Press on. You cannot look to someone else for the answer.  You have to do it!