The power of persistence is key to success

Columnist Harvey Mackay says don't let the down times get you down; keep striving, and you're more likely to see positive results.

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When Paulo Coelho's novel "The Alchemist" was first published in 1988, it went unnoticed. It sold only one copy the first week. Unperturbed, Coelho confidently waited for more sales to come in, but he waited a long time. Six months later a second copy was sold -- to the same person who purchased the first copy. By the end of that first year, Coelho's publisher decided to cancel his contract.

Coelho didn't let rejection paralyze him. He looked for another publisher. He looked and looked, until he finally found his second chance. Once his book was published again, word of mouth began to grow. His persistence paid off and he eventually sold 3,000 books, then 6,000.

Today "The Alchemist" has sold more than 150 million copies around the world.

The longer you stay committed to a task or goal, the more likely something good will happen. Persistence is clearly one of the key attributes of successful people.

History is full of stories of people who wouldn't give up on their goals — Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Lucille Ball, Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling. Even Albert Einstein was doubted before changing the face of modern physics and winning the Nobel Prize.


Kathryn Stockett, the author of "The Help," was turned down by 60 literary agents. She persisted, and eventually her book sold more than 10 million copies and was made into a blockbuster movie of the same title.

Bethany Hamilton was a young surfer from Hawaii who lost her left arm when attacked by a shark at age 13. But she didn't let that dash her surfing dream. Two years later, she went on to win the Women's Division National Scholastic Surfing Association Championship. Her story of persistence inspired the movie "Soul Surfer."

Soichiro Honda is a classic example of persistence. He invented a new type of piston to improve a car's performance and pitched his design to Toyota. Engineers rejected his offer without even meeting with him, but he didn't lose heart. After repeated attempts, he finally was given an order to supply his pistons to Toyota, but an earthquake destroyed his factory. He started anew, but when he was finally ready to start production, World War II broke out and his factory was destroyed again. Honda lost everything but his persistence, and he built his factory a third time. Today, the Honda Motor Company is one of the most successful in the world.

It's relatively easy to be persistent when things are going well, but highly successful people like Honda persist despite major setbacks.

Persistent people often demonstrate many similar habits. First, they have a singular focus on a goal or vision that drives them. I learned long ago that projecting oneself into a successful situation is a powerful means of attaining personal goals. Vision doesn't do the planning, and it doesn't anticipate the obstacles. It gives a real idea of what is possible.

Persistent people have a burning desire. I believe you can accomplish almost anything if you put your mind to it. If you believe you can do something, you have a chance. The will is as important as the skill.

There is no substitute for hard work. If reaching your goals and being successful were easy, everyone would do it. It takes ambition, hard work and dedication. There are many formulas for success, but none of them work unless you do.

This brings us to resilience, because nearly all the successful people I know have dealt with defeat, slumps, failures, change and adversities of every nature. The reason they are successful despite all that is they had the confidence and courage to face those setbacks and find a way to overcome them.


Continuous learning and constantly improving is a must. You don't go to school once for a lifetime; you are in school all your life. Life is like riding a bicycle; you don't fall off unless you stop pedaling.

Above all, persistent people stay committed to the course. They understand that it's a marathon — and keep going until they see the finish line.

Mackay's Moral: Be like a postage stamp and stick to your vision.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at , by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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