On Perseverence, in Plain Sight

It seemed like a treadmill I couldn't get off of or control. The harder I ran the faster the treadmill went.


We had lost a couple of key accounts at work. The economy was in meltdown mode, and so were the revenue numbers my team was delivering.

I was staggering, trying to forge a new direction, trying to get a foothold that would get our numbers growing again.

And then, every month, the management meetings. Verbal eviscerations in front my peers for another number missed. The conference room was circular, like a Roman arena, and every month it seemed like all gathered round to watch the lions turn me inside out again.

It was humiliating. I was scared. Scared I was going to be tossed out, another piece of flotsam washed out with the economic tide, no ship in sight to throw me a line.

But, my team kept going. We added new accounts and new marketing tactics. We entered more industries. We got better at forging deeper, more meaningful relationships with our partners. We reduced our risk by diversifying, and eventually we grew.

And we grew and grew and grew.

That's hardly an heroic tale of perseverance. People push through far more every single day with much more at stake. Illness. Family issues. Financial struggles. As I heard recently in some song: "Everybody's going through something."

And it's true. We are all going through something, even a small something, all the time.

Visibility makes perseverance harder

In Fortune magazine, Adam Lashinsky wrote an excellent profile on Apple CEO Tim Cook. But the article is really a profile on perseverance.

As Apple founder Steve Jobs prepared for his death, he was determined to avoid the mistakes made by Walt Disney. Disney left the company without a contingency plan, forcing it stumble in the dark for years after his death.

Jobs developed classes and mechanisms to give permanence to Apple's critical cultural touchpoints long after he was gone. He groomed a successor in Tim Cook.

Still, all the preparation in the world couldn't smooth the inevitable turbulence that follows the loss of a legend, even when a company rests on a foundation of almost unfathomable success and cultural significance.

Apple stumbled a bit after Jobs died. Cook stumbled a bit in his new role. Issues piled up. The buggy Apple Maps app put drivers on the road to nowhere. Cook's first executive hire flamed out quickly. Siri was an airhead.

The media got noisy.

Still, Cook pushed forward, leading the only way he knew how -- by being himself.

Shareholders, the media, and hopeful competitors all declared doom. So many looked to make a buck off Cook's struggles, whether by shorting Apple stock, by writing click-bait headlines, or by introducing "better" copycat products into the marketplace.

As if this noise wasn't enough, Cook bravely shared that he is gay, and he continues to take a strong position on equality regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. He used (and still uses) his position to create a better world, unafraid of the added heat his advocacy brings.

Cook believed in Apple and who he was as a leader. He didn't let the noise slow him down or alter his path.

Now, Apple has the media buzzing again for the right reasons. Promising new products and services are emerging. A new watch, a TV service, a new way to pay for things at retail stores. It remains to be seen if all will be smash hits, but Apple is innovating. It is moving forward.

What to remember about ourselves and others

Persevering is hard enough. But when we know the world is watching and wondering -- whatever the scale and definition of "the world" might be -- it makes the journey that much harder.

"Everybody is going through something."

It's true.

We need to remember that when we are on stage, trying to push forward, we're not alone in our struggles.

And we need to remember that others are trying to persevere as well. Just a little more kindness might make all the difference to them.