“Do you read many biographies?” I asked. “No, but I’d like to,” she replied. “Perfect. Because I have a bunch to recommend.” I love biographies and other stories of real-life individuals. Over the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly fond of them. Not because I care who their grandparents were. Rather, I find value in the struggles. In watching the subject overcome and succeed in their chosen pursuit.
I am comforted by their resilience. In knowing if they can overcome that, I can surely overcome this. Whatever this may be. From the stories I’ve consumed1, four commonalities are apparent. Four lessons in resilience you can lean on at your next crossroads.
A jog through the city
Robert Moses2 worked long hours. He didn’t have to though. Robert Moses, the individual behind many, many of New York City’s parks, bridges, and roadways, sat at the top of the pyramid. Over his tenure, he wrangled together power at a scope thought previously impossible. He had his own police force, budget, and laws. He even collected taxes in the form of bridge tolls. It was within his authority to take it easy. Yet he never did. Working from morning well into the night, his wife would often need to be called to bring him home.
Upon her arrival, she wouldn’t find him asleep on the couch. No, no. He’d be at his desk, still working. Yanking his ear, she’d drag him out of the office to the relief of his exhausted staff. Robert Moses did the work because he loved it. He was fulfilled by it. That didn’t always mean he was happy. Rather, it meant that through those ups and downs, he found meaning in what he did.
Phil Knight’s3 biggest regret when looking back on his life is that he can’t go back and do it all again. Not that he would have spent more time with his family or have gone swimming more at the lake. His wish would be to go back to day one and play it once more. Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, was fulfilled by his work. Things rarely went the way he wanted them to – nearly a decade into the business, he struggled to afford attorney fees – but regardless, he too found meaning in what he did.
Resilience is all the easier when you get fulfillment out of what you do.
What’s the deal with Buzz Karenina?
When he published War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy4 had around four kids. When he published Anna Karenina he had around nine. In total, he ended up having 13 kids. Yet somehow through it all, he published two works widely known and renowned throughout the world.
Every day for the last 5,000 days, Mike Winkelmann5 created a new piece of digital art. Online he goes by the name, Beeple, and his works vary. Often they feature the popular character Buzz Lightyear. Beeple started working on his EVERYDAYS collection back in 2007, not missing a day since. After 13 years of consistent effort, he recently sold one of his pieces for approximately 70 million dollars.
Though Jerry Seinfeld6 is best known for his television series, in productivity circles he’s famous for another reason. Seinfeld is said to have followed a don’t break the chain model of consistency. Each day he would write. And each day he would mark it on the calendar as a job complete. He aspired to keep the chain going longer and longer. Each day he would show up and put in the time. When you are consistent, resilience becomes natural. It becomes part of who you are.
Pass through the filter
R. H. Macy7 started a lot of businesses in his day. Many of which were in retail. For one reason or another, they all failed. In turn, he founded and closed six stores. He changed careers and industries several times, struggling to make things work. Time and again he returned to retail though. He eventually went bankrupt. Yet all the while, he continued to learn from his mistakes. When he started Macy’s in New York at the age of 35, things finally clicked.
S. Truett Cathy7 faced many challenges just before starting what would become his chicken empire. He founded a restaurant with his brother. Together they ran it for three years, until the brother, on a private plane with their other brother, perished in a crash. The next year while building a second location for Truett’s now growing restaurant business, it burned down to the ground one evening. A few weeks later, doctors discovered polyps on his colon that needed to be surgically removed. He was required to recover and be away from his business for several months.
After all this, he could have given up… but he didn’t. It was during this time of recovery that he conceived the idea of what became Chick-Fil-A. He pushed forward, used his time of recovery not to wallow but to instead look ahead, and he thrived because of it.
My friend, Jari8, explains how life has a filtering process. That in any pursuit, things arise that filter out those who don’t want it enough. How, being aware of the filter, you can persevere and make it to the next level. Refuse to quit on your aims. When you do, you pass through the filter and become all the more resilient.
Not something to brag about
You wouldn’t likely find Leonardo da Vinci9, Robert Moses, R.H. Macy, or any of the other individuals listed here attending their ten-year reunion. Their list of early boast-worthy achievements was minor if not entirely nil.
Into his thirties, da Vinci often wrote in his notebooks of despair and misery. Of how he had only sold a few works and was generally not well off. Macy too, as you’re already familiar, struggled well into his adulthood. Even Robert Moses, self-imposed dictator of New York City, scrounged from the time he was out of school until his 30th birthday. Though he came from money, though he had a great deal of schooling, it took Moses many years to finally get a foothold.
In fact, during this time he was married and had two young daughters. His family no longer financially supported him to the same degree. And he lived in a small apartment with very little money in the bank, often running up a tab on groceries that they weren’t sure how they would pay back. Resilience becomes all the more manageable when you have macro-patience. When you show up each day knowing everything will work out. Even if it takes longer than expected.
Moving forward with resilience
In challenging moments, I call to mind many of the figures mentioned here. If anything, their stories of turmoil are comforting. Better still though are the lessons that can be applied, the four common things resilient people share. For your reference again, they are:
- Fulfilled by what they do.
- Consistent in their efforts.
- Refuse to quit.
- Play the long game.
At your next moment of doubt, return to the figures of this article. Remind yourself of the power of fulfillment. Recall how consistency leads to grand results over time. Think of those figures who never quit where others surely would have. And finally, consider the need for macro-patience. In believing in yourself and trusting it will work out – even if it takes longer than expected.
- Albeit they are about men of the past. I am actively seeking biographies or stories of amazing women of the past. If you have any good recommendations, please let me know!
- Source: The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
- Source: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
- Source: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Learn more about Beeple and his story, here.
- Check out this article by James Clear for more regarding the Seinfeld Strategy.
- Source: Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell
- See this article for more on Jari’s Filter.
- Source: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson