Perseverance and Your Career
By Pepper de Callier

Over the years I have had the privilege and honor of knowing a number of very successful people in a variety of fields of endeavor from business to the arts and archaeology to sports and politics.  I have also spent many hours counseling people who were less fortunate, at that moment in time, in their careers—those who had not achieved that which was truly fulfilling to them professionally and personally.

I firmly believe that the biggest obstacle to success for the vast majority of people I have known is not lack of talent, vision, education, social standing or a powerful network they can leverage; it’s that they gave up.  They experienced a setback that was difficult to deal with, they uncovered an unexpected obstacle that seemed insurmountable, something happened to cause their belief in themselves to erode.

Sometimes it’s very hard to get out of the bed in the morning when you feel this way.  I even remember years ago when a colleague, whose job involved making many phone calls a day to prospects, told me, “You know, Pepper, some days that phone gets pretty heavy and it’s hard to pick it up and make the next call.”  In the beginning of my career this is what I did—made phone calls, lots of them.  I’ll never forget the words of my first mentor in business, Tony Ziehler, when I’d look like I was going to stop—to give up—making calls.  He’d look at me and say, “Pepper, make one more, just one more call for me, then stop for the night.”  He knew that when I made that next call it would be as if I had stepped through a barrier to get a second wind and then I’d go on.  Tony was right.  At the end of my first year in the insurance business I was honored with an award, “The Rookie of the Year”, which meant I was the top producing  rookie insurance agent in the United States for the Aetna Life and Casualty Insurance Company, one of America’s largest then.

I never forgot Tony’s words of encouragement thirty six years ago, and they are etched in my memory today whenever I feel like throwing in the towel on something that I know I shouldn’t.

As I look back on the successful people I have known (and by successful I mean happy, too), one thing that stands out to me is not their talent or education or their starting point in society, it’s their perseverance to achieve something they believe in.  They believed so strongly in what they did, who they wanted to become personally and professionally, that they wouldn’t give up.  Sometimes it means just taking one more step. 

This is the way I encourage you to look at your career and your life—what you want to do professionally and who you want to be as a person.  It’s normal for us to get discouraged at times.  We all do.  I believe it’s even healthy to get upset at times.  The difference is, and it’s a big difference, after you work through whatever upset you, you move on, you take that one more step that re-establishes forward motion. 

One of this nation’s, and the 20th century’s, greatest political leaders, Vaclav Havel, a man whose name is synonymous with the word perseverance, had this to say in his book Disturbing the Peace, “Sober perseverance is more effective than enthusiastic emotions, which are all too capable of being transferred, with little difficulty, to something different each day.”   

Why am I making such a big deal out of perseverance?  It’s because I’ve seen too many people today who have lost sight of this timeless and invaluable trait.  In the perceived rush of hyper-competitiveness in today’s global economy it seems some of us have not yet learned one of the major lessons of the technology crash—fast and easy does not always equal good. 

The ancient Greek Philosopher, Hesiod, said it so much better in this verse from his epic poem, Works and Days:

“Before the gates of Excellence the high gods have placed sweat
Long is the road thereto and steep and rough at the first.
But when the height is won, then is there ease,
Though grievously hard in the winning.”

In other words, hard work and perseverance are not easy, but they make the attainment of the goal that much sweeter.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes.  It’s from the Ice Hockey legend, Wayne Gretsky,  and it says something that is so true in life as well as hockey, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Think about that the next time you feel like giving up.

Good luck on your way up.

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

*These are reprints from Pepper de Callier‘s newspaper column in Hospodarske noviny.  

Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By

From beginning September 3rd, 2012, you will be able to start your week with an insight, or new perspective that will help you move closer to your goals as a professional and a personally fulfilling life as one of today’s most respected coaches, authors and leadership authorities, Pepper de Callier, shares his thoughts with you in a short inspirational video of two to four minutes every Monday morning on YouTube in a series titled Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By

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