It's unlikely that any of us are as persistent today as we were when we were toddlers learning to walk. We all had to learn to sit, roll over, crawl and stand on our own two feet before we could even consider the notion. Even then, we had to fumble a few hundred times, clinging to the support of cooing adults, until we developed the strength, balance, coordination and confidence to walk on our own two feet.
But in the face of these massive challenges, it never occurred to us to give up, decide that the skill was just not worth the effort and withdraw the commitment. Failure was not an option, even though we had to fail countless times along the way.
One man did not lose all of this ambition, and today he is considered the greatest inventor in history. With over 1,000 patents in his name, Thomas Edison failed more times than anyone on record. Edison experimented and struggled for years to create the incandescent light bulb, during which time he became the laughingstock of scientific journals. After testing several thousand filaments, a young journalist asked him why he went on failing, when everyone knew that there was no future in electric light. Edison replied that, on the contrary, he had succeeded in finding several thousand ways not to make a light bulb. In his words, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
This attitude sets a new context for failure. Every failure that we learn from is inherently a success, or at the very least one step closer to the success we have in mind. In learning to walk, inventing a light bulb and creating a fulfilling college experience, unshakable persistence prevails. The only question that remains is how we can internalize this attitude to achieve the success we desire.
First, shift your thinking from instant gratification to long-term success. When our brains evolved 50,000 years ago, as we were running from predators and hunting our prey through the savanna, the drive toward instant results was a favorable trait. But today, technology has caught up and that programming is outdated. We are wired to seek the secret trick, the tasty cookie or the magic pill, even though they rarely serve us and often hold us back from achievement. Consider the fact that over half of the country's population is overweight, while the diet industry is bigger than it has ever been in history.
Orientation to long-term success requires investing time to do things right, enjoying the spikes and plateaus of the process, and seeing progress on the scale of months and years instead of days and weeks. By expanding the time and effort, you expand the possibilities. Most successful college students are acutely aware of this. The greatest accomplishments you can make in the next four years will take a long-term commitment with barriers thrown at you every step of the way. Developing an influential role on campus, joining a fraternity or sorority, spearheading a research project, running an organization, or building up an impressive cumulative GPA all take time and effort, sprinkled with smaller successes, failures and plateaus.
Once you begin thinking in terms of long-term success, actually achieving it requires a commitment to doing whatever it takes. By believing that every failure is a lesson in disguise, that no external force can hold you back from what you want to do and that eventually you will achieve exactly what you have in mind empowers you to make such a commitment. Where do such profound, unsubstantiated and possibly arrogant beliefs come from? They come from the same part of you that compelled you to walk and Einstein to invent. This small leap of faith is the source of persistence.
Once you get the ball rolling, the momentum will feed itself and you will quickly experience a change in lifestyle. Don't tie your identity to any one success or failure, just as a painter wouldn't tie his or her identity to any one stroke. Stay in the present moment, accepting and enjoying your situation exactly as it is and trusting that you will achieve your endeavors in the future. This habit of persistence will carry you to success in every aspect of freshman year and life.