The Power of Perseverance

November 2, 2008

       Every “Top 10” list I’ve ever read of the essential qualities for success  always includes Perseverance.  Whether the goal you’ve set for yourself is in politics, business, sports, mastering a skill, or getting through tough days in a personal relationship, there is nothing more essential than perseverance and tenacity.  You know what I'm talking about.  That good old “never, ever give up” determination to hang in there and overcome whatever obstacles stand in your way. 

      This has been one of the toughest qualities for me to master.  Not because I'm a quitter or give up easily, but because I'm an Explorer -- one of those people who is always looking for the next challenge.   It has taken me years to learn to distinguish between an obstacle that needs to be overcome and a brick wall. Billie Jean King, one of the greatest athletes of our times and the only woman to have a major sports facility named after her, has just written a new book, Pressure is a Privilege.  Here's what she has to say about handling the obstacles we find ourselves up against.  "To enjoy life and make the best of it, try to recognize when it's time to try a different approach, and when it's time to just walk in a new direction."  

       Here are three examples from my experience of the difference between those two: 
 Sports:  Years ago, when I was hired by CBS-TV in Detroit as one of the first women TV sports broadcasters in the U.S., I knew that one of the obstacles I'd have to overcome would be achieving the same access to sports locker rooms as the male journalists I'd be competing against.  But when Tiger General Manager Jim Campbell told me, "Over my dead body you'll go in our Tiger Clubhouse," I didn't see his attitude as a brick wall.  Why?  Because I knew it was pure gender discrimination and I believed that the courts would eventually find the policy illegal.  And that's exactly what happened. 

       By early 1979, the Detroit Tigers and professional teams across the country were give a choice:  let all journalists -- female as well as male -- into your lockerrooms for interviews, or keep everyone out.  I was privileged to be part of pushing past that obstacle, not only for myself but for little girls who dreamt of future careers as sports broadcasters.  But the day also came when I realized I was pounding my head against a cultural brick wall that stood between me and my next career step:  covering sports for one of the national networks.  In the mid 1980's, the networks were still years away from "being ready" to hire women to cover sports.  When you run into a brick wall that tough, unless you are willing to keep pounding your head against it for years, it's time, as Billie Jean says, "to walk in a new direction."   

Corporate Business:   When I joined Ford Motor Company in 1987, it was one of the largest and most successful corporations in the world.  The 1990's was a golden decade for women in the auto industry.   Engineers, designers, lawyers, plant managers and even a few senior executives pushed up against the "steel ceiling" in huge numbers, overcoming obstacles that had blocked opportunities for women for decades.  My favorite story is one told by my friend, Kathleen Ligocki, who is now CEO of GS Motors, the automobile division of Grupo Salinas in Mexico.  When she was hired as the first woman manager at a manufacturing facility, the plant manger told her, "If you're going to be part of my management team, then you're going to have to wear a tie, just like the guys."  Ligocki's response?  "I'll start wearing a tie when the men wear a bra!" Another obstacle overcome.  The time came, however, when opportunities for women to continue to progress in the auto industry slowed to a trickle.  Automotive News reported in 2006, "Female Execs Bail Out of Detroit 3."  I was one of dozens who decided we had finally run up against an industry brick wall not worth pounding against. 

 Writing a Book:  Today, I'm writing my first book.  It may be the hardest thing I've ever done.  For nearly two years, I have been researching, interviewing, thinking and writing.   At times I've felt as if the mountain I decided to climb was just too tough.  Other times, I felt the exhiliration of learning from the nearly 100 fascinating women of all ages, professions and cultures who have taken time to do interviews and share their wisdom with me.  Writing a book is lonely work.  The rewards await far in the distance.  On those days that I get discouraged, I remind myself that my obstacles are self-created.  This is not the time to seek my next career opportunity.  This is the time to test my own tenacity -- to see how well I can practice what I preach. 

Next time you find yourself facing an obstacle that feels like a crossroads, before you make your move, ask yourself the question one of the great leaders of our time asks, "Is this time to try a different approach?  Or, is it time to walk in a new direction?"    


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