Perseverance is important

October 4, 2013 

I wanted to be scared again... I wanted to feel unsure again. That's the only way I learn, the only way I feel challenged. -- Connie Chung

I was recently at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia, which is where they filmed the majority of the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing." I was there doing some day hikes -- I really do not like sleeping on the hard ground -- on the Appalachian Trail through a program called Road Scholar.

These five days were amazing both because of the incredible views we got to see from the outlooks and the challenging nature of the hikes. With each day's hike, it seemed to get harder and harder as we built up to the 10-mile hike on the last day.

The saying "mountains can be surmounted only by winding paths" never seemed truer to me until this last day of hiking. It was not so much the distance that was the problem, just the steepness and duration of the climb as well as the roughness of the terrain.

In our group of about 16 folks, there was a very special lady named Lillie. She was probably 75 years old, a tad overweight -- by almost 30 pounds -- had a very weak knee, on which she wore a brace, and her feet hurt badly after each climb.

Since she had struggled on all the previous climbs, the guides and I tried to discourage her from making this last climb. We all

knew how hard it would be on her, but come the morning of the final hike, there she was on the van that drove us to the trailhead.

I was a bit concerned for her, but Lillie made the climb to the top of McAfee Knob. She took a long time to get there and a long time to get back down, but she made it, nonetheless. One of the guides, Bev, stayed with her the whole way to ensure her safety.

I was so impressed with Lillie's perseverance. There were two other folks in our group who had chosen not to make that final climb, and she could have bailed too with no shame at all. But she was determined to finish.

It was so tough for her - you could see the strain on her face and body at the end of the climb - but Lillie was not going to quit, no matter what. Sure, it was painful for her, but giving up is not in her, so she pushed through.

On the van on the way back to the lodge, she was tired, but you could see the glow of accomplishment in her eyes. She is now planning her next climb.

What I took away from watching Lillie fight for this goal is that perseverance is one of those attributes each of us needs to continually practice. In business and management, we are always facing challenges. We can either dodge these challenges or face them head on the way Lillie did. When we face challenges and succeed, we are stronger and more ready to face the next challenge.

Now go out and make sure that you are continually testing your ability to persevere in the face of all kinds of challenges. The more confident you become in your ability to weather these obstacles, the better leader you will be.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. He can be reached by email at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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