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Persistence, Courage & Success – Learning From John McCain

Where’s the year gone? I can’t believe it’s September already. Tempus Fugit as they say! Sadly, time ran out this week for John McCain. As those of you who have known me for a while will know that I am interested in politics, without having any real affiliation to any particular party. There are people in all parties that I respect.

John McCain - Persistence, Courage & Success

Persistence & determination are omnipotent

One man that I did respect was John McCain, pictured above; even if I didn’t always agree with his political views. As I learned about his story I began to respect him for his courage and persistence.

John McCain persisted through 6 years as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton and, as anyone who is old enough to remember the Vietnam War will tell you, that was a hellhole that many people did not make it out of. In his time as a guest there he suffered frequent torture and beatings.

McCain did and he often claimed that he believed he emerged from his imprisonment a better man, someone with more conviction, courage, and character. He went on to serve as a congressman and senator for a total of 36 years.

You may or may not have agreed with John McCain’s politics, but it was hard to argue with his unflagging commitment to serving his country. In these days of unpleasant politics, I believe that McCain rose above the fray and stood for what he really believed in, with both fierce determination and a wicked sense of humour – until his dying days.

As an example of his humour, have a look at this YouTube video of him sparring with Barack Obama in 2008;

In my job, I have come across many, many quotes over the last 30 years. One of them came to my mind this week as I was thinking about what to write for this week’s tip. For me it sums up the John McCain story; again, whether you agree with his politics or not.


The quote is from former US President Calvin Coolidge, who spoke about persistence in this way:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

This has certainly been my experience of studying and working with many ‘successful’ people over the years. It was the ones who stuck with their vision, especially through tough times (and we all have tough times don’t we?), that emerged with the greatest success. Now, obviously persistence has to be mixed with flexibility and adaptability!

Persistence & Success

With your permission, I would like to talk about persistence, but borrow from a guy called Robert Middleton, who I think captures better than I what persistence really means. He notes:

Persistence really starts with a vision

Not a vision to be successful or to make a lot of money. Those are only the side benefits of a vision. A vision is always about something noble or daring or exciting, something that makes a difference or is unique and special. A vision lifts you up and inspires you to keep on keeping on.

Persistence drives creativity

Without persistence, you give up before you’ve discovered a more innovative, successful path.

Persistence tells you what you’re made of

It’s the easiest thing in the world to quit when the going gets hard. When a plan is not successful, when you don’t get the response you want, when nobody seems to be interested, persistence is what reminds you, “I have real value here to offer. I simply need to find a better way to communicate about it.”

Persistence isn’t big leaps and breakthroughs

Persistence isn’t big leaps and breakthroughs, but small steps that sometimes might seem to be going nowhere. And it’s that willingness to take that next step and the next until, at the end of the day, week, month or year, you know you’ve done your very best. When that happens, results inevitably arrive.

Persistence doesn’t guarantee success

Persistence doesn’t guarantee success in everything you do, as a failure in some pursuits is inevitable. But a persistence attitude says, “I learned something valuable from that failure and I don’t need to do that again. Time to try a different approach.”

Persistence is going years in your career and trying one more thing

Persistence is going five, ten or more years in your career with modest success and then trying one more thing. Some of the most famous people in the world worked a long time before they experienced real success.

persistence is impossible without courage

Finally, persistence is impossible without courage.


One of John McCain’s quotes expresses this best:

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.”


Finally, in an age where discourse is sadly lacking, you might want to look at the video clip, where John McCain speaks about Barack Obama; his political opponent. I believe it sums up really well what it means to disagree with someone without being as disrespectful as some of our political leaders (on both sides of the pond) are being at the moment.

I’m especially grateful to Robert Middleton for his thoughts.

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