Regulars and Shorts

What Do You Want to Do?

By Alice Toler

The key to succeeding at persistence.
by Alice Toler

Nothing in this 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.
—Calvin Coolidge

I’ve overcome many seemingly insurmountable obstacles in my life by being persistent. There’s a point of judgment where you spill over into “fool’s errand” territory, but that’s a lot farther along than you’d think. Mostly I just keep coming back to whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish, and trying different angles, and then when I get tired of it, I go do something else for a bit.

This trying of different angles, and the self-permission to go take a break—those are key. I won’t get anything useful done if I exhaust myself all the time. Sometimes I think I’m getting a “no” from the cosmos, when it’s really a “not yet” that I’m taking as a “no” because I’m impatient.

Sometimes I catch myself telling myself that something I think I want is impossible. What’s really going on is that I’m struggling with an internal split. Part of me wants this thing, and another part of me is afraid of it, so it gets filed in the “impossibilities” drawer.

I think it’s more useful to acknowledge the split, and then figure out why I might be afraid of something that I also seem to want. I’m not claiming there’s no such thing as an impossibility—but again, there are fewer of those than you might think.

Once, many years ago during a divorce, I was crying into my white Russian at a floating tiki bar in the Bahamas. A guy sitting next to me listened to my tale of woe for a few minutes and then said to me, “The best advice I can give you, or anyone else, is to figure out what you want to do, and do it. What you actually want to do is not necessarily what you think you want to do. You get all confused by what you’ve done in the past, or what other people want for you, or what you think they want you to want, and it’s so hard to disentangle. But you can do it. So, what is it that you really want to do?”

That’s still some of the best advice I’ve ever heard, and one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. What do you want to do? Go figure it out, and then go do it.

Alice Toler is a staff writer at CATALYST.

This article was originally published on February 28, 2015.