“I think I can, I think can,” is what the Little Engine that Could recited as he pushed forward toward the seemingly impossible task of taking the full load up steep mountain before him. I still remember my 1st grade class at Brandon Elementary School doing a live reenactment of this popular children’s story. The little blue engine wasn’t the likely candidate for the job. He didn’t appear to have the muscle or the size compared to the other engines, but he had the desire and perseverance to do the job.
Similar to the Little Engine that Could, I too believe that I’m was an unlikely candidate as an entrepreneur. After over 15 years in industry, I had become complacent. The day I ‘woke up’ I realized that I had allowed mediocrity to creep into my life and set up camp, figuratively speaking. I suddenly found myself pulling an enormous load – my dream – into reality. My journey is filled with many lessons, none as powerful as how to persevere through what looks like failure. Notice I said, “looks like failure.” Here’s what I learned.
Lesson 1. Things are not always as they appear. When faced with life’s tough challenges, it is easy to feel like there is no way out. When I first ventured out as an entrepreneur I had a vision for the first 6, 9, and 12 months. When that first vision didn’t come to fruition, I remained hopeful and focused on moving forward. However, when the 12-month mark hit and I wasn’t even close to where I thought I would be it appeared as if I had failed. As I contemplated quitting, I was reminded that, “Things are not always what they seem. The first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden…” as said by Plato.
What looked to be failure was a mirage. Somewhere underneath what I could see with my eyes was success. I had to change my perspective. I started looking toward the intangible metrics, such as transformation in the people and organizations I served. Although those outcomes didn’t always hit my bottom line, it enabled me to see pass what looked to be failure. Catching a glimpse of success was like the blue engine’s rhythmic chant of “I think I can, I think I can.”
Lesson 2. Manage the negative self-talk. Imagine where that little blue engine would have ended up if he said, “I don’t think I can make it. There’s no way I can do that.” He probably would have never reached the top of the mountain. Neither will you if your thoughts are filled with what you can’t accomplish. If you believe you can’t, then you probably won’t. The mind is powerful, so rather than flooding it with thoughts of defeat fill it with thoughts of victory. I ask myself, “What has to be true?” This forces my mind to think of possibilities in accomplishing my goal rather than all the things that will likely go wrong.
Lesson 3. Stay focused on the next step not the entire journey. It can be discouraging if you look too far down the path. You can suddenly find yourself distracted and off task focused on all the uncertainty. When I keep my focus on the next step, the journey doesn’t seem as daunting. I’m a big proponent of having a plan or map for success; however, if you focus more on the journey than the task in front of you it’s not helpful. I had a huge first year, but I couldn’t see it. My focus was on the entire journey and not the task in front of me, which was establishing myself as a consultant, coach, and trainer in the community. I think that is what the little engine was doing with each of his chants – focusing on moving just a little bit further. That mindset kept him motivated to accomplish the task, and it will do the same for you.
Perseverance is defined as the steadfastness in doing something regardless of the difficulty or delay in achieving success. It is the “stuff” of which champions are made. If achieving success is your desire, then make learning how to persevere despite the appearance of failure your priority.