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August 1, 2003

"We are made to persist.  That's how we find out who we are."
-- Tobias Wolff, "In Pharaoh's Army"
Jo (not her real name) could have been a model.  She was beautiful. She was also special.  That beauty was not only skin deep; it went all the way through.  She was engaged to my buddy Jack (also a pseudonym), and with the rest of our group in graduate school, we played together and worked together and put the world right. 

The return flight from their honeymoon was an overnighter, and perhaps that contributed to the single vehicle accident on the  divided highway shortly after they drove away from the airport. Jo received multiple injuries including several fractures.  Because she was not expected to live, the setting of some of the fractures were less than perfect.  But Jo was made of rare metal.  She confounded the experts, she did live.  She was also told that she would never walk again. 

Supported by Jack, who had postponed his degree to work in the same hospital and be close to her, she fought.  They fought, together. You can imagine how tough it was, the grit and determination required, the tears, the little triumphs along the way.  But they did win.  Contrary to all expectations, Jo did walk again.  With calipers, admittedly, but walk she did. 

Shortly after I graduated the first time -- the wrong time! -- I left England to work in Switzerland for three exciting, wonderful years.  Life was stimulating at every level and sports were an important component. Exercising was part of at least five days each week:  skiing, badminton, hiking, swimming and working out with work buddies. 

I loved hiking and one weekend with two friends, tried my hand at mountaineering.  After spending one day hiking from Kandersteg to the alpine meadows, the next morning we rose very early.  There were ice bridges to cross during the ascent and again on the way down before they became unsafe as the temperature rose. 

The mountain top was a miniature Matterhorn, a three-sided, snow-covered, sharp prism with white cornices curling around its edges.  From one of the faces, there was a 200m (6500ft) sheer drop to the valley below.  We climbed upwards kicking steps into the deep snow.  Well before reaching the summit I began to feel weak.  As this sensation grew, I began to stumble, more and more. 

This was height sickness.  Despite my physical fitness, I was not able to adjust quickly to the reduced oxygen.  My legs felt as if I had consumed alcohol in vast quantities.  They were as rubber, scarcely able to support me and then not for long.  That I am writing this today is due to my companions.  We were all tied to the rope, but their ice axes were threaded through loops knotted into it.  Each time I fell, so did they, driving the axes' shafts into the snow and providing safe anchorage to arrest my body as it fell. 

So why do I tell you this?  So often we read only of the need to persist and it is easy to interpret the message as meaning the only way is upward. If that has been your experience, then you have my congratulations and more than a little envy!  What I want to suggest is that the prevailing trend must be upward:  there are sometimes reversals but we don't allow them to permanently deter us. 

The moral of the first story is that there are occasions when we must never, never, never, never, never give up despite our tears of frustration and the discouraging messages from well-meaning people intent upon protecting us from disappointment.  The second story illustrates those situations when on pain of death we must learn to turn around, retrace our steps, learn from our experience, prepare ourselves better and resume the ascent another day.  It is in life's reversals that our raw metal is transformed into fine steel. 

Distinguishing successfully between such situations may mean life or death.  My challenge to you today, of course, is how YOU tell the difference?
(c) Martin H. Sawdon 10th November, 2002
This week look at where you are persisting.

Take a few minutes to step back from the situation and ask yourself:

1.     Is this truly a situation where I must not give up? or 

2.     Is this a situation where I must stop, turn around, and
        retrace my steps?

3.     In either case, what have I learned from the situation?

Find out how you can be more successful in our 45 minute free coaching session.

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