Play the Long Game



Most people give up too soon.

In a culture of infinite entertainment options, laughable attention spans and instant gratification, it’s hard to put in the work today that will only bear fruit months (or years) down the road.

To quote Homer Simpson, “Son, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson here is…never try.”

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Here’s why you should suck it up, put in the work, and bet on yourself, even if it takes years.

The first reason – actually, the only reason:

You’ll never reach your potential if you don’t try.

Some examples from my life so far:

1994 – Summer Youth Group Program

I spent the summer of 1994 on something called the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage.

I was one of 26 Quaker youth chosen from throughout Europe and the Americas to spend three weeks traipsing around Ireland and England, where we learned about Quaker history, the political struggles in Northern Ireland, and gave back to the community through various work projects.

The trip changed my life.

I gained some lifelong friends, affirmed my religious beliefs, and learned to juggle. That trip also directly influenced where I went to college, and my first job afterwards.

I’m thankful for all of it.

Here’s the thing, though.

When I applied for that summer program, I didn’t make the cut.

I was the second alternate.

The only reason I ended up going was that two of the high school students selected as more worthy, more deserving than I, chose to do something else that summer.

I don’t know their names, or why they opted for something different. But I’m grateful, because that month changed my life.

High School Japanese

I started studied Japanese my senior year of high school via night school classes at the University of Pennsylvania.

And I sucked.

I was probably the worst student in the class, which made sense – given that nearly all of them were juniors or seniors at Penn.

Despite my effort, I barely scraped by with Bs in each of the courses.

It didn’t matter.

Fast forward six years: I’ve now majored in Japanese in undergrad (again, earning Bs in all 13 additional Japanese classes), studied abroad for a year at a Japanese university, and had landed a job at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC.

The lesson?

Perseverance often wins out over talent.

I’m sure that literally every one of my classmates at Penn would have been shocked to learn that I later won a job working for the Japanese government.

But I never would have put myself in the position to do so had I given up after that first year of study.

Capitol Hill

I began looking for a job on Capitol Hill in August 2001.

I had several interviews under my belt, and perhaps a dozen more informational interviews with staffers lined up, when September 11th happened.

Instantly, all of those informational interviews evaporated.

As well they should have – these staffers were far too busy helping their constituents adjust in the aftermath of that tragedy to be distracted by one more aspiring job-seeker.

But one of those senior staffers who apologetically cancelled on meeting me in September?

I landed an internship in her office through other channels three months later, and she ended up becoming one of my key mentors.

To this day, nearly everything I know about how Congress really works comes from her. (Thanks, Marie!)

Public Relations

As with many things in life, I landed my first job in public relations basically by accident. I had retained a recruiter to land me an administrative position and she placed me in an admin role at PR firm.

I couldn’t be more grateful.

While I learned so much in that executive assistant role – both in terms of the effective practice of corporate communications and much of the intricacy of running a large firm – it probably delayed my official start as a public relations consultant by a good two years, as it was hard to break out of that administrative role.

It doesn’t matter.

Today, largely because of everything I learned in my four years as an executive assistant to some of the best PR practitioners in Washington, DC, I am a successful communications consultant.

And as fate would have it, earlier this week I had a client meeting back in the offices of that firm where I first started as an executive assistant nine years ago.

I chalk it up to persistence.

The Lesson

So whatever your goals for 2017, I urge you to stick with them.

Because true success can take years and involve many set-backs along the way.

Don’t be among the more than 80 percent who quit on their resolutions within the first three months.

Instead, play the long game.

You just might surprise yourself with your success.


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