One of the qualities I respect the most in successful people is grit. Another term to describe that wonderful trait is “stickwithitness.” By many measurements this characteristic, more than intelligence, may be a greater indicator of a person’s long-term success.
The other night I was discussing with a friend a characteristic I admire about Confucian cultures–the inner discipline, which is valued culturally. That inner self-control and single-mindedness are things that I see as attributes to address weaknesses all of us have. That can be eating bad food like too much chocolate (my vice, I admit), or not sticking with a healthy eating regime that can be so easy when we are busy or stressed, or watching too much TV–all things that can lead us to have less desirable health outcomes.
I do not think that “stickwithitness” is Confucian or the property of any culture, outright. It is frequently associated with people who many of us admire. That can be the musician who trains and trains, or great persons who have that indomitable will to overcome great odds, like an Abe Lincoln rising from poverty to the presidency.
This is a story I heard last fall during an interview with one of my favorite actors, Michael Caine. It is such a happy story, I am going to risk getting in trouble with NPR by reprinting Michael’s full statement here about how he met his best and lifelong friend (you have to read below). And guess what folks–they did live happily ever after, and how often do you hear stories like that? Michael was sure of what he wanted. He did not give up.
“Mr. CAINE: Oh my God, yeah. That was the greatest day of my life and, you know, like all great days of your life, you don’t realize it. What happened was is I had my best friend – his name was Paul. We were both single and we were out, obviously, six days in the discotheques, right, girls, dancing and everything. I said to Paul, I said we’ll do something we’ve not done before. We’ll stay in and we’ll watching television.
And a commercial came on for coffee and this girl was in it with these maracas. And I fell in love with this girl instantly – absolutely instantly. And then I got all excited. And I said, oh, I said, we’re going to Brazil tomorrow to find her. And then I went – I said, well, let’s go out and have a drink. So, I went down to discotheque and we’re sitting there, Paul and me, and a guy came in we knew.
He said, no girls tonight? I said, no. I said, I’m love with a girl I saw on the television. I’m going to Brazil to find her tomorrow.
So he said, I’ve been watching television all evening. He said, I didn’t see any beautiful girls on television. I said, she wasn’t in a show. I said, she was in a commercial for coffee. He said, we make that commercial. I said, well, I’m going to Brazil to find that girl. He says, shes not in Brazil, Michael. She lives in the Fulham(ph) Road in London. And she’s not, shes not Brazilian, she’s Indian. Her name’s Shakira Baksh. He gave me her number and I called her.
And I called every night for two weeks and she wouldn’t go out with me. And on the 10th or 11th – whatever it was – time I found her, evening, one after another, keep getting refused, I said to myself if she doesn’t come out with me tonight, I’m never phoning her again. And she said that night she would come. I’ve had the happiest 40 years of my life with this lady. And if she’d have said no that night, that would’ve been the end of it.
But anyway, it wasn’t and it’s been fantastic.”