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What compels some people to quit in the face of adversity and rejection, while others pursue their dream with a single-minded sense of purpose ?  Why is quitting not an option for some ?  What force of will fuels people to rise above bad circumstances or a string of initial failures ?

The rags-to-riches story of John Paul deJoria personifies the American Dream.  Spending much of his youth in a street gang in East Los Angeles, John Paul deJoria was repeatedly admonished by his high school math teacher that he would “never, ever succeed at anything in life.”  After a couple of years in the Navy, deJoria aimlessly floated through a series of jobs, from janitor, to pumping gas, to bicycle repair, to selling encyclopedias, insurance and copier machines.  Still in his twenties and too proud to ask for help, deJoria found himself homeless, sleeping in his car.  Eventually he landed a job for $650 a week with Redken Laboratories, the leading professional hair salon product company.  When he was fired by Redken, deJoria approached his friend Paul Mitchell, a leading hair designer and, with $750 of borrowed funds, they partnered in a new hair styling product enterprise.  The ‘enterprise’ consisted of a post office box and phone answering machine.  Visiting salons door-to-door, they offered to do free demonstrations – a sales strategy never before used in the business.  They even offered a full money-back guarantee if a salon did not sell 100% of all their products.  Despite their boldy innovative approach, the majority of doors were slammed in their faces.  That was then.  Today, the company’s annual revenues top $1 billion.  Although unable to afford color packaging when starting out, their products bear their black and white brand to this day – a reminder of their humble beginnings.

Fran Harris proudly wears a ring.  Playing for the Houston Comets the very first season the WNBA was formed, Fran’s talent as a professional athlete was the stuff of legend.  Yet, it’s the personal side of her journey that makes Fran a true champion.  Growing up in a modest section of Dallas, Texas, Fran’s mother died when Fran was in her teens and, while two of her brothers went to jail, one of them also suffered a serious issue with drugs.  Not having a formidable success model in her world, Fran was nonetheless determined not to be a teenage mother or fall prey to drugs, but to make a better life for herself.  Fran began playing NCAA basketball while at the University of Texas at Austin.  Later, amidst the politics of the sports world, Fran was cut from the U.S. Olympic Women’s basketball team, and swore she’d never play basketball again.  With degrees in journalism, she went on to get her Ph.D. in business adminstration and become a successful young entrepreneur.  Then the WNBA was announced.  It was 1997 and Fran hadn’t played basketball in over eight years.  But her dream was rekindled.  She decided on the spot she had to play in the first-ever season of this new professional league. Fran announced to friends inside and outside the sports world that she was going to try out.  Every last person gave her reasons not to do it.  She was too old, she hadn’t played in too many years, she was out of shape, she shouldn’t risk the business success she’d worked so hard to achieve, she was 30 years old !  Despite the odds – there were only two spots available on the Houston Comets team – Fran didn’t listen.  She began training daily and changed everything – the way she ate, the way she walked, the way she spoke – all in pursuit of her single-minded goal.  When she entered the gym for final tryouts, Fran faced 250 younger women athletes all vying for the very same two spots.  Fran was chosen to play for the Houston Comets, and the team went on to win the first season’s championship.  Fran wears that ring to this day as a reminder that no force should keep a person from the life they deserve.

John Grisham is one of the world’s best-selling authors, with over 250 million books in print in dozens of languages, and whose books have given us some of the greatest films of our time.   Before turning to writing, Grisham was devoted to the idea of being a baseball player.  That dream was dashed when he was cut from his college baseball team.  Grisham went on to become a lawyer, practicing in a small town firm for a decade.  In 1984, having witnessed the harrowing testimony of a 12-year old rape victim, Grisham began writing his first novel.  What if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants ?  Three years later, he completed a manuscript entitled “A Time to Kill”.  The rejections came fast and often, and for a long while thereafter.  Publishers and publishing agents seemed unanimous in their response.  It was only persistence that finally found Grisham’s manuscript picked up by a small press that printed a limited number of copies of his book.  Throughout, Grisham never waivered and busily went to work authoring his second novel, ‘The Firm’, which went on to become the seventh bestselling novel of 1991.  Grisham’s novels connected with audiences worldwide, and films spawned by many of his works, including ‘The Client’, ‘The Pelican Brief’ and ‘The Runaway Jury’ went on to enjoy stunning commercial success. 

Have you ever suffered a defeat or fallen short of a goal ?  When faced with great difficulty or repeat rejection in the past, has your habit been to abandon your vision ?  Did you somewhere deep inside feel you cheated yourself or that if you’d only dug a bit deeper or tried a slightly different approach, you might have met with success ?

Either you determine what constitutes the difference between a success-in-the-making and a failure, or you allow others to make that judgement for you.  Either you persist and adopt strategies with unflagging determination to realize your result, or you give way to your doubts, fears and perceptions of what others might think.

One of the greatest architects of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright, said “I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”  Yet as Seth Godin wrote: “Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over.  Persistence is having the same goal over and over.”

“Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.”

~ Maxwell Perkins

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