Journalist, author, motivational speaker and world-record-holding marathon swimmer Diana Nyad made five attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.
She first tried at age 28 in 1975. She failed.
She made four subsequent attempts in August 1978, August 2011, September 2011, and August 2012.
She finally succeeded in making the historic crossing “sans” shark cage in August 2013 at age 64.
“Find a way,” she says in the TED talk below. “You have a dream and you have obstacles in front of you, as we all do. None of us ever get through this life without heartache, without turmoil, and if you believe and you have faith and you can get knocked down and get back up again and you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you find your way.”
I too am tenacious. Determined. Doggedly so. Perhaps stupidly so.
One thing is certain: once I’ve got my eyes on the prize I’m not likely to give up, and my stick-with-it-ness has helped me achieve cool things (like becoming a triathlete at age 50), and taken me places (from the Great Wall of China to the Arctic Circle) I never would have dreamed possible.
In my experience, the hardest decisions in life are those that force us to choose between giving up or trying harder, washing our hands or taking responsibility, doing the “right thing’ or doing the easy thing.
These are tough choices. At first glance, giving up, washing our hands and doing the easy thing may appear more attractive. Clearly these choices are less troublesome and burdensome. But they are invariably less satisfying, less honourable, and less enriching as well.
Even in adversarial situations when the prospects of failing far outweigh those of success, my pit-bullish unwillingness to surrender serves me well – albeit not always bloodlessly!
“There’s always a chance,” I remind myself.
There’s a chance – slim though it may be when you’re outnumbered, outgunned, and outsmarted – that you will emerge victorious. Sheer determination sometimes carries the day. Not often. But enough to make the struggle worthwhile.
This is truth, not some hallucination like those Nyad experiences during her long distance swims.
God knows I’ve lost many times. And I’ve been lost many times. But I’ve also won. And I’ve also been found.
I learn from my failures (much more than from my successes); I get up, dust myself off, shed some tears, heal my hurts, and keep going. I’d rather lick my wounds and be battle-scarred than kiss ass and compromise my values.
I don’t hold any world records. I’m not internationally renowned like Diana Nyad. And I don’t have a big expert team to support me. Mostly I just have myself and a merry band of international misfits, rabblerousers and amazing women to cheer me on.
But like Nyad, I’m unwilling (maybe even unable) to give up.
According to Wikipedia, Nyad describes marathon swimming (in her 1978 autobiography) as a battle for survival against a brutal foe—the sea—and the only victory possible is to “touch the other shore.”
You don’t have to be a marathon swimmer or famous or special to be courageous in life. You don’t have to be shot at to be brave.
We all fight our own daily battles (big and small) against our own brutal foes. The only victory possible is to find a way–our own way–to persevere, prevail and live another day.
Fight the good fight. Whichever way is your way.