Listen to this article here.
I remember clearly my first failure as a magician. I was probably about eight years old or so and the not only did the trick not work, but the audience saw exactly how the trick was done. I instinctively ran away in tears.

Nevertheless, I persisted, and my first part time job in high school was performing magic shows in the local community. An early client who had used my services a number of times sent a note after a performance and suggested that I should charge less for my services because I wasn't good enough.

Another client sent a note saying that the show was great but that I should, quote, "lay off the donuts and fries" because the show would be far more pleasing if I was thinner.

Another said that the show was childish and more appropriate for younger audiences, while another said my material was too adult and more appropriate for older audiences. Both wanted a refund.

Several years and hundreds of performances later, I was booked to work at a nightclub performing magic in between the music acts. It was clear after the first set that no one was interested in the magic...because I was booed off the stage! But I was still expected to finish the night and had to step back up in front of that audience three more times. Despite the circumstances, I persisted.

Many years and thousands of performances later, I transitioned my career to become a positivity coach and workshop facilitator, and early on I'd receive feedback like "I spent many years dreading in-service days because of group activities and speakers, and this one wasn't very good."

It's uncomfortable sharing these stories, and it took some thought to decide whether I should, but I do so because it highlights a valuable positivity practice that can mean the difference between stagnation and growth: Focused Persistence.
A person jumps over a gap.
Focused Persistence
A single blow from a stone has the power to knock out even the toughest of people, yet take that same stone and subject it to a steady and persistent stream of water over millions of years and it will erode into nothing but sediment.

Along with a steady dose of patience, this is an encouraging reminder that even the toughest of challenges can be overcome with focused and persistent effort.

It can be all too easy to give up when we seemingly have nothing to show for our efforts—or worse yet, criticism from the very people we're aiming to serve. But when we have a passion to be of service, giving up simply isn't an option.

And so, despite the numerous failures and disappointments over the years, I didn't lose heart, and instead used these experiences as kindle for professional growth. At every step, instead of letting failure stop me, I took the stones thrown my way and poured persistent effort onto them to fill in the knowledge, skills, resources, and support gap.
A sign pointing to value, vision, and mission.
Remember Why You're In The Game
A powerful key for persistence is to remember why it all matters. I persisted with magic because I knew I had something special to share, something that could inspire others with wonder and fascination; and I continue to persist in my current role as a coach and facilitator because I know how important this work is.

Schools do a great job teaching academics but largely leave social-emotional skills to chance—the very skills that make resilience and long-term success possible. The result? Emerging leaders entering the workforce lacking valuable skills for success, and that's where Hashtag Positivity comes in to help fulfill the need. I'm so passionate about this work because I've experienced firsthand the dangers of lacking these skills.

At one extreme, this can lead people to give up on their goals when the going gets tough; and at the other extreme, this can lead people to give up on their life. And a number of years, as a young twenty-something professional, that's the extreme I found myself facing.

On September 5, 2007, my best friend, Stephanie, died suddenly in her sleep, just a week after we became engaged to be married. The shock was overwhelming and I began drowning in grief. I was seriously deficient in skills such as self-regulation and self-awareness—and sure, even for someone strong in these skills this would have been a tough blow to endure—but lacking any functional semblance of these skills made the sudden and unexpected change impossible to bear. 

In the years that followed I became trapped in a dark depression and I nearly lost my life. Thanks to the help of incredibly caring loved ones, after three years I finally came out on the other side of grief, and when I did I became fascinated to learn the science behind how people manage change and passionate about sharing these principles and practices with others.

Armed with such a deeply emotional investment, it's easy to persist despite any would-be stumbling stones, and I'm eternally grateful that I didn't let those early critics stop me from fighting the good fight, because if I had I never would have had these kind of wins for the people I serve:
  • “I’ve sat through many keynotes. It’s very rare that a presenter manages to capture my attention in a way that I can’t help but be a part of the experience, and Jonas did that for me!"
  • "This program has changed my life. I am grateful for all you have given me."
  • "Jonas allowed students to lean in and really hear the message of hope, light, strength, and the power of positivity!"
  • “This man changed my life forever. He changed the way I look at life and changed the way I see things and I am forever grateful."
  • "It was an emotional rollercoaster that left me with a different perspective on life and how to live it. Lately I've been feeling like I'm ready to give up, but after this experience I was shown that I can achieve just about anything if I stick to it."

I don't share these wins to brag—after all, it's hard to brag after sharing the losses experienced along the way—but rather I share these examples to demonstrate what's possible when we stay focused on what really matters most.
A studied brain, as if analyzed by psychology.
Perseverance Research
But we don’t have to just take my word for it; after all, personal experience can make for interesting commentary, but it can also be at best subjective and at worst misleading.
To back up these ideas on perseverance we can look to the research by the prominent psychologist Dr. Angela Duckworth who has used this research to advise Fortune 500 companies, the World Bank, the NBA, and the White House, just to name a few.
This research suggests that perseverance contains four essential elements: Interest, Practice, Purpose, and Hope. In other words:
  • know what you’re passionate about,
  • hone your skills,
  • serve others,
  • and believe that your efforts truly make a difference.
By focusing on these four essential elements we’ll arm ourselves with the resolve to keep on keeping on when it truly matters most.

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What skills are you honing?
  3. How are you serving others?
  4. How is your mission making a difference for the people in your community

Final Thought
Failures, criticisms, and disappointments can all be major stumbling stones, yet when we remain focused on our passion, continually hone our skills, remember our purpose, and believe that our actions make a difference, we will provide ourselves with the fuel to persist regardless of the challenges ahead.

Want More?

Schedule an exploratory positivity call! Or, become a member of Hashtag Positivity to access exclusive resources to help you and the people you serve manage positive change for your growth and development.

Jonas Cain is a Learning Experience Designer and Facilitator of Fascination for Hashtag Positivity, providing valuable social emotional knowledge, skills, resources, and support to emerging leaders and their influencers to help them enter the next chapter of their lives with clarity, confidence, courage, and joy.

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