A Story of Ironclad Persistence

And Why It's Not Always About Winning.

It’s summer, of 2012. My phone vibrates beside me, but I ignore it.

I’m in my parent’s garage, eyes glued to the TV. The garage is sweltering hot, like the insides of a sunbathed car, my only solace the dusty old fan dug out from the attic — but, I don’t care.

Because my attention at that moment, is on the screen, in London, on Kieran Behan — the first athlete I’ve ever been truly inspired by, participating in the 2012 London Olympics.

I don’t follow Behan because he’s talented or famous (although he does hold the title of being the first Irish gymnast to ever qualify for the Olympics), nor do I follow him because he’s particularly good-looking; I follow him because of his ironclad persistence — persistence that’s earned him the right to compete as an Olympic athlete, despite having had not one, but several injuries that left him immobilized for years at a time, including his very first injury when the doctor’s diagnosis was that he would never walk again.

At that time, he was only ten years old — strapped to a wheelchair after a botched tumor-removal surgery that resulted in most of his leg nerves being damaged. But he didn’t give up.

Eventually he overcame that handicap — a miraculous feat, and once again began training in gymnastics; until not long after, he suffered another injury, this time a blow to the head, and with it, brain damage that left him unable to participate in the sport, or much less any other activity, until almost three years later when he could once again perform basic hand-eye coordinations.

And when Behan was finally ready to compete in the 2010 European Championships nine years later, he ruptured his ACL ligaments in both legs, just six weeks before the event.

Yet he continued to persist, as he had all along, and as a result of that persistence, was once again able to compete, this time at the world stage, at the 2012 London Olympics.

His interview after the Olympics is something I’ll never forget:

When I walked out, and as I was walking around and I spotted my parents, I sort of… I don’t know, it sort of all just came out at me really… I never thought this day would come — I think that I thought I was just going to be in a wheelchair [sobs]…

The relentless struggles he had been through, the rollercoaster of emotions that came with it and his unwavering ironclad persistence throughout the process were exactly why I, along with the millions of others, were tuned in that evening.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was my very first taste of just how powerful a focus on process could be.

Could you imagine, however, had Kieran Behan decided to give up, rather than persist through, one injury after another like he did? It would’ve been easy after all — given his circumstances, to have simply admitted defeat to instead spend the entirety of what would’ve could’ve been his career resenting himself and all his misfortunes.

And even easier still, might’ve been to actually try, yet, be relentless in his comparison of his own newfound lack of ability versus those of unhandicapped athletes — a most suitable excuse to use, in any unwanted outcomes.

Because whether we like it or not, outcomes, in today’s society, matters more so than someone’s work ethic or principles. It has become the way of life, by way of normalcy, to judge a person’s worth solely by their results — the more positive those outcomes, the greater the acclaim; conversely, the more negative those outcomes, the greater the debasement.

And it’s an even scarier thought when you realize that, not only are we judged by others on our worth, we also judge ourselves, our own self-worths, based on those very outcomes. And that, as opposed to being scary, is terrifying — because what that’s really saying is that we cannot be allowed to fail in any of our endeavors, if we were preserve any measure of our worth.

Which is absurd, considering that outcomes don’t actually matter that much in the first place.

Because so what if you win? What do you actually get out of it?

Let’s say you own a mini-mart, of which is its’ competitor directly across the street. You and the owner of that competing mini-mart have been at it for years, in both your attempts to establish your mini-mart as the better one. Today, however, your competitor finally gives up and closes shop for good.

You sigh, because Congratulations! you’ve won, but everything remains the same — tomorrow, the day after, for many days to come, you’re still going to be working just as you always have. 

Because if there’s anything that can reliably occupy your time, it’s that.
So, despite winning, you haven’t really won at all — it’s like being awarded a 4th place participation medal, so, sure — you’ve won, but have you really?

The good news here I guess, is that now you know: if the roles were reversed and it was instead you who failed and decided to close up shop — just as were in your situation — your competitor wouldn’t have much to gain either.

Win or loss, success or failure, outcomes are just moments within a much more enduring journey.

A journey we call process.

Merriam Webster defines the word process as “a series of actions or operations conducing to an end”, which while is accurate, is a bit lacking for the purposes of our post.

As such, I prefer to define process as:

“the journey in and of itself, and throughout it, all successes and failures, obstacles and challenges, with all things learned, gained or taught, and all things lost, forgotten or ignored.”

Because what makes a focus on process truly significant are the experiences gained from it. Every action you’ve taken, every decision you’ve made throughout the journey will contribute to some extent, a higher chance of success in each subsequent opportunity.

Because let’s say, for instance, that you’re a writer given the opportunity to win an award for something you’ve once written; to do so, you must first write a letter to the panel to convince them of good character.

If you’re a writer who’s spent years, perhaps decades, honing the craft which is writing and armed with a respectful repertoire of pertinent words, I imagine this letter shouldn’t prove to be too significant of a challenge.

But, if you’re a writer, who just so happened to have declared yourself as one simply because your parents insisted that you find an occupation, any occupation of any sorts… I hate to break it to you, but your chances at writing the letter successfully, and thus winning the award, are highly diminished.

Because you simply will not have had the experiences and knowledge required to be successful in that particular opportunity.

There’s an old aphorism that goes, “The harder you work, the more opportunities you’re given,” that ties into this post especially well because, if working harder means earning more opportunities, a focus on process means you get more out of every opportunity.

The experiences you gain from focusing on process translates into skills and knowledge necessary for maximizing the chances of success within opportunities — it’s precisely this reason that so many top-performing athletes and coaches place such heavy emphasis on it.

If your competitor is determined to win, there’s not much you can do to lessen that determination. Likewise, if your competitor has natural advantages that you don’t have, there’s not much you can do to lessen those advantages either.

The only thing you can control is your own self-growth — it is only through the expansiveness of your own abilities to cope with and adapt to any opportunity that’ll give you an advantage over your competitors. A focus on process does just that, because by doing so, you inadvertently focus on your self-growth — the true determinant for success.

With all that I’ve written thus far, in hopes of convincing you that a focus on process is indeed important, this is where I admittedly come clean: most of what I’ve written may not be, at all, applicable to you — because that advice, or really, any advice in general, is only applicable if you can relate to it.

Advice, especially the sort that cuts against the grain to go against what you’ve been taught or have been influenced by, when it feels inadequate or unactionable, it’s often because it’s been given by someone who has experience that you don’t, to sustain such advice — which is to say that because the advice comes from such a high level of expertise, it’s unrelatable and therefore, inapplicable.

It’s like advising someone to eat healthier because, hey, that’s how you stay healthy, by keeping your cholesterol levels low or your blood pressure normal. We understand it of course, but until the day comes when we’re leaving the doctor’s office with a prescription for that very cholesterol, or worse, confirming an appointment for the inevitable heart stent, we don’t heed that advice because it isn’t relatable yet.

And advice, without prudence or the experience to back it, regardless of its profundity, becomes just mere words spoken. Just like how we’ve been told to focus on the positive, to live happily or to be grateful — if we never discover the reasons for being positive, the qualities that constitute happiness, or the basis behind being ever-grateful, can we say that advice is truly applicable?

The value of advice given lies in proportion to the weight of your experiences. 

The same applies to the advice of having a focus on process — it’s well-intentioned, but inapplicable until you’ve accumulated experience enough for it to be relatable.

That being so, it might seem silly now, perhaps even irresponsible of me for having written such a dubious post — but consider this: had I not written it, and had you not read it, how could we have known whether or not the advice would be applicable to you?

We couldn’t have, and that’s what brings us precisely back to the start — to a focus on process — because for me, writing is my process. Regardless of whether or not the post would’ve been applicable — as much as I do hope it to be, I would’ve still written it.

Because everything else, are just outcomes within the process.

What are your thoughts on the post?