Each of these examples and traits will contribute to success. Some of them might be absolutely necessary, like a good mentor. These examples are a good place to start and you should incorporate all of the ones that you can into your cocktail of success. But none of these traits can thrive unless you’ve built them on a certain foundation. They’ve got to rest on top of a pillar—endurance.
Your career is built with many moving pieces. They can’t all come together if you can’t work at something over a long stretch of time, through plateaus, with minimal results and sometimes little feedback, all while maintaining the stamina to continue on to practice and improve.
Success in your career is the commitment you have to work at something for a long time. Because what stands against you and your goals isn’t necessarily an invisible gatekeeper or a nasty boss or a physical ailment or termination—obviously all of these are roadblocks to overcome—but what stands in your way is time and effort. It’s that simple.
You’ll never capitalize on time and effort unless you’ve built stamina. Endurance. The endurance to see things through. The endurance to keep working hard when you see incremental gains or you plateau. Because that’s all accomplishments are—hard work over a long period of time.
Assuming you have a general proficiency at whatever it is you’re doing, then on a long enough timeline, given the appropriate amount of time and effort, you’ll get pretty good. It might not all look how you imagined it to, but that’s ok, because you should quit imagining anyways. It’s about the process. Whatever results happen are not in your control.
Endurance is Going When Others Might Quit
“Make friends with pain and you will never be alone.” - Ken Chlouber, Colorado Miner and Co-Founder of the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Race
It will get pretty tough. You’ll fail a lot. You’ll realize you aren’t as good as you think you are. You don’t know much. And this is where discouragement turns into the opportunity to stop enduring.
What’s important to consider about endurance is not that it’s simply the act of continuing at something, but continuing at something when it gets really, really, hard. Dictionary.com defines it as both (1.) the fact or power of enduring or bearing pain, hardships, etc. and (2.) the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina.
By definition, you’re doing something where you’d like to give up, and others might, but you don’t.
I’ve written about the similarities between running and career before, because I think it makes for one of the best analogies.
Running isn’t always pleasant. Once you’re proficient, there are stretches where you can feel your speed (relatively), you get excited about zig-zagging through the city, and you’re at a good pace. You feel like you’ve got it down and the affirmation of your speed shows that your hard work has paid off.
Some runs are clear sailing throughout. But other runs? You look down at your watch and realize you just finished mile one. Your time is good for an average runner, but goodness, how on earth will you continue for the next however many miles? And on even tougher days you look down on that watch ready to call it a day to only realize it’s been five minutes.
No matter what minute this desire to quit happens—whether you’re at minute five or 35—there’s a point in the run where you rely on willpower alone. That's your ability to endure. In that moment it isn’t about talent or what you’ve accomplished in the past. It’s about what you’re willing to endure. Right there. Right then.
Amarillo, where I grew up, gets cold and windy. On a recent run through my parent’s neighborhood, what ended up being a run solely against the winter wind, I wondered, “How long can I actually endure and keep running?” And the thought wasn’t specific to that run. I was thinking about how long I’d keep up with the sport itself. It was an honest thought. Will I always be able to push myself when I feel uncomfortable? Will I have the willpower in 10 years to run?
I decided that whether I do or not in some ways has to do with discipline, and it does have to do with avoiding my own laziness, but the greatest hope I have against ever quitting is endurance. Cultivating a spirit to keep enduring is our best bet at accomplishing anything we want to accomplish. We all have it. We just have to find the outlets that show us what we’re capable of when things get hard, then we can apply those lessons to the rest of our lives.
Why? So We Can Build Up for Great Challenges
In October of 2017, Courtney Dauwalter won the Moab 240, a 238 mile race held in Moab, Utah. The race takes runners along the Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park and across the Abajo and the La Sal Mountains. It’s a majestic and scenic way of testing the limits of human endurance. Like Bill Bowerman, the track coach and co-founder of Nike said, “The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart.”
In her feat of showing off what the human heart is capable of, Dauwalter finished the race in two days, nine hours, and 59 minutes. That finish put her just shy of 58 hours. She averaged 14.6 minute miles while running 97.7 miles each day. To make that feat more impressive, Dauwalter beat the second place runner by over 10 hours.
When Dauwalter was interviewed on Joe Rogan’s The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast, she gave crucial wisdom that transcends the sport. You can apply this to work and life. Rogan asked Dauwalter if there’s a point in the race where the body is in constant pain, if she becomes numb to it, and what happens to the body. Here’s her response:
“You go in waves. Like you’ll be riding this wave where you’re feeling amazing and really fresh and your legs can cruise pretty well and nothing hurts. Everything is feeling really good and then that wave will eventually come crashing down. Things are hurting again and you might be whimpering along for a little bit. But the cool part about these is that those waves, they always come and then they go, so you ride this high and low the whole race. When it gets really low, when you’re feeling awful, you just have to remember that you’re going to feel better again soon. You’ve just got to keep chugging along.”
That’s the crucial lesson. We’ll all get waves of good and suck. These waves will happen. We can’t really predict how they shape themselves. A wave of good could last for 10 years or one. A wave of bad might last for two years or 35. The point isn’t if the waves happen, because they most likely will, it’s about how we’re able to build endurance to withstand them. Because even if things are going good, that doesn’t mean we won’t need endurance to keep chugging along.
That endurance is part of the process. It’s what grows us into capable practitioner of whatever our craft is, whether we’re reporters, PR gurus, or doctors. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus says, "It is true, however, that no bull reaches maturity in an instant, nor do men become heroes overnight. We must endure a winter training, and can't be dashing into situations for which we aren't yet prepared." Endurance is what prepares us.
Our ability to endure will work even better if we map out careers that aren’t only built on our personal gain. If we cultivate a purpose—hopefully with others in mind—instead of fleeting passions that indulge our egos and make us the star, we’ll have a better shot at being willing to endure for the long haul. The field that is able to do this the best is the military.
Soldiers risk their lives for an ideal they believe will help the common good. They usually do this with little praise—oftentimes more criticism than anything—but they’ve determined that it’s the right thing to do and the accept the selfless responsibility. Many of us haven’t served in the military, and though we likely know someone who has, we may not have ever really dug into the principles and philosophies that drive these remarkable humans.
This quote from is from Coningsby Dawson's book The Glory of the Trenches. He was an Anglo-American and Canadian Field Artillery who was a novelist and soldier. It puts us ever so briefly into the mind of a soldier. If we can apply this mentality to own lives—work and play—then imagine what powerful forces we can become.
“I've learnt discipline and my own total unimportance. In the army discipline gets possession of your soul; you learn to suppress yourself, to obey implicitly, to think of others before yourself. You learn to jump at an order, to forsake your own convenience at any hour of the day or night, to go forward on the most lonely and dangerous errands without complaining. You learn to feel that there is only one thing that counts in life and only one thing you can make out of it—the spirit you have developed in encountering its difficulties. Your body is nothing; it can be smashed in a minute. How frail it is you never realize until you've seen men smashed. So you learn to tolerate the body, to despise death, and place all your reliance on courage—which when it is found at its best is the power to endure for the sake of others.” - Coningsby Dawson