There’s a song whose lyrics include these: I’ll keep taking punches/ until their will grows tired.
I think of that song and those lyrics often. Something about the determination in those words speaks to me. Inspires me. Makes me want to do better. Be better.
I’ve written before about persistence. That quality in people that makes us continue no matter the odds. However, there’s persistence and there’s relentless persistence. There are those who try, and those who never stop trying.
Whenever I think of relentless persistence I think of those old clown punching bags. Every kid has tangled with a clown punching bag before. They’re three feet tall or so, and no matter what you do, no matter how many times you punch it, no matter how much force you put into every punch, that punching bag bounces right back up. Sure it’ll hit the floor, it’ll wobble, it’ll look like it’s staying down, but then it bounces back up, ready for more.
The clown punching bag bounces back up and asks for more because it knows no other way. That’s how it’s made. When given a beating it can’t do anything other than to brush it off and ask for more, all with a smile on its face.
We can learn a lot from those punching bags. We’ve all been knocked down. Sometimes it just seems easier to stay down on the floor. Chances are you won’t get hit again if you stay on the floor.
But you’ll never get what you want if you stay down on the floor either. And if you’re on the floor you might get stepped on, walked over, buried. And as bad as it sucks to get knocked down, I’m sure it sucks even more to get buried.
So pick yourself up off the floor. Yes, you might get hit again. Sure there’s a good chance you’ll end up on the floor again. But if you do, just get back up. To paraphrase the great Henry Rollins, when life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Take a big bite out of those lemons, and say, “I love lemons, what else you got for me?”
There’s a scene in Rocky IV where the badass Soviet, Drago, is exasperated because he’s hitting Rocky with everything he’s got, punch after punch after punch, and Rocky takes it and keeps fighting. “He’s not human,” Drago says, “he’s like a piece of iron.”
He’s like a piece of iron. You can sense Drago’s wild frustration just from those six words. Rocky’s like nothing he’s ever seen before. He doesn’t crumble. He doesn’t wilt. He doesn’t collapse. He takes Drago’s punches and comes back for more.
And not to ruin the film, but guess who wins in the end? It ain’t the Soviet.
When I was a kid I had a sign on my wall that read, “If at first you don’t succeed, quit. No sense being a damn fool about it.” I liked that sign because I thought it was funny. The message was unexpected, and nothing’s cooler to a twelve-year-old boy than hanging something on his wall that contains a cuss word.
I must have read that sign five thousand times during my childhood. Luckily, its lesson didn’t make an impact on me. I don’t mind being a damn fool one bit. In fact, I’ve discovered that there are few things more fulfilling in life than persistence. At some point, persistence usually wins. Much in this world can be accomplished by the sheer force of will.
And a reward gained by persistence is much sweeter than one gained easily.
So don’t quit. Don’t throw in the towel. Take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. Be just like those damn clown punching bags and keep on getting up, asking for more. And just remember, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. You can do better, because you’re not dead yet.
I’ve used a few hundred words to prove my point. William Ernest Henley said the same thing in much fewer words in his poem, Invictus:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
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