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Tenacity. Are you born with it? If you don’t have it, is it a learnable skill?

Could you handle 800 rejections in a row? What if they all took place in the same year?

I think a lot of people are living vicariously. They consume so much of what others in the entrepreneurial space are producing that they trick themselves into thinking they’ve done anything at all—that they’ve actually tried and failed.

I think a lot of people fail once and they call it quits. Forget 800 times, they throw in the towel at the first resistance. They take it as a “sign” that it “wasn’t meant to be.”

We talk about whether passion only comes from things that work, the hand-written letter that changed the life of one artist who makes a comic strip you know and love, and why you should keep showing up even if no one is listening.

Show Notes
  • 1:01 (Sabbatical recap).
  • Are You Willing To Fail Over and Over Again?
  • 10:39 Sean: If you want to do things differently, if you want to make your own path, if you want to do something other than the status quo and take a chance on doing why you love, then it’s going to be hard.
  • 10:53 It’s going to be difficult. You’re going to fail, and you’re going to fail over and over again. You’re going to be rejected over and over again.
  • 11:08 Look at any successful person. Look at any successful author. They were rejected. I don’t know if you know this, Ben—Seth Godin had more than 800 rejections in a row in one year.
  • 11:27 Ben: “That’s a lot. That’s more than 2 a day.”
  • 11:35 Sean: Do you have that tenacity? That’s my question for you.
  • Living Vicariously
  • 11:40 This is why you cannot just love the idea of something. You’re in this space, you see other people doing things, you know how it all works, you know what it takes and you’ve watched so many other people do it that you’ve tricked yourself into thinking you’ve done anything at all.
  • 12:03 You’re sitting there, scrolling through feeds, clicking on other peoples, links reading about their launches, their projects, their clients, their speaking engagements, their slides, their write-ups, their case studies, and you’re living vicariously.
  • 12:19 You’re living vicariously so much that you think you’ve actually done something. You think you’ve actually tried and failed and you haven’t. Maybe you’re tried and failed once. You feel jaded, you feel burnt out.
  • 12:35 Well here’s what I have to say: Maybe you don’t have what it takes.
  • 12:40 There’s two kinds of people hearing this right now:
    1. People who are getting fired up about how they’re going to prove that they have what it takes.
    2. People who are thinking “Oh crap.”
  • 12:53 I’m talking about the complainers. The whiners. The people that are sitting around. The people that are consuming, that are thinking and overthinking and not doing. The people who like the idea of something but they’re not following through with it. It’s in their mind and they think it through to completion, and they convince themselves that they like it when they’ve never actually really done it.
  • 13:21 I don’t know, what do you think, Ben? This was kind of just my brain dump on this topic. I’m not totally convinced that there are some people that just don’t have it. Maybe it’s a choice. Maybe that choice results in them not having what it takes, but really I think some people are just not in the place to do it. Maybe they need a mindset shift. Maybe they’re not willing to shift their mindset. Maybe they like complaining. Maybe they like watching on the sidelines. Maybe the idea of being successful at this thing is more appealing to them than the hard work of making it even a possible reality.
  • 14:29 Ben: “You know, you mentioned that there are two types of people listening. I think there are also people who aren’t necessarily complainers or excuse makers, but maybe they have tried once and failed in a way that has caused them to believe that it’s not something that’s going to be possible for them. They just seriously doubt it, and the cost of trying again and failing again is greater than the possible reward of succeeding.
  • 15:26 “I wonder if there are those types of people out there. People are in all kinds of different circumstances. Some are very well-connected and have a lot of support, some are kind of an island and don’t really have anybody encouraging them or teaching them, or mentoring them. I don’t know if it’s as simple as saying there are two types of people listening.”
  • Tenacity – Natural Inclination or Learnable Trait?
  • 15:59 Sean: Eric in the chat room says, “Tenacity is natural to some, but to others it can be a learned skill.” I think I agree with that—at least the second part. The first part, I don’t know. I don’t know about whether it’s natural or not. I think some people are more conditioned to tenacity or prone to it possibly because of upbringing or circumstances. Maybe someone was in the military or in a military family with military parents and discipline was instilled in them as a way of life.
  • 16:41 I do believe tenacity is transferable. So once you get it in one area, you can apply it to others. Maybe if you found yourself in places like that growing up then it could be said that it comes naturally to you.
  • 17:00 Ben: “Yeah, you might have this baseline because of environmental things or circumstances in which you grew up. I think some personality types lend themselves a little more to tenacity than others. Your baseline talent may be lower or higher than other people’s, but you don’t get anywhere meaningful on talent alone. You don’t get any where meaningful on tenacity alone. It’s the exercise of that tenacity over time. It’s what you do with it.
  • 17:47 “With the practice of showing up in the face of rejection over and over and over, you develop a thicker skin. You start to get used to failure. It starts to become an ally instead of an enemy in your mind.”
  • 18:06 Sean: —And not failure as an endpoint as in “I’m used to being a failure,” but you’re used to understanding that failure is a part of the process. It’s the bumps in the road along the the way to where you want to get.
  • 18:18 Ben: “Yeah. Something that was troubling me as we started talking about this was I don’t want to give a lot of weight to belief—this believing that you don’t have what it takes. I think what often happens is for those who believe they don’t have what it takes, they act in a way that people who ‘have what it takes’ act, and they do the things that people who ‘have what it takes’ do, and that’s what produces the kind of results they expect to see. It’s because of what they believe.
  • 18:57 “On the other side, for the people who doubt they have what it takes, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I hate that for people. Maybe it’s me wanting to save people, but I don’t believe that one either does or doesn’t have what it takes—or the potential to have what it takes.
  • 19:29 “Have you ever seen American Idol?”
  • 19:32 Sean (Laughing): Yes. I’m wondering where you’re going with this one!
  • 19:39 Ben: “They use these people for entertainment value who show up and are so entrenched in their illusion of how talented they are, that they can’t see objectively how much they don’t have what it takes. That doesn’t mean that person couldn’t have what it takes—I think that there’s a nuance there—but they’re clearly, completely out of pitch, their tone is awful, and they just don’t hear it. Maybe it’s because of things they’re feeding themselves or the people around them telling them they’re so great, but American Idol loves that stuff.
  • 20:29 “Then you have people who doubt themselves a little bit. They’re legitimately humble and they get up there and they just blow people’s minds with their amazing voices. That’s why I don’t think you can allow belief to come into the equation because it’s a very subjective thing. It’s also very dangerous because it can lead you to destroy yourself if you believe in the wrong way. It can lead you to do things that you really shouldn’t be doing yet. Maybe you think you’re further along than you are.”
  • 21:15 Sean: What you said earlier about the person who maybe doesn’t believe they have what it takes really resonates:
  • They didn’t feel like they had what it takes, but they still decided to align themselves with what successful people are doing in order to see similar results.

  • 21:34 It seems like the crux of this issue is tenacity. What you want is tenacity—whether that’s a natural thing or a learnable skill. It comes down to, “How do you learn tenacity?” I think you learn tenacity by being in a situation where you have no other choice but to move forward and do it until you can do it right. If you’re not circumstantially placed in that kind of the position, then I think you have to create it for yourself. Instead of trying to source this from the tenacity that you don’t really feel like you have, focus more on saying, “I’m going to show up every day. I’m going to do this. I’m going to make this thing every day regardless. I’m going to submit my book every day regardless of whether it’s rejected.” It becomes about the act of submitting the book and not getting the 800 rejections.
  • “Even if Nobody Reads, I Show Up Because It’s What I Do”
  • 22:38 Ben: “Rachel and I were talking yesterday about stats and the trap of looking at those every day and judging the quality of what you’re putting out based on the response people are giving. I loved the revelation she had. She said, ‘You know, if I pulled up my stats one day and nobody came to visit my site or read my articles, I’d still write every day because it’s just what I do.’ That’s the healthy piece of identity that you want. It’s not that you don’t feel like you have what it takes, it’s ‘I just show up. This is who I am. This is what I do. I just show up.'”
  • 23:33 Sean: I really like that. Even if you had 0 visitors you would do it because it’s what you do. I think even another thing you can use to fuel yourself is not just that you do it because it’s what you do, but thinking of it in terms of doing it for the benefit of your future self. “I’m doing this for my future self.” Scott was telling me in the chat room yesterday that he was able to use something that he wrote four years ago—virtually unedited—in something he was writing yesterday. I thought that was really cool because you might think this didn’t really have a place or it didn’t really have a life and you just wrote it for no reason, but if anything it can give you mental clarity now and it could benefit your future self.
  • The Hand-Written Letter to the Comic Strip Artist
  • 25:30 A young man came home from his day job and something on the TV caught his eye. It was the tail end of a program on writing comic strips and how to submit your comics to syndications. It was exactly what he was interested in. It wasn’t what he did at this day job but it’s what he enjoyed doing. He just caught the tail end of this program. This was years before YouTube and TiVo so he legitimately missed it and that was that.
  • 26:10 But he decided to write in to the host of the show to say, “Hey, I really want to know how to do this. I missed the program, but here’s some of my work. Can you help me out?” The host of this program wrote back a handwritten two-page letter that explained everything—how to submit his stuff to syndications, what books to buy to learn more about the submission process and all of that. He basically said, “Just don’t give up.”
  • 26:48 So the guy took his advice, he got the books, he submitted to all these places, and he got rejected across the board.
  • 27:00 Ben: “As you do.”
  • 27:01 Sean: As you do. He took that as a sign that this wasn’t his thing, “It wasn’t meant for me,” and he gave it up. He moved on and went back to his life.
  • 27:14 A year later, he gets a piece of mail. It’s a letter written to him from the same guy—the same host. Jack Cassidy was his name. He wrote him again and said, “I was cleaning up my office and I found the comic strips samples you sent, and I just wanted to follow up with you to make sure that you hadn’t given up.”
  • 27:48 The young man’s name was Scott. He had the realization: “I did give up.”
  • 28:09 His full name is Scott Adams—you may know him better as the author of Dilbert. I heard the story on the James Altucher’s Show – Episode 47.
  • 28:26 Something about that struck me.
  • He tried and he gave up, but one letter from this person change his whole trajectory.

  • 28:46 Arguably, there would be no Dilbert comic strip had that TV host not followed up. It got me thinking about the weight of our words and our encouragement with other people. Who knows, maybe someone out there right now has this feeling of, “I don’t have what it takes,” or this feeling of rejection or failure. Maybe they did try this thing once or twice and got rejected and maybe something we’re saying gets them to get back on the horse.
  • 29:30 Ben: “Let’s say you have a goal of hitting a home run—knocking one out of the park. If you’re holding a bat for the very first time and you’re standing in a professional baseball field with a professional pitcher throwing a fastball at you and you don’t knock one out of the park the first time, are you going to feel like you should take that as a sign? That you shouldn’t have this goal anymore? That it’s unachievable? No, you’ve got to keep stepping up to the plate. You’ve got to keep swinging. You have to do it over and over and over again.”
  • 30:41 Sean: It sounds cliché but the best baseball players out there have had thousands of at-bats.
  • 30:48 Ben: “I guarantee you if you look at the lower half of their record, they’re going to have way more misses than they have hits.
  • 31:00 “I don’t really know anything about baseball.”
  • Does Passion Only Come From Things That Work?
  • 31:03 Sean: Something else Scott said in that interview with James is that he doesn’t buy into the “follow your passion” thing. He said he thinks that passion comes from finding something that works. That once you’ve found something that works, and you become good at it, and you make money, and are successful at it, that’s when you become passionate.
  • 31:30 I make a point of trying to be really open-minded when hearing people who have different opinions than me just to try to see what I can glean from it, wisdom-wise. If anything, it helps me solidify my beliefs more.
  • 31:48 So I was going into this with a really open mind and what I realized was he actually has a lot more in common with me than I thought—as well as everyone else who’s been saying similar things. I think it really comes down to semantics. We’re actually driving at the same point. It’s the definitions of the words that are what make it seem like it’s different.
  • 32:17 I’m realizing that the people who say they “don’t believe in passion” or say they don’t believe in “following your passion” are really somewhat similar to me. I like to believe you can pursue your passion and be successful at it, but what I do instead of throwing out passion completely is I redefine passion. Passion isn’t the idea of something it’s loving the act of doing it.
  • 32:44 I think when these other people say you can’t pursue your passion or you can’t follow your passion, what they mean is you can’t follow the idea of it. That’s why they’re all about doing what works and saying they think passion comes from finding something that works.
  • 33:31 Ben: “Passion is finding something that you want to work toward. Like you said, it’s not the idea of the thing but it’s the act of doing. When you show up consistently to do it, the showing up is the thing that you love. It’s not what might come from consistently showing up.
  • 35:00 “Sometimes I go to Facebook and there are these ridiculous, meaningless articles that so many people post. I saw one that was about 10 actors or actresses who quit hollywood. One of the ideas I fell in love with as a kid was this idea of being a celebrity or superstar. I would even act out plays for my parents.
  • 35:40 “It’s like almost anything else—you see the glamorous side of it and you think, ‘Oh, that would be so cool!’ You watch MTV Cribs and you think, ‘That would be so neat to have all of that stuff.’ But they don’t show you all the other stuff that goes into that. It’s saying something if the work of being a celebrity or a superstar is enough to cause some people to walk away from it. That’s not to say that they weren’t willing to do the work, but just that they were willing to be honest with themselves and say, ‘You know, I’m not really passionate about doing this.’
  • 36:16 “I think your definition of passion is right on because what the people who really stick with it are in love with is not the celebrity, not the fame, not the fortunes, not this ideal—”
  • 36:30 Sean: It can’t be when you’re getting 800 book rejections in a year.
  • 36:34 Ben: “No, because those 800 book rejections look absolutely nothing like being a Stephen King.”
  • 37:00 Sean: Kyle in the chatroom said we helped him get back on the horse.
  • 37:07 Ben: “That’s what we’re here to do.”
  • 37:10 Sean: This whole show, setting up, preparing, you coming over, us recording—this was all worth it just for Kyle. If anyone else got anything out of it, it’s just gravy.
  • 37:23 Ben: “So here’s my final diagnosis: the phrase ‘maybe you don’t have what it takes’ is completely irrelevant. Because whether you believe you have what it takes or not isn’t what matters. It’s what you do. It’s showing up.
  • 37:49 “It’s also being objective and sometimes you can’t do that for yourself. Sometimes you have to surround yourself with people who can be objective with you about where you really are and the things that you need to be doing today to move in the direction you’d like to go.”
  • 38:10 Sean: I agree with that. I think I’m still going to leave the title just to be provocative.
  • 38:16 Ben: “Yeah, that’s fine.”
  • 38:17 Sean: But I’m totally on board with that conclusion.