The winner, and still champion

Put persistence in the ring with good looks, talent, brains, or privilege, and persistence wins every time.

Persistence is the heavyweight champion of the world! Put persistence in the ring with good looks, talent, brains, privilege, or any of the others, and persistence wins out every time.

The first good example of this for me was after a short-term summer job ended. I had planned to work the summer at a bicycle shop, my first and only attempt at a normal, five-day-a-week, stay-in-town job. I had married the winter before while a junior in college and wanted some normal work, rather than the high-risk, high-pay stuff I grew up on. My only request of the manager was that I have the solstice off, June 21, to go to the Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival, about an hour north of my home in Anchorage, Alaska. But regular employment didn't fit: The manager decided to change his mind, so I did, too, and gave him my two weeks' notice.

Now it was midsummer, and all the good in-town jobs were taken. Since one of the things I wanted to be when I grew up was a carpenter, I hounded this poor log-home builder until he gave in and hired me.

See, persistence is good. But the real test came when the job was done. Since Roy never seemed to be around much on paydays, I always had to chase him down. But during my last week he was seriously not around. I had to head back to the Lower 48 without my final paycheck.

When I got back to school, I called and called, but to no avail. So I sent him a postcard ... every day. I bought packs of those cheap, plain, prestamped jobs and sent him news of my activities nearly every day for a couple of months until he mailed me a check. Every postcard was polite, newsy, and had my address on it in case he'd mislaid it. The poor guy didn't stand a chance.

This persistence thing has served me well. Some years after the "postcard burial attack," I was building a second story on Suzanne Summerville's house in Fairbanks while she was still living in it. I had never taken on a project like that and was completely unqualified, but Suzanne trusted me. I'm not much of a singer and she was my postgraduate voice teacher. I suppose she figured that anyone who would stick to singing with my ability could finish anything he started.

There were many lessons to learn on a project that big so early in my career. I thought a big project meant lots of building, but I found out that being the boss on a big project meant lots of getting along with inspectors, lots of supply hassles, lots of employee challenges.

One day had me chasing my tail. A delivery got botched, the weather wasn't cooperating, and a key guy decided not to show. (The salmon were running - what could he do?) So I'm plugging away at a critical spot in the job that the missing guy was partway through, and Suzanne noticed I was struggling. She was from Beaumont, Texas, but had picked up a grand way of speaking peculiar to the well-traveled, well-educated, professional singer. "Doug, darling," she said, "would you come down from there for a minute? I simply have to speak with you." Uh-oh, I thought, I've had it now. The jig is up, I'm a fraud, and she's just now noticing.

But it was kind of the opposite. Yes, she'd noticed I wasn't the carpenter some of the guys on my crew were. But that wasn't why she wanted to talk. She gave me a rundown of her career. At every turn, she said, she'd prospered because she wouldn't give up. "Doug dear, I've noticed that, besides being devilishly handsome, Eric is a better carpenter than you. But I would never hire a young man like that. I have worked with many people who could sing and dance better than I. Even some that may have been prettier. But I always get the job because I show up, do what I'm supposed to, and fill out all the forms on time."

how about that? I wasn't a pest or a fraud, I was persistent. That's a good trait, though a little annoying.

Without much of a plan, I've been self-employed my whole career. So far. I'm grateful; I've never had a major failure. But is this where I want to be? Like a lot of people, I wonder. I probably wonder more than a lot of people, actually. Business can be harsh. Deadlines, taxes, landlords, suppliers, employees, workers' compensation insurance claims, Better Business Bureau letters, lawsuits ... see? It just seems to get tougher the longer I'm at it.

Last Saturday I was feeling sorry for myself. I'm the boss, right? I can go work whenever I want, right? Which usually means that I work about every waking moment. I'm at the shop on a Saturday, plowing through the last details of the week (the persistence thing again). And Charlie Gallagher calls. He's the banana king, Missouri's largest produce distributor. Last winter I restored three cars for him: a '62 Cadillac, a '37 Cadillac, and a '31 Marmon. It was 4 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon and this big important guy was calling me on my cellphone. I knew I was in big trouble.

But no, he just wanted to say how happy he was with the work we had done. He had been having a ball driving kids around the neighborhood and wanted to thank me. During the restoration project we had swapped a few tough business stories, and I think he knew I would appreciate the encouragement.

What a relief! But it's always been like that. Stick at the right things long enough, and you'll end up happy. I like it that way, all things considered. Never give up, and you may get some blisters or something, but things will work out. That's how persistence got to be the champ.

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