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Persistence and determination

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col Dennis Veeneman
  • 54th Airlift Squadron commander
When I was a junior in high school my oldest brother gave me a quote by President Calvin Coolidge regarding persistence and determination.

It reads, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

I still have that piece of paper and although it is not sitting on my dresser as it did for many years, I still consider it one of the most powerful and optimistic quotes I've ever read. It struck a chord with me as it simply, but clearly, articulated the view of individual self-determination and "American exceptionalism." Simply interpreted, it tells you that success in life is not guaranteed simply by one's status or God given talents but rather achieved by one's individual will and determination to succeed.

The quote is optimistic in nature due to the fact that it marginalizes the uncontrollable aspects in one's life and focuses on what the individual can control. To me, persistence and determination are two of the greatest equalizers. The person with it is cognizant of their limitations but will not accept failure or satisfaction until his or her goals are realized. This is what I believe to be the main component to American exceptionalism. No matter where you start off in life, with hard work and dedication you can make it. I have and will always believe this about our great nation. History is littered with great men and women who overcame adversity of completely uncontrollable variables in their lives but had the persistence and determination to never give up to achieve great things.

When I look back at the people I've come across in my life, most of the time it was not the person who was the smartest or most talented that succeeded; it was the person who had the determination, motivation, and perseverance to succeed. It was the person who had the character and fortitude to persist when everything went awry.

It's somewhat odd on how often people look at life's inequities, their own shortcomings or things out of their control, yet fail to focus on what they can control or what they can do. I'm sure many of us know or have known people throughout our lives with extraordinary skills and talents who failed to live up to their potential due to lack of determination. Some underachieve due to fear of failing while others quit at the first sign of adversity.

Personally, nothing pains me more than to see talented intelligent people succumb to the comfort of plain mediocrity when they could do so much more with what God has given them. Some yield in their efforts because they feel they don't have the talents or resources enough to attain their goals and dreams, or they listen to naysayers telling them that it cannot be done. I think we in the military are very fortunate to be surrounded by individuals who unknowingly subscribe to Calvin Coolidge's words of wisdom on a day-to-day basis. We are surrounded by people who consistently have the drive and determination to get things done and to achieve great things. To me, Calvin Coolidge's words of wisdom are timeless; it still resonates as the first day I read that quote over 20 years ago.