A couple of weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to tell a story on The Moth Mainstage in NYC. The audience numbered more than 1,000 and the venue was The Great Hall at Cooper Union. Abraham Lincoln spoke there in the 1850s. Six months ago I would have never imagined I’d be there — now, I can’t wait to go back. There were five storytellers that evening and I was blessed to be on the same stage with these remarkable individuals. Ostensibly, the theme was Walking the Line: Stories of Balancing Acts. But actually, each story was about perseverance.
Author and musician Mishka Shubaly was shipwrecked and walked more than 30 miles to get help, drinking his own urine to survive. Award-winning producer and African-American June Cross endured growing up in the 1950s as the family secret — her white mother gave her to another family to be raised and insisted June refer to her as her “aunt.” International biologist Mark Moffet continued to research the endangered jumping spiders in Sri Lanka, even as civil war broke out around him. Author Richard Price told of the special relationship he had with his grandmother, who lived life measuring only five feet tall, but weighing nearly 300 pounds. At rehearsals, I got very worried — all I did was go to art school.
I took my worries of having the weakest story in the bunch to The Moth’s Artistic Director Catherine Burns, who reminded me that not all stories are extreme, but they still need to be told (just to prove her point, she asked me to open the show). And she’s right. In my case, and probably in your’s too, the most inspiring stories of perseverance involve people who do the daily work of just showing up — again and again, slowly but surely, working toward their goal. Whether it’s writing a book, starting a business, or raising a child, they just “keep on keepin’ on,” as my father used to say.
Being Relentless Pays Off
My dear friend Tim Donovan, despite being raised in the family health care business, discovered he was an artist at age 40. For 10 years, he persevered as a part-time mature student and recently graduated cum laude from New Hampshire Institute of Art. He’s planning to pursue a master’s degree, has launched two art galleries — one in NYC and one in Peterborough, NH — and will have his first solo show in Boston in spring 2012. His challenges weren’t physical survival — I’m pretty sure he just drank a lot of coffee — but it took tremendous courage and perseverance to make his goal happen.
And in the May issue of More Magazine, there is a terrific article featuring Kathryn Stockett, the author of the bestseller The Help. She was rejected 60 times — 60 times! — by literary agents. The 61st agent finally accepted her, sold the book in three weeks, and now it’s being made into a major motion picture. Look at what she would have missed if she’d stopped at the 1st rejection or even the 40th.