“I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from non-successful ones is pure perseverance”, said Steve Jobs, a man who needs no introduction.
What makes us persevere at anything? What is it that motivates you to wake up each morning and give it your best shot? What inspires you to persist with your idea, with your business or any worthwhile endeavour when there are others who probably had better ideas, but gave up on it because the going got tough? If we look at these questions carefully, we find that they are all asking us to look within and seek our “why”, our purpose, our raison d’etre.
Have you asked yourself these questions? More importantly, have you been with these questions long enough to come to answers that ring true for you? I write this as a seeker after my own answers who seems to keep fall every now and then in his quest, but I take heart and pull myself up.
I would like to share a story with you, one such story that gives me heart. It is the story of a young man, whose profession demanded him to be a bold and sharp speaker, but who in reality was shy and awkward.
In fact he was so fearful, that as a lawyer, in the first case he ever had to handle, he froze completely. He was unable to speak and humiliatingly had to hand over the simple case to someone else. The name of the young lawyer was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Before Gandhiji became the dhoti clad beloved leader, who would be instrumental in defeating the greatest empire of the world through non-violence, he was also a suave lawyer with a modern lifestyle.
The question before us is: how did the shy young lawyer who could not utter a single word in front of the judge, transform himself? What inspired that change in him?
His first professional success came in a case involving two very rich and prominent Indian merchants living in South Africa, Sheth Abdullah and Tyeb Sheth. The merchants happened to be cousins and the bitterness between them had lasted many years.
Gandhiji immersed himself in the case and felt that the facts were on the side of his client, Sheth Abdullah. Soon though, he got disgusted with the profession which demanded that lawyers on both sides only rake up points in favour of their clients. It would just prolong the battle, leading to more animosity, while a wholesome solution would forever be out of sight. Meanwhile, the mounting expenses of the lawyers threatened to consume all of their clients resources. Following the dictates of his heart, Gandhiji strained every nerve to get them to settle through arbitration outside court. They agreed and the arbiter ruled in favour of Gandhiji’s client, Sheth Abdullah. The amount that Tyeb Sheth would have to pay to Sheth Abdullah was 37,000 pounds, a huge sum those days which would lead to Tyeb Sheth’s bankruptcy. There was an unwritten code among the Porbandar Memans, the community to which Sheth Abdullah and Tyeb Sheth belonged that death by suicide would be preferred to bankruptcy. Gandhiji was deeply pained over this and strained hard to get a concession for Tyeb Sheth. After some struggle he succeeded in convincing Sheth Abdullah to allow Tyeb Sheth to pay in instalments stretched over a long period of time. In his book The Story Of My Experiments With Truth he writes, “Both were happy over the result, and both rose in public estimation. My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder.”
Somewhere along the journey from the lawyer who could not open his mouth in court out of shyness, to the one who could facilitate the resolution between the cousins, Gandhiji had found his purpose; his strength and his confidence. Before he experienced success in this case, he experienced racism first hand. The turning point had already taken place when Gandhiji was thrown out of the 1st Class train compartment at Pietermaritzburg station and he had determined then to never give in and bow down to injustice. It was the pain of that experience and the consciousness of the humiliation that many Indians had to go through on a daily basis that touched a cord so deep, that his personality was then progressively and irreversibly transformed. This unfolding strength enabled him to take up the case with renewed zest and confidence. It enabled him to transform and take head on the challenge that seemed to loom like a colossus above him.
I write this not so that we can praise and celebrate Gandhiji, we have done enough of that. I write it so that we can learn to question ourselves and find our inspiration within. If we are pursuing anything because it is the ‘cool’ thing to do, we may experience success as it is conventionally defined, but may miss our true purpose and the satisfaction that we really seek. So I feel it really boils down to our motives, to why we do what we do. The answer may not be as simple as it may appear, but it will definitely be worthwhile.