Perseverance. That’s what my friend Linda Drummond has. I have known her ten-plus years and I know this has been one of the critical components in her success. (Mary Wood Littleton tells the story of Linda Drummond’s battle with Parkinson’s disease in this issue’s cover story.)
Until I started first grade, I thought I was pretty successful. Things seemed to be going my way. But in Miss Pearl’s first grade class, I was crushed when my papers did not come back with smiley faces. Stella Stokes, however, seemed to be the golden princess of smiley faces. It just was not fair. My lesson here came from my grandma who pointed out, ‘“Fair’ is not in the Bible.” So, don’t expect life to be fair.
Second lesson learned from my encounter with Miss Pearl: If you want something, figure out what you have to do to achieve it. I realized quickly if I adopted Stella’s neat penmanship, I could win smiley faces too. Sometimes the solution is right in front of you. Persevere.
Other struggles are more difficult. I am almost fifty-eight years old (ouch!), and I am still sometimes afraid to use the word successful to describe my career. While I know I am truly blessed to be where I am today – a teacher turned lawyer turned developer – I don’t always feel successful. Sometimes, success seems to be the thing just out of reach.
Mine has not been a meteoric rise. It was more like what Dr. Seuss describes in, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”
“Sometimes you’ll be in a lurch and you’ll land with a thump and find yourself in a slump, and unslumping yourself is not easily done.”
I’ve had to unslump myself. I suppose Linda has too. We all do. It’s all about persevering. For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Accept criticism without taking it personally. Believe it or not, I am not always right. Use criticism or discard it, but don’t take it personally. Take it personally, and you’ll always be unslumping.
Wait Twenty-Four Hours. If something upsets you, wait a full day to respond. This is my most important rule. Every time I break it, I regret it.
You will be forty-seven anyway. When I told my mother and grandmother that I was going to law school at forty-three, my mom said, “You will be forty-seven years old when you graduate.” My grandmother’s reply was priceless, “She will be forty-seven anyway.” So don’t let age keep you from reaching your goals. It’s not too late.
Recently I was talking to a younger woman I really admire. She is brilliant and had an awesome plan for a business she really wanted to start. But the time just wasn’t right. Her son is in the tenth grade and she couldn’t envision juggling the responsibility and travel with his needs. I told her my grandma story about law school. A few weeks later, we got together again for lunch. Guess what? She is going for it. She realized she is working more than sixty hours a week anyway and traveling several days a month. Turns out she just needed some perspective.
Partners. If you are inclined to own your own business, choose any partners very carefully. We know about being “unequally yoked” in marriage, but you need the same consideration in a business partner. While there is a very clear legal path for divorcing a spouse, divorcing a partner can be even more tortuous.
Mentoring. Seek good mentors. Share what you have learned and learn something from everyone you meet. Finding someone you admire, and then following her lead, is a great way to propel yourself forward.
Through it all, persevere and smile. That’s what I’ve learned, and that’s what Linda Drummund’s story teaches. When you think about it, what choice do you really have?
Judy Van Dyke is an attorney turned developer. She lives in Auburn with husband Jerry and children Lily & Gracie