I once watched a superb wildlife programme about the African honey badger. As the name suggests, this animal is particularly fond of honey, and with the African bush being notably short of branches of Sainsbury’s, the only source of food available to the honey badger is beehives – with lots of bees in them.
Watching the honey badger go about its work was fascinating. Having located a hive in a hollowed out tree it cleared out debris to make a wider entrance. The reason would soon become clear – it was going to need an escape route, and it knew it.
The first foray into the hive was painful to watch. It was attacked systematically by the bees and got only a small mouthful of honey before withdrawing to lick its wounds. At this point you expected the honey badger to give up having learned a painful lesson. Not a bit of it! Time after time it went back into the hive, getting stung each time and only getting small amounts of honey in return. You almost found yourself screaming: “For God’s sake, don’t go back in!” as another visit resulted in more pain.
But as time went on, a funny thing happened. The stings got less and less as the stinging bees died off, and the honey badger came away with more and more booty on each visit. Eventually, the bees gave up the fight and the honey badger made off into the bush with the entire hive worth of honey. Victory, from what initially appeared to be a hopeless quest.
The honey badger knew the job wasn’t going to be easy from the start. He knew he wasn’t going to get something for nothing, and that pain would inevitably precede pleasure. But what he also knew was that if he kept at the job, if he persisted, eventually the resistance would be broken down and his goal would be reached. Of course, he had an alternative. After going into the hive for the first time and getting stung so badly for so little he could have thought: “This isn’t worth it. I’ll go and find an easier hive. ”But he didn’t, because he knew that all hives are difficult, and if you want the honey you just have to buckle down and do what’s necessary.
I’m sure the lesson of this isn’t lost on you. Many people give up when entering ‘the hive’ for the first time, after receiving the inevitable ‘stings’ and getting very little in return. They decide to go and look for another ‘hive’ where the bees aren’t so fierce. When that ‘hive’ proves equally difficult, they give up again and go to the next, and the next, and the next. Entering every ‘hive’ involves getting stung, and so they get hurt again and again, and with very little reward because each time they’re starting on a new ‘hive’ where the defences are at their most intense.
For ‘hive’ read goal, target, endeavour or venture. For ‘sting’ read problems, difficulties, or obstacles, and you’ll get the picture. No matter what you hope to achieve, there will be difficulties, and they will be at their most intense in the early stages. Giving up to look for something easier when these difficulties present themselves will prove to be a fruitless exercise. The next venture will carry with it a whole new set of difficulties for you to deal with.
A few years ago I worked with a salesman. He had an almost God-given knack of alienating, upsetting and offending everyone he met. He had any number of ways of achieving this. You would almost think it was deliberate, but I don’t think it was. This man’s sales figures were actually the best in the company, by quite some margin – not what you’d expect from someone who was guaranteed to disenchant every new prospect within seconds of meeting them.
Intrigued by the paradox, I was pleased to have the opportunity to accompany the man on some of his sales calls. At first I thought that he must deal with his customers differently to everyone else. Not so! He was equally obnoxious. So how did he succeed? Simple really. He asked everyone whether they wanted to buy, even when it was patently obvious to anyone with an ounce of sensitivity that they did not.
When they told him they weren’t interested, he ignored them. When they told him politely to leave them alone, he pretended not to notice –or maybe he didn’t notice. Then he asked them again, and kept asking until they said yes. I’m convinced that some people ordered just to get rid of him, but order they did. When it comes down to it, all that he had in his favour was a skin like a rhinoceros, and the tenacity to ask as many people as possible whether they would like to buy his product.
The bottom line is this. Unless you’re very lucky, success will not happen straight away. It takes time. Not one successful person has ever had a ‘clear run’. You’re unlikely to be the first. James Dyson, inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, and now owner of a business worth several hundred million pounds put it this way: “Success is made of 99 per cent failure. You galvanise yourself and you keep going. ”Persistence is what saw him through in the end – just like the honey badger – and it will do the same for you.
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