By Anisha Anilraj
Determination is the master quality on which everything else hinges. it can help achieve any goal in life
Probably one of the most popular images associated with determination is the story of King Bruce and the spider. On the run after having been defeated by the British for the sixth time as they advanced into Scotland, King Bruce finds shelter in an old shed. He watches a spider painstakingly building her web, striving to throw a line across a beam. She fails six times, but undeterred, she tries again – and she succeeds. Fired by the spider’s unflagging persistence, King Bruce wages war once again – and this time he wins.
The most glorious stories in history are odes in praise of the determination of great men and women. In the face of adversity, oppression and discrimination, great men like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King inspired people to stand up for themselves. At a time when masses of people were bowing their heads and accepting injustices being heaped on them, these men drew strength from their circumstances and chose not only to survive, but lead the masses into the light. From the Dandi March and Harijan movement, to anti-apartheid activism, these men had one ideal they were determined to establish in the world – that all men are created equal. While one of them stated it explicitly, each one of them had a dream of a world of freedom, justice and equal opportunity. Their vision coupled with hard work and dedication made our world what it is today. Their stories are testimony to the power of belief and determination which changed the course of history, laying down the foundation for the birth of great nations.
Abhilash Kamath wanted to run a marathon. This was no easy task for him as he was overweight and could barely run more than 100 feet without running out of breath. Over the course of six months he trained diligently, building his stamina. “At first I felt self-conscious about running because of my weight. I thought people might laugh at me,” Abhilash confessed. “I would try to run three times a week. It took more discipline than I had ever demonstrated in my entire life. At first I could only run for one minute at a stretch, but over a period of 20 weeks, I could run for 30 minutes non-stop.” When asked if he felt like quitting through the process, Abhilash says, “I felt like quitting with every step I took. It was so hard. But somewhere deep inside me, something would not let me stop. I knew I had to keep trying to run.” Abhilash has now completed two marathons but he says that what gets him through each run is sheer willpower and determination. “Running a marathon is not easy. For one thing you run on the road and the impact of each stride starts to have a toll on you as the kilometres tick away. Over time, I have learned to disassociate myself from the pain and motivate myself during a run. Also, when you see more experienced runners zoom by you, you have to keep focused on your goal and not be bogged down by the success or failures of others. That is not what running a marathon is about.” Abhilash smiles as he reminisces about his first day running at his gym, “I can no longer understand the person I used to be. I mean, why was I feeling awkward and shy about running? Now it seems like the most natural thing for me to do.” Abhilash’s story re-establishes a very simple fact – every accomplishment starts with the decision to try and keep trying until we succeed.
The will to succeed
Determination is even found in the routine of our lives. It gets us out of bed some mornings when our bodies might still need rest. You see it in the brows of labourers at a construction site as they work amidst the dust, heat and noise. You see it in the deliberate first steps a baby takes while learning to walk, and in the way an animal protects her young from predators. It is thus a quality so integral to our existence, that very often it is impossible to distinguish it from ourselves.
Determination gives us the winning edge by helping us attain our goals. Determination to the psyche is like fuel to the race-car; it enables us to zip to our goal. Determination is fire in the belly, iron in the will and starch in the spine. Even if we lack all qualities save determination, we will still get where we want to get – so powerful is this one quality.
It is therefore plain to see that determination is in dire shortage or we would not be living in the world we do. Why so? On what does determination hinge? Determination hinges principally on motivation. If we lack the motivation to achieve, we can never cultivate determination. Once we find the motivation, determination might still hold back unless we are full up on self-belief and commitment. Only these will take us along the long lonely road of achievement, which is strewn with the corpses of those who tried but could not persist.
Two years ago Sunil Mehta turned 50. A week after his birthday he confided in his wife and told her he was unhappy at his job. Although Mr Mehta is a Senior Vice President at a successful company, this news came as no surprise to his wife. What he felt is not uncommon. Many successful individuals reach a plateau in their careers with nothing new to aim for, no new goal to achieve. Mrs Mehta, being an extremely perceptive woman, spoke to her neighbours and together the women set up a badminton court in their complex. Soon, they were organising tournaments and people were signing up to play. Mr Mehta reluctantly went for the first game his wife signed him up for, but returned home laughing and filled with cheer. “I just needed something new to look forward to. I used to play in college, but I am out of practice now. I am sure very soon I will get my game back,” Mr Mehta says. His wife adds, “Sunil had reached a stage where he felt like he was stuck in a rut. When he came home each day, I could tell he was weary not from a hard day of work, but from a boring day at work. We all need something new in our lives constantly and it has to be challenging. If it isn’t challenging, there is no way it will be beneficial.” Truer words could not have been spoken of the human spirit. We would be empty shells if we did not have within us the will to accomplish our goals and the drive to succeed. Two years later, the Mehtas along with their neighbours and friends organise and participate in several activities like career guidance and scholarships for the children of their housemaids and drivers, planting more trees around their building, and a new project is underway to compost their biodegradable wastes.
Another reason for an individual to lack motivation is because their goals have been set for them. This can either be a result of the expectations society imposes on an individual or lofty goals set by well intentioned parents.
Such was the case of Priya Seth, a bright young woman with an illustrious academic pedigree. Being an only child of two extremely successful lawyers, she too joined law school and completed her degree at the top of her class. However, when it came to practising law, she found herself completely disinterested. Her parents were distraught. They could not understand why their intelligent and otherwise lively young daughter showed absolutely no motivation to join them. Having worked hard throughout her academic years, they assumed she had reached a point of saturation and that her stupor would be cured by a holiday. So they encouraged her to travel and visit places before she joined the family practice. On returning from her holiday, Priya was a changed person. She went up to her parents and said, “I don’t want to practice law, I want to be a chef.” While her parents stared on in shocked disbelief, Priya explained to them how during her travels she realised the great power a well-prepared meal had on a person’s disposition. “While I enjoyed reading and learning law, I realised that I was not interested in the practice of it. Although it would have been easy for me to join my parents and inherit their thriving practice, I just could not get myself to do it and that made me feel miserable. I felt like I was not doing justice to myself, to my efforts throughout law school, to all those sleepless nights spent reading, and most of all, I felt guilty that I was letting my parents down. When they suggested I go on a holiday, I did so reluctantly, but as I travelled from one place to another, each experience refreshed me,” Priya recollects. “The one realisation that hit me hardest being away from home for so long was that I could only be completely happy in a place if I liked the food there. After several exciting culinary discoveries and at other times, bouts of traveller’s diarrhoea, I started to philosophise about food and the role it plays in our lives. Some of the best conversations I had with fellow travellers were over a wonderfully prepared meal. The people who made me feel at home were the ones who cooked for me and placed the warm food before me with a smile.” In summing up her newly found calling Priya says, “Food can make people happy, and happy people make the world a better place. It was so simple. I knew I had to become a chef.” Priya’s determination to pursue this career path so far removed from her parents’ dreams and her own training was a brave one. “I never once doubted myself,” Priya says, “and after a month of resistance my parents finally gave in. It was the first time I actually insisted on doing something against their wishes but I still felt so happy, like I had found my calling.” Today Priya is training to become a chef at one of New York’s finest culinary schools. “I work long hours and it is strenuous work, yet each morning I spring out of bed happier than the last.” Such enthusiasm and happiness is, of course, contagious and Priya’s parents mention their lawyer-turned-chef daughter with much pride. In describing the success of Priya and her parents, the words of H.H. Swami Tejomayananda come to mind, “Some are destined to succeed, some are determined to succeed.”
The harder the task, the more determination one needs to bear upon it. Thomas Edison, it is said, had more than a thousand failed experiments in his hands before he invented the electric bulb. Olympic athletes know how gruelling is the task they set themselves to and how often they would have been tempted to throw in the towel.
Of all the goals in the world, the hardest of all is self-realisation. To realise one’s full potential, to transcend every weakness and limitation, to free oneself of every hurt, wound and regret are such staggering tasks that few can achieve it in a lifetime. Each person who sets out on this project, therefore, needs inhuman determination to stay the course.
“A sudden enlightenment experience set me on my journey, but I was at a very low ebb. I had been ill for many years and had forfeited qualities like focus, concentration, discipline and organisation,” says one seeker. “My self-esteem was zero. All I really had was an inhuman determination to be permanently in the state of absolute joy I had momentarily experienced. My persistence enabled me to hang in there even during the rough days and eventually my powers of focus and discipline returned to me. Only determination got me to my present state.”
The words of Calvin Coolidge sum up determination most aptly, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people 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. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
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