The Power of Positive Thinking: Persistance is the most important attribute of success

I have more to say about the recent Michael Keaton movie, The Founder than I did during a recent review (click here to read that).  The Founder was one of those unique movies that truly crosses many boundaries of intellectual thought and within it is a little hidden gem that I thought was remarkably well articulated.   Disguised as a simple movie The Founder captures in a bottle the essence of Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking” which is a very real thing.  I don’t know if I have it naturally because I grew up in many of the same places that Peale did and went to many of the same small churches in the Ohio region—specifically Cincinnati.  But it’s always been a part of my life this idea explored in the film—that persistence is the most valuable trait attributed to success that there is anywhere in the world and it is the magic ingredient that is unlocked through the philosophy of capitalism.

If Ray Kroc and Donald Trump turned to Norman Vincent Peale it was for me the 30-minute span of time in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones was stuck in a tomb with snakes, to the point where he was about to be run over by a truck in the famous chase scene of that classic movie that did it for me.  I was always a positive person who never understood the word quit, but for me that movie set me on a life path of understanding of how important persistence was to the human condition.  When Indiana Jones a few scenes after the truck chase swam over to the Nazi submarine that for me was my version of Norman Vincent Peale.  But of course over time I have refined that type of thinking to make it my own.  But once you get it, it makes you a unique person for life however it comes to you, and it’s something very specific to American culture.

One thing I that really jumped out at me while staying in England for an extended period of time was the structured limitations they put on themselves as a country.  I love that they read, and that they speak well—but people who have a tenacious persistence toward objectives is lacking.  Their culture does not produce such people naturally.  They get their occasional Richard Branson, or their Gorden Ramsay but on the street level charismatic characters such as what makes people like Ray Kroc are missing.  I thought it was a very powerful moment while at a convention panel discussing the movie The Founder that Michael Keaton hit the nerve absolutely on the keys to American capitalism perfectly.  Keaton stated that people from other countries just didn’t get “it,” what made Ray Kroc more than an American villain—but a hero of capitalism.  People outside of America are often mystified by the tenacious quality of Americans which is born from culture, family and pre-kindergarten education.  Other countries are missing the element of personal freedom so the traits that breed persistence into people from the age of infants is missing. You could see the same comments from socialist oriented publications talking about The Founder—they all wanted to view Kroc as a villain when in fact he wasn’t.  His character was far more complicated than that.  In a socialist society the value of a human being might be interpreted by how much they sacrifice of themselves in service to others—whereas in the capitalist definition it is in how much war is won in the name of success which therefore translates directly to improving the lives of everyone.  In the film The Founder Kroc proposes to the McDonald brothers that if they didn’t want to franchise the McDonald’s brand for their own profit then they should do it for the good of America—which is precisely what ended up happening.  Kroc never took no for an answer and just kept coming at the McDonald brothers until they gave in—which is a trait of most successful enterprises.  Most success in life doesn’t come from lucky shots and instant millions in the bank account—it comes from decades of rejection where a person never gives up and preservers against all odds because they simply wear out the opposition.   That is a specifically American concept and it is so evident in people like the real Norman Vincent Peale and Donald Trump.  It’s also there in American culture in fictional characters like Indiana Jones—which is why those movies have such resonance in our culture many decades later.  Because it speaks to the hopeful child in all of us that if we just work harder and longer we will eventually punch through.   Most of the miserable people who Henry David Thoreau referred to when he said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them,” are your friends and neighbors who arrive at middle age sad, fat, and bored.  That is because what has died in them is that childlike persistence to attempt to walk, learn the alphabet, and learn to speak.   For people, lucky enough to preserve these traits in themselves into adulthood the world is a lot better off because of them.

Like they said in The Founder, which is what Michael Keaton was trying to frame within a global context during the aforementioned press conference, which many people just don’t understand—is that the most valuable trait to the pursuit of success is persistence.  You can have really smart people on a project, yet it won’t be successful if there is a lack of persistence present to drive things forward.  You can have strong people, beautiful people, or even conniving people, and a project won’t be successful unless there is someone there with vision fueled by persistence to accomplish a task.  (Robert Persig, Metaphysics of Quality)  For instance, Walt Disney is all about the story of persistence.  It’s not about talent, or even having a better idea than the next person.  Walt never quit trying hard for decades to get his ideas off the ground.  The same thing could be said of George Lucas and his Star Wars franchise.  He was “persistent” and if he hadn’t been there never would have been a Star Wars.  Persistence is the key to all endeavors.  If a person has persistence they are more valuable than people with great educations, great skills, and great beauty.   Persistence is the key to any successful enterprise and behind most stories of success, luck is not the driving factor, its persistence.  Luck sometimes happens, but persistence, the kind that Ray Kroc had in The Founder, is what defines success or failure.

People who have given up in life and turn to socialism for a means of feeding themselves without the shame of admitting what they’ve become hate people who are “persistent”  They may go watch an Indiana Jones movie and admire the persistence of the character and within the darkened theater, root for such people, but when they meet them in real life they hate them with a passion not because of the persistent people themselves, but because of what they’ve lost along the way that made them accept average results.  There are a lot of people in life who are like the McDonald brothers—successful people who figure out a better way to do simple things—but the world never hears from them because they stay in their little restaurants and live their little lives contently happy to remain there.  Then you have people like Ray Kroc who struggle most of their life to make it big from one idea to another always ready but never give up.  Because they never quit, and are persistent they are always in the game—much like the New England Patriots were in that great Super Bowl that wrapped up the 2016 season—never quitting, never yielding until they eventually ground out a win.  Or Donald Trump campaigning at 1 AM in the morning at Michigan the night before the massive American election in November of 2016.  Persistence equals wins—not every time, but the averages favor those who are always trying to win whether they are cleaning toilets or making multimillion dollar deals.

Persistance is not taught in our schools, but it is an aspect of American culture and explains why many people who are persistent are some of the greatest treasures to capitalism and our American economy that we have—and no school can lay claim to making them that way.  It’s created from deep inside during their infancy years.  I always had it, and I recognized it in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones just never stopped trying to get the Ark of the Covenant back from the Nazis.  In my life I purposely take on projects that would otherwise be impossible but for my endless persistence just to prove my thoughts true to all the people who have told me all my life that things are impossible.  My greatest thrill is in doing the impossible with sheer persistence.  I’ve done things in life that would have killed many people many times over from either suicide or public shame—and I have done them with an internal persistence that doesn’t come from any worldly reference.  It is beyond space and time even, and I consider it the greatest gift that a person can possess.  It should be the number one trait people list on a resume—but unfortunately most people don’t see it or understand it—otherwise they’d be better off.  But I can say that our American way of life makes more of them—and that alone makes the United States the most moral country on earth.  And that’s no small thing.

Rich Hoffman


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