What a Rock Star Taught Me About Perseverance

For the record, I never wanted to be a rock star. But as a college freshman I decided I was going to make an album. I hadn’t quite grown out of my belief that I could do absolutely anything I set my mind to. It was a good sentiment from my growing up years, but in this particular case it didn’t prove very helpful. I knew how to play the guitar and a buddy played the piano, so we decided if we wrote one or two songs each semester, we’d have an album by the time we graduated. In fact, I was so sure I would graduate with a diploma in one hand and a record in the other that I even volunteered to write the first song.


Back in my dorm room, I sat down to with my guitar, a pen, a notebook, and my thinking cap. Nothing happened. Somewhere during the next five long, lonely minutes, I decided songwriting just wasn’t in the cards for me. So I told my buddy, “I got nothin’” and got back to my business management homework.

Even though I didn’t make it very far in the whole five minutes I spent as an aspiring songwriter, I did have some classmates who were incredibly talented at it. One was Peter Schottleutner (front man for Schottsy & the Sharpshooters and pictured above). He packed a guitar just about everywhere he went around campus and if there was a social event, he usually had a house band providing the tunes. He even spent one semester at The Contemporary Music Center in Nashville for aspiring songwriters.

It was probably a couple years since my failed attempt at songwriting that Peter got back from his semester at CMC, but I still had to know the secret. While that conversation didn’t do much for my (lack of) ability, it taught me a leadership principle I’ll never forget. My conversation went something like this:

“Peter, that’s a nice album you’ve got there. So what’s the secret to writing songs?” I asked.

“Well, at CMC, they had us write and record a song every week,” he said.

“Every week??” I repeated.  “How did you come up with something good every week??”

“Well, actually we all came up with a lot of crummy songs,” he admitted.  “But we did get a few good ones too.”

And that’s it. That’s what a rock star taught me about perseverance.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recalled this conversation. Not when I was trying to write a song, but when I was writing a blog post, training for a race, giving a business presentation, or attempting to make a sale. This was pressed home even further about a year after college when I made call after call to a community center director about a training program I wanted to list in the directory. Each time I missed him I felt like I was wasting my time.  After about 20 phone calls he eventually agreed to list my program and it ended up being a big enough hit that I was featured on following semester’s directory cover. If I would have given up after the 19th call, nothing would have ever happened.

So let’s take a quick look at the implications:

Success doesn’t come all at once.

It often takes more than 5 minutes to arrive. In fact, fifteen minutes of fame sometimes takes a lifetime of perseverance to attain (tweet). Don’t undervalue the upfront costs in terms of time, effort and emotional investment.

Success doesn’t always look good at first.

Truett Cathy once said that anything worth doing is worth doing wrong… until you can learn to do it right. No one is born an expert at anything. I interviewed a multi-millionaire entrepreneur once who told me that his first 10 businesses failed before he finally broke through.

Success sometimes comes down to the person who holds out the longest.

In many cases success doesn’t go to the most privileged, skilled, or talented. It’s not a 100 yard dash, it’s a marathon. Some get a better jump coming off the blocks, but ultimately, the winners are the ones who don’t give up.

It was Joe Sabah who said, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Then once you start, you’ve got to keep at it.  So who knows, maybe there is a rock star inside of me after all.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.

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