The Value of Pain
Or How to Retrieve the Torpedo

Steve Jobs has mentored millions throughout the world. I view him as one of my mentors. One of his great abilities was being able to condense truths in simple sentences so that all could understand a particular truth.

Case in point. Jobs said, "I'm convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance." He observed the difference between the many and the few. Many go out and try to start a new business or push some great idea. They work at it for a time and then give up. Others do not give up. The difference between success and failure is more connected to sheer determination than intelligence.


Steve Jobs, the architect to perseverance

Thomas Edison said regarding failure, "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."

Interestingly, Edison's statement was true. Back in 1879, Edison needed to find a long lasting filament for the light bulb on which he was working. During the process, he tried more than 6,000 types of material until he discovered that carbonized bamboo worked the best. Edison viewed a filament that did not work as a step closer to one that would work; it was not a failure. That was Jobs' point. No pain, no gain.


Edison used failure to his benefit.

In various classes that I have taught over the years, I have mentioned both Jobs' and Edison's mindsets. I get both their messages and their points. A couple of weeks ago I came across Jobs' comment again about determination and decided to write an essay on it. I made some notes and saved the material for a new essay.

However, before I could get around to writing an article about Jobs and his pure perseverance, I had something important to do. I went down to Indy on my weekly pilgrimage to babysit for Jack and Owen. While Owen was taking a nap, Jack and I went to the pool for a swim.

I have three adult children and a granddaughter who is half way through college. I love all of them. However, reach the age of 72-years old and dance with death twice, your perception of parenting and grandparenting is radically different than it was decades before. Case in point: Jack and Owen. Granted, Jack and Owen are not gods. Perhaps, a better description of those two preschoolers is demi-gods.

Do you think that description is beyond the pale? Let me explain. One of the advantages that I have is that I truly comprehend my mortality more than I did a couple dozen years ago. I am more in tune with life now in my twilight of life than I was at any other time. Nearly dying caused me to live and understand life unlike all the years before. Steve Jobs said the same thing.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent.

Now, to be honest with you, I get that truth today. Nevertheless, I could not have understood that twenty years ago and neither can you today, unless you have come close to dying. To push the honesty issue further, Jobs could not have known that truth unless he had first danced with death, that of pancreatic cancer. What is true for Jobs and me is true for all the others who have written about this truth coming after the dance: Alan Seeger, Kurt Vonnegut, JFK , Abraham Lincoln, Saul Alinsky, Oliver Sacks, Randy Pausch, and the list goes on and on.

Therefore, back to my two grandsons. I take Jack to the neighborhood pool while Owen takes a nap. While I stood on the side of the pool, I observed Jack as we played with his toy torpedo.

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I threw the foot long torpedo into the water, and he retrieved it. We amused ourselves playing with retrieving the torpedo for a while. However, over the next half hour, two preteen little girls stood around and watched us. I asked them whether they wanted to play torpedo with us. That was precisely what they wanted to do. The two girls were around ten and twelve years old. Therefore, I would throw the torpedo further into the pool for them, because they could swim quite well. All three-torpedo retrievers had fun until the girls' mother told them to get ready to go home.

Therefore, Jack and I continued to play as we had prior to the two older girls joining our game. When it was just Jack and I, I would throw the torpedo into the shallow end and it would sink to the pool floor. Jack was able to retrieve it easily. However, after watching the girls who were twice his age retrieve it, he wanted to use them as role models. He started by giving me directions about how much further I should throw it, which was a couple feet further. When he was able to get it without any trouble, his instructions were to throw it even further from where he could easily retrieve it.

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Jack was caught between keeping up with the girls and his semi-fear of having to swim to the bottom of the pool. He was still able to stand on the pool's floor and breathe without treading water. His difficulty was in swimming to the bottom of the pool. Therefore, he would attempt to swim to the bottom while I helped him by giving him an initial push.

A couple of decades ago, if I had been doing this with my children or granddaughter, I would have written it off as merely helping a novice to swim better. However, this time it was more than that. When Jack would surface and grab my hand, you could see that he had pushed himself beyond his comfort zone. Even though he still could stand up in the pool, swimming down to retrieve the torpedo was a drive to succeed, which presented some fear for him.

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Therein lies a lesson for Jack and me. Jack was doing what Jobs wanted him to do...persevere. He pushed himself having seen the two older girls retrieve the torpedo, and he pushed himself doing what he had not done before. We call that in our adult world an accomplishment.

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I took every opportunity to tell him how successful he was with his determination and drive to dive to the bottom of the pool. Jack learned a lesson that Jobs would have taught him. Do not quit. Try, try, and try again.

Next summer, the memory of that one day will not be remembered, but deep in his mind will be the feeling that he can succeed. What we all need to do with children of all ages is to reinforce the idea that Jobs floated, "I'm convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance." We need to help all children from birth to old age seeing the value of perseverance.

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