How to Be Persistent And Get Success


[This is part of the expanded answers to my Twitter Q&A I do every Thursday from 330-430. I will have other answers in smaller blog posts. If you like these Twitter Q&A posts, please Facebook Like so I get a sense of how useful (or fun) they are. Thanks. And please provide additional answers for people in the comments. I am sure that will be appreciated.]


Leon Benson ‏@LeonBenson2: Was persistence the key to you being in the position you are in now?


In early 1994 I created my first website. In late 1994 I did my first corporate website. In 1995 I did my first website for money. I got $17,500 cash for a diamond wholesaler’s website. I went straight to the Chelsea Hotel and gave them the money and paid for my first room (of many) there for a year. I couldn’t believe how rich I was with that money. Stanley Bard, the owner of the Chelsea at the time, looked at the cash and said, “what are you, a drug dealer?” And I felt like one. I was selling crack, heroin, whatever. I felt high. I was so happy. I had made more money than I had ever had in my life. I would wander up and down the stairwells of the Chelsea Hotel hoping I would run into some drug addict who would have sex with me. That persistence never paid off fortunately.

In 1996, we finally incorporated the company doing websites for others. At the beginning of the year we had maybe two or three clients and two or three employees. But we grew. Everyone needed a website. I was still working my fulltime job at HBO but sneaking away for meetings and then hiding my suit before I got back to my cubicle. Finally in 1997 I had to leave HBO to do Reset fulltime. And in 1998 we sold the business.

Along the way I probably got rejected more than 200 times on sales pitches. And I messed up hiring, bribing, sales, investing, we got robbed twice, I messed up on follow-up (with J.P. Morgan, who desperately wanted us to do their website, I just dropped the ball), I messed up everything. I couldn’t get it right. But I felt like we were doing well (we kept growing every month) so I kept at it. In 1997 I tried to sell the company but nobody wanted it. But I kept in touch with everyone and kept sending all potential suitors monthly updates. For about a year, half my job was pitching new clients and half my job was pitching potential people to buy the company. Finally in August, 1998 the time was right and we sold the company. And, by the way, this was my third attempt at starting a company. The other two had failed.

I’ve read so many cases of authors who sold their books door to door for years until finally word of mouth spread and they became bestsellers. John Grisham being a great example. Eckhart Tolle being another. And how many actors spent 5, 10, even 20 years as carpenters, waiters, whatevers, before they got their first big role that put them over the top.  Or Thomas Edison trying 9999 times to light a lightbulb before he got it right on the 10000th attempt. Eventually a water dripping on a rock will wither away the rock.

(Grisham's first novel, over 600 pages, totally flopped)

The only thing I will add: that water is inside of you, and the rock is all the constipated excrement that has curled up in your mental intestines from years of hypnosis by corporations, the government, your friends, your family. your peers, your bosses. You have to wither that rock away. The voice inside that constantly whispers “I can’t” needs to be silenced.

Persistence is not something you do with external goals, but it is something you do internally. It’s the fire you keep trying to start inside yourself until it grows and becomes bigger and bigger. Then everything you touch feels your magic, your presence, your power, your persistence. It is the persistence that comes with preparation.

You do this by every day checking the box: “did I improve physically”, “did I make my life better emotionally”, “did I make my life better mentally”, “did I make my life better spiritually”.Don’t get sucked into past failures. Don’t fantasize about future success. Just today: did you check the box. Did you ignite the fire.

Accepting that suffering is going to happen, and understanding that accepting that suffering ultimately leads to success, is the key to persistence, is the key to ultimate success.

I describe “The Daily Practice” here, which I view as the only way I was able to persist when times were so hard I felt like all I could was die in shame. I would turn on the TV and watch the news and wish I was the person who died in the horrible bus accident or the freak lightening accident. I be jealous of the people who had the courage to jump off bridges.

(Jordan: failed to make his high school team. has missed over 9000 shots in the pros)

How many golf balls do you have to hit before you hit a hole in one? How many serves in tennis before you score an ace? How many different girlfriend/boyfriends before you meet the one you will marry? How many books do you have to read before you can say, “this is the best book I’ve ever read”? How many planets will we have to explore before we find another one with intelligent life? Persistence runs through every aspect of our lives.

We do something over and over again for many reasons:

A) We learn from every attempt. I’ve had several business successes, but several out of 20, 30, maybe even 40 attempts! Does that make me a loser to have failed so much? No, of course not. One success means you are…a success. At least I hope so. Then I blew it and had to start from scratch but at some point you know if you can do it once, you know the trick to make it happen again. And a big part of that trick is persistence.

B) Time management. For every attempt, you will become more and more efficient with your time. You will hire better (bad employees are the worst wastes of time), and you will learn how to pre-qualify customers better. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten on a plane, traveled a thousand miles, made my impassioned pitch, everyone loved it, and then I returned home with nothing nothing NOTHING. It feels so bad. Didn’t they like me? Didn’t they like my idea? Didn’t they think it was important that I flew 1000 miles to see them on their home turf! Didn’t they!? I think it takes about 20 failures to really get time management down to a science.

(Thomas Edison, with one of his many failed inventions)

C) Idea execution. Most of the time we have good ideas but have no idea how to execute it. We waste time thinking we need a lawyer to execute something (they will execute your idea, that’s for sure), or an accountant, or a partner, or a programmer, or a salesperson, or a venture capitalist, or we need to be living in Paris if we want to paint a good painting, or we need to be isolated for six months if we want to write a good novel or book. Or we need to meditate to be “enlightened”. Or we need to be educated to get a job. None of these things are true. They are just excuses. All excuses are myths, are lies we tell ourselves to keep ourselves inside on a sunny day. With persistence you learn how to hunt, how to kill, how to eat.

D) BS Detection. I was at a dinner once to hear a pitch. It was with a fund I didn’t like so I should’ve known better. They said, “just listen to this guy”. He had a great pitch. He had a technology which would take steam coming out of factories that he would then recycle back into the factory so they would save energy and costs. He would charge only on what he saved the factory. Then he had another pitch. Strips that he would place on the highway that would absorb the energy of the cars driving over it and feed it right into the electric grid. “One day on the Long Island Expressway and I could power New York State for a month,” he said. He had more pitches. On and on. Finally, I was thinking to myself, “he’s going to pitch me a time machine.” The next slide…a time machine. I left the dinner. My business partner was laughing, “Did he just pitch us a time machine?” Eventually you get BS detection so you don’t even take those dinners. Much better to sleep.

(the time machine slide)

E) Persistence gives you luck. A lot of times I’m playing chess online and I’ll win and someone will say, “you got REALLY LUCKY!” as if I couldn’t within without luck. And then we’ll play again and I’ll win again and then usually whoever said that will log off quickly without saying goodbye. There’s a saying, “only the good players are lucky”. How do you get lucky? I’m not the best player in the world. But I’ve put in thousands of hours studying and playing. And losing. Persistence is an intimate dance with loss and through that dance you find that that failure mated with passion produces luck.

(Irina Krush stopped a huge winning streak I was on in 1997 when she was 13. But she wasn't lucky. She was more prepared than me. She's now one of the strongest players in the country)

F) Calmness. If every house you live in burns down, you begin to learn how to be calm in a fire. The more calm you are, the more lives are saved, the more possessions restored. Persistence gives you calm. Whispers what you should do in emergencies. Without persistence you won’t know to stay low and let the smoke rise over you so you can breathe.

With persistence, you learn that life is filled with change, and that the more accepting you are of the change, decay, and hardship that life is filled with, the more you will navigate them to find the treasure and wisdom that awaits that acceptance.

G) Giving up. You also learn when you should give up on an idea. Sometimes you don’t need to persist on one idea. Sometimes an idea is just bad. But through constant trial and error you will learn when to give up and move on to the next one. You will learn how to keep your expectations low. Low expectations improves your ability to make quick decisions that don’t rely on false myths, shame, and excuses. When you expect nothing, then suddenly you will get everything.

H) Strength. The world is divided into two people. The ones who blame and the ones who take responsibility. It’s the latter that ignite that inner fire. That seek internal improvement in all four bodies: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Every single day grow the fire. Jerry Seinfeld used to say when he would write down a new comedy sketch he’d put an X down on the calendar. Finally, he would have a line of Xs. He liked looking at the Xs. He didn’t want a blank. Don’t make a blank. Every day improve those internal fires.

("Don't Break the Chain!" Seinfeld said. And Larry David was a standup comedian for over 20 years before achieving success)

I) Trust. If you know you are building that internal fire every day you will be content with what you have. You will trust that life will take care of the rest. You will never be left lacking. You will never be left wondering, “what if?” You will know the exact moment you need to step out of the way so abundance can force its way in like a tornado. You will trust deep down that it will happen.

That’s the key to persistence: improve the internal fire every day, do The Daily Practice to ignite it, and expect absolutely nothing so you will enjoy when you inevitably get everything.

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  • Subramanian Ganapathy86

    Awesome thanks!!!!

  • kevinmacduff

    Breathtakingly inspirational!

    BTW, did you know that at the same time Babe Ruth was the home-run King, he also held the record for striking out?

    • James Altucher

      Funny. I did not know that about Babe Ruth

      • nicholas geiger

        james – have you ever looked into left handedness & invention / creativity.

        babe ruth4 of 5 apple founders
        ben franklin
        ronald reagan
        steve forbes
        alexander the great
        bill gates
        julius caesar
        Bush sr
        noel gallagher
        Da vinci
        Henry Ford

        as some know the right side brain controls the left hand and the left hemisphere of brain controls right hand.

        left handedness in relgions such as hindu & buddism say that left handers are “ill omened” or “wrong”

        I find that major historic figures and left handedness are favored by nature in the sense of history.

        could you touch on this more by chance?

        I have also seen “chakra” energy charts depicting the right hemisphere connecting to a chakra that the left hemisphere cannot connect with.

        • Guest

          Are you left handed by chance and hoping this might be true? 

          I would guess there is probably an equally impressive list of creative inventors and other successful leaders who are right handed.

          Correlation does not mean causation.

  • Deborah Hymes

    James, thank you for this. Question: Can you please talk a little more about giving up? Our culture — and every self-help guru around the block — preaches persist, persist, persist. But equally important (especially if you’ve become a functioning idea machine!) is knowing when to walk away and move onto the next idea. 

    *How do you know when it’s the right time to give up?*

    • James Altucher

      Deborah, I just happen to have a whole page of notes on this very topic for an upcoming post. thanks for reminding me about it. 

      • Deborah Hymes

        Looking forward to reading it! Thank you. ;)

        • Unmaskd

          There’s a big difference between giving up and adjusting the course. It sounds like like you’re talking about the latter. 

      • P_Jaunne

        Looking forward to that post, James.  The biggest problem with my last business was not lack of persistence, but not knowing when (not having the courage?) to quit–all in the name of persistence. H20/20 I’d be much better off had I quit much earlier and pivot to a new plan or start a new business altogether.

        • Deborah Hymes

          I’ve had the same experience myself, P_Jaunne . . . hanging on too long to jobs and relationships that I should have ended YEARS before. WTF was I thinking?!!

      • wilsprod

        Hi James……It can be difficult sometimes knowing when to give up in many areas professionally and personally.  Deborah brought up a good question about when to walk away from an idea and move on to the next.  When you get around to doing your post, can you also share when it’s time to give up on a person or people (professionally….Ex; employees, partners….and personally….Ex: relationships, friendships).  I’m guessing there isn’t one right answer on this, but it would be great to hear your perspective.  Thanks

  • Maria

    Beautiful article. Luck is preparation multiplied by opportunity (Seneca)…

    • James Altucher

      Great quote, Maria. Thanks. 

  • JP

    I’m not lacking in persistence.

    I’m lacking in passion and goals.

    I’m just kind of wandering around life being lost.

    • James Altucher

      How do you know its “lost”. Sometimes wandering is what we need to do. We live in a society that almost punishes us for our wanderings but often that’s where we found our passions, right in the middle of nothing.

      • JP

        I’m practicing law.  That’s technically worse than being lost.

        • Bill Jones

           I had a patient that was a lawyer and hated it. He knew he had to quit…so he did. I saw him many months later. He loved his job…elementary school teacher.

        • Unmaskd

          You’re doing something you don’t like or even hate. Likely you can’t quit overnight, especially if there are others who depend on you. But there must be something you do like and if there is such a thing your best project now would be to move gradually to it as a source of revenue. It may take years, but that was you’ll be living, not merely existing. 

  • Ghazali Ridzwan

    Another great and inspiring article.  Ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.

  • Pmac2015

    Wow.. this is definitely one of your better posts! Definitely one to bookmark and look back on..

  • Roy

    James….watch this short video….it talks about what you talk about college education in America 

  • Anjanikumar

    After Mario Puzo,I love your style of writing.You have a knack of presenting the most complex ideas in a simple easy to understand way.You have touched the chord, Bro!

  • Anjanikumar2343

    Salute Don Altucher!!!

  • Anjanikumar

    I would love to read your thoughts on :
    1 Love : People seem to have more romance in their heads than in their real life.
    2 Jealousy
    3 Trust
    4 Digesting Success( It is easier to digest failure than success)
    5 Friendship
    6 Virtual World ( Things seem to be surreal than real)

    • James Altucher

       Thinking more about the “virtual world” and its relationship to “the old world” of media/corporations/external success. Will have a post on this.

      Trust is tricky. What if you don’t trust someone? Is it your problem, theirs, nobody’s? How do you deal with it. I will be writing about this, jealousy, and love.

      • Momo432

        are you jealous or envious of Zuckerberg? What % of his success was luck, ability, and or sheer evil? They say he screwed over at least 6 people to get facebook all to himself….will karma get him in the end or reward him for his “persistence”?

  • Tony Fahkry

    Gold James! Pure Gold. Great article with sound advice. My own mantra is “consistent persistence” eventually pays off. One can be persistent, like badgering a girl for a date but consistency is the key. Thanks again.

  • Mohammad Ali Bandial

    I get what you’re saying, almost, but its clashing with a previous opinion you had in one of your posts. You had said something about being persistent in your approach as being a waste of time, and that if something is supposed to happen, it should happen the first time. And how the idea that ‘paying my dues’ is just an excuse for ‘ i suck at this’.
    So, im just wondering, where does one draw the line between persistence and futility? i guess nobody has all the answers and the journey is different for everyone, but i don’t know, whatever you write about makes sense to me, so im just trying to make sense of this last one, so that i can quit my job and go home and sleep. ;p

    • James Altucher

      This is more about being persistent internally. Then the external will take care of itself. 

  • Jim Crawford

    I’m going to applaud again. The next step will be putting the applause into action, internalization, and daily practice. Thank you, James.

  • Rishabh Arora

    Great Post!

    On Thomas Edison,  has something different  to say.It’s awesome, check it out. 

  • Bill Kasal

    Thanks, James.

  • gordonwhite

    Another keeper, there, James. Top stuff. I really like the Seinfeld anecdote.

  • Ginger_gal

    You are in excellent company.  Here is a quote on this very subject. 
    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 failures.

    Persistence and determination
    alone are omnipotent.

    Calvin Coolidge

  • John Glynn

    Hot damn, Irina Krush. Affirmation posted with multiple benefits.

  • Arnold Hur

    Great post. Especially relevant given the amount of hyper-sharing of real life “badges” on Facebook. There’s a reason why everything shared on Facebook is so positive…no one cares to read about the work, while there are too many ways to announce the accomplishment. I wish there was a “Meaningful” button on FB.

  • Nate

    I couldn’t stop laughing at the time machine.

    Great post.

    One side note: Edison was a real douche, Tesla was the real genius.

  • Momo432

    have you been listening to those Tony what’s his name tapes?

  • Dr.Boogie

    First time reader (thank you BCLUND for reccomendation)…

    While the guts of the message were inspiring and memorable, I would have spaced them out were it not for the introduction. This tells me you are an excellent writer. Or you are literally or figuratively two different people.

    Now I want more– where do I sign up?

  • Jessica Sweet

    Great post, James. It reminds me of this Walter Matthau quote “To be successful in show business, all you need are 50 good breaks” What might appear to the outside world as an “overnight success” is actually the result of persistence – that’s helpful to remember when we start to think we’re doing it wrong!

  • Darious

    Excellent post Admin!
    and thanks a million for the mention, I’m seriously honoured!Horton crossbows

  • Anthoney

    Thanks so much for
    sharing ;-)Golf Ball

  • Justin Eubank

    I’m not religious at all but I’ve always liked the story of the unjust judge in Luke. Unfortunately for many people dying of illnesses their persistence doesn’t pay off. But that’s an entirely different argument and I’ll save the science fiction reading for later. There’s something to be said of being an annoyance, a pest, or a pain the ass. Many musicians would say when they started they would listen to other’s music, play the easy parts along with the music when they heard it, and then annoy all their friends, strangers, and family members with their performances of the same piece over and over and over. How many times do you think James Hetfield has played the same songs from Black Sabbath before he made it big? Tony Robbins was another pest/pain in the ass to bankers when he was trying to get a loan to attend a Jim Rohn conference. He even said that he was the problem solver in high school and all his classmates knew that and he made sure they knew that. It paid off for him too. I’ve noticed in my own life that my persistence for getting a job regardless of what the economy is doing has paid off and I’ve lived comfortably while others gave up and bitched. One of my friends is tenacious in job searching. When he got fired form his regular job he found out what time a construction company started and where they’d be working at. He said the girl at the front office hated him after the fifth call but he started showing up every day before start time and people would ask him what he was doing there. His answer was always “I’m looking for a job.” They mocked him, teased him, etc but about a week later a guy was a no call no show and since he was there they hired him. He started making about 17/hr which was $2 more than his last job, granted it was physical labor, but he managed to do better. He’s now the boss. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t beg, grovel, humiliate people in public, get violent, or be rude but be persistent and don’t take no for answer. I have a friend who is a professional magician and used to annoy the crap out of us with his tricks, and in the beginning he sucked at it. Whenever he’d say “Hey wanna see a trick?” we’d either indulge him or leave. But he got better with all the practice and annoyance of friends and performing publicly and now has a 7 figure contract with a casino.