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The Test of Character

The test of your character is what it takes to stop you. (Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.)

Success guru Napoleon Hill often recounted the unfortunate story of an uncle of a man named R.U. Darby. The uncle was bitten by the gold bug back in the gold rush days and went West to seek his fortune in gold mining. He staked a claim and began eagerly to dig for that precious yellow metal.

Within just a few weeks, he discovered a vein of gold, but he needed machinery to take best advantage of his strike. He returned East and quietly enlisted the investments of family members and a few trusted friends. After buying the necessary equipment, he returned to his claim and resumed his mining. Early loads of the extracted ore indicated that he had, indeed, struck a rich vein, and his expectations of riches soared.

But then the vein suddenly ran out. The ore yielded not a flake of gold. The gold had seemingly vanished and with it his dreams of wealth. He continued to drill and dig, but experts assured him that there was no more gold to extract.

Disheartened, Darby's uncle decided to quit. He sold his mining machines and equipment. Someone else took over his claim--and found the vein just three feet from where Darby had quit digging.

Have you ever stopped just before you could have succeeded at something? I have. But I've also kept trying at other things when everything seemed to point to failure. And, as a result of that persistence, I succeeded, at least in those instances.

The first example that comes to mind was when I almost lost my wife. Well, she wasn't yet my wife but rather a college sweetheart. We had been dating regularly for several months, and all seemed to be going well between us and in our college classes. We were even hinting at marriage.

But then one day when I met her after one of her classes and we were walking to lunch, I could sense that something was different. She normally would have been telling me all about her day. But on this occasion she was uncharacteristically reticent.

I tried to get her to tell me the problem, but she was unwilling to explain what had happened to change her attitude so suddenly. She didn't want to go to lunch, but I insisted and continued to press for an explanation. Finally, she blurted, "We just need to cool it!"

That explosion warned me of the possible outcome if I didn't do something fast. Over the next couple of days, she refused to see me, but I kept up a continuous search for the root problem. I wrote notes to her--unanswered. I sent messages via her friends and roommates, pouring out my heart to her, seeking forgiveness for any offenses I might have committed--whether real or perceived--and for things I should have done but hadn't.

Finally, our relationship was restored. I never learned what the problem was or how she had resolved it or what I might have done or said that had resolved it. I could have just accepted her outburst as a final rejection and "cooled it," but I didn't.

We ended up getting married. And countless times over the ensuing 45 years I've told her, "I'm so glad we didn't 'cool it!'"

Another example of when I might have given up involved my writing. I had worked hard on a book manuscript--researching, writing, editing, revising--and searched diligently for just the right publisher. I finally submitted the manuscript to a publisher for consideration.

Weeks passed without a word. Then I got an email declining the manuscript. It explained that the editorial committee had determined that the two parts into which the book was divided "just don't work." The publisher didn't offer any reason why they didn't work or any suggestions of what I could do to make them work.

I could have taken their decision at face value and sought a different publisher--or given up entirely. But I believed in the message and value of the book and was willing to do whatever was necessary to make the parts work together. So I replied to the publisher, saying that I was willing to revise as necessary but that I needed to know what was preventing it from working for them. Give me specifics, I told them, and I'll change it.

Several days later, I received an email from the publisher saying that upon further consideration they had decided to accept the manuscript--without my making any revisions. As a result, Combat! Lessons on Spiritual Warfare from Military History was published.

Now the publication of that book admittedly was no gold strike on the same level as that made by Darby's successor. I've probably given away more copies of it than have sold. But it is just one example of how persistence pays off.

Years ago in college, I heard a guest speaker recite a poem about two bullfrogs that had fallen into a milk can full of milk and couldn't get out, no matter how hard they tried. One frog finally gave up and drowned in the milk. The other, however, kept on kicking about in the milk until he had churned up a lump of butter. He climbed onto it and rested. When the dairyman opened the can, the frog leapt from his buttery island, out of the can, and away to a full frog life.

The final stanza of the poem says,

The moral of this story is: When times are hard, no trade in town.
Don't get discouraged and go down.
Just keep on trying, no murmur utter,
A few more kicks may bring the butter.

Don't be so quick to give up on what you've worked hard for or what you strongly believe in. Persevere. Keep trying. Don't give up. The next "kick" might be the one that brings forth the butter.

Remember: "The test of your character is what it takes to stop you."

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