“Fortitude is the marshal of thought, the armor of the will, and the fort of reason.” – Francis Bacon
Growing a business can be a tough grind. Like any significant project, it’s the starting that’s easy but the finishing that’s hard. Pick your favourite project: parenting, health, wealth, education or business, and it’s the same model of an eager start, slow climb and moving goal posts to the finish. In the end, anything worth doing is very, very hard, which is why so many people quit before accomplishing true greatness. They run out of steam and let the obstacles overcome them, rather than overcoming the obstacles.
While there are a number of factors that go into making a person persist until they succeed, I believe the most important factor is a high degree of fortitude or mental toughness. Fortitude is the ability to generate mental courage or strength, in the face of a difficult, dangerous or extreme adversity. It’s grit, resolve or backbone. It’s the willingness to go beyond fear into a state of the unknown, with confidence. It’s not being reckless. Rather it’s facing fear with the inner conviction that you will succeed.
To build fortitude in my life, I always start by reminding myself of my duty and purpose; which is to fulfil my personal potential in order to create abundance for those I care most, my family. By reminding myself of why I am pursuing a goal, it creates a higher calling that makes my obstacles seem smaller in comparison. In addition, this approach lengthens my time horizon, since my purpose is multi-generational, and reduces the timeline of the obstacle. For instance, if the goal is to stay healthy to role model behaviour for your family over a generation, how difficult does it then become to workout for only 45 minutes every day. Remind yourself of your own purpose.
The next thing I do is to constantly build reserves of fortitude when I don’t need them, so they are there when I do need them. I achieve this by testing or challenging myself regularly, particularly if I start to get too comfortable or I back-slide. For example, in 2012 I walked 35km per day for many days in a row, to complete a considerable section of the Camino De Santiago Pilgrimage Walk. Currently, I am in day 57 of a 90 day diet plan of only eating fruit, vegetables and meat, in order to help build my mental fortitude. It’s a sacrifice, but helping me in many other aspects of my life. Set your own challenge, great or small, and build your fortitude muscle.
Finally, I try to persist well beyond the rational or reasonable level for a business project. I do this because I have learned over my career that truly great businesses and business leaders are not reasonable. They can’t be, since the business world is unreasonable and the changes irrational. These great entrepreneurs think in exponential and accelerated terms, and change their world around them, rather than being changed by it. I do this by adopting big goals, associating with exceptional people, pushing for excellence when it’s required, and by trying to find an unconventional way around or through an obstacle. While it does not always succeed, the effort itself build fortitude and resolve.
Don’t try to change your world in one day. Rather focus on building fortitude, or inner toughness, which will serve you during difficult times, and be an inspiration for those you care for.
Eamonn has a B. Eng. (Electrical) from Lakehead University, MBA (Finance) from University of Toronto, and has completed Executive Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. Follow him on twitter @EamonnPercy.