Persistence: The Simple Power of the Next Right Thing



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by Tamara Paton in Interpersonal, Motivation

A few friends like to tease me about my reliance on pearls of wisdom from US presidents. Lately, I’ve been on a Roosevelt kick, mostly Theodore with dashes of Eleanor for good gender balance.

Dedicated readers may recall the way I recently leaned hard on Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech. His words encouraged me to stay engaged with an opportunity and fight for my rightful place. With Teddy’s help, I steeled myself against the critics and owned the real estate under my feet.

Unfortunately, I lost the battle. At the end of the day, arena security escorted me to the sidewalk.

To bring this metaphor home, I am about to lose my seat on the board of an organization I love. I’m up for re-election and my fellow directors chose to support someone else on the ballot. (This is a deal breaker for those who run with the intention of winning.) When our AGM rolls around this summer, I’ll be out of a job.

Although I knew this outcome was possible, I took the news hard. I cried. I spewed profanity. Then, I began searching for fresh wisdom from Roosevelt and his band of merry presidents.

Own the truth

Initially, I brainstormed the narrative I would use to explain the situation to others. I needed a story that would make this look less like a embarrassing failure. When I tried to verbalize my excuses, however, I just couldn’t do it. All that came out was “I’ve lost my role with the MEC board and I don’t know how to get over it.”

Understand the subtleties that make this hard

I’ve written previously about pivotingnavigating conflict and disregarding limits. When I underperform in a meeting or client interaction, I rely on those practical steps. Unfortunately, my scrappy “how to” advice doesn’t fit right now. My current circumstances feel different, because the rejection came from those with whom I’ve worked directly. They’ve known me for years, not the fleeting length of a suboptimal interview.

If you’ve been fired, downsized or restructured out, you know the feeling. Most of those experiences however, humanely offer the relief of a quick blow. In my case, I learned my fate with four months remaining in my current term. I couldn’t avoid those who had rejected me. Three two-day board meetings stood between me and my off-ramp.

Move forward

In the absence of a better idea, I moved forward. I didn’t have a grand plan towards a more successful future. As the door closed, I couldn’t even see the often-promised open window. I decided to do the next right thing and go from there.

“In any situation, the best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt

Last week, I boarded a plane. I showed up to my board meeting alongside those who rejected me. I didn’t shrink or hide. I didn’t pretend that the situation was easy or what I wanted. My colleagues may have decided that I’m not what they need anymore, but I still had a job to do.

And I didn’t just attend — I showed up fully. I asked the first question on the first management report. I focused on the work. And when I didn’t agree with another director, I spoke freely with a sense of independence that is only possible on the way out. After all, I don’t need to carefully budget my social capital anymore.


Last month, US Senate Republicans used a little-known rule to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

McConnell unknowingly launched a battle cry for women around the world. For me, “Nevertheless, She Persisted” has also become my mantra as I move beyond this deeply personal disappointment. I took a first step at the board meeting last week and have continued every day since. The progress is slow and incremental, but my persistence will accumulate into something that is far from trivial.

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Persistence: The Simple Power of the Next Right Thing

by Tamara time to read: 3 min