As a high school student growing up in Bakersfield, we had a class trip to Disneyland each year. In our freshman year my buddies and I spent hours running around the Magic Kingdom, trying to squeeze in all the attractions before our bus left for home.
On the way out of the park with a few minutes to kill, we entered a penny arcade, where the games at that time truly cost one cent. I decided to try a game called “Have You Got the Nerve?”
The game involved squeezing a metal hand while the machine delivered increasing amounts of electrical shock. The goal was see if you could hold on until the meter reached the top. I squeezed the hand and was surprised at the strength of the electrical charge. I held on as the meter rose to the halfway mark, at which point the shock was so strong I was about to give up.
But I didn’t. I remember deciding just to hold on another second or two to see how high the meter would rise. As I gritted my teeth and summoned my strength, a surprising thing happened. The meter broke through the middle range and quickly shot all the way to the top. I won.
It was many years later that I realized that this game was a great metaphor for life. With the benefit of experience, I can now see that success is often realized simply by holding on a little longer. When I feel uncomfortable and want to quit and reduce my pain, I remember the penny arcade game and let myself feel uncomfortable but hold on to win.
Stanley Marcus, one of the founders of the legendary retailer Nieman-Marcus, once wrote that “it takes courage and conviction to keep the chin up in face of negative reactions, but frequently the difference between the talent that’s rewarded and talent that’s not is simply a talent for sticking it out.” He indeed stuck it out and helped create one of the most innovative and respected names in American retailing.
In 1995 an unknown British author submitted her manuscript to 12 major publishers. All rejected the script. She held on, and a year later a small publishing house accepted it but only extended a very small advance. In 1997, the book was published with only 1,000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. However, in 1997 and 1998, the book won two major awards for children’s book of the year. Today, the author has sold more than 400 million copies of her books, and is considered to be the one of most successful writers in the United Kingdom. Her name? J.K. Rowling of "Harry Potter" fame.
The next time you are facing a tough challenge and want to give up, hold on just a little longer. Allow yourself to feel those awkward, sharp pains of change and keep going. You’ll find you’ve got the nerve.
Ken Bertolucci, a 1979 graduate of Cal State Bakersfield, is president of NS Management, a condominium association management company located in Skokie, Ill., a northern suburb of Chicago. He often writes for industry-specific and news publications.