Icy wind blew the pages of the young man’s book from beneath his near-frozen fingers. His tattered gloves helped little. He huddled in an alley finding what warmth he could behind a bakery. The scent of baking bread made his mouth water but he dared not spend the few coins he had. His family needed every penny he earned as a newsboy to survive. He returned to the book — a law book — the hundredth he had studied cover to cover since coming to America, a poor Russian child who spoke no English. In a few short minutes, he would head back out onto the street and cry “paper,” just as he had every day since his 10th birthday. But for now, he needed to focus on his studies, no matter how cold he was.
Several years later, after working his way through Boston University Law School, the young man sat for the bar in Massachusetts. Many more privileged candidates who sat with him that day failed, but he did not. His days as a newsboy were finally over, but his career as a lawyer had begun. His practice was waiting for him. No one knew the law that affected newsboys better than Elihu Hershenson, my grandfather.
It’s human nature that we acclimatize to our circumstances. I suppose that’s why lottery winners are no happier than the rest of us after a while. Our lives are propelled forward by tailwinds we hardly notice, while the challenges that impede us, preoccupy us. I am no exception, so every once in a while, I remind myself of my grandfather and father. Without my grandfather’s almost unimaginable persistence, my father would not have grown up in a comfortable, two-family home in working class Peabody, MA and had the opportunity to go to MIT. And if not for my father’s own drive and persistence — he entered MIT at 16 and left at 21 with a Ph.D. — I would not have grown up in a privileged suburb in Connecticut and gone to Yale. The blood, sweat, toil, and tears of our forebears create the tailwinds that quietly lift us to reach new heights.
I think about persistence often. Art & Logic has been in business for 26 years and counting, long enough now that I am often asked about the secret to our success. Of course, it’s many things, most of which are common sense: hire brilliant, talented people, and stay out of their way; treat your clients and employees fairly and compassionately; take risks but not foolish ones etc. There are a thousand business books with the same themes and variations. However, the “secret” I don’t see mentioned often enough is persistence. Pure, blind stubborn refusal to quit. I know Art & Logic is still here because of it. I suspect it’s true for most businesses that survive 20+ years. Running a business is like canoeing upstream. Stop paddling and you float back down. It takes a great deal of persistence to paddle for 15, 20, 25 years or more.
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