“Many of life’s losers are people who didn’t realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison
In the world of politics, one of the most difficult traits to teach is persistence, which is defined as persistent effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, setbacks, or opposition. Many of us grew up in a world that taught us to feel embarrassed to be rejected in sports, academia, business, and life itself. Few of us are taught to use that rejection as fuel to prove the doubters wrong.
Whether we are members of the business community or politicians, none of us want to feel the sting of rejection. The hard truth is that in the political business, rejection is always lurking nearby and can visit at any moment.
Rejection doesn’t just come in the voting booth; you may be ostracized by caucuses or party leaders, or berated by the public for some wrong vote or policy decision (think ungodly increases in health care premiums).
Whenever an elected official asks me for advice on how to deal with a loss or political rejection, I point to former NBA player and Asian American Jeremy Lin as a model of perseverance.
Let’s break it down quickly.
As a senior in high school, Jeremy was named Northern California Basketball Player of the Year. Despite his many school awards and basketball accomplishments (leading his team to a 32-1 record, averaging 15.1 points, 7.1 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 5 steals per game), Jeremy did not receive a single scholarships. Undeterred, he sent DVDs of his highlights to every Ivy League school and a handful of other elite schools. Jeremy felt unwanted, but ended up on the Harvard basketball team as an outcast.
By all accounts, Jeremy had a very successful college career, including several recordings. He held the Ivy League records for average points (1,483), rebounds (487), assists (406) and steals (225). Not bad for someone who is considered by many to be too short and not very fast or talented.
Given his record-breaking performance at the collegiate level, Jeremy expected the NBA to knock on the door. He was not selected in the 2010 draft.
Did Jeremy give up? Hell no.
He was drafted by the Golden State Warriors, essentially as a freshman, and traded to the D-League team. Largely thanks to the large number of Asian-American fans who followed him in the San Francisco area, Jeremy became a player to watch even if he rarely played. The media, again led by the Asian-American markets, followed Jeremy’s every move. At one game in Toronto, which was also Asian Heritage Night, Jeremy was followed by 20 members of the Chinese media based in Toronto. At this point, Jeremy played sparingly and bounced between the NBA and minor league bench. How many of us would consider packing it?
After a knee injury and a brief stint in the Chinese Basketball Association, Jeremy was waived by the Warriors, picked up by the Houston Rockets, played little, and was waived by the Rockets. Still depressed?
Jeremy signed with the Knicks and played with their minor league affiliate. Due to injuries, the Knicks were forced to call him up and he was reluctantly placed in the starting lineup. A magical time. With Lin leading the way, the lowly Knicks have won 7 straight games. Jeremy played turn off the lights. After that special week, Lin was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, averaging 27.3 points, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game. “Linsanity” hysteria was born, and the NBA world was obsessed with his every move. Soon Jeremy was on the covers of several basketball magazines and a number of sports shows were showcasing this special talent. This success was met with the signing of several NBA contracts (Lakers, Hornets, Nets) worth millions of dollars. Jeremy ended his NBA career by winning a championship with the Toronto Raptors. When all was said and done, Jeremy played in 480 NBA games and had a career that spanned 9 years. He still plays today in the Chinese league and continues to inspire young players around the world.
What is a takeaway?
It’s easy to walk away when times get tough or things go wrong. The hardest thing to do is brace your spine and work your way through it while you look for the next brilliant opportunity. As I said before, politics is a blood sport and not for the faint of heart. There is a plan. Inject a healthy dose of persistence and keep going.
When I first ran for local office, many people told me not to run because I was too young, too ethnic, had no connected family members, and didn’t have the money. With the campaign team, I campaigned like a man possessed, knocking on every door three times and setting a record for the number of votes. Two years later, resume in hand, I walked into Paul’s cabin to audition for an open seat in the Assembly. I was met at the door by the chairman of Essex County and told not to embarrass myself as the deal was already done and I had no chance. I walked away in disbelief and vowed never to be caught off guard again.
Four years later, I learned of another vacancy in the Assembly that was for another related official (chief of staff to then-Assemblywoman Maureen Ogden), but I called every district committee member and won the convention by 18 votes. I later canvassed and won a Senate seat historically in Union County, and for nearly two decades won contested primaries when my home county of Essex and my home town of Cedar Grove were only 10 and 5% of Bergen/Passaic. district respectively. I’m no Jeremy Lin, but I attribute my victories to tenacity and a bit of persistence.
After all, it’s easy to walk away when faced with great odds or a stacked deck. My credo: Life is short and the time to make your mark is now. Most importantly, given the odds and the many doubters, keep going with boundless perseverance.
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