Human beings weren’t faster or stronger than other predators and for a very long time we weren’t terribly great at using weapons. So how did we bring down big game and keep our families fed? We were stubborn, that’s how. Human beings aren’t very good at giving up. The positive way to look at that is we have amazing stamina.
There was this research project done to figure out early human hunting techniques. The first and most obvious is ambush. It requires patience, silence, and concentration. We’re really good at that despite what you’d think looking at the average teenager. No, it’s the truth. We can sit and concentrate on a trail, or a task, for hours and hours. We can endure cold and heat, wet and dry, insects and all manner of challenges. Other predators will give up and move on. Other predators have different advantages like speed, strength, teeth, and claws.
They determined that early humans could probably watch a trail or watering hole for more than a day without moving, making a sound, or falling asleep. As someone who has had to stand guard in the military I can attest to that. With the right motivation, we can shrug off our basic needs and stay put and alert.
But the most fascinating part of this hunting study was the human ability to stay on the move for heroic amounts of time. They figured out that humans in small groups would follow much faster and bigger game until those animals collapsed from exhaustion. Seriously!
These researchers gathered together some reasonably athletic volunteers to test it out.
So long as the animal didn’t get completely lost in brush, forest, or mountains, these hunters could follow an animal for days. Yes, that’s right. Days. Humans can keep moving for 36 to 48 hours or more. In this case, the antelope would run really fast to get away and then rest, but here came the humans trotting along on their two slow legs, so the antelope would run off again. Over and over and over this pattern repeated, but the antelope couldn’t sleep and couldn’t graze and couldn’t stay near water, and it really needed sleep. Eventually the humans would win on sheer tenacity alone, walk up, club the surrendered antelope and drag it back home.
That’s also how I built my business. Not by clubbing my prey and dragging it home, but by keeping going for terrible amounts of time. I never even thought I could quit. I just kept going and going and going, relentlessly. One Spring, my brother and I worked 74 days in a row without a single day off. Big, long days. We just did it on inertia and momentum. We were running after antelope and we never gave up.
I look back on those days and I’m impressed by how much I put into it. I think I could never do that again, but the truth is, I would if I needed to. The truth is that it’s hardwired into who I am.
Ask anyone who built a business how much they worked in the early years and they’ll tell you the same kind of tale. Success is built on hard work. A great idea helps and amazing talent is surely a good foundation, but the truly successful put in the work.
A few years ago I read the book, My Life by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. He practiced so much and so long on the guitar that he lost all his friends. He would buy a record and play tiny sections of it over and over again, trying to figure out how the music was played. Eventually the needle would wear through the grooves and the vinyl would fail. He would wear records out. Then he’d buy another copy and pick up right where he left off. He studied the masters and he was never happy until his guitar playing sounded just like theirs. He estimated that he spent as much time learning the guitar in a dingy apartment as a surgeon spends in school and studying. Through sheer determination and thousands upon thousands of hours of work he became one of the best in the world.
The truly inspirational biographies are the ones that show how a successful person got there and what they had to do and sacrifice to achieve their goals. The ones I toss aside are stories that start after the success was achieved.
I’ve also read those books that give shortcuts to success and how to be a millionaire while working 4 hours a week. Frankly, that’s not how humanity rose to dominance. We did it by never giving up and being so stubborn that we outlasted everyone and everything that would cause failure.
Some of you know I recently bought another business from a man who was retiring. He claimed that he only worked at it for 4 to 6 hours a week. Not surprising, once I got into it and figured out what was right and what was wrong. I’m rebuilding the whole thing from scratch at this point and making it into something I will be proud to have my name on. During this process my new office assistant told me that working 12 hour days wasn’t sustainable and that I was going to burn out.My response? “You’re probably right, I’ve only been doing it for 36 years.”
I’m just too stubborn to give this less than my best effort. After all, there’s antelope to chase down.
I’m here if you have questions.
- Rick Wren