I don’t remember much about my childhood, but one of the few memories I have is of my 10-year old self, with my grandfather Antoine sitting me down on a typical summer Sunday in the mountain, telling me stories while teaching me how to play backgammon, feeding me fresh green almonds with salt, and allowing me the occasional sip from his beer or Arak.
One of his stories I vividly remember to this day is that of Napoleon and the ant (it’s been almost 30 years so I’m properly butchering the story, sorry!).
So my grandfather begins:
“The great king and general Napoleon was leading his big army into battle.
His men were brave, well trained and ready for a victory.
But the enemy was ready for them, and when the battle started, they realized that they were about to lose.
Napoleon ordered his army to retreat, and he went to the top of a hill to observe and reflect on what happened.
He was in a sad state of mind, thinking about the battle and how he failed.
While sitting there and thinking, his attention was captured by a small ant, dragging a grain of rice towards the tree he was sitting under.
The ant starts to climb the tree, dragging the grain behind it.
It reaches a few cm up the tree, but then the grain falls back to the ground.
The ant climbs back down, picks up the grain, and starts to climb a second time, dragging the grain behind it.
It reaches a little further up the tree, only for the grain to fall back to the ground once again.
The ant climbs all the way back down, picks up the grain a third time, and starts climbing.
Napoleon sat and saw this happen over and over again, over a dozen times, until the ant finally discovers the right route, strategy and energy to drag the grain of rice all the way to the top of the tree.
Inspired by the spirit of the ant and its refusal to quit, Napoleon rallies his army and leads them into battle once again, and this time is victorious.”
“You have to be like this ant”, my grandfather says to me, “like Napoleon – never ever give up, because victory belongs to the person who refuses to quit”.
I’ve carried this philosophy with me my whole life, and apply it to everything I do. I can honestly recall dozens of times when giving up was tempting: in my personal life, in my professional life (making then losing fortunes), and even in my athletic life (e.g. Ironman racing).
I’ve conditioned myself to never ever give up on anything that matters to me or to those I care about.
It’s not enough to say it. It’s not enough to repeat it. You have to drill it into your mind every single day. You have to test your resolve and intentionally put yourself in situations where you might be tempted to give up, and see how you perform.
Trust me: the rewards are worth it.