How to Persevere for Success Like We Did in the Arctic

When life throws you a curveball, persevering can save the day.

Posted Feb 18, 2019

If you’ve been following my blog posts since Oct 2018, written under the heading “Under Extreme Circumstances,” you know my subject is about adapting and surviving when life throws you a curveball. The principles I discuss in my blog are based upon true life adventures my wife and I encountered during the two years I worked as a bush doctor in the wilds of Alaska, as told in my memoir “On Call in the Arctic: A Doctor’s Pursuit of Life, Love and Miracles in the Alaskan Frontier”.

The first principle of adaptation I discuss in my blog is the ability to improvise. The second is the ability to be flexible. This posting deals with the third principle that, when used in conjunction with the first two principles—can lead a person to achieve success in their life far beyond what they ever believed themselves capable. This principle is the skill to persevere.

We’re all familiar with many clichés that deal with persevering:

  •       If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again
  •       There’s more than one way to skin a cat
  •       Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries (James A. Michener)

These clichés have lasted over time because they work. But they don’t always tell the whole story.

We’ve all heard Albert Einstein's famous quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It’s a good quote, even though there is no real evidence to support that Einstein actually said it. Yet, it’s easy to attribute it to him because he is a scientific icon the entire world can relate to. In 1981, Narcotics Anonymous published the quote in a guide book for addicts, trying to convince them that while trying to overcome their addiction, repeating the same mistake over and over again while expecting different results was never going to work.

The key message of the quote is clear: Trying over and over again to accomplish a goal without making changes with each no attempt is never going to succeed.

To persevere means to persist or continue with an action that will eventually achieve a goal. Persevering is difficult and it often involves defeat because, many times, it’s done in the face of difficulty and difficulty can provide little prospect for success. So, to persevere does not mean to persist with the same actions over and over again and expect different results, it means to continue trying, but with each attempt, make a change that has the potential of bringing success. And how do we do that—find that change? By employing the first two principles I discussed in my blog: improvise and be flexible.

Rigidity in our words, thoughts, or actions does not allow for exploration and success. But learning to be flexible, to change paths when necessary and to improvise when obvious solutions are not within our reach is the key to success. Persistence involves sticking with a path regardless of obstacles and maintaining enthusiasm and drive along with making changes in actions or decisions until a solution is found.

There is scene in my book “On Call in the Arctic” about a young man brought into my Nome clinic from a remote Eskimo village in need of an emergency appendectomy. The man was writhing in pain, feverous, and acutely ill. Under normal circumstances (which incidentally were few and far between when we lived in the Arctic), I would have stabilized the man, started an IV, administered pain medication, and secured for him a flight to Anchorage where he would be taken care of by a team of surgeons using the best medical care possible. But I was in the middle of the Arctic, alone and with no conventional medical services to care for him. This was not a normal circumstance. It was extreme!

The young man’s appendix was about to rupture and, with weather conditions present at the time, no jets offering service between Nome and Anchorage were possible. When I told my nurse we had no choice but attempt an operation on the man ourselves, she hit the ceiling.

 “We can’t operate here,” Helen cried. “Surgical cases always get sent to Anchorage.”

“He needs surgery now,” I tried to explain. “Even if the weather clears there are no jets until tomorrow and we don’t dare risk trying to take a charter in this weather. We need to get his appendix out now or it’s going to rupture and he will die!”

We had no general anesthetic in Nome, minimal operating equipment, and I was the only physician. I knew we had to do something, or this man would not survive. Pain medication helped only a bit. His fever rose, and his abdomen became bloated. I had to get his appendix out, but I had not a clue how to do that.

My nurse hated surgery, but I told her we had to try. So, much to her chagrin, I convinced her to change into scrubs and administer what injectable anesthetic we had. We prepped his belly for surgery, draped his lower abdomen with sterile towels. I used local anesthetic to numb the area, then just as we are about to make our incision, the lights went out.

We had an extreme circumstance yet, no matter what, we had to preserve in our quest to get his appendix removed. We made several attempts to make it work, and when one thing wasn’t successful, we tried something else. Finally, using sedatives for the patient, local anesthetic medication, and a team of non-medical people holding flashlights because the clinic generator was non-functioning, we got the operation done and we saved the young man’s life.

We improvised, we were flexible, and we persevered until we reached our goal.

When dealing with life under extreme circumstance we mustn’t give up. We must try and try again, finding the courage to keep going and make changes in our actions and decision until we reach our goal and achieve our success.