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Persistence VIP - Commentary
Hello, this is A.J. and welcome to the Commentary about Persistence. I was thinking about this topic and thinking about my life. I was trying to think of some good stories to tell you from my life about persistence and when persistence helped me. Of course I have a lot of them. I’ve told a lot of them before.
I’ve talked about training for a marathon or completing a marathon, for example. That required a lot of persistence to prepare for the marathons and to finish them. That’s a common one that I’ve told a lot and quite clearly.
I started thinking what’s the best example in my life of persistence where I just kept going and refused to quit? I kept going and going and going. I’ve told this story before too, but it’s really a series of stories that lasted 20 years.
Twenty years of persistence. That’s persistence, when you keep going and going and you refuse to quit, even though you don’t have success for 20 years but you don’t give up. You don’t quit. You keep on going.
That’s my best persistence story and that’s the one I’m going to tell you now. It starts when I was a teenager around the age of 16. I’ll be honest; I think I was a little spoiled by my parents in the sense that they were basic middle-class parents, not rich but on the other hand not poor. I always had whatever I needed or wanted. I didn’t have to work too hard. As long as I was doing well in school, they were pretty happy.
It was around the age of 17 that I got my driver’s license in the United States, and I wanted a car and I wanted extra money. I was just getting a little bit of money from my parents at that point and I was borrowing money from them. I wanted more money.
When you’re a teenager you often start to spend more money. You go out with your friends more. My friends were going out to the movies a lot. Sometimes maybe they wanted to go to a concert or something, and that required a little more money than my parents were giving me, so I decided I needed more money.
My parents said no we’re not going to give you any extra money. You’re going to have to go out and get a part-time job. I thought okay I’ll do it. I was in high school, so I went and got a job at Arby’s fast food, my first job ever. They still have them in the United States. They make roast beef sandwiches.
So, I got my job at Arby’s, my first experience in the working world and I absolutely hated it. I hated it. I think I’ve told this story before, but the first day on the job I was making a milkshake and I spilled it all over my pants, so I smelled like chocolate all day.
I was kind of stressed out the whole time because it was fast food, so it’s fast. They’re trying to go really fast. Customers are coming in really quickly.
I was more of a laid back guy, not used to having to hurry all the time, so it stressed me out. Then as the days and weeks went by working there, I really started hating that my schedule was not flexible.
My girlfriend at the time wanted to go somewhere or do something, and I couldn’t do it because I had to work that day, or my friends wanted to go do something fun and I couldn’t do it because I had to work.
Maybe I was a little spoiled but still I hated it. I hated this idea that I felt like a slave suddenly. Suddenly I felt like a slave. I already didn’t like going to school, but at least all my friends were going to school at the same time, and for me school was really easy and kind of boring.
In high school I read books in my classes a lot of times. I just brought books that I liked, and I would ignore what the teacher was saying and just read books. I’d sit in the back of the room. I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t yell stuff or anything. I was quiet but I also didn’t like school much at all.
I got good grades, so my parents didn’t care. So, I just would bring books to school and read. It was kind of my reading time. It was all right. I didn’t mind it so much, but the working thing really kind of sucked. Sucked means that it was bad, it was terrible.
I didn’t like it at all and I quit after a couple of months; thus, establishing very early on my pattern in life of quitting jobs quite quickly and not staying in one job very long, a pattern that lasted my entire working career.
That was the end of Arby’s. I quit the job. I said forget it, the money’s not worth it, I value my freedom more. This is another thing that I learned at a very early age, another pattern that started at the age of 16 or 17 and continued my whole life.
I didn’t work anymore for the rest of high school. Actually, this was my first entrepreneur experience. I started selling gum to students. I would go to the grocery store and I would buy gum and candy bars at the grocery store.
Then during school I would sell these to other students, and both of these things were kind of illegal. They were against the rules in school. You’re not supposed to have gum in school, and you’re not supposed to be eating during class or have food, so it was like a little black market.
That was my first entrepreneur experience. I could buy a big pack of gum at the grocery store cheaply, but in school because there was a demand and you couldn’t buy the gum during school, other students would buy it from me for like a dollar a pack or 50 cents per pack or something, so I could double my money or more. In this way, I made extra money and didn’t have to work. I had freedom and I could do what I wanted after school, and that worked pretty well.
Then I went off to college and I had some scholarships. I did okay but eventually I needed more money during university and I had to get a job. It was no fun. I was working at the library. It was not high stress but it was boring, and again I decided I hate jobs. This sucks. I hate it. I hate having my time scheduled like this and I don’t like having a boss telling me what to do.
In those kinds of jobs, I didn’t have much to do but I would have to pretend to be busy.
Have you had a job like this before where you really didn’t have much to do, but the boss would walk around and you’d have to pretend like you’re doing something? I found that very stressful. I didn’t like that.
The worst of that was in the summertime during the university break. I got a summer job at IBM because I had a scholarship there and my dad worked there, so I worked at IBM.
It sounds like a good job and they paid quite well for a college kid, but it was a full-time job, 40 hours a week, and it was the most boring thing I had ever experienced in my life.
It was like dying. I absolutely hated it and it was 40 hours a week.
This was my first experience of a full-time job, 40 hours a week. I had to drive to the office in the morning and drive home at night in rush hour. That was usually at least an extra hour each way or maybe an hour and a half. It was eight hours a day of working plus another two or three hours of driving.
I had no time for my life. I had to get up early to get there by 8:30 – I think that’s what time I was supposed to be there. When I got home I was tired. I was a late night person and I never would get enough sleep. I was exhausted Monday through Friday.
I thought this is what full-time work is like. This is what my dad’s been doing all these years. This is horrible. I made this promise to myself that I will never do this. I will not do this! I said no. I actually did end up doing it two more times in the summers.
Basically it allowed me to work a lot in the summer but then during the school year I didn’t have to work so much. I could just focus more on studying and I had more freedom, so I sacrificed it but I decided I’m never going to have this kind of life again when I get out of school. This is not the way I’m going to go.
I think my dad hoped that I would go into business and get some corporate job, and maybe my mom did too. I don’t know but I decided at that point no, it’s never happening.
Then after I graduated, I had an undergraduate degree but in nothing useful. Then I worked a series of low-paying difficult part-time jobs. I was a security guard at a couple different places. I liked being a security guard because it was easy, I could do it at night and just read books and study and do anything that I wanted to do. I could watch videos.
I didn’t want to have that corporate life. I wanted to be able to still have my own freedom and mental freedom, so I worked part-time jobs. I had this dream of freedom. I had a dream that I’ll find some kind of job, some kind of career that I’ll really enjoy and love and that will give me a lot of freedom, so I’ll have all this flexibility and freedom with my time and I’ll make enough money to enjoy my life and live how I want to.
I didn’t want a lot of money, just enough to travel a bit and kind of live like a student, but most of all I’d have freedom, my time freedom. This was the dream and yet it turned out to be extremely difficult to find.
I didn’t want to work a corporate full-time job, so it was a series then of little difficult lowpaying part-time jobs. I worked security. I worked at a shoe store. I worked at some restaurants. I worked in a library at the university even after graduation. When the Olympics came to Atlanta, I worked as a security guard at the Olympics. I volunteered.
None of those jobs lasted very long because I would get really bored and tired of them, and then I would move onto another one, but I had this persistence. It was like okay I’m going to keep trying things. I’m going to keep trying and eventually I’m going to find the thing that I like that gives me the freedom and the time I want.
Being a security guard was not that, so I kept trying and trying. I kept thinking what should I do? Finally I decided I guess I need to go back to school. I think I want to do something to help people. I thought about being a psychologist. I looked into that.
Then I started volunteering at a hospital and I met a social worker. He told me all about social work and it sounded pretty interesting, and I decided okay I’ll be a social worker.
It sounds like it’s more flexible than a psychologist.
So, I went back to grad school and became a social worker. I got my Master’s in social work. I came out and started getting other jobs again. I actually did have some pretty nice jobs. I certainly enjoyed them a lot more but still I didn’t like working full time. I wanted more flexibility, so I never stayed in one job more than two years.
Year after year after year went by, and I kept thinking I’m going to find some perfect job, some perfect career that will give me the freedom I want and enough money and flexibility. I tried and I tried. I switched jobs again and again and again.
Five years, eight years, 10 years went by. Fifteen years went by. I tried another kind of business on my own. Finally I got so sick of working for other people. I was working at a hospital at this point as a social worker and again it was long hours. I hated it. No flexibility. I was getting paid better but I had no freedom.
I didn’t like that and at this point I was really into traveling. I wanted to have more vacation. They only gave me two weeks a year for vacation. I just thought this is horrible. I can’t do this.
Now I should say at this point, after let’s say 15 years of working and being in the working world, most people that I knew at that point had quit and given up. In other words, they just accepted the situation.
Everybody would tell me this is just the way it is, A.J. You’re not going to find this dream job. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get three weeks of vacation a year. This is what it means to be an adult. This is what the working world is. Everyone has to work, so you just have to do it. This is life.
I watched a lot of the people around me kind of lose a lot of their passion for life and their energy because they were being crushed by these full-time jobs, slowly losing their energy, slowing losing their vitality. Vitality is like life energy.
But I was persistent. I decided I will never give up. I will never ever give up. I will keep going until I find this kind of dream life of having enough money to live, but most of all having freedom.
I started calling work ‘wage slavery.’ A wage is payment or a salary. You know what slavery is. I stopped calling it work and I started calling it wage slavery. I started getting more and more angry about it and more and more sick of it. I saw it as a sick system and I started getting more and more emotional about it. I said I’m sick of this. I’m not going to be a wage slave.
Instead of giving up, instead of quitting and instead of just accepting the situation, I kept fighting and fighting and fighting for 10 years on and on. I decided maybe I needed to do my own business. I’d been reading business books for a while with this kind of dream in my mind but never did anything.
Finally I met this woman who was selling these nutrition products. It was kind of like Amway, this multilevel marketing thing. At that point I was so desperate, so upset and so sick of wage slavery that I was willing to try anything, so I signed up and I started trying to sell nutrition supplements, which is fine.
I actually take supplements myself. I have no problem with nutrition supplements but it was not the kind of business for me. I’d never really done selling much, and the main focus of this business was selling to your friends and family, which is kind of obnoxious and annoying.
I tried. I think my dad bought some stuff. I think I got my mom to buy some things, but I just started feeling weird. I said this is weird. I’m pressuring my family to buy this stuff and I know they don’t want it, so I quit doing that. It was not for me.
Again, I did not quit my dream though. I stayed persistent. I went back to working as a wage slave and then I changed my focus. I decided maybe I’ll never find the dream job.
Maybe it’s not going to happen. I just failed as an entrepreneur. I hate working for other people but I can still keep going. I’m not going to quit. I will never quit. I’ll quit when I’m dead.
I thought I need to try a different approach. Instead of looking for this great perfect job, which doesn’t exist, I’m going to simplify my life so much that I don’t hardly need any money so that I can just work the minimal amount, so I can just get part-time jobs with minimum hours and anytime I want to go travel I can just quit and go travel. I’ll work part-time and still save money. I’ll travel whenever I want by just quitting my jobs and then come back and get another easy part-time job.
I thought that will give me freedom. I was willing to do anything. I would not give up. I would not quit. This is the point where I started trying things like living in my car for a full summer with my dog. I lived in a little Toyota car with my dog and it was actually a very interesting adventure.
I was able to quit the full-time job that I had at that time. I lived in my car for a full summer with no job at all. I just lived off my savings and I felt free again. I felt like I was a student again like back when I was in university in my 20’s.
Once you taste that freedom again, it’s like I’m never going back. At that point I said I will never ever again work full time, and I didn’t. So, I traveled. This was also the period where I started getting jobs abroad. I’d get teaching English jobs.
My strategy at this point was I’ll go live in a country somewhere – Korea or Japan or Thailand – and I’ll teach English for a while. I’ll spend no money. I’ll just save everything and then I’ll just travel as much as I want, and when I come back to America I’ll live in my car.
I kind of did that. I went to Japan and I worked for about six months in this one place. I saved as much money as I could. After that I traveled for three months in Asia. Then I went home and I bought a van, and I lived in my van with my dog for a full year.
Again, I was able to just work part time at a sandwich place, just relaxed and easy. I kept going. Eventually after that, I went off to Thailand. I decided I’m going to get my Master’s degree in teaching English because I realized that I like teaching English. This is really great. I love doing this.
I wanted to become a great English teacher. Plus to be quite honest, I also liked the idea of doing the Master’s and going off to Thailand and living in Thailand for a couple of years without having to work. I could just live off of the student loans and that’s what I did.
I got these student loans for grad school, as did my friend Kristin, who you know from Learn Real English, and another friend of mine named Todd who still lives in Thailand right now. He has a Thai wife and a little girl.
So, we all three went off to Thailand and I lived for a full year and a half with no job.
Eventually I got a job at university but the hours were really easy, so that was good too.
I came back to San Francisco.
At this point I was really starting to become a good English teacher, kind of different than most people. The idea started in my head again that maybe I could do my own business, but I’ll do English teaching instead.
I came back to San Francisco and got a job in a school, again only part time. Even though San Francisco is a very expensive city, I and then my wife Tamoa, we just lived in a tiny cheap apartment.
It didn’t even have its own bathroom. The bathroom was shared by everyone on the floor. We had to walk down the hall to go to the bathroom, but we did it so that we could stay cheap and I could still have plenty of freedom and only have to work part time.
You can see as I just keep going on and on with this story, this is a 20-year story of persistence, of being determined to find some way to be free, to have a financial freedom, to have the freedom to live my life, to travel as much as I wanted, to have control over my own time and my own schedule.
Time was the big thing for me, not money. They go together because you have to trade your time for money. You need money to eat and you need money if you’re going to travel. We need money for a lot of things in our economy to do things, and how do you get that money? Well, when you’re working at a job, you have to trade your time.
You have to work a certain number of hours and then you get paid, but I was determined to work the fewest hours possible for the most freedom possible, and I was determined to be able to take breaks and just leave a job anytime I wanted because my idea of traveling is at least two or three months.
I managed to do all of that but yet I was still not totally free. We were broke. We were poor, so it was hard to save money to travel. It was very difficult. I had to save for a long time to do it and still my schedule was not my own. I still had a work schedule and I still had to follow it. I still wasn’t totally free.
Even after all this time, 20 years, I still would not quit and that’s when I finally started Effortless English, and that was the end of my 20-year saga where I finally developed my freedom. Now I have exactly what I want. I have the freedom to do what I want when I want to do it, and I’m doing something that I absolutely love doing.
Now I work not because I need the money but because I love doing it. I have all the freedom I want. Anytime I want, I can just stop and take off for a few months. In fact I do it every single year. Throughout the year, I’m constantly traveling now. It’s just my dream life.
It’s exactly what I wanted but it took 20 years to figure out what it would be and how to do it. It took 20 years of trying and failing, and trying and failing, and trying and suffering, trying and it’s not quite right, and then trying something else and then trying something else. It was 20 years of having times where I thought I’ll never do it, it’s impossible, but still refusing to quit, refusing to give up.
No, I will keep going. I will not quit. I will not be like everyone else. I will not accept this situation. That’s persistence. When people talk about persistence and they’re just talking about days or weeks or months, that’s not very persistent. They’ll say I’ve been trying for four months.
People write to me and they’ll get the Effortless English lessons and they’ll try for four months, and they don’t get perfect instant results in four months and then they just want to quit. They complain to me, I’ve been doing it four months but I’m still not speaking perfectly.
Their problem is not a method. Their problem is that they have no persistence. Of course, you don’t need 20 years with Effortless English to succeed, but my point is that persistence is just a refusal to give up and to keep going and going and going if it takes weeks, if it takes months, if it takes years or if it takes decades.
When something is important to you and you apply persistence, you’re going to succeed. Maybe not in the way you thought. Twenty years ago, I didn’t imagine that I would be an English teacher with an international Internet business. I didn’t even really know about that.
There was no Internet 20 years ago, not that I knew about, so I couldn’t have imagined or planned all of that. What got me to this point was that persistence. This is what you need in your life.
There are some things in your life that are very important to you, and you just have to decide that you will never quit. You will not listen to everybody else who says you can’t do it or you should just stop or that it’s not worth it. You can’t listen to your own doubts.
You can’t give into your desire to quit. You just have to go and go and never ever give up or quit or stop.
That is persistence. It will overcome almost anything. That’s the mindset that you have to have. Persistence is I will never quit, and you can never put a time limit on it. If you have a time limit like I must do it in 10 years – it’s good to have a goal of course, but if you don’t reach the goal and then you just say I quit because I couldn’t do it, that’s not persistence.
Of course I’ve done that in my life with other things that were less important to me. I had less persistence and I didn’t succeed so much, but this was the most important thing to me from an early age and I never gave up. Eventually 20 years later, I got the result that I wanted and so can you.
It probably won’t take you 20 years, but in your mind you have to be willing to keep going for 20 years if necessary. Good luck to you. Decide in your life what you will be persistent about. What is so important that you will go for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years or until you die if necessary?
Decide to have that commitment, that persistence, and just watch amazing things happen in your life. I’ll see you next time. Bye-bye.
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