Law school forced me to study harder, work longer, and learn more than I thought humanly possible. I felt like we covered more material in a single semester than in all four years of college combined. Sometimes, in the midst of reading a case, I’d realize I couldn’t even remember which class I was reading for. I had to force myself well beyond my perceived limits or drop out.

Even then, it wasn’t always enough.

I now find myself in new territory once again – a 12 hour-per-day, 6 day-per-week, multi-month push in preparation to take the California Bar Exam: Three full days of fun at the end of July. I know I can pass, but success is far from certain. The pass rate for the February 2012 administration was just 42%. As usual, studying law is forcing a new appreciation for tenacity as one of the most important traits a person can develop.

“Even people who lack talent and fail to cultivate other vital qualities can contribute if they possess a tenacious spirit.” – John Maxwell

My current adventure in ‘Barexamistan’ has caused me to realize that we often misunderstand what tenacity actually looks like in practice.  In essence, there are at least four key attributes of true tenacity:

  1. Making a plan, not just hoping in destiny – Tenacious people don’t rely on luck, fate, or destiny for success. Instead, they identify their objective and strategize a course. This kind of preparation requires the investment of a great deal of effort, which is why ‘winging it’ can be such an attractive alternative.
  2. Giving it all you’ve got, not just all you think you’ve got – Tenacity does not demand more than you’ve got, but it does demand everything. Many people have never been pushed to the limit, so they don’t actually realize how much they have to give or what they are truly capable of. As John Maxwell says, “[Tenacity] requires that you give 100 percent – not more, but certainly not less.”
  3. Working with determination, not just passing time – There is a difference between being busy and being productive. It’s easy to find yourself overwhelmingly busy, yet without any accomplishment to show for all your effort. Tenacious people demonstrate determination by managing their priorities and resisting the ‘tyranny of the urgent.’ As a result, their most important priorities get the necessary attention.
  4. Quitting when the job is done, not just when you’re tired – Reporter Robert Strauss offers a great summary of the bottom line: “Success is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired – you quit when the gorilla is tired.”


You certainly don’t have to study law (or wrestle a gorilla) to appreciate these truths. We all know it’s much easier to talk about tenacity than embrace it! Honestly, I sometimes even resent the need to be tenacious, but the benefits are worth it. When I’ve chosen to be tenacious, I’ve realized:

  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Greater appreciation for results
  • Renewed commitment to excellence
  • Broadened vision for the future
  • New openness to possibilities that previously seemed out-of-reach
  • Higher expectations for myself
  • Greater overall achievement

Though choosing tenacity is often inconvenient and uncomfortable, it will help us make more of our lives than we even think possible. So, join me on the journey toward tenacity! Don’t come to ‘Barexamistan’ if you don’t have to; but, next time you’re given the opportunity, remember the principles above and choose to be tenacious. You can do it – and you’ll get more out of it than you give!

Leave a Comment: Have you ever been given a task that forced you to be truly tenacious? What was it? What did you learn?


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