A Lesson in Perseverance From Magic Johnson

Anyone who knows me personally knows I love to read. I have a list of “want to read” books on Goodreads that will take me years to work through, if ever, because I’m constantly adding or reading different titles. For several years, I read only nonfiction books, from memoirs, biographies and autobiographies to historical, science-related and business and marketing books. I relish learning about the past and connecting it to the present and future, and I enjoy reading the stories of successful people immensely. I always have a book or audiobook in hand or downloaded to my phone for (somewhat rare) moments of solitude. 

The other day, I downloaded “32 Ways to be a Champion in Business” by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Entrepreneur and Community Leader (and athletic superstar, but he didn’t include that). Published in 2009, the book is somewhat dated, and I haven’t finished it, but I am already finding messages that resonate with me both personally and professionally. 

do not quit

Early in the book, prominent messages are to always finish what you start and no matter what you do, do it well. To illustrate this life lesson, Earvin talks about picking up trash with his father before the sun came up in the dead of the Lansing, Michigan winter. He jumped out of the truck, quickly dumped the cans and scrambled back into the truck as quickly as he could, throwing off his frozen gloves and trying to crawl inside the heat vents. At one stop, after he went through the routine, his father told him he forgot trash on the ground. 

Newspapers, bottles and other trash was frozen in ice around the trash barrels. 

“Were you going to leave it here until the spring thaw?” his father asked, stepping out with an ice pick to give his son a quick demonstration in chiseling trash out of snowbanks. “Never leave a job unfinished,” he told Earvin, reminding him to always take care of the customer, who pays for good service, which in turn feeds their family. It was in that moment that Earvin learned to have a purpose and reason for doing a job right every time. It was one of his first lessons in having a greater vision for himself and the work he was doing. It is never just about a paycheck. Having a vision is about taking steps toward larger goals, understanding the bigger picture, and trying to understand how each action or decision will impact your progress. He might not have realized it then, but having a vision is one of the first steps to being a champion in business.

My mom was like Earvin’s father in this respect. It was OK to quit, but not until you finished what you started — absolutely not in the middle. I recall one fall, I was probably not much older than 10, my twin sister and I wanted to earn some spending cash. We grabbed rakes from the garage and went around the neighborhood knocking on doors, asking if people wanted their leaves raked. “How much?” one of the elderly residents asked. “Five dollars!” we both agreed, giddy with excitement about our first (of surely many to come!) clients. They paid us a crisp $5 bill and we commenced raking. There were a lot more leaves than we originally thought and our “get rich quick” scheme was already taking a turn for the worse. We didn’t bring enough bags, and to top it off, apparently it had rained recently. The leaves were in wet clumps that we had to pick up by hand and stuff into the plastic trash bags. No matter how hard we tried, the yard didn’t look nice. After what seemed like forever, we packed up and went home thinking “Good enough.” But it wasn’t! When our mom found out what we had been up to, she sent us back with more bags to finish the job. I’m fairly certain it never looked good, but my mom wanted the neighbor to be happy with the job we had done. 

It was one of my earliest lessons in perseverance, in doing things right the first time, and in not quitting until finishing what I had started. In looking back, it seems silly, but a persistent, vision-oriented, positive attitude can make such a big difference when you’re thinking about reaching longer term goals. A clear vision, passion for the work you’re doing, and a healthy attitude are essential to being able to keep your promises, building a trusted reputation, and in having a successful career and life. 

I am barely into “32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business,” and I’m already loving and reflecting on the reminders from someone who clearly learned how to be a winner. I can’t wait to finish the book, not only to see what other stories I can relate to, but because I finish every book I start… 

Do you have a clear vision and goals for your business? In what ways did your childhood or early business years teach you a lesson the hard way? Most importantly, do you need help meeting your goals? Reach out today to see if we can help you meet and exceed your business’s writing/content creation goals or if we can help you streamline your process so you can focus on the big picture.

Be a champion!

Karen Butterfield is an award-winning communications professional specializing in B2B and B2C content creation, copywriting, as well as internal and external correspondence. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Webster University, St. Louis, in 2010 and then served in progressive roles at a community newspaper and publishing company. During her tenure as a reporter and editor, she earned more than a dozen state awards for writing and photography.