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Failure is not an option

We could all learn something about perseverance from the indefatigable Andy Murray, who recently won his first Grand Slam final at the fifth time of asking. James Brennan explains why we sometimes need to simply hang on in there.

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Perseverance pays. Stick to a game plan when the heat is on.

Some time last month, while hefting an unrisen loaf of still-warm home-baked bread into the dustbin, I resolved never to try baking my own bread again. I just can’t do it.

Even when I slavishly follow the recipe to the letter, my bread comes out of the oven like a plaster cast of Bigfoot’s hoof or a frazzled meteorite. Best leave it to Mr Warburton in future, I thought.

“If stupid folk can accomplish their goals – however moronic – through sheer perseverance, then there’s really nothing holding back the reasonably intelligent.”
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It was around this time that the British tennis player Andy Murray won the US Open, and that got me thinking about perseverance. Murray just didn’t give up.

For years the Scotsman had been falling at the final hurdle. In four Grand Slam finals, he’d finished second. He became famous for his surliness in defeat. He even burst into tears in front of his home crowd at Wimbledon. But he kept going. He won an Olympic gold medal. And then finally he won his first Grand Slam in New York. Now, winning a major tennis tournament is quite a bit harder than baking an edible loaf of bread. But they share a few things in common.

For starters, you need a fair bit of dough. You have to get your preparation right. And you’ve got to stick to a game plan when the heat is on. Acts of petulance – whether it’s chucking your racket at a helpless ball boy, or slamming your oven door in a tantrum and threatening to murder Lorraine Pascale – are counterproductive. Or perhaps hissy fits and grumpiness are all part of the process? The important thing, however, is that you keep on going.

Murray might have drawn inspiration from another determined Scotsman, Robert the Bruce. The 14th-century Scottish King endured his fair share of defeats at the hands of the English.

According to legend, after his seventh defeat, the exiled Bruce hid in a cave, where he watched a spider trying to spin a web from one wall to another. Each time the spider failed, it tried again, and again, until it succeeded.

This inspired Bruce to pull his finger out and finally give the English a good kicking. Not that the Scots have ever needed any encouragement to do that, but the point is this: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

If you consider the world around you, you can see this philosophy in action every day. The young couple with five obnoxious brats in tow, for example. They didn’t give up having kids just because the first one turned out to be a little twerp.

Keep looking and you’ll see the world is full of really determined idiots. The bodybuilder whose heart explodes because he won’t give up trying to look like a rubber washing-up glove stuffed with wheel nuts. The taxi driver who thinks he can drive like Lewis Hamilton. The cosmetic surgery addict who is made from more plastic than is in Legoland. The Apple fanboy who sells his retinas just to get hold of an iPhone 5. Bigots. Religious extremists. Greedy money-grabbing bankers. Fans of Justin Bieber. Not one of them will give up not giving up.

Instead of getting depressed about this, sensible people should take heart from it. If stupid folk can accomplish their goals – however moronic – through sheer perseverance, then there’s really nothing holding back the reasonably intelligent.

You can cast off your self doubt and realise that failure is part of the process. You should know that you’re going to screw it up along the way. Again and again. But you should stick to the task in hand. Keep hammering away until you’ve got it cracked. Maybe then I’ll invite you round for a sandwich.

James Brennan: A UK-based freelancer and former Dubai resident, James writes mostly about food and travel for numerous magazines the world over.