When I was a kid, we always left the tree up for a few days after Christmas. When the needles starting falling off into small, green piles where the presents used to be, my dad would give the order and we would take it down. One year, the tree had been screwed into the stand so tight that I couldn't get it to budge, and even with my friend's help, that stand remained firmly stuck into the tree.
My grandfather came in and saw us struggling with the tree and the stand. He was a merchant sailor, and he had little tolerance for weakness.
"What are you doing?" he said. He watched us with a mixture of amusement and scorn.
We showed him how the stand was firmly embedded into the trunk of the tree. He shook his head, visibly exasperated with our futile attempts to get the stand and the tree apart.
"Give me that," he said. He grabbed the tree in one hand, the stand in the other, and pulled. There was no straining, no grunting, not even a look of concentration, just a good, hard pull. The tree and the stand separated as if the stand had been embedded in a crock of butter.
We were stunned. Both my friend and I looked at the two objects like they were holy relics, for in our young eyes, we had just witnessed a miracle.
A few weeks later, my dad gave me the job of removing a rusty trailer hitch from the back of his truck. I got to work, spraying the hitch with some solvent to loosen the rust. My first few attempts at removing the hitch ended in failure. Bare hands, prybars, and finally, a small sledge hammer did nothing to budge the stubborn hitch. I started having flashbacks to the tree, hoping that my grandfather wouldn't see this new failure.
But my grandfather did show up, watching my efforts with the same irritated expression. Finally, he'd had enough, and he motioned me out of the way.
He knelt down, grabbed the hitch, and pulled. It didn't budge. He picked up the prybar to try to get a little more leverage, but again, nothing. Finally, he cracked it a few times with the hammer. The hitch remained exactly where it was, defiant even to my grandfather's powerful hammer blows.
"It's rusted together," he said. "You're not getting it off of there."
Then my friend showed up. I showed him what I was doing. I don't remember whose idea it was, but we resolved that we were going to remove that trailer hitch, no matter how long it took. Armed with hammers, we took turns striking the sides of the hitch, the metallic ring echoing down the street like an oversized metronome. All afternoon we worked, and the driveway sounded like a blacksmith's shop. Sweat poured down our faces, our arms ached with the effort, our hands sore from the repeated impact.
"You're never going to get that off of there." My grandfather smiled and shook his head.
But we didn't listen. Despite the fatigue, we were still resolved. Over and over, we struck it, as my dad, my grandfather, and my brothers looked on with amusement.
Then, the hitch moved. I thought it was my imagination, but another few hits confirmed it. With renewed energy we set upon the hitch with our hammers, the ring of metal on metal eclipsing all other sensations. Little by little the hitch moved, back and forth, until finally, it broke free and we pulled it out triumphantly. I picked up the hitch and held it up like the Lombardi Trophy, savoring our victory. My grandfather was impressed, and knowing that was even sweeter than the victory itself.
In business and in life, we run into obstacles. We can either let those obstacles overwhelm us, or we can dig in, do the hard work, and solve the problem. It's easy to allow others to set limits on us, to tell us what we are capable of, the way my grandfather did on that day long ago. But if we set our minds to something, we often discover that we're far more capable, strong, and resolute than we gave ourselves credit for. Don't give up just because someone tells you that you should. You'll find that the rewards of perseverance are much richer than what waits for you when you take the easy road.