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Feel Like Giving Up? Read this First

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein

When I decided I wanted to become a nurse-midwife nineteen years ago, I wasn’t even a nurse. And there were few midwifery schools that accepted students who did not already have many years of experience in obstetric nursing.

On the east coast (I wouldn’t even think about moving farther away from my family) there were only two: Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. Both of those schools had what they called direct-entry programs for non-nurses. They would put a student through a rigorous nursing training program in a year and then move them on to the master’s program in midwifery.

The first year I applied to both of these programs I was summarily rejected.

I realized I had better make another plan, and since I was then living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I decided to apply to the nursing program at UNC. But first I had to spend a year fulfilling science and math prerequisites to qualify for the program (my liberal arts bachelor’s degree having kept me safely away from such subjects). I took courses part-time and worked almost-full time.

In the year I was taking the prerequisites I applied to both Yale and Penn again. And again I was summarily rejected—no phone call, no interview, nothing.

I got into UNC-Chapel Hill on my first try and entered the nursing program. That year I applied to Yale and Penn again. I figured I had two years in the UNC program and then two years of a Master’s program, so I thought it still made sense to apply to a three-year program that resulted in nursing and midwifery degrees.

I was not going to be losing any ground time-wise and I was still going to need to apply to those programs after I finished at UNC. After all, they were still the only programs that would accept nurses with little-to-no experience, so I thought I might as well keep at it.

I also devoted myself to dozens of other endeavors—I made top grades, worked in women’s health care, sat on committees, created new organizations—all with the intention of distinguishing myself as the best candidate for a graduate program in midwifery.

So the third time I applied, I got a call from both Yale and Penn. I went up and interviewed. I got put on the waiting list for both schools. This time, however, I told them to take me off the waiting lists. I was happy in my program, I told them (and I had just fallen in love with my future husband!), but they could count on me applying again next year.

The next year I got accepted to both schools (fourth time’s a charm!) and I was offered a scholarship to attend Yale, which I ultimately chose. When I arrived for my first meeting with my professors they all knew me as the applicant who wouldn’t give up. One of my professors said she coined a term just for me. She said I exemplified “purposeful perseverance.”

I want you to exemplify purposeful perseverance, too, and I’ve got just the tool to help you do that.

Below you will find a series of steps, adapted from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Look them over.

Have you taken the steps he recommends? If so, write down what you’ve done. I’ve put in answers based on my experience as a prompt.

If you haven’t taken those steps, sit with them. Then ask yourself: how can I put them into action in my own life?

Here are the steps that Hill recommends:

  1. Have a definite purpose, backed by a definite desire.

    I wanted to be a nurse-midwife because I loved the idea of caring for women and children. The birth process fascinated me then—and still does.

  2. Create a definite plan expressed by definite action—even if they only involve one-minute actions!

    I would apply to direct-entry midwifery schools on the east coast—even if the only schools that met those criteria seemed impossible to get into. And I would keep applying and acting on my desires until I got in.

  3. If you experience any negative or discouraging messages from others, try to understand that your desire is creating some discomfort for them—probably because they wish they were acting so boldly on their desires—and do not take it personally.

    I got plenty of discouraging messages—even apart from the two summary rejections and the spot on the waiting list. My favorite negative/discouraging response when I told people what I was doing was: “Is it even legal to be a midwife?”

  4. Have a friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage you to follow through with both plan and purpose.

    I talked to everyone I knew who was a midwife and willing to talk with me. I made friends among the undergraduates in my nursing program as well as the non-traditional students, and got to know their dreams and goals. And when I at last met my peers in my midwifery program I felt like I had found my long-lost tribe. I received an enormous amount of inspiring and sustaining support—and I know for sure that I would not have been able to make it without my fellow students.

I hope that you will complete the above exercise for yourself and let me know what you come up with. For sure, you have a friendly alliance with me!

Has there ever been a time in your life in which you purposefully persevered? What were the steps you took? What helped you on the long slog to your dream?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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