Success doesn’t come easily but through a step by step progress. Successful people know how to handle pressure so that they can achieve great things. On the other hand, someone that gives up easily and always and avoids difficulties is doomed to fail.

Practice makes perfect

At an early age, Zeng Guofan (26 November 1811 – 12 March 1872) was just like any other kid. He was not an innate genius, and like any child, he could also be a bit naive. Compared to other children his age, such as Zuo Zongtang, Li Hongzhang, and Liang Qichao – children that would grow up to become respectively a military leader, a politician, and a scholar – he was far behind.

But later in life, thanks to his tireless and never-ending efforts, Zeng Guofan accomplished some of the most outstanding achievements of his time. Cultivating yourself is no easy task, but what is even more difficult is to maintain due diligence throughout your life.

To put it simply, perseverance is the key to success. Thanks to his perseverance, Zeng Guofan went from normal person to reputed historical figure, becoming a respected military general and Confucian scholar of the late Qing dynasty.

Thanks to his perseverance, Zeng Guofan went from normal person to reputed historical figure. (Wikipedia)

There is a story that is told about his adolescence:

One night, Zeng Guofan was trying to memorize an article by reciting it repeatedly. Meanwhile, a thief was waiting outside, as he planned to rob the young owner’s home once he stopped studying and fell asleep.   

To the thief’s chagrin, the light stayed on and the sound of reading did not stop for many hours. Zeng was having a hard time learning the article by heart, no matter how many times he repeated it.

As the hours went by, the thief got restless, he got tired and his feet were starting to hurt. After such a long wait, the thief became furious and jumped into the house.  He insulted the young man: “How can you be so stupid? I could have memorized the article by the third time you repeated it. How could it take you so long to do it?”

The thief then proceeded to smoothly recite the article and promptly walked away.

However, the incident did not deter Zeng Guofan from reaching his goals. He decided to study even harder and his efforts paid off as he went on to become a famous statesman, military strategist, philosopher, and litterateur in Chinese modern history.

As for the thief, Zeng met him a few years later, after becoming an officer. When the thief was caught, Zeng could not help but joke: “I was so jealous of your cleverness at the time, but here you are still just a thief.”

At the age of 31, Zeng Guofan set eight rules to discipline himself by purifying the mind, refining his personality, developing wisdom, reinforcing his willpower, and strengthening the body.

During his whole life, Zeng Guofan was persistent in following the rules he set for himself.

Yung Wing was the first Chinese student ever to graduate from Yale University. (Wikipedia/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Transforming pressure into inspiration

Yung Wing was the first Chinese student ever to graduate from Yale University. He was also one of Zeng Guofan’s most trusted assistants and protégées.

Zeng Guofan had big expectations for Yung Wing, which in turn motivated the younger to strive and build up his career. Even though he did not want to disappoint his mentor, Yung sometimes felt tired and felt himself buckle under the pressure.

One time, Yung Wing shared the difficulties he was having with Zeng Guofan. In response, Zeng Guofan told him: “I am more than 50 years old now. Having gone through a lot of ups and downs, I see now that some achievements will come from being under pressure. Adversities and pressure can be deemed as a source of inspiration.”

Zeng Guofan’d words left a deep and lasting impression in Yung Wing since he no longer complained after their exchange. He persistently tried his best, progressing every day little by little, moving forward step by step.

It holds true that pressure and adversities could strengthen one’s resolution to achieve greater things.