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Jeremy Lin, (Photo by Scott Mecum).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Perserverance

By Kevin O'Toole, December 20 2022 12:01 am

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

In the world of politics, one of the toughest traits to teach is perseverance, which is defined as a continued effort to do or achieve something despite the difficulties, failure, or opposition. Many of us grew up in a world that taught us to feel embarrassed if you were rejected in sports, academia, business and life itself. Few of us are taught to use this rejection as a fuel to prove the doubters wrong.

Whether we are members of the business community or politicians, none of us want to feel the sting of rejection. The hard truth is that in the business of politics, rejection always lurks nearby and can visit at any time.

Rejection doesn’t come just in the voting booth; you can be rejected by county committee or party leaders or rebuked by the public for some wrong-headed vote or policy decision (think ungodly increase in health care premiums).

Whenever I am asked for advice by an elected official on how to deal with a loss or a political rejection, I point to former NBA player, and fellow Asian American, Jeremy Lin, as a model of perseverance.

Let’s break it down quickly.

As a senior in high school, Jeremy was named Northern California Basketball player of the year. Despite his many high school awards and basketball achievements (led his team to a 32-1 record while averaging 15.1 points, 7.1 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 5 steals per game), Jeremy failed to receive a single scholarship. Undaunted, he sent a DVD of his highlights to every Ivy League school and a handful of other elite schools. Jeremy felt unwanted, but found himself as a throw away on the Harvard basketball team.

By all accounts, Jeremy had a very successful college career, including a handful of records. He held the Ivy League record for most collective averages of points (1,483), most rebounds (487), assists (406), and steals (225). Not bad for a person regarded by many as too short and not particularly fast or talented.

Given his record breaking performances at the collegiate level, Jeremy expected a knock on the door from the NBA. He was not selected in the 2010 draft.

Did Jeremy give up? Hell no.

He was invited, essentially as a walk-on, by the Golden State Warriors and relegated to the D-League team. Largely based on the significant Asian American fans that followed him in the San Francisco area, Jeremy became a player to be watched, even though he rarely played. The media, again led by the Asian American markets, followed Jeremy’s every move. At one game in Toronto, which also happened to be Asian Heritage Night, Jeremy was followed by 20 members of the Chinese media based in Toronto. At this point, Jeremy played sparingly and was wandering between the bench on the NBA team and playing on the minor league teams. How many of us would have thought about packing it in?

After a knee injury and brief stint in the Chinese Basketball Association, Jeremy was waived by the Warriors, picked up by the Houston Rockets, played little and was waived by the Rockets. Depressed yet?

Jeremy signed with the Knicks and played with their minor league affiliate. Due to injuries, the Knicks were forced to call him up and he was reluctantly placed in the starting lineup. Magic Time. With Lin leading the way, the lowly Knicks won 7 games in a row. Jeremy was playing lights out. After this special week, Lin was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, averaging an astounding 27.3 points, 8.3 assist, and 2.0 steals per game. The hysteria of “Linsanity” was born and the NBA world was obsessed with his every move. Jeremy was soon on the cover of several basketball magazines and a number of sports shows were showcasing this special talent. This success was met with the signing of several NBA contracts (Lakers, Hornets, Nets) worth millions of dollars. Jeremy finished his NBA career winning a Championship with the Toronto Raptors. When all was said and done, Jeremy played in 480 games in the NBA and had a career that spanned 9 years. He is still playing today in the Chinese league and still inspires younger players all over the world.

What is the takeaway?

It is easy to walk away when times get tough or don’t go your way. The toughest thing to do to is stiffen the spine and plod through it while you look ahead for the next shining opportunity. As I have said before, politics is a blood sport and not for the faint of heart. Have a plan. Inject a healthy dose of perseverance and march forward.

When I first ran for local office, I was told by many not to run because I was too young, too ethnic, had no connected family members, and no money. With a ragtag campaign team, I campaigned like a possessed person, knocked on each door three times and set a record for votes.  Two years later, resume in hand, I walked into Pal’s Cabin to audition for an open Assembly seat. I was greeted at the door by the Essex County Chair and was told not to embarrass myself as the deal was already done and I didn’t stand a chance. I walked away in disbelief and swore never to get caught off guard again.

Four years later, I was made aware of another vacant Assembly seat, which was wired for another connected official (Chief of Staff to then-Assemblywoman Maureen Ogden), but I called every county committee member and won the convention by 18 votes. I later screened and won a Senate seat that historically resided in Union County, and for nearly the next two decades, won contested primaries where my home county of Essex and hometown of Cedar Grove made up only 10 and 5% of the Bergen/Passaic based district, respectively. I’m no Jeremy Lin, but I attribute my wins to stubbornness and a touch of perseverance.

End of the day, it is easy to walk away when confronted with long odds or a stacked deck. My credo is life is short and the time to make your mark is now. Most importantly, in the face of long odds and many doubters, press on with unlimited perseverance.

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