How to keep going and find your breakthrough when it feels impossible

Maybe you find yourself in a rut that doesn’t show any sign of ending anytime soon. Maybe it’s been this way for quite a long time. Helpless. Hopeless. Discouraged and without direction for what to do next. It can get easy to start wishing for some miracle to come. When things aren’t going our way, the worst thing we can do is lose hope. The worst thing we can do is give up.

The most common trait of the world’s most successful people is perseverance — the wherewithal to keep going for a cause they believe in. Across entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, singers, athletes and businesswomen and men, the ability to never give up, continue pressing forward and doing so with belief and hope is the most powerful way to live a free life on your terms.

So many of us find ourselves at different points in our lives in a mental paralysis. We freeze-up. We don’t know what to do or why it seems bad things continue to happen to us. This leads to inaction, indecision and worst of all, a blanketing fear that keeps us stuck in neutral. I’ve found in my own life after I’ve overcome failure and adversity, that it’s truly better to take small steps backward than it is to stay stuck right where you are.

This mental paralysis is fueled by emotions like fear and worry, though anxiety and doubt also play their part. It becomes easy to start pointing the proverbial finger at ourselves, which further pushes us into doubting our purpose in life. I talk a lot about values and purpose for a reason. Because when everything around us seems to be negative and going wrong, we need a foundation to turn back to for hope, confidence and direction.

When you set your mind on living a life you can truly be proud of, as well as setting achievable goals, you’re on the pathway to success. When the ruts of life come and misery seems unavoidable, you’re able to remind yourself of the good times and the promise of the future that’s to come.

I share the story today that some of you may already know, of a hero whose heart, perseverance and grit are unmatched in history. The story of this man’s life is one of remarkable perseverance that carried him from near-death experiences to remarkable breakthroughs that shaped his destiny. If you don’t know about Louis Zamperini, you’re in for quite the journey.

The story of Louis Zamperini

Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other. — Walter Elliot

Left for dead. Starving. Dehydrated. A long, long way from home. Even from dry land. Welcome to the life of Louis Zamperini in the summer of 1943. Laura Hillenbrand’s brilliant book, Unbroken, is the true story of this American Olympic and World War II hero.

The book describes the remarkable courage and perseverance he showed throughout his life.

Zamperini was born into a family of Italian immigrants in Olean, New York, in 1917. The family later relocated to Torrance, California, just south of Los Angeles. From a very young age, Zamperini had to fight for everything he had. He and his brother were the targets of bullies, largely because they did not speak English. He grew up angry and defensive, getting in fights in his neighborhood and vigorously defending himself.

He also grew up in a very competitive athletic environment which gave him the outlet he needed to shine. He became a track star and later ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He appeared destined to become a world champion someday. Instead, he chose to serve his country.

Following the crash of his bomber plane over the Pacific Ocean in May of 1943, Zamperini had to fight to stay alive. Literally. Zamperini fended off death at every turn. He was nearly eaten by sharks. He fought back with his bare hands and preserved his life, as well as the lives of his fellow soldiers. He caught fish with makeshift equipment, gaining the necessary sustenance just to stay alive.

Emergency actions and “by any means necessary” survival tactics became an every-minute way of life for Zamperini. He was a fighter. He refused to give up or give in to anything. His fight would continue for over two years.

He was stranded at sea for 47 days on a raft and survived. Then, he became a prisoner of war in several Japanese camps until the end of the war in August of 1945. He survived and won his freedom.

Louis Zamperini survived unfathomable conditions and barbaric torture during his days as a POW. He refused to give in to defeat. He had been a competitor and fighter his entire life. He had dreams of continuing his track career following the war. He wanted to build a life filled with competitive pursuits and exciting business ventures.

Starvation and dehydration somehow evaded him. He survived life on the raft. He suffered dehumanization, humiliation, and mental and physical torture in the prisoner camps. Despite all this, Zamperini would not give up or surrender his will to anyone or anything.

The man’s willpower was indestructible. Combined with his belief that he would survive, Zamperini showed the remarkable power of the human spirit. Even in the midst of unimaginable horrors, he was able to persevere and make it out of the war alive.

Keep going

“The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.” — Kalpana Chawla

For some, maybe this is an extreme example. But we use extremes as the baseline to help us define what is and isn’t possible. Surviving mental, physical and emotional horrors? Zamperini proved that no conditions were too harsh. When the power of our human spirit is operating at its peak, we can take on any challenge.

Maybe you’ve found yourself needing to change careers. Maybe you’re just trying to survive the loss of a family member or loved one. I’ve found myself in both predicaments recently. At times it can feel like our world is caving in. Yet there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

You’re surely familiar with the concept of reinventing yourself. I’d encourage you to reinvent your thinking. Reinvent the way you respond emotionally to the stimuli, actions and events in your life. You can always choose to be positive. You always have the power of faith and the mental and emotional capacity to hope that your situation will get better.

When you believe that it will — it will. The universe has an amazing way of letting us know we’re on the right track when we steel our mind to stay positive and keep going. Faith alone will not get you there. You have to want it and not let any outside circumstances deter you. Let adversity and defeat become your best friend.

You truly grow the most out of the toughest times. You’re best prepared to emerge from these challenging moments when you refuse to compromise with life’s roadblocks. If you’re willing to power forward, change course where needed and find comfort in the uncertain, you will live a life that offers you great abundance and happiness, perhaps beyond your wildest dreams.

Find your way!

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This article first appeared on Medium.