An Amazing Story of Determination that Will Inspire You to Take Action



A few weeks ago, I watched a documentary about Hawaii – specifically about its history and culture.

It’s a good documentary overall, but the story about how Hawaii was discovered particularly caught my attention.  It is easily one of the greatest stories about perseverance and determination I’ve ever heard.

If you ever need an inspiring kick in the butt to reach your goals, this is it.

The Story of Perseverance and Determination

I’ve often heard that the only sure-fire way to fail is to give up.

It’s no secret that big goals take time.  You have to think months or even years down the road.  Because they take so much time, we’re often tempted to quit before reaching them.

This story will show why you shouldn’t easily give up.

Hawaii was discovered around AD 1000 – no one knows the exact date – by a group of seafaring Polynesians who inhabited and explored many of the islands in the South Pacific.

If you look at a map of the world, you’ll notice that Hawaii is one of the most isolated spots on the planet.  So it’s already incredible that it was discovered so early in human history.

But what they did to get there makes the story even more amazing.

Because of its isolation, they would never have known Hawaii was even there.

They suspected it was there though.  They noticed a bird called the Golden Plover which migrated north out into the open water every year.  Land must have been out there somewhere – they just couldn’t see it.

So they set sail from the Marquesas Island to follow them.  That island is as close as you can get to Hawaii, but it’s still about 2500 miles away.  Nowadays it takes roughly 30 days to sail to Hawaii from Marquesas using modern day equipment.

Back then, they were only using carved wooden boats and their own understanding of naval navigation.

The Polynesians followed the birds closely, but they always flew faster than they could paddle.  They could only keep up with them for short distances.

At some point, they would lose track and have to turn back.

Each year they would try again, picking up where they left off the previous year.  Years passed by and they kept getting farther into the Pacific.  But still they never saw land.

According to the documentary, it took the Polynesians 400 years to finally reach Hawaii using this method.

400 years!

Every time I hear the documentary say this number, I’m amazed.

Imagine the determination and perseverance you would need to do this.

After generations of hard work, belief, perseverance and determination – after years of uncertainty and doubt they finally reached their goal.

By this point, Hawaii might have become something like a mythical idea.  To actually reach it, must have brought many of the travelers to tears.

Inspire Yourself

That was almost 1000 years ago.  Yet their struggles relate a lot to our own goal-setting.

We’re all working towards an unknown destination just like the Polynesians.  The principles are exactly the same.

Your big goal is like Hawaii

After a lot of hard work and perseverance, the Polynesians reached the goal that took them years to accomplish.

There was no guarantee they’d reach it.  For all they knew, they were sailing out to nothing.

This is what goal setting is like.  You’re not completely certain it’s out there, but you work on the faith that you’ll reach it.  Sometimes you have to risk going out into nothing in order to get where you want to be.

Your clues to success are like the birds

The Polynesians saw the birds flying in the direction of Hawaii and deduced that land was there.  That was their clue that they’d eventually reach their destination.

We’re all setting big goals or dreams on a clue or a hunch that we’ll reach them.  It’s our determination and belief in those clues that keep us going.

Your obstacles are like the ocean

Reaching Hawaii meant paddling across 2500 miles through the Pacific.  Navigating over the open water and making sure their boat didn’t sink were huge obstacles.

All goals have obstacles to overcome.  We all have things standing in our way.  They can often seem insurmountable, but with enough perseverance we can usually get around them.

Don’t Stop Working Towards Your Goals

The big takeaway to this story is that you have to keep working towards your goals.  Determination and perseverance pay off.

That means working hard even if you don’t see an end in sight.

How often did the Polynesians stop at some random place in the middle of the Pacific and see nothing?

You’ll face that moment too while pursuing your goal.  You’ll stop to look around and see nothing.

That’s normal.

There will often be nothing to encourage us.

There will often be nothing telling us if our hunches are right.

The problem is that when we see nothing we might think there really is nothing.

We all get afraid that our goals won’t really be there.  We all feel like we’re working towards something that will never arrive.

You have to have faith that your “Hawaii” is out there.  You have to have faith that all your work will get you to your destination.

It often just takes time and small steps.  You have to persevere and see it all the way to the end.

Sailing too far away from the shore for so long can be scary, but it will get you places.
photo credit: Wendell

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  1. Steve! I will be the first (and I imagine not the only) person to write this – this is JUST what I needed to read today!


    Inspiration indeed.

    They knew they weren’t chasing after a pipe dream, right? The Golden Plover was proof that something did exist (much like testing the market before launching a business) and their belief motivated them to keep pushing.

    Imagine what the Polynesians could have achieved if they’d blogged about their journey 😉

    • Yeah, it’s kind of like testing a market before launching a business or product. You’re chasing after a goal using evidence that the goal is out there.

      I can only imagine what they would have blogged about if they could have blogged. Although I’d guess that there would be a ton of blog posts in the middle with titles like “nothing yet” or “when are we getting there?”.

      I’m glad you got motivation out of this.

  2. This is an awesome story. Have you ever heard of Dan Carlin? He’s got an awesome history podcast that I bet you would love.

    It always blows my mind to think how many different nations sailed the open ocean in pursuit of unknown lands. From the Polynesians, to the vikings, to the pioneers who left England for the US, it’s quite incredible.

    It also puts things in perspective. Sure our goals can be tough, but how tough are they really? There’s no comparing our struggles to the trials and tribulations the Polynesians faced.

    Beautiful story man.

    • I’ve always been fascinated by early explorers. We know what’s out there – maps of the world are just a click of a button away. They didn’t know – they sailed out into unknown territory that could have just as easily been going to nowhere.

      It definitely does put things into perspective. Our goals can seem hard, but when you put them next to what these people did, they often don’t seem as treacherous.

  3. Thanks for the kick in the pants, Steve! All the best on your story telling!

  4. Steve, I took a break from writing and chose to read this post. What an inspiring story, and I so appreciate the summary, analysis, and synthesis you provided.

    So often, we want things right now – financial freedom, enjoyable work, a flat stomach. In extremely rare cases, this can happen overnight (well, perhaps not the flat stomach…oh yeah, surgery!), but usually it just takes perseverance like that of the Polynesians. 400 years…just amazing.

    Thank you for bringing this beautiful story our way and adding your Steve flair.

    • That’s my problem with overnight success: it rarely happens. Things of value take work and time to happen. We all want them right away, but it usually takes perseverance.

      Of course, 400 years is a little extreme. It’s unlikely anyone will set a goal that takes that long. But it does show that good things often take time.

  5. What an analogy Steve between following our dreams and goals and discovering Hawaii.

    It is ultimately about faith – faith in not only reaching the destination but faith in ourselves. We have to believe we’re going to get there and believe that we have the potential in ourselves to keep going when the waters get rough:)

    One step at a time and before you know it, we’re running a marathon!

    • So true. I think that self-belief and potential overlap a lot. It’s hard to have one without the other. You just have to put yourself out into the world and have faith.

      • Hi Steve
        The story so great,it made me realize that “if you really want something in life especially chasing one’s dream;then there is no short cut to success,all the setbacks in life are part of the journey, what really count the most is to keep moving..

        • Yeah, setbacks are a part of the process. When you’re going out into territory you’ve never been to before, you’re bound to have to turn back a little. But you have to keep coming back and pushing out further and further. Moving forward is important to success.

  6. Steve! A fascinating post! We all stand on the shoulders of giants, but we are part of one too. Humans,as a whole, are a pretty resilient and successful species. Perhaps in some ways too successful.

    We ought to embrace not having anything or anyone there to encourage us. It allows us to think for ourselves. When we do receive encouragement, it is a bonus, not a crutch.

    Have a sweet beanie weekend!!!

    • We are a pretty resilient species. Stories like this make me realize that the human race can do a lot of amazing things. It’s pretty inspirational. It makes me wonder where we’ll go next.

  7. If only I had the focus to know where to set my inspirational sights! For me, the story’s inspiration came not in the difficulty of the mission, but in the teamwork, the collective memory, and the willingness to get just one year’s worth of paddling closer each time. Talk about determination!!!!

    • Yeah, the teamwork it would have taken is amazing too. They would have had to make preparation for food, water and other supplies each year. And just the fact that they kept handing it off down the generations is a kind of teamwork that I don’t know would even happen anymore.

  8. What a great story! Perseverance and determination are essential when it comes to reaching our big goals and achieving success. People who quite are often closer to success than they think, they just never obtain it because they don;t persevere.

    • I’ve often wondered how many stories are out there about people who quit before reaching success. Those are the stories you don’t hear about. They probably persevered too, but just didn’t go all the way.

      Could you imagine if the Polynesians would have stopped a year or two before finally reaching their destination? It would be such a letdown. You have to keep going all the way to the end.

  9. I am really glad they discovered Hawaii, because I got married there this year. It is such a beautiful and romantic place and everyone who goes there enjoys it tremendously. Cheers to those who had enough perseverance and determination to continue going to their goal, so other generations can enjoy the fruit of their work. Thanks Steve! Very inspiring article!

  10. Hi Steve, Love it! My favorite part of this story is this: The people working towards the goal span a few generations. They probably realized that they themselves might not reap the benefits; this was something that they wanted for their people. I like to think that many of us today are working toward goals that will benefit future generations.

    • I like to think that too. Many of the things we strive for today are done to ensure that future generations have it better. I think most people would love to leave the world better off than they entered.

  11. Kim Cantrell says:

    Great article. I really love this blog and I appreciate that all of you take time to share your great stories and positive views on life. Everyone can use more of this great input! – Kim

  12. Great info, information that I need because I am way too lazy.I have to take action.


  13. Steve,
    Thank you for sharing. What was the documentary called? I would love to watch it.

  14. James Jackson says:

    great read thanks for that

  15. Thankyou so much for this!

    I feel inspired and positive after reading this.
    I also feel hopeful despite the setbacks I have faced (past 10years) in my professional life and personal life.
    I came across this wonderful article while I was looking up some inspiration for will power.I personally feel all the mental strength that we require to fight and persevere our daily challenges, comes from within and not from external sources. But I felt really good after I read this and I am glad I did.

    Have a lovely day.

  16. i really thank you for this story!

    the story made my believe that nothing is impossible , it’s a very beautiful story and thank you again for it!

    waiting for some new$

  17. Durga prasad INDIAN says:

    Great really inspired me n awaken me towards my

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