09/03/2013 09:55 am ET Updated Nov 03, 2013

Thanks, Diana Nyad -- for Proving Persistence Pays

Diana Nyad has been my hero for a long time, and she has always been a lesson for all of us in the importance of persistence -- even when she failed. And now, she's done what no one else has ever done. At age 64 she swam from Cuba to Florida - in the water almost 54 hours, avoiding sharks and jellyfish, and swimming through pain and agony. She did it!

I can swim, but I prefer a pool. It's not the swimming, then. It's her incredible determination to overcome the odds, and never give up, that has made her my hero for many years. There's a message for all of us in that kind of determination, as it applies to our own lives in every respect.

My columns are about personal finance, and personal finance is about money. And most of my writing is about what to do with the money you make, money that is saved and invested to accumulate, and also used to insure all the "things" you own, and the future you're building for yourself and your family.

But despite the promise of opportunity in America, I realize that there are people who skip over this money advice because they can't imagine having any "extra" money that requires these kinds of decisions. This time, please stop and read -- or pass along a link to someone just starting out, or about to give up.

Defeat is not a permanent status -- unless you let it become one. There are many rags-to-riches stories, not only in American history but in today's economy. Sure it looks like the big successes come to tech geniuses or hedge fund traders -- but quietly behind the scenes there are ordinary people building businesses and creating wealth.

Who did invent all those infomercial products, ranging from hooks that hang elephants to the silly snuggle blanket to the PedEgg? In America, it is still possible to start from nowhere and get somewhere -- whether the nowhere is the shores of Cuba or personal poverty.

Don't give up. Diana Nyad's lesson in persistence is particularly applicable to all those who are approaching retirement age and figure it's "too late"! Nyad is 64 -- the age when many are considering taking early Social Security. But she didn't give up her goals, or let age deter her. And swimming from Cuba to Florida is a lot more difficult than working a few more years to build your savings reserve.

Age is just a number. Ray Kroc famously started McDonalds, at age 52. If you want some inspiration today, go to You might not sell billions and make hundreds of millions -- but inside you may find an idea that brings not only great financial success, but tremendous personal satisfaction.

Diana Nyad talked about what she was thinking during her more than two days and two nights in the water. She said that with every pulling stroke she willed herself closer to her goal of reaching Florida. And with every downward thrust she pushed herself farther away from her starting point -- Cuba. That's real work, pushing yourself away from your past, and pulling yourself into your future.

But it can be done -- no matter what your age. Diana Nyad proved that conclusively. She never gave up, no matter what the obstacles or headwinds. And she started over on this daunting journey five different times, determined to reach her goals. And so can you.

As we start this fall season, which many (including myself) intuitively take as the start of the year, a leftover from our school days, it's time to set new goals, or revive old ones. You'll never reach your goals if you don't set them -- and start out, trying as hard as possible.

Thank you, Diana Nyad, for teaching us that lesson in a most memorable and indelible way: Never give up. Persistence pays. And that's The Savage Truth.