One Dog's Destiny and the Key to Conquering Challenges

Cyrus sits in front of Elli Milan's artwork

It's a cool fall early morning. I'm quickly walking down the hall to the garage door to let my leaping pup Cyrus outside.

When I get close, he crouches close to the ground, head on the floor, twitching everywhere, waiting for me to open the door and say it's okay. As the door opens, he springs forward, flying through the forest to his favorite lookouts, where he stands frozen, staring into the trees, awaiting the slightest movement from a squirrel.

For at least three solid years since we moved to Georgia, Cyrus has been obsessed with squirrels. From the flicking feathery squirrel tails to the darting action up and down trees, every hunting instinct that boy has is fired up all at once, and he can't think of anything else.

Endless Hope in the Heart of a Hunter

I do my horse chores while watching Cyrus run from lookout to lookout, passionately devoted to the hope and possibility that he could get to one of these critters fast enough to catch one. He has never caught one or even come close. Yet every time, I can see he believes with everything in him that he can.

His effort is unmatched, his enthusiasm relentless. He shows not even one second of tiredness or sinking into the futility of his efforts.

How can he keep up this passion every single day? How can he remain steadfast and walk in renewed hope each day with his utmost effort?

He stares into the forest with complete concentration, frozen like the tree stumps, until he sees that slight movement within the brown shades and sea of leaves. No matter the distance, he runs as if it were the race of his life, only to miss the zippy squirrel by miles.

He sits below the tree, looking up at the squirrel, safe among the limbs. He is unfazed, ready for the next chase.

The Two Keys to Success

Elli Milan as a little girl with her dad

I think about my dad and his words. He told me that everything in life worth living for comes through perseverance and tenacity. I heard these words before I knew what they meant or could even pronounce them.

Whether it was little league soccer or saving my allowance for something special, he told me to never, never, never give up. No matter how many disappointments, failures, or wrong turns, never give up. Don't let up in the passionate pursuit of what you want most. Jogging along or a half-hearted gesture towards the prize was unimaginable with my dad.

I couldn't complain or tell him it was hard or that I was losing hope. He would just say, "Perseverance and tenacity." That's it. Other than marrying a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, it was his only advice.

Although I thought Cyrus would never get a squirrel and was biologically unmatched in this race, I admired his unrelenting passion and belief that he would catch one. Each morning, I encouraged him, saying, "Cyrus! Go get the squirrel, go gettim!" He even knows the word "squirrel." If I say it while in the house, he runs to the windows and freezes, staring outside. It might be all he thinks about!

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

I'm walking back up the hill to the house, and Cyrus is nearby, panting from all the running, chasing, and squirrel misses over the last 20 minutes. In a bizarre freak instance, a speedy squirrel runs across the driveway into the leaves, right where Cyrus is walking.

Without missing the moment by even a millisecond, as if every cell in his body were sharply attuned to any and all squirrel movements, Cyrus pounces on a pile of leaves and spins ferociously in a circle, biting at the ground while spinning.

In less than three seconds, Cyrus pops up his head with a limp squirrel hanging out on both sides of his mouth, lifelessly flopping with Cyrus' proud, sauntering gait. He trots away from me as if this were his daily routine.

I was utterly stunned by what I had just witnessed. Cyrus finally caught a squirrel! His day came. Victory at last!

Victory and a New Identity

I called for him, "Cyrus! Did you get a squirrel?! Cyrus, you got a squirrel!! Show me your squirrel." He casually came over to me and dropped the squirrel at my feet. I could see its white furry belly was a little pink and knew it was wounded. Was it still alive?! Maybe it's just in shock?

Cyrus started to run away from me back toward the forest, then changed his mind and hastily picked up his squirrel and ran off, only to come back and drop it again at my feet. He did this again and again. It was like he was reliving his victory over and over, showing me, "See, I told you I could catch one!"

I could feel his joy and triumph and knew that now more than ever, he would be a forever squirrel hunter. Now that he had a taste of the capture, he would spend the rest of his days looking for squirrels, and his fervency would never let up.

Chasing Squirrels & Chasing Dreams

My father's words became more real in that moment. Perseverance and tenacity were what made Cyrus ready in the right place at the right time. Everything in him, all his senses, were tuned and set to act quickly at the precise moment the squirrel ran towards him.

I'm surprised by feeling emotional about all of this. I realize I, too, have been chasing squirrels my whole life. I thought about all of my misses and failures. I thought about the elusive deals, commissions, and big projects that slipped through my fingers.

I felt like Cyrus with his squirrel chasing. I could understand how he could stay so passionate and fully engaged. I saw so many close calls, and occasionally, because I was positioned right, I had some easy catches.

From Setbacks to Success: A Student's Inspiring Story

A closeup image of Elli Milan painting in her sketchbook

I thought about my students and how they stay tenacious and persevere through every miss, failure, and defeat. I thought about my artist friend, Ritika Aurora, who started her art career six years ago. She has felt discouraged by a family culture that didn't accept her choices. She has felt alone and maybe even crazy. She has felt the agony of deep, wrenching failure, spending thousands on an art show and traveling thousands of miles, only to face the heartbreak of not selling a single thing.

She tried again and again. Even when she finally got a break or a small kiss from heaven and something started to go her way, it ended again in failure. Yet she persevered. Not only did she persevere, but she stayed in the pursuit of her dreams with even more conviction.

She had gone too far and seen too much. She knew somewhere deep inside that she could do it. Finally, even after six years, she caught her squirrel. She was ready. She had prepared a beautiful portfolio of work. She had her marketing strategy in place. She leveraged the small successes she had experienced, and finally, it happened.

She was accepted into a beautiful gallery in the United States, a goal she had strived for since graduating from the Mastery Program. On the opening night of her show, she sold several paintings and had to send more. I imagine tears of joy flowed, and her heart swelled with vindication. And it is only the beginning. She has a taste for true victory and success and will only achieve much more. She is in the chase for life and will never let up.

My dad was right: we fulfill the purpose we are living for through tenacious passion and steadfast and unwavering perseverance.

Share your thoughts in the comments below!


  • Tonya Mcguire

    Morning Elli, the season approaching September and one year in the mastery program, resistance is daunting and feel paralyzed sometimes. I won’t give up nor let woulda coulda shoudas impede my stride. I so relate to Cyrus’ passion when I’m in my studio, and true epiphany if not laser focused to Sundays plan for next week, next month, next year goals, when will it happen, right! Thank you for your strength I continue to emulate and grow in branding my pursuit to continue creating beauty and inspiring others❤️🤩🐶
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Hi To ya! Love your attitude! Yer gonna get there. Yer gonna do it!

  • Erna Wade

    Thanks, Elli, for another inspiring post.
    I had the opportunity to be at home and paint since I remarried in 2005. I sold many paintings, but never felt like I had a real breakthrough. I also had not consolidated my voice and style yet. When Covid broke out my husband’s contract ended and we had a hard time financially until he passed away in 2021. I was then offered a full time tutoring job (I also teach Maths part time), which was a Godsent for me the time. It gave me time to grieve and adjust. The boys I was tutoring have finished their schooling now and once more I am embarking on pursuing art. My first goal is to build up a proper portfolio. I’ll be facing lots of challenges, so this is really a timely, encouraging message to me.
    Thanks a lot. 😊
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Wow! I’m so sorry for your struggles. Way to go to keep persevering!

  • Rachel

    Loved all the encouragement to never give up! As artists we wonder if our art will EVER get out into the world and benefit people, or whether we should ‘gasp’ – give up trying to sell. Having switched from art product to art product while wondering which is best suited to my style (year 7), your father’s words are exactly what I need to hear. Way to go Cyrus and Ritika!
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Yes! Don’t give up! Your day will come!

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