Perseverance: Being Knocked Down Four Times, But Rising Up Five

The Doctor Weighs In
5 min readApr 26, 2020

By: Patricia Salber MD, MBA

This is a story about perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds: A 69-year old widow finally got her driver’s license after 949 failed attempts.

Updated on April 26, 2020

This isn’t really a health story and it’s is a bit of an old story (may require subscription). But it is a story about perseverance that will make you feel really, really good. And who doesn’t need that right now?

It’s the story of Cha Sa-soon, a 69-year-old widow who, at the time this was written, was living in a remote village in South Korea. She wanted to get a driver’s license but she had trouble passing the test.

In fact, she failed the written test 949 times…that is not a typo. She failed the test 949 times. Finally, on her 950th attempt, she passed. No question, Ms. Cha proves that if you want to achieve something, you can, no matter how difficult, no matter how many setbacks.

South Koreans celebrate perseverance as a national trait. In fact, according to the NY Times article, there is a phrase there, “saj eon ogi” or “knocked down four times, rising up five.”

It became popular after Hong-Su-hwan, a popular South Korean boxing champion knocked out Hector Carrasquilla to win the World Boxing Association’s super bantamweight championship in 1977 after being floored four times. Ms. Cha certainly exemplifies saj eon ogi in spades.

Ms. Cha’s background

You have to know a bit about Ms. Cha’s background to understand just how formidable the driving test was for her. She was born into a poor peasant family and didn’t get to go to school until she was 15 years old. Even then she only attended for a few years. The Times story quoted her as saying, “Father had no land and middle school was just a dream for me.”

Ms. Cha eventually got married and raised four children. Her husband died a few years before the story about her driving test was written. At that time, she made a living selling homegrown vegetables in an open-air stall.

About 10 years ago before, she decided to get a hairdresser’s license. She had to catch a 6 am bus, transfer to a train, and then…

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