Perseverance — It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. But it works.
Endurance. Perseverance. Persistence. Patience. They are words I hear a lot when individuals who are successful in their field describe how or why they succeeded.
And yet perseverance is not a word nor a concept that we are especially drawn to. It is almost one of those characteristics that we look back on and view positively, but not one that leadership speakers frequently preach to us.
The definition is interesting to me.
“Perseverance: Steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness.” Perseverance is not just blind repetitive action — doing the same thing over and over. It is tied directly to a goal, belief or purpose. We persist because we believe it is the right thing to do, or because we hope persevering will help us attain the goal we desire.
As Henry Ward Beecher differentiated, “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.” In other words, perseverance is goal directed and a positive attempt to achieve.
Another aspect of perseverance is that it is “daily”. Persisting on a task is not flashy nor exciting. It is both the action and result of doing the daily grind — whether that is getting up and exercising; the everyday housework tasks of laundry, dishes, cleaning up, and keeping the house running; or those tasks that make up your “job”. It is doing those daily menial tasks that make the difference between getting the job done and just thinking about it.
Dale Carnegie spoke to this aspect of perseverance:
“Don’t be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.”
Besides being goal-directed and daily, perseverance also relates to challenges and difficulties encountered. We don’t usually recount: “Yea, I persevered through the flat terrain; the cool, dry but sunny weather; and the course that was on a really smooth track.” No, perseverance has to do with persisting and enduring through difficulties. Those difficulties may be external obstacles, they may be unrealized dreams (that is, you did x, y and z and you still haven’t reached your goal), or they may be the result of weaknesses you personally have or in your plan.
Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed:
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
I think is it is interesting (and important) to look at the opposite side — what does “not persevering” look like? Giving up. Becoming weary. Losing heart. Not continuing. And sometimes — complaining, blaming, and making excuses.
I just read a fascinating book this week, recommended by my father-in-law, The War Journal of Major Damon “Rocky” Gause, about a soldier who escaped from the Japanese in the Philippines and through perseverance, luck, the help of others, and the grace of God sailed with one other companion all the way to Austrailia. What impressed me from his story was he just kept going — problem-solving, waiting when necessary, and never giving up on his goal. Never in his journal did I pick up a tone of fatalism, blaming others or making excuses for the numerous bad circumstances he encountered.
So what does this all mean to us?
First, I think a fact of life that helps us persist through difficulties is to accept that there will be difficulties. Things will go wrong. We will experience obstacles and roadblocks. Some people will be against us. Okay. So … let’s keep going.
Secondly, it seems that persevering is easier when accompanied by others — but the “right” others. Stay away from complainers. Don’t hang out with those who consistently blame others or make excuses for repeatedly not reaching their goals. They will only become weights around your neck. Conversely, find others who are like-minded, who have similar passions and goals, and who already demonstrate the daily discipline of persisting. These are the people you want on your team.
And, maybe there are a couple of other things. Re-evaluate your goals — do you really want to reach them? Re-assess your plan — is it realistic? And read about others who have persevered through great difficulties to reach their goals as an encouragement for you to hang in there.
Have a great week — and hang in there!
Categories Executive performance, Leadership, Perseverance, Work