Getting Gritty: Persist!

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. — Calvin Coolidge

If successful people have one characteristic in common, I’m willing  to bet it’s persistence, the ability to keep going when things get hard. Or boring. Or costly. Or painful.

Most successful people have failed along the way. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected almost thirty times before a publisher bought it. Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln lost several elections before becoming national heroes. J. K. Rowling was once on welfare. 

Of course, for every name we know, there are those who let the setbacks overwhelm them and then gave up. So how do we build up our persistence skills so that we can keep going? 

  1. It helps to have a clear goal in mind. There’s no doubt that Jordan knew he wanted an athletic career. Stepen King is an obsessive writer who would probably be writing even if he didn’t sell books.  So know what you want and be able to say your goal in a sentence or two. Make it your mantra. 
  2. Know how the intermediate steps fit in with your overall goal. For some students, it can often be the peripheral things that keep them from persisting. You might hate math, so you drop out before you even take a class in your major. Or you don’t like research papers, so you don’t make the grades you need in sociology or literature. More than one student has said to me, “I don’t see how English (or math or psychology or biology) has anything to do with my career.”  But it’s more helpful to look at these courses as steps to your goal and to do as well as you can in them. There is no doubt that every career today needs people who can think, write, and speak well. And many of the classes that students see as blocking their way to their “real” courses teach just those skills. (Just recently, a friend was telling me about a neighbor who owns a technical business. This man was lamenting the inability of college graduates to think and communicate well. “I would be willing to teach them the technical stuff if they would come to me as good writers and thinkers.”)
  3. Expect things to be challenging. If we expect things to come easy for us, then we’re stunned and depressed when we hit a challenge. If we expect challenges, then we’re more prepared and have a much better mindset to tackle them. 
  4. Get support.  It could be a study group. It could be your friends. It could be your family. But have a group of people who encourage you to keep going. (After all, it was Stephen King’s wife who pulled Carrie out of the trash and told him to keep sending it.)
  5. Have a plan for failure. There will be setbacks along the way. Just know they will happen and plan for them. 
    • “If I fail my first math test, I’ll go to the Learning Center until I understand what I did wrong.”
    • “If I don’t get into Nursing school, I’ll investigate other health-related careers while waiting to reapply.”
    • “If I don’t have enough time to study, I’ll get a roommate and cut back my job to part-time.”

Obviously, there isn’t a way to make persistence easy. But having real expectations of the amount of time and hard work that will go into any worth-while endeavor can make a long-term goal seem more accessible. 

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