Nothing in the 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. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
– Calvin Coolidge
What Is Persistence?
Persistence is the ability to maintain action regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting.
When you work on any big goal, your motivation will wax and wane like waves hitting the shore. Sometimes you’ll feel motivated; sometimes you won’t. But it’s not your motivation that will produce results — it’s your action. Persistence allows you to keep taking action even when you don’t feel motivated to do so, and therefore you keep accumulating results.
Persistence will ultimately provide its own motivation. If you simply keep taking action, you’ll eventually get results, and results can be very motivating. For example, you may become a lot more enthusiastic about dieting and exercising once you’ve lost those first 10 pounds and feel your clothes fitting more loosely.
When to Give Up
Should you always persist and never give up? Certainly not. Sometimes giving up is clearly the best option.
Have you ever heard of a company called Traf-O-Data? What about Microsoft? Both companies were started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Traf-O-Data was the first company they started, back in 1972. Gates and Allen ran it for several years before throwing in the towel. They gave up. Of course they did a little better with Microsoft.
If they hadn’t given up on Traf-O-Data, then we wouldn’t have such rich collections of Microsoft and Bill Gates jokes today.
So how do you know when to press on vs. when to give up?
Is your plan still correct? If not, update the plan. Is your goal still correct? If not, update or abandon your goal. There’s no honor in clinging to a goal that no longer inspires you. Persistence is not stubbornness.
This was a particularly difficult lesson for me to learn. I had always believed one should never give up, that once you set a goal, you should hang on to the bitter end. The captain goes down with the ship and all that. If I ever failed to finish a project I started, I’d feel very guilty about it.
Eventually I figured out that this is just nonsense.
If you’re growing at all as a human being, then you’re going to be a different person each year than you were the previous year. And if you consciously pursue personal development, then the changes will often be dramatic and rapid. You can’t guarantee that the goals you set today will still be ones you’ll want to achieve a year from now.
In order to make room for new goals, we have to delete or complete old ones. And sometimes new goals are so compelling and inspiring that there’s no time to complete old ones — they have to be abandoned half-finished. I’ve always found it uncomfortable to do this, but I know it’s necessary. The hard part is consciously deciding to delete an old project, knowing it will never be finished.
Persistence of action comes from persistence of vision. When you’re super-clear about what you want in such a way that your vision doesn’t change much, you’ll be more consistent — and persistent — in your actions. And that consistency of action will produce consistency of results.
Can you identify a part of your life where you’ve demonstrated a pattern of long-term persistence? I think if you can identify such an area, it may provide a clue to your mission — something you can work towards where passion and self-discipline function synergistically.