Persistence Pays

Against the Odds

photo of woman running on deserted highwayMost of us marvel at stories about people who became successful despite experiencing rejection or failure on the road to achievement. One of my favorite examples is Chester Carlson, the inventor of electrophotography (photocopying), who was dismissed by more than 20 companies as well as the National Inventors Council, before he had the ultimate satisfaction of seeing Xerox introduce its first office copier.

Another great story is Steven Spielberg who, unable to get into film school, initiated his own entrance into the profession at age 17 when he decided to get off a tour bus at Universal Studios Hollywood. He wandered the back lots, claimed an abandoned janitor's closet as his office, and showed up every day as if he belonged there.

And, of course, there are numerous instances of famous writers --from F. Scott Fitzgerald to J.K. Rowling-- who had their works declined. Before the popular series Chicken Soup for the Soul® became a franchise, the first manuscript was turned down for being "too positive."

What are your favorite examples of persistence? See more in this video.

Should You Keep Going?

Psychological studies have examined the connection between persistence and other character traits that, apart from intelligence and talent, are often key to a person's success. These include: perseverance, self-discipline, and something psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth calls "grit." Often, there is a correlation between persistence and passion. In a 2009 Psychology Today article on this subject, the author states, "It's much easier to overcome obstacles if you are passionate about what you are doing." She distinguishes between a "clenched teeth" version of persistence and one that stems from passion: "This isn't your grandmother's grit. It's a force of motivation so luminous, it constantly renews itself."¹

Fortunately, the quality of persistence can be cultivated, in our children and in ourselves. One issue I've observed that can get in the way, however, is that being persistent doesn't mean you won't have doubts about whether you're on the right track. You'll wonder whether your persistence is a good thing or just a stubborn thick-headedness that borders on the insane. While sometimes it may be tough to tell the difference, keep in mind that what appears as head-in-the clouds to observers might actually be a self-possessed faith that is grounded and has roots. And that's the key part: to stay grounded, even as you are pursuing a dream.

When It Feels Right

When you run into obstacles, go ahead and weigh the facts, consult with experts, and seek counsel from people you trust. Ultimately, only you can decide if what you're aiming for continues to feel right to you. For this you will need to get quiet and go to that place inside yourself where you can hear the Guidance. When you do this, you'll be adding an intuitive strength to your persistence that keeps you flexible and open.

This Week's Call To Action:

  • Recognize someone you know, perhaps a child, for being persistent.
  • Recall a time when your persistence paid off. Where is your persistence needed now?

If what you are pursuing continues to feel right, then embrace the work with joy in your heart.

"Be of good cheer. Do not think of today's failures,
but of the success that may come tomorrow.
You have set yourselves a difficult task,
but you will succeed if you persevere;
and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles.
Remember, no effort that we make
to attain something beautiful is ever lost."
-Helen Keller

Here's to you,
Ginny Kravitz's signature

¹Recent Articles About Persistence:

Doskoch, Pete, "The Winning Edge." Psychology Today, Volume 38, No. 6, (November/December 2005: 42-52). (Accessed April 2013)

Hanford, Emily, "Angela Duckworth and the Research on 'Grit'", American RadioWorks®. (Accessed April 2013)

Duckworth, Angela Lee and Eskreis-Winkler, Lauren, "True Grit," Observer. (Accessed April 2013)

Huffington Post: Black Graduation Rates May Depend On 'Grit' As Much As Grades, Study Shows. (Accessed April 2013)

TED Talk Video:
In October 2009, Angela Duckworth gave a TED Talk: "True Grit: Can Perseverance be Taught?
In it, she describes grit as a type of stamina in sustaining one's passion. She cites the 10-year rule that says for most people (and even prodigies including Mozart), the way to unlock your talent is through years of consistent, deliberate practice. Watch video here.

Get Your Grit Score here.