The Power of Perseverance

The Power of Perseverance

Burbank, California; March 10, 2002; Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student
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Considering the way we manage to get ourselves through life, tackle problems that cross our path, and climb the corporate ladder, we can broadly conclude that it all more or less boils down to perseverance. Admitted, some people are more determined to get where they planned to be than others. And for both we can come up with a list of pro’s and cons: the “unwavering” push through to the limit, although the bitterness of the end may not turn out to be worth their while; while the “quitters” may never reach any significant height in their career, due to the fact that they turn away as soon as things seem to get out of hand. But while it’s true that “when the going gets tough the tough get going,” and, hence, the persevering ones will obviously reach almost any goal set, it may also be factual that the defeatists have the ability to refocus rather quickly on a new, maybe less stressful goal, and reach that one! So in fact we can conclude that quitters should be less stressed than pushers. The ultimate difference may just lie in satisfaction and self-esteem at the end of the journey.


Since I am unaware of the existence of statistics about the stress rates of the persevering vs. the quitting, I cannot responsibly state here that being highly determined is the best thing to be under all circumstances. It might indeed be agreeable that one has to know when to hold on and when to hold up, know when to walk away and know when to run, but the reader of this article may generally concur that perseverance is a good thing.


However, one may wonder whether in different circumstances perseverance could be translated as something else. Take, for instance, a private situation where a woman holds on to the man she loves, although he seems to make discouraging mistakes all the time. While other women would have probably given up on this man long ago, the perseverant will hold on with a determination that could be translated by peers as lack of pride.

Or consider this business scenario: A person, who has been rejected repeatedly in application processes at a certain office, continues to apply for positions in the same work environment over and over. This may be a noble sign of perseverance, but could be translated by outsiders as… lack of willingness to broaden one’s scope and look elsewhere! The perseverant may nevertheless perceive this situation as a challenge that he or she has to overcome in order to be rewarded in the long run. And indeed, most of the times these people excel once they get a foot in the door!


If we look at the lives of the most successful people that ever wandered on the face of this earth, we see that the major commonality in their history is perseverance. They managed to hold on long after others had given up. They believed in something (most of the time themselves), when no one else did. They transformed rejection by others into inspiration for themselves. They gave meaning to Thomas Carlyle’s historical words, “Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.”

Henry Ward Beecher once stated that there is a significant difference between perseverance and obstinacy, and that is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't. Persevering people don’t know the phenomenon “cannot.” They live on “can-do” street in “will-do” neighborhood, and they never move! Not that they never doubt themselves and their capacities. On the contrary! They are full of self-doubt and angst, but they manage to use it as a driving motive instead of a paralyzing one. And the most significant thing is, that perseverants cannot be distincted in a crowd instantly. Their trait is not obvious, like height, beauty, or color. They only show their qualities when they consider the time right to do so. It may take a while before one can pick out a perseverant amongst one’s team. Like Buddha stated long ago, the perseverant realizes that “a jug fills drop by drop,” which, in fact, captures the same message that Abe Lincoln conveyed when he said, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards,” or Lucretius’ affirmation, “The fall of dropping water wears away the Stone.” The meaning that lies within all these poetic avowals can be presented as follows: as long as you move forward, no matter how slow, you’ll get where you want to be; it’s not rigidity, but determination—sometimes very gentle one—that will lead to results. That’s what perseverance is all about. Remember, “It's not so important who starts the game but who finishes it” (John Wooden), right?

Perseverance is often mentioned in one breath with other leadership abilities. Larson (2002), for instance, states, “vision, leadership, perseverance, integrity and ethics are the essential qualities of a successful entrepreneur” (p. 6-7).  Brown (2001) makes an even stronger point by presenting perseverance as an important attribute in today’s ever changing business arena through the statement, “change often can't be avoided; all that is left is to absorb it, manage the consequences, chart a new course and get on with it. It is often a difficult, damaging journey, but with a clear vision and unfailing perseverance, it is possible to make it through the trying times of reinvention and emerge essentially unscathed, a changed company”(p. 1, 12).

The aforementioned arguments inspired me to the conception of a brief checklist that may be useful in every area of life.

ü       Don’t get discouraged when you find yourself not being the smartest around. Just be determined to reach your goals long after others have given up. That will ultimately make you a winner. “Bear in mind, if you are going to amount to anything, that your success does not depend upon the brilliance and the impetuosity with which you take hold, but upon the ever lasting and sanctified bull doggedness with which you hang on after you have taken hold” (A. B. Meldrum).

ü       Never get discouraged by criticism. Listen, consider, sleep over it, and then incorporate the parts of it where you consider them necessary.

ü       Realize that you can’t make everybody happy. You will have to make the ultimate decision in which direction you want your life, project, or plan to go.

ü       The more they tell you to quit, the more you should hold on.

ü       Do your utmost toward a perfect outcome, but beware for overanalyzing. Nothing disrupts a successful conclusion more than analysis paralysis.

ü       Never stop. When the tunnel seems darkest, the corner that will shine the light may be near. Remember what Thomas Edison said, “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”.

ü       You may fail once, or twice, or three times, but don’t quit. “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it” (Margaret Thatcher).

Some of the most memorable people of our world made exceptionally useful statements on perseverance. Winston Churchill, for instance, left us this simple, but important legacy, “Never, never, never, never give up.”  B.C. Forbes underscored the value of stamina by stating, “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.”

Perseverance; it is a tiring, self-imposed duty that leads through an ambivalent path, sometimes broad, but mostly narrow and slippery. The art is to get up every time you fall. Every time. And even if, while on your way, others will perceive you as a loser with lack of pride, go for what you want. There has hardly ever been a great winner who hasn’t been branded as a dreamer or a loser at some time in his/her life. So, if you can be satisfied with less, turn around when the path to the top gets rough, and aim at a lower target. But if you want it all, ignore the well meant, but discouraging warnings along the way, and go for it! Keep in mind that the person who wins may have been counted out several times, but didn't hear the referee” (unknown).


Brown, D. (2001).  Everything's fine, and then... Canadian HR Reporter, 14(18), 1, 12.

Larson, P. (2002). 2001 Entrepreneur of the Year: Living the dream. Franchising World, 34(2), 6-7.

Various. (1999, Unknown). Perseverance, [Internet]. Cyber Nation International, Inc. Available: [2002, March 10].